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.
The Dog Who Thought Too Much
You wouldn’t suppose a dog would over think things. At least I wouldn’t.
We’re often told a dog is similar in intelligence to a two-year-old child. Let’s face it. Toddlers are not known for pondering (click the link for Alexander Horowitz’s amusing comparison of her child and her dog).
Dogs are creatures of instinct. Their bodies follow their noses. And yet Honey is nearly as prone to over thinking as I am.
In our training sessions with Honey, she does a lot of thinking. When we’re shaping behavior with the clicker you can almost see the cogs turning in her fuzzy brain as she tries to figure out how to repeat the behavior that got her the last treat.
But she really “thinks” about how to avoid ending up in too scary a position. She’ll put two paws into the Doggy Ride bicycle cart and then contemplate how far she can stretch while keeping her rear paws safely outside the moving object. Or she’ll dance around while she’s figuring out if she really has to step on the teeter to get a treat.
Enjoy your Body; Forget to Think
Our trainer, Russ, has us working toward getting Honey to jump in one side of the bike cart and out the other. He wants her to learn that she won’t be confined and can make a choice about coming and going. So far, however, we haven’t been able to encourage this behavior. Russ came up with a game to move her in the right direction.
He pulled a roll of tape out of his bag which we set up as a “jump” in the doorway. He called to her on one side of the jump. At first, she hesitated at the three-inch-off-the-ground tape. You could see the brain working. But pretty soon she jumped over and got a treat. Before long we were taking turns calling her back and forth over the jump and giving her treats. Her brain turned off and her body led her over the jump, at varying heights, with no trouble.
Stop Thinking; Start Doing
I over think everything. At work, I’m asked to produce statistics for the past seven years and I come up with at least five different ways to report the numbers. At home, I spend so much time deciding whether to do one thing or another, I end up running out of time to do either. I’ve been known to miss many a deadline while figuring out whether to take advantage of an opportunity.
I’m known as a “thinky talky” person, not a woman of action.
Yesterday the brain kicked in. I could work on my BlogPaws presentation. I also need to format my book review to appear Thursday at A Traveler’s Library. Or I could clean the house and do laundry to prep for the work week.
Pretty soon it became obvious that if I didn’t decide soon the day would be gone and I would not have gotten anything done. So, without thinking too much about it, I decided we’d go kayaking with Honey.
It was time to get out of my head and into my body.
It felt good out on the water. I don’t have to think about how to steer around the fishing lines coming off the bank. I just use my paddle as a rudder and turn the boat in a new direction. I feel the choppier water where the creek empties out into the lake and I shift position to crest the small wavelets head on.
Honey, the girl who doesn’t like things feeling unsteady under her feet, entered a new place too.
She placed her paws where she needed to feel steady in the rocking boat. Then she lifted her nose to the air and experienced all the scents we don’t normally get on a walk around the neighborhood—goose poop, baby ducks, barbecue from the park, dead fish—and all kinds of other smells I couldn’t begin to imagine.
It did both of us a lot of good to be out on the water on a beautiful, spring day. But it did us even more good to just move. And to not think.