The Puppiness Project – Give Thoughts Time to Percolate

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.

You want me to do what?

Golden Retriever at Ithaca Falls

This is my favorite off-leash spot in town. Let's go find a stick.

You never know what your dog doesn’t know until you need her to do something. In my case, a photographer recently asked if Honey could pose with her front paws up on a piece of furniture.

I had no clue. And no cue. For us, the cue “up” meant get up on the furniture.

Luckily, Honey is an amiable girl so we just arranged in the position the photographer wanted and said “stay.” She did fine.

But I decided to work on this pose when we got home. Armed with a clicker, a step stool, and a pouch full of liver I determined to teach Honey how to put her front paws on the step stool on cue.

I’ll spare you the details. It didn’t go too well. I’m a terrible trainer. And I just wasn’t able to communicate to Honey what I needed her to do.

So I let it go.

I can do that. Just watch me.

Saturday morning we took Honey for a long walk around our neighborhood which includes the beautiful Ithaca Falls. Although the falls once provided power for local industry, the area is currently ungroomed and features several fallen trees.

While we were playing, Honey set her front paws on one of those fallen trees and looked up at me as if to say, “Hey, where’s my treat?”

From that moment on, she knew to place her two front paws on a raised surface on cue. I guess she just needed some time to let things percolate.

Creative on cue.

I have no problem thinking of what to write at Something Wagging This Way Comes. I have more ideas than I have hours in the day. And of course, I limit my publication to the number of wordy, philosophically-inclined posts I think my readers can tolerate before surfing over to watch undemanding (and incredibly cute) puppy porn.

But Something Wagging is only one of my two blogs. And the current stress in my paid work is causing me to struggle with creating content for my other blog—which coincidentally covers the same theme as my paid work.

For me the best way to generate ideas is to steep myself in a subject. Think about it all the time. Observe it in other settings. Allow ideas to percolate until the good ones rise to the surface. And be patient with the process.

That’s why it’s easy to think of ideas for Something Wagging. Honey and dogs are in my thoughts all the time. I need to make room for other thoughts so I can move forward in writing for Hands on Home Buyer. Or decide to follow my puppy-infatuated heart and set help for home buyers free.

Sometimes it just clicks.

Honey the Golden Retriever with an apple

Need to try something new? How about a game of fetch the apple?

I know Honey wasn’t contemplating placing her paws up on a surface on cue for the past week. She is, after all, a dog. And she lives in the moment.

But I think that seeing the knocked over log triggered something in her brain. It looked familiar. And I was standing nearby with a pocket full of yummy treats. Why not just try something? And with my enthusiastic response, the learning clicked in.

We practiced a few more times. Now she owns it.

I need to put myself in a place where new ideas can just click. Maybe doing something different and shaking things up a bit will help. And, if not, I can always find plenty to write about Honey. She’s an endless source of inspiration.

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  1. In “Through a Dog’s Eyes” Jennifer Arnold had a similar situation when she was trying to teach one of her service dogs to carry a shopping bag. They practiced and practiced but the dog just wasn’t ‘getting’ it. The next morning was an entirely different story, the dog woke her up by prancing up and down in front of the bed carrying a shopping bag!! Yes, sometimes things just have to percolate. :-)

    When I’m struggling with blog content or need a topic to write with, I visit other people’s blogs (I stole an idea from you once.) :-) Sometimes you just need something presented in such a way that it triggers something else in you, which is exactly what Honey is teaching you. :-)

  2. Percolate, eh? I never thought of it that way before. When I have trouble of thinking of something to write about I do find the more I try to force something, the less it works. Lately I’ve been giving myself permission to slack off if I just don’t feel like writing. Usually after a short break the ideas flow more easily and I find I am overloaded with things to say.

    Honey is such an inspiration for all of us!

  3. You and Honey are indeed inspirations for all of us. The winter before this just past one, I had worked Justus on walk and halt so he would sit when I stopped at a crossing, for bicyclists, whatever. That winter was cold, blustery and icy – we didn’t work much at all so imagine my surprise when I finally got him out again and bam! his butt hit the ground when I stopped – no cue, no treat, no nothing. Percolate is a great word/concept. We aren’t the only species who need to “sleep on it.”

  4. How about “marinate”?!?! It’s crazy but we like it. We hope you find your inspiration soon. It sounds like Honey is definitely helping you out. That’s what we do best. Canines are very good at giving inspiration and a few other things. BOL! It sounds like your weekend was fun and relaxing. Give Honey a extra treat for us. :) ~ Weinerful Gang

  5. While training our dogs, we let things percolate all of the time. When I am working on something and I get stuck, I do the same thing. I take a break and come back to it, or sleep on it. I find that works the best for me. :)

  6. I always have a ton of things to write about too, the problem is I think of them at the worst times, like when I am trying to fall asleep at night. I can never think of them while I am staring at the computer screen. The words just come at the wrong time and then when I finally sit down to type them they are gone! Uggh! It’s the story of my life!

  7. I am much the same way Honey is. I need to see it, then walk away from it, and when I come back to it, I’m good! If I try to force it, though, it never ever works. My brain just isn’t wired that way. I do know that I always enjoy what you have to say about dogs and how they relate to the human condition!

  8. Last night was one of those times when the mind just wouldn’t shut off. The funny thing is our minds are always working, it’s just that most of the time we can do other things. It isn’t a big stretch to think that dogs minds continue to make connections long after the training session is over. So glad I found your blog. Enjoyable!

  9. Since I started our 2012 training challenges, I’ve found that both Maggie & Sadie need time for our lessons to sink in. If we work on a behavior for a few days, I need to give them a break for a couple days. Then when we go back to the training, we’re all refreshed and better able to teach & learn. If I try too many days in a row, we all end up getting frustrated. I’m pretty sure the percolating is just as valuable for me as it is for them – I have the time to think about what worked, what didn’t, and how to tackle the next training session to insure continued success.

  10. This is another great post – giving ourselves time and space to let the creativity flow so important. When we try to force it, it feels forced. Once again, Honey is brilliant!

    I’ve had the same experience trying to teach Buster new things – it’s like he gets a little overwhelmed trying to guess what I want him to do when we first try it. If I practice again with him the next day, he’s less anxious and can focus a bit better. It’s like the first time around he’s trying so hard to figure it out what I’m asking that he goes overboard. I don’t think it’s because you’re a bad trainer.

  11. I just want the cookie.

  12. Ahhh!!! The common issue many bloggers face. I know what you mean about waiting for new ideas to percolate. Even with my love of dogs, blogging this long sometimes leaves me wagging my head. Maybe your passion isn’t your work. Or, maybe your passion is your work, but perhaps certain angles of it. Maybe percolating on that will help. Either way, I love that Honey let it percolate and finally got “it”.
    Good luck percolating!

  13. Honey is wise, very wise indeed. I frequently need reminders to “perolate”. Maybe I should buy a percolator?

  14. This is actually called ‘latent learning’, which I bet you knew;) I see it often, more so in Beryl than Frankie. She has to mull things over, usually over night. Often when I’m shaping something with her she will walk away for a while, have a think, maybe do it better, maybe not in which case I know it’s time to put the clicker away. Next day she will usually get things right.

  15. i know i’m very late on this one but i couldn’t skip over without commenting. i think it’s great that you don’t put too much pressure on yourself with her learning things. i really need to start taking on that perspective. because i’m in school to become a trainer, i feel particularly useless when whatever i’m trying to do with desmond isn’t working. you always post such great reminders that we often ask so very much of our pups and instead we should take a step back and scratch them behind the ears instead. :-)

    also, great job with the capture of the paws up on the log! that’s such a cute little trick. i’d love to work on that one!