The Puppiness Project – Fun Builds Confidence

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.

Golden Retriever with food toy

My people always feed me from a food toy. If I didn't have a good sniffer, I'd probably starve.

When Honey’s nose gets going, her phobias shut down. She’s having such a good time, she doesn’t have time to be scared.

K9 Nose Work as a Confidence Builder

I’ve been working so hard at convincing Honey not to be scared of the bicycle cart by training, that I forgot the effectiveness of play. But, as our trainer pointed out, if you use high value treats to convince a dog she shouldn’t be afraid of something, the fear may override the treat. And then you have a dog that no longer likes liver or chicken breast because it just means she’ll have to do something scary to get it.

Instead, he said, play is the better tool.

This falls into the category of a lesson that just didn’t sink in.

I’ve noticed that when we’re playing nose work games in the house, Honey has gladly done all kinds of things that normally cause her to shrink in fear: nudge the door, pass by things leaning haphazardly against the wall, and even putting her head in the bike cart. Searching for a yummy treat engages her mind in a way that keeps her from being frightened.

Having fun causes Honey to try scary things. And to not even notice that they’re scary. Each time she does something scary and it doesn’t result in disaster, her brain is recording that fact—while, hopefully, boosting her confidence in the future.

Fun Breaks Through Self-Made Barriers

I spent most of February and some of March feeling ill. I lost an entire week of work (except struggling in one night to teach a home buyer’s class). And, most importantly for me, I lost the momentum that gets me up early every morning to write for two blogs.

Of course, when you lose your momentum and creativity, it’s hard to kick start it again. At least it is for me. That’s what it means to be Inertia Girl.

I needed some fun to regain my confidence and momentum. The March brackets for Best City for Pet Travelers came at just the right time. I needed to throw myself into a project. And I needed to have some fun. So I did my trash talking best to move Cape May, New Jersey forward in the competition.

I had no idea how much fun trash talk could be. Well, I had a hint. I’m a big fan of the FX comedy about fantasy football, The League (do not click the link if you’re easily offended or if you have any sense of morality at all). [Update: If you were afraid to click the previous link (and you should be afraid), here’s another bit of The League trash talk that inspired me without being violent and obscene.]

So I dug deep into my recycling bin to find silly insults about Boise, Sonoma, St. Petersburg, Burlington, and Seattle. Hopefully I didn’t lose any friends over my shenanigans. Thanks for both your tolerance and your votes. But I had a lot of fun. And I reignited my momentum enough to move forward on some important projects I needed to complete (more about that soon).

I learned the same lesson for myself that I just learned for Honey: fun can help you move past barriers.

Doggy Fun that Builds Confidence

I don’t have any video of Honey playing nose work games. But I found this great video describing its benefits by Laurie Luck of Smart Dog University.

Although Honey has some shy traits, when she is doing nose work, her style is like the “busy dogs” seen in the video.

And if you’re wondering what’s with all the boxes, read my posts and instructions on setting up beginning nose work sessions for your dog.

Can you see how absorbing this job is? No wonder Honey isn’t worried when she’s sniffing.

What kind of “fun” have you used to increase your dog’s or your own confidence? Share.

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  1. I assume you mean other than a few cocktails on a weekday evening? 😉

    Confidence comes slow for me, if at all. If I need a boost what most often works is singing a favourite song. Even if just in my head. It helps me relax and see things as less serious, which in turn makes me a little less afraid. Disney tunes most frequently come to mind. Is that dorky or what?

    As for my dog, she doesn’t really have difficulties with confidence. Some may argue she has a little too much these days. But I find if I give her a little encouragement, then step back and leave her alone to figure it out, she will often find her inner courage and go for it. Actually, I took a video over the weekend that proves this perfectly. It’s hard for me, but I think sometimes I need to learn to give her a chance to do things on her own.

  2. It’s a great lesson, many times I feel like I just have no idea what there is left to do.

    I’m glad you found someone who will help you work through this, but I also think you’ve done a wonderful job with Honey. Hell she attended blog paws last year without creating a ruckus! Sampson would have pushed me out of the way to rush across the lobby to greet someone. :-)

    But Kristine is right, maybe all it will take to get Honey in the cart is the Drunken Canine Fu Master. :-)

  3. I’m learning with Sweet Pea to leave her alone; she then learns to deal with dogs with whom she wants to play – some play, some don’t, Sheila Sheltie put her on her back and growled; Sweet Pea backed off :). Fun has its limits from her stand-point but I need to use it more for all of our peace of mind(s?). And that nose-work is just begging me to lay out a trail in the field and let them have at it.

  4. Well, Kuster certainly isn’t lacking in confidence! lol He loves tracking and trailing and it’s fun to see what a dog can do when encouraged to use the instincts they were born with in a constructive manner. Of course, the little guy also never believes he’s wrong now! Perhaps we’ve given him too much confidence!

  5. Confidence is something I lack when it comes to tackling new things. Sherman lacks the same confidence. We recently encountered an issue on our walks. He is fine when we start of walking, then when we are on our way back home and the traffic is coming up behind him he is nervous, especially when a big truck is passing by. He will stop walking and “shrink in fear” and wait until the truck passes. I have no idea how to convince him that the trucks are not something to be nervous of.

    Now Leroy, Leroy has no problem with confidence, if the truth be told he could use a little less confidence:)

  6. Nose work is something I think Cali would have really loved when she was younger (heck, I bet she would love it now!) It is amazing how a little fun can make such a huge difference :)

  7. Loved this post Pamela. I actually have been wanting to do nose work with Daisy for many of the same reasons. I met a guy during the search for Lady who teaches nose work and he used it to help his fearful Sheltie. I hope that Honey will find the same confidence through her nose work too!
    I loved your trash-talking ways. :)

    BTW-I had a hard time after I got sick too. Maybe the flu bug stays on for a whole? Odd.

  8. I guess I never really thought of nose work as a confident builder. Or any games in general. I’ll have to pay closer attention. I’ve never had a shy dog before, although there are a few around here who are a little more anxious than the rest. What a difference that must be after having Agatha and Christie!! I’m always working on the opposite of trying to tone down their confidence! BOL!!

    I think I do almost everything through games and fun, or else I’m the one who is bored out of my mind. It isn’t one thing specific as much as having a creative attitude that helps me out of so many ruts. And if I’m having a blast then the dogs are and vice versa.

    Sometimes it is good just to have a different perspective, no matter what it may be about in our lives. :)

  9. Kol was super nervous around other dogs as a puppy. We started taking agility classes, so he was surrounded by other dogs, but not really interacting with them. It worked like a charm. He’ll never be a real fan of German Shepherds, but hey, I’ll take what I can get!

  10. I’m so glad that our fun tournament was just what you needed – it turned out to me more exciting and entertaining than I expected. I had a great time doing it!

    With Buster’s insecurity, I’ve noticed that staying close but letting him deal with most situations works well. Taking him to the off-leash park and letting him work out dog interactions allowed him to learn a lot – stuff that I suspect he missed out on as a puppy.

    For my own insecurity, I try to believe that I’m the person my grandma saw when she looked at me. She was such a loving person and I swear she never saw my faults – or maybe she just considered them part of the qualities that made me perfect in her eyes. I miss her like crazy.

  11. Even though you insulted Burlington (gasp!) I knew it was all in good fun! And I love your sense of humor in it all. This is a good point you make today, something that I’m also struggling a bit. When I am filled with worry and stress there is no room for the joy. So here’s to adding some FUN in all of our lives!

  12. I love The League… I had no idea that it inspired some of your trash talking ways! :)

    Great post, as always. I have similar problems with inertia, so I think I need to take this particular lesson to heart.


  1. […] Monday Pamela of Something Wagging shared her thoughts about confidence and how adding joy can make one brave. I’ve talked a lot about my cowardice, especially in […]