The Puppiness Project – Work With What You Got

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.

When we took Honey to puppy good manners class, she was the star pupil. She was far ahead of the other students in knowing to come when called, sit quietly when asked, and even knowing her name.

But Honey was very reluctant in other areas.

Honey the shy pup

Golden Retriever Puppy at the Beach

I know you have a piece of cheese and my favorite toy. But this water stuff is scary!

When the teacher brought out an agility tunnel in a socialization exercise, Honey took the most persuading to go through. We finally managed it by having the instructor hold Honey at one end while I coaxed her through from the other.

And I’ve written about how stressful she found flapping tarps on one of our many rainy camping trips.

Honey is also the first dog I’ve ever had who is too timid to bust her way through a partially opened (or even a fully closed) door. While it’s nice to have bathroom privacy for the first time in my dog-loving life, I feel very sad hearing her whining on the other side of the door because she wants to join us but it too scared to nudge the door open a little more with her muzzle.

I have to face it. Honey is a timid dog.

She’s not a “drop to the ground and shut down in the face of any stimulation” kinda dog. And she’s not a “cowering under the bed when something new happens” pup. But she can be spooked by any number of ordinary things–a wheelbarrow sitting upright, a laundry basket, a broom, a snowman.

Despite her breeders raising her in a home environment and exposing her to household life and our careful socialization efforts, Honey is a ‘fraidy cat. If you saw her near a laundry basket or a broom, you might speculate (wrongly) that Honey had been abused with such objects in her past. But I’m realizing it’s just the way she is. I can work with Honey to improve her comfort around strange (to her) objects. But I never know what will scare her next.

Honey gets frightened by any number of things. And that’s just the way she’s wired. It means that I need to be patient when introducing Honey to new things and to realize she won’t ever be a fearless and independent dog. She’s unlikely to ever be an agility star, for instance. Or at least not without years spent just getting her comfortable with the equipment.

Pam the hibernator

If I tell you I’m the kind of person with lots of big ideas, would you be surprised?

I fill notebooks every year with thousands of ideas–things I could do, businesses to start, activities to do with Honey, combinations of all of the above (what do you think of me and Honey providing entertainment at children’s birthday parties where we combine fun dog tricks and teaching bite prevention?).

I’m a gregarious, talkative, creative person–sometimes.

But I also have body rhythms I need to work with. I’m at my best early in the morning so I’m up by 5 a.m. every weekday morning to post something to my home buyer’s blog before my brain gets too fried. I rush home at lunch to try to post at Something Wagging This Way Comes because I come home from work (sometimes as late as 9 p.m. after teaching) with absolutely nothing left. Zilch. Nada.

And as the days get shorter, I feel myself slowing down for the coming winter.

The only thing that feels worse than knowing you don’t have the energy to do all the things you’d like to do is beating yourself up for not having the energy to do all the things you want to do.

Learning how to work with what you got

If I can accept that Honey is a timid girl and not the go-getter independent dog I anticipated, I should be able to accept that I turn into a slug every evening around 7 p.m. and at half past October every year.

Maybe I need to apply the same rules to myself that I’m applying to working with Honey.

  • Don’t try to accomplish everything at once.
  • Leave a little more time to do one thing.
  • Accept that if I haven’t been able to change myself in 40 odd years that it may not be happening.

As I travel around blogville, I find I’m not the only person who struggles with working with what I’ve got. Several introverts have lamented their shy side. And at least one caring dog person has expressed anxiety over not being able to train her rescue dog to be 100% reliable off leash (a tough test for any trainer and dog).

I’m inspired by all the people who have pushed boundaries and accomplished things they never thought they could.

But I’m going to push back against the “you can do it if you only try hard enough” messages all around us. Sometimes it’s OK to accept what you have. You don’t have to remake everything. Sometimes you can just work with what you’ve got.

So excuse me while I duck into my cave and live off my fat reserves (if only it were true) for the winter in preparation for the coming spring. I may not set any records for creativity or accomplishments this coming dark season. But I’m not going to beat myself up about it.

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  1. Good for you Pamela! I too have ‘big’ ideas, but never seem to have the where-with-all to accomplish them.

    I said to hubby last night, I need more weekend and less week. Not surprising I don’t have the energy I once had and I sometimes feel over-whelmed with some things I have taken on; yet find myself wanting to take on more. I need to find a way to stop beating myself up.

    As for Honey, well we all have our fears right? Mine is flying, I have to fly soon and I am sick to my stomach and all worried about who will take care of my babies if something happens.

    Oh for a magic pill…

    • My major life goal is to make my week feel more like a weekend. Do you think I’ll ever achieve it?

      Good luck on your flight. I know everything will go fine.

  2. I love you – and I REALLY REALLY REALLY needed this reminder today, as I rush to try to finish handmade Halloween costumes, cook a dinner for 20, write a thoughtful (and hopefully funny) blog post, write a recipe using leftovers and test drive it for Tomorrow’s Tasty Tuesday blog hop and about 65 other things I would love to do today, this week, this month, this year…The rainy season usually makes me a slug to and I have really been trying to fight that this year (The rainy season in Vancouver starts now and it will last until late May!), but you’re right, if I don’t achieve as much as I’d like, there is no reason to beat myself up.

    • I hope you had a great Thanksgiving and didn’t go too crazy.

      Oh, and your post was very funny. I don’t know how you do it.

  3. I think it’s important that we all learn and accept our limitations. I have an underactive thyroid for which I am and always will be on medication. I don’t have as much stamina as I would like, especially now that I am past the big 5-0. And I also deal with seasonal affective disorder. I try to eat right, exercise and get enough sleep to help deal with these things – and I also try to remember that not living life in the fast lane is okay. You get to enjoy the scenery when you drive a little slower! 😉

    • Good reminder to go slow enough to enjoy the scenery.

      I find it never helps me to hate myself for not doing more. It’s so unproductive. But I have to keep reminding myself of that over and over again.

  4. Love your post! I *will not* feel guilty about not writing a blog post today. I *will not* feel guilty about not taking one of the dogs on a Monday Funday hike this rainy day. I *will* bake some comforting cranberry banana nut bread, do a little house cleaning but spend most of the day being an absolute lazy bum. :) It’s important to pull over to the slow lane from time to time – I think it refreshes our reserves for when we kick it back into high gear!

    I too thought my Maggie would never, ever be able to accept agility gear until we took a training class that so happened to have some agility gear in it. She took right to a couple of them and now I’ve been thinking about getting a small agility set for the backyard. This from my dog who is terrified of brooms and refuses to go over or under virtually anything. Who’d a thunk it??

    • Hooray for not feeling guilty!

      And thanks for the encouragement about agility. I won’t write it off for Honey. As your experience with Maggie shows, our dogs can always surprise us. :)

  5. Sometimes the greatest accomplishment is just seeing what we already have–“We have already arrived!”

  6. Wow Pamela, you really hit it on the head today. We all push ourselves way too hard. We’ve fallen hard for this “we can all be Super(wo)man” mentality that says if you haven’t won a Nobel prize by 38 you might as well jump off a bridge.

    I am in a constant struggle between the person I am (someone who gets very anxious under stress) and the person I want to be (a high achiever). I feel I have never reached my potential… yet (sorry if this is really really obnoxious) I have well-behaved and well-adjusted children, an accomplishment I really wouldn’t trade for anything. (Yes, that’s definitely partly due to the raw materials handed to me– but even a perfect diamond can be destroyed with the wrong instrument. The Spouse and I do get some credit.)

    I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to accept myself as “good enough,” but I’m working at it.

    • Having a happy and confident family is the greatest goal to work towards. It sounds like you have accomplished so much already. And yes, you and the Spouse should enjoy the credit for having good kids.

  7. I enjoyed this. I especially like the accept what you’ve got. I sometimes get down on myself because Rumpy is not the well-behaved dog like I see on some blogs. But he is what he is and I love him for it. And at this point I don’t think he’s going to change.

    • I think it’s great to train our dogs. But you’re right that not every dog is going to end up perfect. I try to remember that even a certain percentage of guide dogs wash out of the program. They’re bred and socialized to the highest standards and yet some are not equipped to become guide dogs.

      If that’s true for guide dogs, maybe we need to cut our dogs (and ourselves) some slack for not being perfect.

  8. My personal belief is that you can’t accomplish much of anything until you know your strengths and weaknesses. I can’t ask my dogs to do something until I’ve laid the foundations for them to get there, and I can’t ask it of myself, either. I struggle with keeping my goals realistic, but I think that I do better in trying to attain them when I do.

  9. I love what you learn from Honey. This is something I’ve come to terms with myself, too. Certain things like busy highways, tunnels and being up in a high floor in a skyscraper, make me kind of panicky so I tend to avoid them. For years I have felt like I should face and overcome these things. This actually cases more stress. So lately I just accept that there are certain things that probably will always make me feel a bit stressed and that’s okay. How often do I need to go in a tunnel, anyway?!

  10. Maybe we’ll pass on the way? I’m just coming out of hibernation, albeit reluctantly. I love having a good excuse for being lazy. Too cold, too wet, too windy, too dark won’t work for the next 6 months or so:)

    You will have heard the old saying about getting the dog you need, not the dog you want? Perhaps in Honey’s case she has got the owner she needs? I can’t think of anybody better to deal with her anxieties than you. I’m sure with you by her side she has a much greater chance of being all that she can:)

  11. I couldn’t agree more with this post. When I first took in My Honey from a hording situation I just knew I could get her to come around and be just like other dogs. After 20 months of being with her and trying everything I knew regarding training a family dog, I now have the dog I really needed.

    She has taught me patience, understanding and how to really love something that isn’t the predetermined norm. She still will not allow petting, leashing, or any of the normal (whatever that is) dog stuff. When asked by visitors why she’s that way, my reply is “Because…. That’s just the way she is right now and maybe always will be”

    After, almost 2 years with her, I also learned not to push her, and as a side effect, not to push myself. As I like to say, “100 years from tomorrow who is going to care, no one I know”

  12. Just as people are born with natural tendencies and personalities, so are dogs. Sometimes there is nothing you can do about certain inclinations. You can’t cure Honey’s natural cautiousness and I can’t cure Shiva’s heedlessness. Maybe the best thing to do is just go with it, find a way to make their instinctive behaviours part of our success.

    I have a huge tendency to hibernate and to procrastinate. It is all too tempting to take your advice as permission to do so just a little longer!

  13. Amen… I think there’s such a message in society that we can do it all if we only work hard enough. That seems a bit unlikely – there’s only so much energy and time in the day!

  14. Serenity now. :) Why is that darn Serenity Prayer so hard to remember when you need it? (I’m speaking about myself here.) (BTW, I am in awe that you can crank out these posts on your lunch break.)

  15. Learning to work with what you’ve got…Wouldn’t it be cool if we all learnt to do that? Imagine a world of full-potential achievers (whatever the level of ability) and no false expectations…Nice…
    Although quite bold and confident for his breed, George is still a shy dog by ‘normal’ dog standards, so I’m in the same position as you: always on the lookout for things that might frighten him. He’s got no problems bursting into the bathroom at the wrong time, though…Maybe Honey can teach him some manners.

  16. It seems to be part of our culture to always be striving for more. We get one house, we want a bigger one, or one in another location where we can go to get away from the first one. The same goes with cars, clothes, and jobs. Being content doesn’t seem to come naturally anymore. It’s unfortunate, because as far as I can tell accepting and being grateful for what we have is the only thing that really makes us happy.

  17. Wow. What a perfect post for yet another introvert…and for one with a scaredy-cat dog who has never been abused. People assume abuse when a dog is scared of a rake, or the garden hose, or people with hats…especially a rescue dog…when she may just naturally be a timid dog. And you said it perfectly…I need to have the same patience with myself that I have for my dog. Beautiful.