The Puppiness Project – Learn a Little Bit More Each Day

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

I learn a little bit every day. Today it's "roll over." Tomorrow it's astrophysics.

Regular readers may recall my vow to regularly progress in my training with Honey so that I experienced tremendous humiliation if we didn’t reach our goals. The first was to pass the Canine Good Citizen test. While I’ve been working with her on all the areas we’ll need to pass, I haven’t actually scheduled a test so I don’t have that looming in front of me.

The second goal was to take Honey with me to BlogPaws 2011. And that’s a done deal. The tickets are bought and the hotel room is reserved.

So if you read a report that a Golden Retriever attending BlogPaws went rogue and broke into hotel rooms looking for socks and underwear to carry around in her mouth, you’ll know I didn’t do a very good job and that we should have done more training.

But I have kept making slow and steady progress by working with her every day just as I promised you I would.

I figured out that the easiest way for me to practice was by incorporating training into our walks. My biggest priority has been loose-leash walking on a plain collar. I’m also working on having her wait for me to signal “ok” when we cross a street, walking quietly by other dogs without soliciting play, and walking quietly by people without soliciting play (I told you she was a love slut; those are pretty hard skills).

Incorporating training into an every day activity like a walk, makes it feel a lot less like work. And it ensures that our training will happen every day and for a limited period with plenty of breaks to keep her (and me) from getting tired.

While I hope I don’t need special training to make sure I’m socially acceptable at BlogPaws (you always pick your nose with your pinky extended, right?), I am signed up for weeklong, live aboard sailing lessons on Lake Ontario soon. If I learn everything I’m supposed to, I should be able to pass several written and sailing tests to earn certifications.

While I appreciate that I’ve learned a lot in the few months I’ve been studying and sailing, I have so much more to learn. I don’t respond intuitively to a command to turn a boat leeward or windward and hate anything that involves math like figuring out  boat displacement or wind vectors. If I want to pass my tests, I’ve gotta get busy.

Golden Retriever sitting on lap of man on lawn chair.

See, I am a fast learner. I've already figured out where to find the most comfortable seat.

But I think the Honey method of learning will save the day. I carry a sailing book around in my backpack so I can read a little more every time I have a line to wait in. I walk around paying attention to where the wind is coming from so I can figure out what point of sail I’d be on if I were a boat. And when I see a picture of a boat, I go over the names of the parts in my mind.

I hope that I’ll learn more easily by spending a little bit of time throughout the day practicing–like Honey does on her walks. Eventually it will sink in and I’ll know everything I need.

And if I flunk all my sailing tests? At least I know how to walk quietly around the block and watch both ways before crossing the street. That’s something, isn’t it?


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  1. So bummed that I cannot make BlogPaws this year. Virtual hugs to you and Honey.

  2. I like the Honey method of learning, too. I am a horrible test taker! I can learn the required knowledge and apply it practically, but I am awful on tests. I put a lot of pressure on myself when it comes to test taking, and it often backfires on me. I envy you being able to go to Blog Paws! I hope you and Honey have an awesome time!

  3. As long as you don’t talk in a mean voice while dropping bits of meat on the ground, I’m sure you’ll do splendid at BlogPaws. (I’m sorry, that image is so etched in my brain… between that and the snowpooball, I can’t think of you and your husband without laughing.) As for Honey– no one can resist a golden retriever, even if she has your last good pair of underwear in her mouth.

  4. There is math involved in sailing? I guess that’s another activity I will be avoiding. Even reading the word vector gives me hives. *shudder*

    But I am so impressed with you for committing to something like this. It’s so exciting! I have no doubt you will achieve success if you put in all this hard work. Having a concrete goal helps.

    I remember in university I had to do a report on the most boring book in the history of the world. At least it seemed that way at the time. I didn’t think I’d ever finish but by carrying it with me everywhere I went – I even read it while waiting in line at the grocery store – and setting a goal of twenty-five pages a day, I somehow got it done. (And aced the report as well, I might add). That book sits proudly on my shelf to this day. Just so I can give it a kick every once in a while. 😛

    Good luck! I can’t wait to hear all about it!

    • I am SO curious what that book was… (not to mention, when I first read the comment, I literally thought the assignment was, “Write about the most boring book you ever read.”)

      • It was called “The Age of Respectability” I believe. It was a history text on Victorian Britain and delved very deeply into economics and important social mores of the time. The class was awesome. The book was not. I still have it and can send it to you for a read if you like!

  5. Very much wish I was going to BlogPaws this year, but I’ll have to make do with hearing the terrific accounts from my blogging friends.

    And yes, an extended pinkie makes everything look a little classier.

  6. So wishing I could actually meet you and Honey at BlogPaws this year. That would have been so cool (p.s. I think you’re supposed to use your index finger to pick your nose).

    I am also impressed with the walk and train method. I did this a lot when I walked my doggie clients and it always made it fun and allowed them to learn and get exercise. I should be doing that with Daisy and Jasper, but since our walk is always at the dog park, it’s kind of hard to do.
    I also like applying the same method to learning your sailing rules and terms. I truly think it’s admirable that you are doing this. I only sailed on a little Sunfish as a kid, but I really enjoyed it. To be able to do it for real, like the adults do, is beyond cool. I hope you pass your test!

  7. It’s so cool that you’re going to BlogPaws. Such a shame I’m not on the right continent, I definitely would have gone for it if I was. Well, I hope you girls have the best time ever…I’m sure Honey will behave perfectly, but I’ll keep my eyes on the press just in case 😛
    Training during walks is what we opted for, too, mainly because of the lack of time. I wish I could spend the day playing with George or ‘teaching’ him, but life isn’t like that, I’m afraid.
    Best of luck with the sailing, too…You would have liked the Lake District, it’s water sports paradise :)

  8. Have fun at BlogPaws! I’m sure Honey will do fine. (Even if she does break into rooms and steal underwear, people can’t get too upset because she’s just that cute.) And good luck with the sailing test. I think the “learn a little every day” method is a great way to do that. It keeps you from being overwhelmed, and I think you actually learn better if you break things up and absorb each new fact while your brain is at least somewhat fresh. Too long staring at the same thing, and my brain goes, “Sorry, full. No more information will be processed.”

    Diamond has finally, finally *finally* figured out the command “Stand up.” (She has “sit” down cold and “lie down” mostly there, but was having trouble with “stand up.” I’d hold the treat up to lure her to stand, and she’d do this little shar-pei commando crawl toward it. Which, while adorable, is not what was intended.)

  9. So excited to meet you and Honey at BlogPaws!

  10. I’m a terrible student – I can’t focus for very long on one subject, I get extremely anxious when “quizzed” (even if you asked me my name on the fly, I get very nervous I’ll be wrong…), etc etc. It wasn’t until I discovered TAGteach [] that I actually enjoyed learning new things again. You should check it out – you might find it helpful in your boating certification!!

  11. You and Honey will have a blast at Blogpaws:) I think it’s so cool that you can take your pets with you. I presume it will be mostly dogs there, can’t imagine many people would take anything else?

    Your sailing tests sound very scary to me. Maths alone is very scary. Good luck with the course and eventually the tests. Honey’s method of learning sounds extremely ‘doable’. I must get back into doing some training with my kids, I seem to have burnt myself out doing her CGC and their dancing stuff! Even I could manage 5 minutes a day!