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.
A Tale of Two Doggies
Honey has spoiled me.
She’s smart, eager-to-please, and an enthusiastic learner.
I’m not a good trainer. I get flummoxed easily. I don’t have good body awareness. I can’t hang onto treats, a clicker, and a leash at the same time.
But Honey makes me look good. She learns things before I even know I want to teach them to her.
Chérie is new in our house. Most of my time with her has concentrated on making sure she didn’t pee indoors, keeping her from playing with Honey while her stitches healed, and exposing her to scary things (shutting drawers, flapping towels, strange noises) in a gentle way. I hadn’t taught her much except to come to me when I coaxed her.
I could not lure her into a sit. She did not take treats from my hand. And outdoors, she was constantly distracted by smells.
So when our trainer suggested teaching her targeting, rewarding her for looking at a scary person, and training her to rest quietly on a mat while out on a walk, my stomach lurched. I’m ashamed to say it, but I couldn’t imagine Chérie learning all those things. And I couldn’t imagine teaching them to her.
Luckily (or not, if you’re an anarchist), I listen to authority figures. And when a six-foot plus man tells me to teach a dog three things, I gotta do it.
It took a while, but Chérie is becoming more excited about treats and has gotten better at taking them from my hand without dropping them (Honey taught her that, ha ha!). She taught herself to sit for a treat, probably by watching Honey, and I’m trying to get it on cue.
I had trouble recognizing that she was learning because she moves so slowly and deliberately.
When I say “touch” to Honey, she bounces in the air and pushes her nose, hard, into my hand. Believe me, you know she’s done it.
When I say “touch” to Chérie, she slowly and gently brushes my hand with her nose.
Honey hears me say, “Go to bed” and she looks for the nearest rug or dog bed and plops herself down so fast the dish towels move in the breeze.
Chérie doesn’t yet link the cue to the action. But she’s figured out that sitting on her towel gets her treats and I know the rest will come soon.
Once I stopped expecting Chérie’s learning style to match Honey’s, I was able to see how smart she really is. And I became more enthusiastic about teaching her.
Learning How to Learn
What do you do if you’d like to go on a sailing adventure but you don’t know how to sail? Well, you have to learn.
Over the winter, Mike and I spent every day reading sailing textbooks. When spring came, we took a few hours of lessons from our Community sailing center. And then, we spent every weekend pushing a small sailboat up and down the lake.
I’m intimidated learning beside my husband.
He has excellent recall of what he’s read. He can look at diagrams of knots and understand how they go together. And once he learns something, he has it for life.
But I’ve held onto something our first sailing instructor told us after hearing me lament about how much faster Mike was picking things up. He said, “Often the person who takes longer to learn, learns it better.”
I’m trying to remember that although I learn differently from Mike, I’m not learning less.
I can’t bring myself to drill like he does. Approaching a mooring ball over and over again for practice is not my idea of a good time. And spending an afternoon tying knots? Forget it.
But I learn more just by being out in the world. The wind makes more sense to me now. I can see the breeze approaching, on land or the water, before I feel it on my skin. I know intuitively that taking the jib down to approach the dock more slowly on a windy day will work, even if I’ve never read it in any of my books.
I’m not learning less. I’m just learning differently. Like Chérie.
Now that I’ve opened my eyes to the different ways Honey and Chérie learn, I’m noticing that much of what they learn from each other comes from mischief.
Honey became much less scared of the teeter board when Chérie butted into the middle of a training session and sat down on one end to get a treat.
Chérie got to experience some goofy fun when she learned from Honey how to dig a hole in the garden. (No, it’s not the first thing I’d teach either of them. But it’s never a bad thing to see a “fraidy dog” having fun, is it?)
So maybe I need to learn a new skill too: turning training into mischief-making so we can all have more fun.
And worry less about how we learn and care more that we all keep learning.
Have you ever faced challenges related to learning styles? For yourself? Or your dogs?
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.