The Puppiness Project – Getting Out of Control

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 sitting on man's lap

You think you can control me? Who's sitting on whom I ask you!

Many people seek help from a dog trainer because their dog is out of control. Whether they choose to fill their pockets with cookies (bribery) or use a shock collar (punishment), they’re trying to control their dog’s behavior.

Granted, the pocket full of cookies is more pleasant for the dog than the shock collar. But it’s still trying to find a way to control your dog.

Sometimes being out of control is the best thing

Living with reactive dogs for many years has made me excellent at managing my environment on a walk. I scan the horizon for other dogs and anticipate the direction they’ll walk with their people. I know exactly what time people walk their dogs. And I know which fences are most likely to hide a demon hound with boundary issues.

Although Honey is friendly to all, I still walk with that sense of vigilance–that feeling that I must control the setting. (If you want to read an excellent post on getting past this tendency, read Kristine’s Drunken Master IV: Canine Fu at Rescued Insanity. I promise you’ll love it.)

And when I practice all that vigilance, I miss out on the walk. I might even be influencing our interactions with other dogs and people–kinda like a form of anti-control (this is different from auntie control which is often attempted by an uncle). And I’m certainly missing out on the relationship with Honey.

When “losing it” is a good thing

If you’ve been reading the Puppiness Project for a while, you won’t be surprised if I tell you I’m a bit of a control freak. If I can’t manage things properly from the beginning, I won’t do them at all. I’m more likely to do things professionally and competently than I am to do them with flair and a sense of fun.

It’s really boring. And stressful. Both at the same time.

Golden Retriever at Wellesley Island

I'll get my toes wet but you can't make me swim. I'm afraid I'll lose my contact lenses.

My controlling tendencies are the biggest reason I wanted to learn to sail. I can think I control the weather. But pretty soon, the wind will bitch slap me around for my hubris.

And it’s why I love to live with dogs. I can try to control my dog. But my dog can also sit as we approach the steps after a walk to let me know she’s not ready to go in yet. I try to control her. She tries to control me.

Or we come together in our relationship to figure out what each of us needs.

My dog is out of control–and I love it

Discovering that dogs have their own motivations and desires was a big breakthrough for me. I love all of Honey’s quirks that show her as a unique dog and not just a creature I control:

  • Honey barks when she’s ready for bed and wants us to join her. It’s well worth the ear-splitting sound that interrupts that email I’m writing.
  • When visitors come to the door, Honey can hardly contain her excitement. When we come home, she quietly brings us a toy.
  • Honey heads right for a puddle when walking after a rain. But she won’t swim on a bet.

My life is out of control and I’m trying to accept it

In the middle of writing this morning’s post for Hands on Home Buyer, I started getting database error messages. Now I can’t open the site at all and have no idea if I lost what I had written so far or not.

And it appears work demands may cause us to cancel our long-awaited trip to the Annapolis Sailing show and a visit to my sister and brother-in-law. (Sorry Mel, I’ll call you later about our plans.)

The universe is testing my willingness to be out of control. I only wish blog databases and work were as cute and fuzzy as puppies.


Update: Several folks reminded me I forgot to mention how much we raised for the Tompkins County SPCA March for the Animals. Team Something Wagging had a goal of $250 and we raised $695. Thanks to everyone for your encouragement and support. 


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...


  1. Amen to that last part… I’d be so much more motivated at work if cute puppies were involved.

    It’s so hard to let go of control sometimes… I’m not that good at it myself!

    • I’ve been trying to convince the local attorneys to put a puppy paw on their notary stamps but I haven’t had any takers yet. :)

  2. I am a control freak too. I am trying to learn how to ‘go with the flow’ and stop trying to manage everything. I always say Delilah was sent to teach me patience and it’s working!

    I wish everything were as cute as puppies~

  3. Golden Retrievers are such sweethearts. Like Poodles. :)
    Even if they are out of control or IN control, there is always the feeling that maybe it is for the best.

  4. People who truly need to be 100% in control 100% of the time should have neither dogs nor children. (Or maybe computers, come to think of it. My husband makes a nice living off people who don’t understand how important it is to BACK EVERYTHING UP. Not referring to your most recent issue, where backing up seems to be part of the problem.)

    I wouldn’t use the term “out of control” to describe Honey’s behaviour, though. I would just call her “independent minded.” :)

    • You better hope people don’t get the message to back everything up or you might find yourselves out on the street. Luckily, I have auto back ups for both my blogs but I’m still figuring out how to access them when the blog interface isn’t there. Yep, definitely out of control.

      I know Honey is never totally out of control. But yes, independent minded–that’s a good word.

  5. Since real control is often an illusion, I tend to go for pretend control … like cleaning closets, mopping floors, etc.

    • If you ever need to exercise some control, my house could use it. Housecleaning as a means of exhibiting control–now that’s a habit I could use.

  6. $695!! That’s fantastic – good for you guys!

    I think it’s normal to get frustrated when something you are trying to accomplish, like writing a blog post or loose-leash walking, all of a sudden becomes more difficult than you anticipated. I am not a patient person. When I set out to do something I like to do it quickly and with minimal fuss. Hence why I used to spend a lot of time in my room reading a book. When dogs set out to do things, they set out to have a good time, to enjoy the experience, whether “successful” or not. If Honey wrote her own blog and had database issues, she would probably embrace it as a new challenge! That’s what I am taking away from this post, that setbacks can often be new opportunities!

    That being said, it does still suck if your trip is cancelled. I hope you can get the work issue resolved in time!

    • Thanks for the encouragement. It’s interesting that you pointed out reading as something quick and fussless–I love to read too.

      BTW, I’ll have to do some kind of splashy announcement but I am finally allowed to share that another $1,000 will go to the Tompkins County SPCA because I was a runner-up (along with Kim Clune) in the Bissell-BlogPaws Adoption Story carnival. Yay!

      And the winner, about how adopting a cat led to a life of rescue work, was wonderful. I’ll post links to all soon.

  7. I forgot to thank you for the very kind link. Maybe my training method will become the next big thing! 😉

  8. Hi Y’all,

    Honey understands! We’re in control! Yes we are! Unfortunately my Human is still learning!

    Y’all come by now,
    Hawk aka BrownDog

  9. Control freaks unite! Must be why I enjoy having my own business . . but alas, it doesn’t matter . .I still have to work with other people and I never really have control :(

    Honey and Cali sound so similar in personalities! Having a dog has taught me to be less of a perfectionist . .the house isn’t as clean as I would like it and my dog isn’t perfect, but I too am learning to just go with the flow 😉

  10. The Annapolis Sailing Show? I think we drive past that on our way to Dewey, but I’m not sure on that.

    You know, I think letting go to a certain extent is a really great thing, but I also think that for me, I still need a few parameters for me to really lay back and enjoy the chaos. My job has made me a lot less of a control freak than I used to be, and the dogs help with that a lot, too. It’s a nice break from always being in control to just let go and see where the wind takes you!

    • There’s nothing like working with children to help you realize you can’t control everything. That’s why W.C. Fields hated working with children and dogs. :)

  11. Congratulations Pamela on winning the $1,000 grant from BlogPaws for your shelter! I loved the story about Shadow. Good job and very deserving of it. :-)

  12. Wow! Just think of all the wonderful stuff your SPCA is going to do with $1,695! Congratulations (again) on the Bissell win; the three winning entries are pretty special.

    I don’t have any advice about the control issues; I have my own. :) However, since getting JF and Dewi, I’ve stopped trying to control the pet hair all over my house and person. 😉

    Hope things have improved for you since writing this post. :) And I hope you get to take your trip. I lived in Annapolis and saw the boat show – many years ago. Such a beautiful (and fun) city.

    • From reading your latest post, it sounds like JF is trying to help keep the dog hair down by swallowing his share.

      I’m afraid the trip is definitely off. My husband has to cover the shop both Friday and Monday and it’s just too far (and exhausting) a trip to make in two days.

      And I had two real estate closings anyway so it wasn’t like I was truly free either. I guess we’ll have to buy a boat out of a catalog. :)

      Just kidding.

  13. So you own a Golden who doesn’t like to swim either? Nice to know ours isn’t the only one! Great post, and congrats on your fund raising goal. Sorry about the computer malfunctions! :(

    And I always find it funny that my comments come either directly or shortly after another Elizabeth!

    • I’m glad you each refer to your dogs in your comments so I can keep track of who is who.

      So Luna’s not a swimmer either? Who knew there were so many “wading” retrievers?

  14. I too am a control freak, perfectionist, and horribly self-conscious, not a good mix. The more I keep learning about the give and take in my relationship with the dogs, the more I begin accepting them and myself, just as we are. Right where we are. And those moments are so cool and free. Until life bites me on the rear again and I freak out!! Thank goodness for that learning curve. :)

    • My friends who are a little older than me say that as they get older they care less and less about unimportant things. I hope live til 100 so I can enjoy it myself.

  15. It’s so funny, but I actually saw you as quite the opposite of a control freak Pamela. You always seem to roll with the punches. Rain during a camping trip? Big deal. Honey meets a new friend on said camping trip? Let it ride out and see what happens. Even the sailing classes seemed to be more about fun than control. Is it possible that you’re only controlling in your mind and that you’re not as controlling in practice?
    If I had to choose someone to care for my dogs it would be someone like you. I know my dogs would be comfortable in your presence.
    Technology? It controls us I think. I can never figure it out. (Thus the reason my blog is still hosted by WordPress.) I hope you didn’t lose everything.
    I used to be a control-freak (still am sometimes), but I’ve learned with my business and with Daisy and Jasper that things happen and rolling with the punches is part of the ride. That’s not to say I don’t try to control things sometimes, but I’m less stressed about it than I used to be.
    Okay. I’m done with my late night rambling. :)

    • You’re right, Mel. It is funny. I fell off my chair to read that you saw me as the opposite of a control freak.

      In truth, I try very hard to chill out because it’s so important to me. But I’m a basket case at work. They once had to stage an intervention to get me to stop working 60+ hour weeks without pay. And although I’ve taught hundreds of first time home buyers over the past 7 years, I panic at the start of every new class.

      I am a total control freak. And that’s why I need dogs.

      BTW, thank you for the kind words about being the kind of person you’d trust with your dogs. That is such a great compliment. :)

      • So funny. I NEVER would have expected to hear that you are a control freak – at work or otherwise. (BTW – I trained for years and still freaked out when I started a new training session too.) Maybe I need dogs too. :)

  16. Congratulations on getting a place in the contest with your wonderful post about Shadow:) And also on accumulating such a huge amount for your Shelter!

    I know all about vigilance on walks with Frankie being slightly and randomly dog, cyclist and jogger reactive. But it’s second nature for me now.

    I hope you got your database sorted. It would be a real bummer to have to start your post again and I hope you can sort things so you get to the sailing show and catch up with your family. It’s such a downer when work interferes with fun! Some things you really can’t control, only try and manipulate.

    • Thank you for the kind words. I really enjoyed writing the post.

      I did lost the entire post. I was so disheartened that after I got everything sorted out (well, my husband was kind enough to doit for me), I couldn’t bear to start all over again. Instead I wrote a rather silly post about avoiding real estate porn. I guess I needed the laugh. :)

  17. I feel like my dogs are more well-behaved than my own life! Dogs are completely fine, my LIFE is what’s out of control! :)

  18. I think being in control in an out of control world is pretty much human nature. Being able to let go is so difficult to do some times. : )

  19. Wow, $695 is a great donation! Congratulations.
    We should set up a group for recovering control freaks. You should see me when I can’t get an Internet connection – it’s actually frightening!


  1. […] “The universe is testing my willingness to be out of control. I only wish blog databases and work were as cute and fuzzy as puppies.” – Something Wagging This Way Comes […]