The Puppiness Project – Everyone Gets Scared

Gretchen Rubin wrote in The Happiness Project about the year she spent “test-driving the wisdom of the ages, the current scientific studies, and the lessons from popular culture about how to be happy.” The Puppiness Project is my attempt to learn the same from Honey, my Golden Retriever, and Chérie, our visiting Foster Pup.

What Scares a Dog

Golden Retriever at the beach

I don’t know why you tell people I’m afraid of water. I got my feet wet, didn’t I?

When we brought Honey home, our lives revolved around puppy socialization. We knew that the first sixteen weeks were crucial for making her comfortable with the world. And, for the most part, we did a pretty good job.

Loud buses and trucks? No problem. Thunder, lightning? Doesn’t even cause a whimper. Strangers in hats, on stilts, or with beards? Just more people to love.

So imagine how much Honey surprised us when she showed fear of moving objects—especially if they were underfoot. The otherwise fearless dog feared ramps and carts.

Our foster pup Chérie came to us for confidence-building. She’s what I’d call cautious/curious. She’ll pull away from all kinds of things she finds threatening—a bag of mulch, a pile of stones, a hair dryer (not turned on).

Eventually she can be coaxed back to take a sniff to realize the scary object won’t hurt her.

But what Honey finds scary? It doesn’t faze Chérie one bit.

Yesterday we included Chérie in Honey’s training on agility equipment. Guess what she’s not scared of?

Yep, you guessed it. Everything Honey finds most frightening.

She led the way on the new dog walk. Stepped right up on the wobble board. And the teeter? Chérie boarded, let the other side drop, and walked off as sweet as could be.

Maybe with a crooked hind leg, Chérie always experiences the ground as uneven. How is a teeter different?

Hound mix standing on ramp near Golden Retriever


What Scares a Human

People are no less diverse than dogs. We’re scared of all kinds of things. I get weak in the knees looking out a window on a high floor. But I rarely experience fear speaking in public.

My husband jumped off a forty-foot high bridge into a freezing cold river in Bosnia. But he’s a little uneasy in tight spaces.

The crazy thing is that we’re often most frightened of things that can’t harm us. And handle things that are terribly dangerous (like driving a car) with total nonchalance.

But, like dogs, we can learn to be less fearful too. The only way is by doing the things that freak us out.

Getting Past Fear

My sailing dream encompasses many of my ideals:

  • living a simple life unencumbered by stuff
  • not being bound by artificial schedules
  • spending most of my time outdoors
  • traveling without relying on an internal combustion engine
  • decreasing my impact on the earth
  • having more time with family
  • meeting new people
  • learning new skills

You’ll notice some things missing from my list:

  • running out of food, water, or wind on a long passage
  • surviving (or not) really big, scary storms
  • being laughed or yelled at for making docking or anchoring mistakes
  • running out of money
  • finding out that my husband and my dog hate me for dragging them along on my outlandish dream

As appealing as the image of traveling to exotic ports is, a sailing cruise is also very scary. So scary that many more people dream about it than actually do it.

But fear is beaten by doing something and discovering that it didn’t kill you. And the more you do it, the more your brain changes to accept that you can handle scary things, even if you don’t stop being scared.

Working Through Fear

Fear is fear—whether you’re afraid of terrorists or teeter boards, spiders or spans, wiggly things or wobbler boards.

Chérie is working through her fear by sniffing things that scare her so she can walk by them the next time with nonchalance.

Honey is working through her fear by having fun and food on increasingly challenging surfaces to build her confidence when things shift underfoot.

And Pamela is working through her fear by contemplating scary things (if you click the video link, look for the rest of the story at the New York Times), reading about storm management, and doing stuff even when it scares her.

All of us are making time for mischief when we’re not practicing being scared but moving forward. One of us by relocating dirty underwear around the house (Chérie), one of us by flirting seductively with everyone who walks by (Honey), and one of us by planning a life that conventional good girls shouldn’t want.

What scares you? What scares your dog? And how do you manage fear?

Welcome to Monday Mischief – The pet blog hop that wraps up the weekend! This Blog Hop is brought to you by Alfie’s Blog, Snoopy’s Dog Blog, My Brown Newfies and Luna, A Dog’s Life and you can read more about how to link up here.

Monday Mischief Pet Blog Hop


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  1. Good work with both Honey and Chérie. Love your dream – and you are working towards it.
    I’m afraid of being dependent, of losing my dogs and house.
    I’ve driven autocross (total blast), jumped horses (need to go higher), skied downhill, enjoyed public speaking & singing at weddings (sadly now in the past).
    My dream? Find homes for my dogs, take up riding lessons again (dressage) and eventually move to a smaller rental home which allows me to keep my personal and not so many foster dogs :). Oh, and write – BlogPaws 2013, here I come!

  2. That is true, what one dog or person fears isn’t an issue for another. I must admit that I have several fears, mostly tunnels and tight spaces. Since I don’t encounter tunnels very often it’s pretty easy to avoid them….which does not help me get over the fear. It takes so much courage to “feel the fear….and do it anyway.” yikes!

  3. Arf! Water scares me to. I am not sure if I am supposed to swim..but I generally just stand there!


  4. I also enjoy public speaking, as long as I am well-prepared. On the other hand, performing (music, song, dance) terrifies me. I thought this would get better if I forced myself to do it, so for months I was diligently going to the open mic and playing and singing–but I was still just as scared after a few months. I’ve been avoiding it lately, wondering if certain fears are so intense they can’t be budged.

    But then I heard that even some stars–like van Morrison–are still terrified of performing. So maybe you just have to keep doing it.

    Lamar is scared of lots of things, but can be distracted by a good treat. It doesn’t seem to affect his long-term thoughts about scary things, however. Fozzie is kind of complex in this regard–I don’t know if he’s scared, or just impulsive and overexcited. The remedy–calm, encouraging talk, T Touch, counterconditioning–I think would be the same either way.

  5. My Poodles have no fear. Misty will run up to horses and introduce herself. If anything, I would like to instill some fear in her for her own protection.

    My own illogical phobias (heights, closed places) have kept me from having to do things I don’t want to do anyway, so i have come to terms with them.

  6. Kolchak is actually super timid & insecure around big dogs, He got picked up by a GSD and shook about like a rag doll as a puppy and he’s just never moved past it! We try to meet nice big dogs and encourage friendly interaction, or even just passing by without all out panick.

  7. Only crazy people sell everything and travel full time. LOL!
    Following your dream to sail is scary – mostly because not very many people do it. If most people lived on boats and only a few lived in houses, then the house choice would be scary one. It’s become evident to me that it’s a matter of perception.

    My advice is to imagine the worst case scenario … you may think (I know I did) it’s living in a cardboard box or starving to death – but those aren’t realistic outcomes. Try to keep it realistic. Running out of food or money you could be remedied by selling the boat, renting an apartment, and getting a job if the need arose. The worst case scenario for me was picturing myself on my deathbed looking back over my life and being utterly disappointed. There’s no recovering from that.

  8. What a great post! :) Speaking in public doesn’t bother me at all, I actually really enjoy it, but talking about myself with a group of people is a lot more intimidating. I much prefer to listen in a group of people and learn more about them than to do the talking.

  9. This was a great post. I think it is just awesome that you are working towards your dream, and working on your own fears along with Honey’s. Hey, maybe having Cherie around will accelerate Honey’s progress. :-)

    It’s definitely a scary prospect what you are planning, but also a fun one too, and your list of pros far outweighs your cons. And the article said they actually survived the storm, (which I did not realize when I watched the movie), and I’m betting coming across a storm like that is not the norm anyway what with weather tracking and all that is available in this day and age. I hope you do go through with it, which it certainly sounds like you are planning too. I’m sure hubby and Honey will love the trip….how could they ever hate you for taking them on such an adventure?

  10. I think it’s great as well that you are pursuing your dream. (There is definitely a lot to be scared of there. I’m not much of an open water person – one of my fears! – so that would be super scary to me!!)
    I have lots of fears (public speaking, tight places, bugs & snakes, fish touching me – seriously, fish TOUCHING me. Egad. Horrifying). I try to some extent to work on my fears – like last year we went to Maui and I snorkeled w/ the hubs and enjoyed it to a degree. I don’t like to go far out, and I don’t like to dive down amongst the fish, but I managed to bob along the surface and it was fun.
    Mostly now though I’m working on Rita and her fears. She’s afraid of gardeners and people in floppy hats and/or earphones, swimming (although she loves shallow water), anyone carrying anything that could be a weapon, etc., but she’s getting a lot better! Her food motivation helps.
    I hope Cherie will help Honey get over her fears. I keep hoping Rita’s boxer friend who loves to swim will help Rita get over her fear of swimming.

  11. I love this post! I feel like you are therapist Pamela! I come here read your post and then I spill it!
    I have a lot of fears: speaking in public, spiders, snakes, failure, promoting myself-this is something I am having a huge issue with lately. I have been attending a lot of pet related events in an effort to become more involved. I have also been using these events to practice my photography. I am use to having my husband along for these adventures and he is usually the social person, where as I am the one behind the scenes. He does all the talking and I do all the work. However, I have decided that it is time for me to grow up and do some of these things on my own. It’s been horrible, I get so nervous I almost get sick to my stomach. I forget to introduce to myself, I don’t talk enough, I forget important things like my business cards….but I am trying and each time it gets a little better.

    As for the dogs, Leroy fears nothing, and Sherman fears bridges and fireworks!

  12. Feel the fear, and do it anyway . .it seems so simple, right? Every time we go for a road ride on our bikes, I get a nervous tummy before we leave. I don’t know why, and I always go anyways, but I find it strange. I am definitely afraid of getting hit by a car!!

    Once at a seminar the speaker drew a circle around a stick figure and said, “this is your comfort zone. Everything outside the circle is outside your comfort zone, but as you start to do things that are outside your comfort zone, the circle expands.” For some reason it stuck with me! So glad to see that all of you are learning to face your fears and expand your comfort zone – I can’t wait to see how it all turns out!!

  13. I read somewhere that you should do something everyday that scares you. I’m an unwilling driver – especially since we moved to London ten years ago where the traffic is busy, and on the WRONG side of the road! I do realise that driving would save me lots of time and give me more freedom to do fun things – so in order to combat my fear, I’ve signed up Alfie for an agility class in September – now I have no choice but have to take some driving lessons :-)

  14. I’m curious, Pamela. Your sailing dream, are you hoping to live on a sailboat forever and never be a landlubber again? That is a very impressive dream and you’re doing so well at bringing it to fruition.

    I have lots of minor fears and not being a terribly confident person I often say ‘oh, I can’t do that’. But I know with a bit of support I can do lots of things. My major fear is of something happening to me at home (choking to death or tripping over something and cracking my head open sort of thing) and it being days before anyone misses me, lol. The penalty of being a hermit, and not having a normal job:) The main reason I worry about this is for the dogs, of course.

    Frankie and Beryl would probably share my major fear of something happening to me:) Neither of them enjoy having a bath, whether I do them in the shower with me or use a hose on the lawn in the summer, but I wouldn’t say they fear it. Beryl is like Cherie, cautiously curious … but I haven’t presented her with a wobble board or dog walk yet! Frankie will have a go at anything, tempered with enough cautious curiosity to keep him alive … so far! Although if he keeps crashing through ranch sliders and a couple of other recent things I haven’t blogged about yet he will eventually run out of lives!

    Hey, if it doesn’t kill you it’s going to make you stronger, right!

  15. Hopefully some day you be able to take your sailing trip.

  16. I can’t wait to read your sailing blog. What you said about Cherie’s leg making her used to uneven ground sounds really plausible. Did Honey show interest when she saw Cherie on the board or in the cart? Wouldnt it be great if she got over her fears by watching and following Cherie’s example? Thats what we always hope for when Georgia’s friends go swimming!

  17. Fear is such a hard thing to combat. Somedays I feel ready to try anything and then others even the prospect of making a phone call is too terrifying for words. I do think it is vital to face these fears and to do things that scare you, but I just wish I could figure out how to make myself do so. 😛

    Driving is probably the highest on my list. It wasn’t always so scary but I haven’t been able to force myself to get behind the wheel for a very long time. It doesn’t help that most of my family don’t understand it and I get a lot of ribbing, not all of it good-natured. I do want to drive again some day as I know it would make my life a million times easier, if only so I can take my dog to more agility events. But it’s so hard to get past that hurdle.

  18. I heard a saying once “Courage is being afraid but going on anyhow.” ~Dan Rather
    We’re all afraid of something, but that can’t stop us from living. I applaud you for working through your fears and helping your dogs work through theirs.

    Just be the dog.

  19. I love your dream. I love even more that you’re working towards it, fear and all. I have my share of fears, and of course, Bella has her share as well. I used to be so morbidly shy that to even function in a job, I had to learn ways to deal with it. I’m still shy but I learned to “fake it” (I would be a fabulous actor. Or hermit. Either one. 😉 I’ll never have a job as a public speaker but at least now I can speak up in a meeting to share my thoughts without passing out…

    On the other hand, I would never expect Bella to just ‘deal’ with it. She doesn’t have the benefit of reason and I certainly can’t explain it to her so I have to allow her her feelings and work to change those. It is interesting to contemplate what makes us afraid of something others are not. And how fear and personality interact in our process of growing through it.