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 Honey’s nose gets going, her phobias shut down. She’s having such a good time, she doesn’t have time to be scared.
K9 Nose Work as a Confidence Builder
I’ve been working so hard at convincing Honey not to be scared of the bicycle cart by training, that I forgot the effectiveness of play. But, as our trainer pointed out, if you use high value treats to convince a dog she shouldn’t be afraid of something, the fear may override the treat. And then you have a dog that no longer likes liver or chicken breast because it just means she’ll have to do something scary to get it.
Instead, he said, play is the better tool.
This falls into the category of a lesson that just didn’t sink in.
I’ve noticed that when we’re playing nose work games in the house, Honey has gladly done all kinds of things that normally cause her to shrink in fear: nudge the door, pass by things leaning haphazardly against the wall, and even putting her head in the bike cart. Searching for a yummy treat engages her mind in a way that keeps her from being frightened.
Having fun causes Honey to try scary things. And to not even notice that they’re scary. Each time she does something scary and it doesn’t result in disaster, her brain is recording that fact—while, hopefully, boosting her confidence in the future.
Fun Breaks Through Self-Made Barriers
I spent most of February and some of March feeling ill. I lost an entire week of work (except struggling in one night to teach a home buyer’s class). And, most importantly for me, I lost the momentum that gets me up early every morning to write for two blogs.
Of course, when you lose your momentum and creativity, it’s hard to kick start it again. At least it is for me. That’s what it means to be Inertia Girl.
I needed some fun to regain my confidence and momentum. The March brackets for Best City for Pet Travelers came at just the right time. I needed to throw myself into a project. And I needed to have some fun. So I did my trash talking best to move Cape May, New Jersey forward in the competition.
I had no idea how much fun trash talk could be. Well, I had a hint. I’m a big fan of the FX comedy about fantasy football, The League (do not click the link if you’re easily offended or if you have any sense of morality at all). [Update: If you were afraid to click the previous link (and you should be afraid), here’s another bit of The League trash talk that inspired me without being violent and obscene.]
So I dug deep into my recycling bin to find silly insults about Boise, Sonoma, St. Petersburg, Burlington, and Seattle. Hopefully I didn’t lose any friends over my shenanigans. Thanks for both your tolerance and your votes. But I had a lot of fun. And I reignited my momentum enough to move forward on some important projects I needed to complete (more about that soon).
I learned the same lesson for myself that I just learned for Honey: fun can help you move past barriers.
Doggy Fun that Builds Confidence
I don’t have any video of Honey playing nose work games. But I found this great video describing its benefits by Laurie Luck of Smart Dog University.
Although Honey has some shy traits, when she is doing nose work, her style is like the “busy dogs” seen in the video.
And if you’re wondering what’s with all the boxes, read my posts and instructions on setting up beginning nose work sessions for your dog.
Can you see how absorbing this job is? No wonder Honey isn’t worried when she’s sniffing.
What kind of “fun” have you used to increase your dog’s or your own confidence? Share.