The Puppiness Project – Take a Vacation from Your Brain

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

Honey the Golden Retriever

Every day I defy the stereotype of the dumb blonde. That's why I think so 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.

Golden Retriever practicing with kayak on dry land.

If I get in, do you promise I'll get liverwurst?

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.

Muscle Memory

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.

Golden Retriever in kayak

Sniffffffff! Ooooh, I know. It's goose poop.

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.

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  1. It can be easy to over think things. Sounds like a nice day on the water.

  2. I am guilty of getting stuck in inertia, too! I ponder all the possibilities for far too long. At least I’m not the only one!

    And I’m jealous that you and Honey got to go kayaking! That’s something I’m really hoping we’re going to be able to do this summer. I’m not sure how Bunny is going to feel about it, but I have a feeling she’ll rise to the challenge!

  3. I can so relate to this one! There are many days where I do the very exact thing and wind up getting nothing done! I wish I could step outside my brain more often!-
    I can’t figure out which one gets me in more trouble!

    Love that you and Honey went kayaking! I’ve been thinking about taking the Newfs fishing!

  4. The more I read about my blogging family, the more alike I realize so many of us are. I over think a lot too. :-)

    I’m actually pretty impressed that you can get Honey out on a Kayak. I’m not sure either of my dogs could do that. I know with your hard work you will get Honey in that doggy bicycle cart, until then I will kick back and enjoy your stories. :-)

  5. Oh Pamela, I hear you on this one. The universe must be offering this lesson system wide right now.

    After working long hours every day since March to launch a dog rescue designed to benefit people, I hadn’t had a day off since Easter. I had become wholly unproductive and it was time to blow off steam. To ensure a good start to this brand new week, I started planning on Thursday. I spent one day watching bad TV and napping, The next involved a soak in the hot tub and playing with my dogs. The next was all about breakneck sailing with the rails in the water and eating ice cream for dinner. Yesterday I slept and played word games. Now I’m fully recharged. Welcome, Monday, my old love/hate friend. With my own animals by my side, I’m ready to move the rescue forward once again.

    Glad to hear that you and Honey are breaking those brain/body barriers as well! Sounds like real progress!!

  6. Love this! I am also a thinky-talky type of person and yes, like you, I get stuck in the deciding which thing to do. I like the idea of escaping to the kayak to get out of your head. For me, it’s walking at the dog park that does it. I am also a worrier, so just getting out and moving helps me to get past the inertia of worrying and thinking and into action. So glad you and Honey had a great day. :)

  7. Wonderful choice! I am so glad you didn’t miss out on such a beautiful day on the water. Far, far better for your mind and body than chores, which can always wait. Unfortunately, I didn’t achieve much this weekend, not even my laundry. I will have to keep this post in mind for the next one.

    I also think you are super brave to go kayaking with Honey. I love canoeing but kayaking has always frightened me a little. The boat is so tippy and I have these crazy thoughts about giant waves and getting trapped underneath. It’s impressive to me that kayaking is an activity that relaxes you.

  8. Sometimes it just takes a little goose poop to recharge the engines! :) I’m glad you had a wonderful day with Honey and were able to let go of your To Do List in favor of having a relaxing day. Sometimes, we all need to stop thinking about everything we need to do and do something fun (and not on the list!) instead.

  9. what a smart girl!

  10. Stepping out of my comfort zone and doing things that are maybe a bit scary is difficult for me. But usually there are big rewards. I can see that Honey reaped the rewards for her efforts. I just love the picture of you guys in the kayak, off on your adventure! I always learn something from you here!

  11. I love watching Elka think and try to puzzle things out. At times, it seems like it’s really only the language barrier holding us back, and even then, she can sometimes make a gesture at the correct or intended thing.

  12. My brain never turns off; it’s the biggest curse of my life. I’m always afraid of taking “me time” and regretting it later when the laundry isn’t folded or I’m scrambling to figure out what to make for dinner.

    Yet I’ve always believed that our biggest regrets are the things we *didn’t* do. Glad you and Honey went kayaking!

  13. I should probably be more like you. I tend to rush into things without giving them too much thought and sometimes have regrets later. Given my choice of things to do I would have gone kayaking and taken the consequences later.

  14. Yeah, I tend to over-thing things quite often.

    So dogs have the intelligence of 2-yr-olds? Fascinating. I’ve got to think about this… *wink*

  15. Oh.. over-thinking is all too familiar to me. But people say it like it’s always a bad thing. But is it really? Better to over-think than to not put enough thought into what you’re doing. :) We’ll eventually get the job done, it just takes a wee bit longer! 😀 Kayaking on the water sounds really relaxing. :) I’m glad you had a good day out :)

  16. What fun! I think you definitely made the right choice 😉

  17. Honey sounds a lot like my Linus. He really does over think things. The problem we’ve had is we haven’t been able to turn his brain off and let his body take over. We’ll keep working at it.

    It looks like you two had a great day out on the kayak.

    Happy Monday!

  18. I’m pretty thinky talky myself, so I can totally relate to this one. I spend far too much time analyzing things and trying to make decisions.

    Excellent choice, by the way. :)