We Can’t Fix Everything and We Shouldn’t Try – Good for the Dog; Good for You

Honey the Golden Retriever asks how anyone could make her better.

How could anyone improve me?

Do you want to piss me off? Send me a woman’s magazine.

There’s nothing I hate more than being told I’m a failure because of my poorly groomed brows, disorganized pantry, and lack of a thigh gap.

Want to piss me off even more?

Take that culture of self-improvement used to sell worthless products and make it pervade every discussion of importance. If you can’t feed your family on your minimum wage job, you’re not trying hard enough. You need to work harder at saving your marriage. And you’re a rotten parent if your kids decide to act out.

Y’know what? Sometimes we have bad luck. Humans make wrong choices that are tough to recover from. And we can’t fix everything. And we shouldn’t try.

Not with ourselves. And not with our dogs.

The Perfect Dog Myth

Honey had the best start any puppy could have.

Her breeder tested her parents for common genetic abnormalities in golden retrievers. Her first few weeks of life, Honey slept not only with her mother and siblings, but with the breeder who stayed on the couch at night until he was convinced all the vulnerable puppies would be okay.

She was exposed to normal household noises, old people, children, grooming, and travel at a very early age.

I knew that given all her advantages, I could train Honey to be a perfect dog.

I was wrong.

Honey is not perfect. And neither am I.

But she’s perfect for me.

Honey the golden retriever is timid.

Who wants to be bold and independent? I’d miss out on all the treats.

Despite months of careful socialization, Honey is a little on the shy side. I continue to work at boosting her confidence and have watched her make tremendous progress. But her timidity is part of who she is.

And I’m glad I haven’t trained her completely out of it. Because her slight uncertainty keeps her safe. Off-leash, Honey stays close to me. She’d never go dashing off on a great adventure like my previous dog, Shadow. Or some of my beagle and hound mix foster pups, for that matter.

But if dog magazines were anything like women’s magazines, I’m sure I’d be reading articles telling me how to give Honey the confidence of a rottweiler or shiba inu. There would be the five steps to keep your dog from rolling in smelly things. And advice for grooming her feet so they look like a show dog’s.

When we’re always focused on improvement, we judging something else as wrong. And that’s a horrible way to live. Who wants to think if themselves as always lacking?

Honey the golden retriever sits pretty.

If I were really bold, I’d drink your tea.

I Love and Hate Self-Improvement

One of the reasons I hate bossy self-improvement literature so much is because I love it at the same time. As a teenager, I pored over magazines to figure out how to make myself perfect. I tried some crazy stunts to make myself thinner, like refusing to eat on weekends or swimming three miles or more each day.

As I got older, men stopped following me off the bus or propositioning me on the street. There wasn’t much I could do about my looks anymore. So I focused on my job skills.

I get a lot of compliments on my public speaking skills. And I still wonder if I should be taking classes to make them even better.

I worry about how bad I am at following up on details. I adopt systems and lists to get better.

But like Honey’s timidity having a good side, I find that my unwillingness to tie down every detail in my work has its benefits too. It makes me more creative.

Honey the golden retriever cares for Mike when he's sick.

My best trait is being a leg warmer when someone in the house is sick.

If I never quite finish a project, I have to “fly by the seat of my pants” when I present it. If I forget to nail down a detail, I have to figure out some way to work around the problems that arise.

Listening to the advice that I need to be better organized and more detailed-oriented would probably cause my creativity to suffer. So what should I do?

We need to find a balance that keeps us striving to be better and more engaged without beating ourselves up for not being perfect. And we need to do it for our dogs too.

Start With Kindness

It’s easy to judge. It’s harder to be kind.

But I think kindness is key to finding the balance between striving to do better and accepting ourselves for who we are.

And the first part of kindness is asking, “Does this need to be fixed?”

Do introverts really need to know how to make cocktail party chatter or how to network at a conference? Or are there other ways of showing your value?

Does Honey, in the life she’s living, need to be bold? Or is a slightly timid dog who looks to her people for comfort okay?

Honey the golden retriever runs.

I hear that some dogs have elective surgery to make their ears stand up. How would I look with German Shepherd ears?

And do I really need to feel bad that it took me three years to design my blog and that I’m still tweaking it and making changes? (Check out my new footer at the bottom of the page to see what I’m working on now.) Maybe I can just feel good about writing 975 posts on a greater variety of topics than probably any other dog blog out there. (Except perhaps for Kristine in Rescued Insanity who puts my creativity to shame.)

Or maybe, if I get really radical, I can accept myself just for breathing air without worrying about what I accomplish at all.

We can’t fix everything. Especially since many of our problems aren’t problems at all. They’re just different ways of being.

And if we can learn to fix fewer things and be more forgiving of ourselves, our dogs, and others, we’ll end up being better anyway. I bet that little bit of kindness would be good for the dog and good for us.


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  1. I think thigh gaps are the most disgusting things ever. Usually, thigh gaps come along with camel toes. Which is the FIRST most offending thing on the planet. Ew.

  2. This post is perfect! The problem with a lot of magazines is they make you feel like you should be comparing yourself to others or that is there only one acceptable standard (whether its beauty, housekeeping or childrearing). Diversity is one of life’s treasures and its a shame that some magazines don’t reflect that. Real life is hard and messy at times. Some have it harder than others, but I have doubts that many people live like the magazines imply we should.

    I think the same is true with dogs. Its not all about the nurturing, personalities are there at birth. Life experiences influence us, but I don’t think people or animals completely change their nature.

    • Great point about a single acceptable standard. You are so right.

      And having everyone look (and act) the same in media skews our vision. We mistakenly start to think the standard is right and everything else looks weird.

      I think of those shots of celebrities without makeup that are supposed to be so shocking. I used to agree. But now that I live somewhere that not all women wear makeup, my eyes have adjusted. And I can see that they look just as beautiful. Just not made up.

  3. Perfect! As I get older I care less and less about what the world in general thinks of me. I am happy with me, the hubs is happy with me, and so are my friends. That’s good enough for me.

  4. Yes. Yesyesyes click treat. And the kindness part? I think I’ll make that the ultimate goal, and not worry much about the rest.

    • Ooooh, thanks for the click and treat. :)

      And as I get older, I’m finding kindness is the best fallback position. Sometimes it fails me. But not nearly as often as it works.

  5. There’s no doubt, we are our own worst enemy! It seems to be a fairly universal trait in humans. Constantly chiding ourselves that life would be so much better if we were thinner, had a better job (richer!), prettier…the list goes on and on….Think of all the time we waste worrying about silly stuff! It’s a good thing we do grow out of it for the most part as we age.

    • I’d be curious to know if it really is universal? Or if some cultures are more subject to it than others.

      The U.S. is quite famous for it’s self help culture. I wonder if everyone is as prone to it as we are. Especially if they aren’t exposed to as much television.

      BTW, how is the knee? Are you getting back to normal?

  6. I completely see what you mean about trying to make myself as perfect as the ones in the magazines. It’s no wonder I had self esteem issues as a teen. As a pet owner or dog mom, it’s the same. If my dogs have temperament or obedience problems, I am a failure. Since I have a difficult time getting Maya to heel, despite making progress after years and years of work, I can still be perceived as not doing enough to train her or to train her right. And since Pierson has dog aggression, it somehow reflects badly on me when I walk across the street in order to avoid confrontation. So unfair. I am not perfect. My dogs aren’t perfect. But we are perfect for each other (like you said about Honey). And we really do try.

    • I think it reflects very well on you when you cross the street with Pierson when dogs are coming. It means you’re in tuned with his needs and care to keep him from becoming anxious and for frightening other dogs.

      It didn’t make it into this post, but when I’m considering this topic, I think about service dogs. They are bred and socialized to the very highest standards. Organizations spend thousands of dollars in training. And yet a high percentage of dogs wash out of the program and never become service dogs.

      If it were possible to change every dog into exactly what we thought they should be, don’t you think Guide Dogs of America would have done it by now?

  7. My biped hardly ever looks at women’s magazines, but she gets angry when she does. She says they’re destructive. But some of the so-called serious media isn’t much better – they will focus on the appearance of a woman rather than what she was saying.
    It is sometimes difficult to find a balance between improving and striving for perfection.

    • Your female biped is right to criticize serious media for enforcing unrealistic standards as well. And I get really mad when I see that men are allowed to look paunchy and ordinary while women in the same business have to look perfect.

      I guess it’s lucky for you that you’re naturally beautiful. Or else your female biped might be jealous. :)

  8. You and Jen think a lot alike. Truth be told, self-esteem is dangerous to our economy, because people that feel good about themselves don’t spend as much money frivolously as do young folks that want to be “perfect.” And seeing some of the folks that are connecting with Jen on LinkedIn, it’s just a matter of time before the stuff marketed to dogs is every bit as bad as the stuff marketed to kids. *sigh*

    • Yes, every time I see another reminder that pet products are a billion dollar industry, I throw up a little in my mouth.

      Luckily, dogs don’t accompany us into most stores and whine until we buy them what they want. So it’s just up to us adults to make smart decisions about what products are best for our animals.

  9. It’s very true. It is so much easier to judge and look for the negative in a situation!

  10. I love this. I have come to accept that my dogs aren’t perfect, and that’s ok.

  11. Well, this terrier surely is not perfect (just visit my new reactivity page on facebook if you do not believe me)…and neither are my Ma and Daddy-dog. But…who wants perfect? Perfection is boring…it means you never have to challenge yourself to try anything, it means you are the same as every other perfect thing. I personally like individuality…it’s the differences and imperfections that make life the exciting journey that it is. And on kindness…don’t forget that you should share your kindness not only with others, but with yourself too!

  12. May I comment on the theme by using your apt analogy of the introvert at the cocktail party? My comment is that if you have a realistic assessment of your worth that is not based upon faux media-driven uber-high standards for looks, earning capabilities, multitasking superstardom, etc., and you choose to change certain things that are appropriate to change, that empowers you. Our “problems” really are different ways of being – but if we ourselves decide that we want to amend that “different-ness” we are empowered to take steps toward that. I recently read Susan Cain’s book “Quiet” which is a well-written exploration of what it is to be an introvert in a world designed by the powers that be to be an extrovert’s exclusive turf. I am an introvert who needed to incorporate some extrovert-type talents into my “style” to be more effective at a small business I was absolutely loving to “grow” into a small and celebrated success. Was it hard? Oh, yes. Was I successful? I think I was – and the best part is that I liked and was empowered by it(i.e., had increased confidence and pride). Did I want to follow society’s demands to actually change into an extrovert? Nope, sure didn’t. My point is that by choosing what I actually wanted, and acting on choice, rather than feeling forced into it by the insane money-grubbing juggernaut that is today’s print and broadcast media, I achieved an important goal that actually made me happy. I see the same thing in animal competition – especially horses are forced into activities that mentally and physically they are simply more or less incapable of handling. I don’t pretend to fully understand why certain segments of the human population feel entitled to force others into compliance with their “standards” but I do know that the profit motive is a huge part of it, and somewhere in the mix is the terrible intoxication of gaining power over others.

  13. I, too, hate those women’s magazines that try to convince us that the only way to be is their way. Those magazines remind me of my father’s former second wife…”It’s my way or the highway”… But I digress. I refuse to let someone who has never met me, let alone known me, tell me how I should do/feel/be/act etcetera. We all dance to our own tune, and I don’t ask anyone to change for me, so I won’t tolerate anyone else demanding that I change for them. Of course, it took me nearly all of the first 50 years of my life to get there, but the important thing is that I got there.

    No, my dogs are not perfect. And Ducky has enough “issues” for our vet to refer to her — lovingly — as my “special needs dog”. But we love her unconditionally, just as we do Callie and Shadow. We work on the issues with her, but it’s an imperfect world so I don’t worry about it. I just do what I can to help her. The hell with what strangers think.