The Puppiness Project – Take a Pause

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.

Ever since she was a wee pup, Honey’s had an interesting habit. When she’s puzzled or confused or uncertain she sits down and scratches her neck. It’s a great gesture.

Golden Retriever with Cayuga Lake in the Distance

Nothing to be uncertain about here. I'm sure I look gorgeous against the background of the lake!

Stopping to scratch give Honey time to consider what I’m expecting from her.

Honey does this far less now because we understand each other much better today than when she was 3 months old. But I saw an interesting example of it the other day.

As we got to an intersection, I turned when Honey expected me to cross the street. She stopped, sat, and scratched. She obviously didn’t like my choice of route. But Honey knew she wasn’t supposed to pull on leash either.

I think Honey decided to scratch while she was considering how to tell me it was important to her to go the other way. I took the hint and walked in the direction she desired which prompted her to pop off the ground and vigorously smell something decorating the grass beside the crosswalk.

I need to learn a similar gesture.

I’m told I talk very fast. (But it’s only Ithacans who tell me that; I never heard that in Philly–maybe people hear slower here?). And my mouth works much faster than my brain.

So maybe I need a new gesture–something to slow me down a bit while I consider things. Since I do a lot of public speaking, I’ve worked hard to eliminate “ums,” “ers” and “y’knows” from my speech. So I’ve got to come up with a habit that allows me to slow down a bit and think.

What should it be? I don’t want to add any verbal tics. I’ve worked too hard to eliminate them. And I don’t see myself taking up smoking. Besides, all my current friends would stop talking to me (which, I guess, would give me lots of time to think).

So what should I do? Honey says I should just sit on the ground and scratch. I don’t think that will look too natural.

What do you do when you need to stop and think a while? This is a great question for you introverts. Do you have any habits you use to give you time to consider what you want to say?

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  1. What a nice post and tricky question to answer. I, too, talk fast. I also walk fast (almost jogging, actually) and, in general, live life at a fast pace. I’ve always been like that, but I realise that I won’t be able to keep that up as I grow older. Not that I’m old yet :)
    I don’t have a trick that makes me stop and think before I say or do something silly through rushing, but I wish I had one. Especially one that worked all the time. Sometimes I say something that later on I wish I’d worded differently, and then I run different scenarios in my head and practice different speeches that are all futile as they’re too late. And I promise myself that next time I’ll take a deep breath and give myself more time to think. Which I do try to remember, but doesn’t always happen.
    So, I’m not much help I’m afraid, but I’m really looking forward to see what others can advice on this :)

    P.S. I love Honey’s scratching technique, what a wise little girl!

    • Actually, taking a deep breath isn’t a bad idea. I wonder how long it would take me to learn that?

      Maybe I should try clicker training on myself?

  2. You are a smart dog-owner; I don’t think I ever would have connected the “scratch means I’m thinking” thing.

    I think the biggest problem with over-talkers (and I’m one of them) is that they always feeled compelled to give an answer to any question, a comment to any discussion. I had to learn that “I don’t know” and “I don’t really have an opinion on that” and “I’ll get back to you about it” are legitimate responses too. Sometimes I decide in advance “Today I’m just going to listen,” and try to speak as little as possible in a given situation. (Then someone says something completely asinine that I can’t bear to let and I blow it. :( )

    • Yeah, I’ve never done the “today I’m gonna listen” thing very well myself.

      I think part of it is because talking is part of my thought process. I talk to figure things out. But it can certainly get me into a lot of trouble with people who don’t understand that’s what I’m doing.

      BTW, it took me a little while to figure out the scratch thing. At first I was worried Honey had an ear infection. But it became obvious quickly that it was her “I’m confused” gesture.

  3. I tend to stop and take a deep breath, which not only gives me a pause to think, but helps me to center my thoughts. I’ve found that after I pause, I don’t always feel the need to rush ahead with what I was going to say, either. I can feel myself look inward when I do it.

    I like Honey’s head scratch a lot! It’s not only a pause to think, it’s also a signal to you that she needs to pause. :) She’s a smart and beautiful girl!

  4. When he’s being deposed Rod always takes a breath before he answers a question. I think it’s a great habit – one that I could use all the time! Like you, I often talk my way through my thoughts and keeping that commentary to myself would often be a good thing.

  5. I like the deep breath idea. Or how about taking a sip of water? Anything to force you to take a moment to collect your thoughts.

    A trainer once told me that dogs scratch when they are stressed. But I don’t think that is always true. I like your interpretation of Honey’s action much better – confusion makes more sense in these situations. Dogs are so much more natural about the way they communicate, aren’t they?

  6. Some dogs scratch when they’re frustrated (I saw a little puppy doing this and it was kind of cute). It’s actually called frustration scratching! But I guess stopping to take a moment’s another way to look at it.

    I’m also on the deep breath bandwagon. I sometimes need to walk it off, as well.

  7. Well, I either sit and take a smoke or sit and take deep breathes somehow hoping one balances the other out! lol I’m not a big talker, so it is easy for me to listen. I do scratch my head quite a bit when my brain is trying to wrap itself around something. I think Honey scratching her head is very cute. I don’t know if I have ever noticed it with our dogs. But I’ll have to keep my eyes open. Great thoughts!

  8. I am an introvert and while I gabble a lot on blogs, I don’t actually talk that much in real life. I find it quite hard to be a social butterfly. I find talking on phones even harder – no eye contact – thank goodness for text!

    So I guess, my answer would be – walk away or listen to the other people talking and only say something when I have something to say. Does that even make sense? Not sure I answered your question properly. Hmmm.

  9. I actually read this post yesterday, but being an innie, I had to think about my response for 24 hours before feeling comfortable enough to comment. 😉 (To be honest, my knee-jerk answer was alcohol – nothing like a glass of wine to put things into perspective.) I never really pay attention to how my dogs are pausing; although sometimes they just stop and look up at me like I’m a complete moron. Maybe you could try pausing to look at your audience (covertly, of course) like they’re morons. 😉