Turning the corner

Almost a year ago, we got a new-to-us puppy, a yellow lab named Daisy. She’s a good dog, we think, and has been right from the beginning.

But she’s a puppy, and as our trainer constantly reminds us, puppies are knuckleheads. Adorable, enthusiastic, and sweet-as-can-be knuckleheads, but knuckleheads all the same.

We’ve been working diligently with a trainer (or at least as diligently as I can manage) since before we even got her. We’d never done this before, despite being dog owners for most of our adult lives. But a couple of years ago, our vet put us in touch with this trainer, after we rescued a terrier mix who proved to have a feisty temperament. (That puppy died, but when we were ready for another new family dog, we kept the trainer.)

Before we started working with this trainer, I had no idea how much I didn’t know about dogs. We’ve been putting in the work—and it’s a lot of work—and Daisy has been learning … but slowly. Really slowly.

The whole time, for nearly a year now, out trainer has been encouraging us, saying, You’re doing it right, even if you don’t see results yet. She’s a good dog, but she’s still a toddler. Keep putting in the work, even if it looks like it’s not working.

Yeah, we weren’t seeing it. We loved her, and we were glad she was ours, but dog whisperers we were not.

But then, a month ago, seemingly overnight, it clicked.

Nothing changed, we were still doing the same things we always had, but all of a sudden Daisy got it. Or maybe we did. It’s like she woke up one day and thought, Oh, I get it now! We’d been working with her steadily for 10 months and all of a sudden, she got it.

And it’s so different around here. We’ve always liked having her around, but now hanging with Daisy is a whole lot more fun and a whole lot less work. She gets to go to the bus stop, she gets to sleep at my feet while I work. She gets a lot more freedom to run and play and chase tennis balls, because we can trust her.

And sure, she still licks dirty socks and tries to eat out of the trash can when we’re not looking and loses her mind for five minutes when we have guests over, because she’s a puppy. But all that training we’d been doing for many many months with seemingly little to show for it? It was working, all the time. We just couldn’t see it yet.

I have a manuscript due in 7 days that I’ve been working on for a long time. I’ve been doing the work, but until very, very recently, it has persisted in looking like garbage. I’ve been running for ages, halfheartedly sometimes, but running all the same, and I feel like I’m not making progress. I could tell you eleven more boring, mundane examples of ways I put in the work and feel like I get nothing.

But then, sometimes, you turn the corner, and see all that work mattered, it got you someplace, even though you felt it was a waste, even though you couldn’t see it at the time.

P.S. That photo up top is from last December, in our old house. Doesn’t she look at home with us? I’m pretty sure this is the day she skittered and knocked over one of those stacks, right after I snapped the photo.

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  1. Meg says:

    Oh, I needed to hear this today. I’ve been putting in the work – a LOT of work – into my health and fitness and I’m just not seeing it right now. I continue to put the work in, somehow, actively choosing to have faith that one of these days I’ll just GET IT and everything will click. Thanks for the reminder!

  2. Kaytlin Henry says:

    I’m currently reading A Dog’s Purpose. It has laughs and tears and is a fun take on what might be going on in our dog’s head. I love that it clicked for Daisy!

  3. Deb says:

    This is wonderful and you will never regret the time you took with her, although it can be exhausting and frustrating. We’ve had Labs for years and lost our last one in March — they are the very best family dogs, especially with young children. Our girls are all grown now so we have 3 different breeds of rescues, which is wonderful in different ways. But there is nothing like the companionship of a Labrador. It will all pay off in the end and you’ll look back and be glad for all you gave her. And ultimately, animals teach us much more than we could ever teach them – we just have to listen.

  4. Jennifer N. says:

    I feel like we all have those “click” moments. I described learning to type this way. I struggled through half a semester of typing class and then one day, I was just GOOD at it. The same happened with calculus. It took nearly one full semester, and then one day I just got it. All of that work I had been putting in with little success was just waiting for me to put all the pieces in the right spot in my brain. (I never had that moment with Calc III, though.) Potty training has been this way with both of my kids.

    I think with our immediate gratification culture, this is such an important reminder that while the struggle is real, the payout is real, too, even if it takes a long time to click in.

  5. Nikki Leigh says:

    Isn’t it magic the moment it clicks in the doggie brain? We have a labradoodle and he has all the goofy, lovable, craziness of a lab. He is 1 1/2 years now, but I remember the day it clicked for him felt so good. I love being able to trust him, especially since we have a 3 week old baby girl in our home now! Congrats on the puppy progress 🙂

  6. Adrienne says:

    How sweet! We have dogs, lots of dogs, and a few months ago I was working with four of them trying to just teach them to “SIT”. The two Border Collies figured this out very quickly, the Shih-Tzu took a little longer, but it was months before it “clicked” for our fluffy little teddy bear dog.
    Congrats on your new manuscript. It must feel wonderful to see it all coming together.

  7. Katie says:

    I needed this too. We got our first dog, a puppy last Jan. He is 10 months. But still a knucklehead. We gave him group training this summer with other dogs. We are trying to keep implementing what we learned. I wonder if he needs some more individual training, but maybe just maybe things will get better in the next couple of months as we keep practicing.
    Thanks for the good advice, and I love all your book recommendations!

  8. Maureen says:

    I totally get you. That moment where things with a puppy just click. When my lab puppy (also Daisy) was about 6 months old and I realized I hadn’t cleaned pee off the floor in months! When she was a year old and was just so much more livable. Now that she’s 2 and I never have to crate her and she doesn’t get into things. I like to remind myself often “Now THIS is living!” So happy things are clicking. Dogs are a ton of work but oh so worth it — and it is such a gift to see progress in the journey.

  9. Congratulations on things clicking…it’s the best feeling…when it happens with anything!
    And this entire post could have been written about my kids…especially this: “puppies are knuckleheads. Adorable, enthusiastic, and sweet-as-can-be knuckleheads, but knuckleheads all the same.”

  10. Jena says:

    Our puppy is just over a year… And I don’t think we have quite turned the corner yet, or had that “click” moment, but it must be coming soon. He’s mostly very good, but there are times when he just gets something in his head and we cannot distract him or get his attention off whatever it is. Very frustrating! Glad to hear that you have turned the corner with your pup, and also makes me feel hopeful about our puppy…

  11. Bonnie says:

    Such a good post. And I think Labs have the longest puppyhood of any dog–but I still love ’em. Their disposition is so suitable for families. I don’t think anything could make ours snap at someone–I certainly can’t say the same about our little dogs.

  12. Suzanne says:

    Bravo to you for hanging in there. We adopted a cattle dog rescue puppy. He’s adorable, but I spent at least a year with a trainer and working on things every day. I am not a trainer, but I hung in there and our dog is super well behaved and lot of fun and so loving. I think sometimes you are too hard on yourself. Instead of thinking about what you haven’t finished, try focusing on all of your incredible accomplishments. Your list is long! Loved this post. <3

  13. M.E. Bond says:

    I loved your examples of things “clicking,” — AFTER you put in all the work, of course. Such a good thing to remember. Last month my four-year-old suddenly read me a 64-page easy reader. We’d been working through a phonics book, but I was still surprised that she learned to read in a big leap!

  14. S says:

    I am waiting for the click….but so hopeful! We also have a puppy, about 7 months now and although she knows her commands, she is far from “trained”. I have done classes and felt I was just performing crowd control vs learning helpful techniques. I just reached out to a trainer a couple weeks ago and we had our first session which was amazing! Having her demonstrate and then point out how I can improve when I try it was so very helpful. I know if I put in the work, especially those busy times when the last thing I want to do is reinforce a down stay, we will reap the benefits eventually…and that if I don’t address things, we will go down a very frustrating path. Good luck with the manuscript and for all the other clicks falling in place. Good job Daisy!

  15. Samantha says:

    That is so wonderful to hear!! I am a trainer myself and dogs are kind of a family trait! I have two terriers so I know the blood, sweat and tears that goes into the process but it is so worth it in the end.
    I can’t stand it when people get a dog and think it is going to sit in a corner and just “be good” good on you and your family for putting in all the work!

  16. Lizanne says:

    Oh I know just how you feel. We have a chocolate lab (now 11 year old) and I was convinced for the first 6 months that she thought her name was Bailey No! But with a lot of perseverance and the odd glass of wine she finally got it!

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