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
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.