The Puppiness Project – The Blessing Accompanies the Curse

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.

Working with a ‘fraidy dog

Golden Retriever showing signs of anxiety

You know I don't like having my picture taken. Can't we go play now?

With the help of our new trainer, we’re making slow but steady progress on helping Honey confront some of her fears.

But it isn’t easy to watch Honey cower from an unfamiliar object. Or to see her avoid touching two wooden steps on our regular walk through the neighborhood. I feel badly for her. And I feel badly for us.

Sometimes I wish she was a more confident dog.

But then I stop and think about all the ways Honey is just perfect. I can trust her off leash in many situations and know she won’t go bounding (or even meandering) off to explore on her own. She will look to me for help in making decisions. And she never causes trouble—no counter surfing, no nosy exploration of trash, no climbing up on the table just to see what there is to see.

The negative emotion of fear (the curse) is accompanied by a blessing. I just need to remember to see it.

Is there an up side to being down?

I understand negative emotions–despair, hopelessness, fear. They are all familiar friends. Then, of course, there’s the anger that comes from trying to understand why I have a brain that turns to the dark side.

It’s not always easy to remember, but my familiarity with pain gives me a gift—empathy. If someone is trapped in a dark place, experiencing grief, fear, or despair, I get it. Deep in my gut, I get it.

The curse of despair brings the blessing of empathy.

I don’t yet have the emotional maturity to know what to do with this empathy but I hope it will come in time. After all, there has to be some reason for experiencing other people’s dark places as well as my own.

Empathy certainly helps me understand Honey’s fears. Fear is an old, lingering, and unappreciated friend of mine.

Fear on two wheels

Lately, when I ride my bike, my mind holds very dark visions. Every turn I make brings an image of my losing balance at speed and falling hard to the pavement. Riding fast down a steep grade in gusty winds causes me to see myself being blown off my bike and into the path of a passing car. Each pothole makes me wonder if this time I’ll blow a tire and go head first over my handlebars. (And my town has a lot of potholes; you can imagine the adrenaline.)

Can I tell you it takes a lot of the fun out of riding a bike?

And yet, it helps me understand Honey. Every time she conquers a fear and takes a step forward, I realize just how brave she’s being.

Fear on four paws

Golden Retriever retrieves a ball

I'd stop to tell you what scares me but I'm having too much fun.

Something in Honey’s brain is sending her messages that a ramp placed flat on the ground is dangerous. She feels an object that moves unexpectedly could bring her harm. But she is facing her fears and making progress moving forward.

Maybe, in the course of our concentrated work on her fears, Honey will gain confidence. Perhaps she’ll feel comfortable doing things in the future that terrify her now.

But even if she remains scared, I’ll try to remember that the fear might just be the curse that accompanies all the blessings she brings to our lives. And that my own dark thoughts may somehow allow me to bless somebody else.

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  1. Mike Webster says:


  2. I love today’s post! It’s all very true. I have the same blessing and curse. This is actually a good way for me to look at Morgan, too. Perhaps I feel a post of my own coming on! lol

    • I had a feeling you might understand. I’d encourage you to write about the “curses” and “blessings” of living with Morgan. I know I’d love to read it. :)

  3. And you can be thankful that fear doesn’t come with the need to attack the bad scary thing. Try hanging onto a 150 lb mastiff that feels she needs to bark and jump at the scary balloon, dog, moving vehicle….

    • Thank you for the reminder of one more thing to be thankful for. Yes, I am quite happy for my petite, 50 pound golden retriever. :)

  4. The Golden we had before the Chessies sounds very much like Honey. He had some fears (gun fire being a major one), but he also was great off lead and never had annoying habits. Unfortunately he could never do the job he should have been bred to do. He was very birdy, but gunfire sent him running. We tried to desensitize him, but never could. Still he was a great dog.

    • So many Goldens have been bred for new work–therapy, service, and companionship. It appears that the hunting and tracking lines have been underemphasized recently. It must have been disappointing to end up with a gun shy dog. But it sounds like he was still a great companion.

      However, it appears that Storm, Thunder, and Freighter have what it takes to do what you need them to do.

      • So true, the drive has been bred right out of many Goldens. The breeder we bought the dog from was honest in saying he would probably not be a hunting dog. He was so birdy though that we thought we would try a couple of different things to see if he could overcome it. He was just never able to.

  5. I’ve frequently said how envious I am of my dog for her complete lack of fear but at the same time, it does make me worry for her as well. She never thinks of her own safety and one day this could cause her serious harm. We’ve used a lot of training techniques to help show her the value of being more thoughtful and cautious but her grasp on control is very precarious. Sometimes handling Shiva feels like driving a race car, when I haven’t even learned how to drive a station wagon. Fear can definitely be a blessing!

    • I love the race car analogy. But look at all you’ve learned from having a Ferrari instead of a Volkswagen Beetle. If your first dog of your own was “soft and easy,” you would never have learned all you’ve learned in the past 3 years with Shiva.

      Agatha and Christie were certainly a challenge all those years ago. But I don’t think I’d have developed so much interest in understanding how dogs tick if they hadn’t motivated me to figure out just what I was dealing with.

      The one thing you have on your side, besides learning so much about dogs, is that Shiva is settling in as she gets older. Even tornados slow down eventually. :)

  6. I like to think I have the gift of empathy as well. I also think if I actually knew what the dogs were thinking I could definitely handle the situation.

    You are making great strides with Honey, I know you will help her overcome whatever her fears our. Her fear also keeps her close to you, sometimes I wish Delilah had a little fear. :-)

    • I’m not always sure I want to know what dogs are thinking… :)

      If you were in one of my long-ago journal writing classes, I’d probably prompt you to come up with 10 things you love about Delilah’s independent spirit, courage, and problem-solving skills. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend that exercise when you’re nursing a sore arm after her mad dash or untangling her from the neighbor’s lawn furniture. :)

      • I think I could come up with ten. I know it sounds like I’m grumbling, but I seriously know how far my dog has come. It’s the ways to go that gets me down sometimes. :-)

  7. Aw, Honey!

    She’s lucky to have you working with her, and trying to understand her!

  8. What a sweet story!

  9. Woof! Woof! Golden Thanks for sharing a Sweet Golden Story. I do have some fears and can totally relate. Lots of Golden ALOHA n Woofs, Sugar

  10. You have empathy in spades. You are one of the most supportive, creative persons I have met in the Blogosphere. I appreciate and read every word you write. Both you and Honey, while having your fears, don’t seem to allow them to define you – you both move on despite them. Kudos!

    • Thanks for the encouragement, Roberta. It was scary to write this post and only remembering my kind and supportive blogworld friends gave me the courage to write it. :)

  11. Again you have shared my faith and fear in one post. Fear is a great equalizer, whether we acknowledge it or not. I’ve learned from Brut the different sides of fear and how I didn’t know most of my anger is portrayed as such. And while his is the most prominent all of our dogs have fears of something and I’ve had to learn to work with it or avoid it to some level. While I practice these measures on them, I find them integrating into myself to help me work through my own fears.

    I’m glad Honey has you to understand her fears and that she in turns understands yours. Isn’t it an awesome relationship we get to have??


  1. […] Project series, where she attempts to learn lessons about how to be happy from Honey. The latest, The Blessing Accompanies the Curse, is a reminder to see a silver lining in every cloud, just like our dogs do. Share […]