Match jobs to personality to avoid anxiety

I’m trying to teach my son to stop playing his DS every second. To be honest, I’m a crappy role model. I mean, if I were great at having enough self-discipline to follow through consistently on my idea of proper parenting, things would be different.

I would say: No DS today.

He would say: I hate you.

For the whole day. In the best case. In the worst case, he’d beat up his brother. Not from hatred, but from boredom.

I know that if you sent in Super Nanny she would have the DS under limited play in one minute. So I tell myself I’m going to do that. Tomorrow.

It’s a willpower thing. I mean, parenting is so hard because each fight you decide to fight is a fight. There are no kids who learn to say thank you without you bugging them.

So you have to bug them, routinely. But the farm is great for routine, so I have high hopes that I’ll find direction and improve, if I just keep adding routine.

Sometimes it’s simple, like opening the gate each time we enter the farm. We could put a cattle guard at the opening of the farm made of ridges on the ground that make the cattle uneasy so they move away from the spot. But I don’t want that. I like the rhythm of opening the gate.

It’s sort of like saying a prayer before you start a meal. I think ritual is a good way to separate things that are important. And driving up to the farm, after all I’ve been through to get to live here, is a spiritual experience.

Sometimes the routine is bigger. Like cooking three meals a day. People can’t believe I do it. Without a dishwasher or a microwave. But I like the rhythm it creates. I know that routine begets routine and the things I really want to achieve require a lot of self discipline.

I want the same things that a lot of people want:

Live within my budget
Exercise daily
Eat well

They all take willpower but I now I am thinking that willpower is BS. The farmer read an article by in Psychology Today about how we should not try to use willpower. We should use if/then statements.

Like, if it’s 7:30, then the farmer leaves to do chores.

I do an if/then statement like, if it’s 7:30 and the kids are quiet and I haven’t eaten a huge breakfast and I’m not totally stressed about work, then I will exercise.

It’ll never work. I know that. So the more routine I put around my day the less chance there is for a messy if/then moment.

And this is why I agreed to get a dog.

You might think that’s insane when I have had such an incredibly difficult adjustment to learning to live on a farm, and be married to a farmer. You’d think that I’d just want to focus on that and not make more trouble.

But my eight-year-old says he does not have enough responsibility for the farm animals. He loves them. The kids go out every morning before school, in freezing cold conditions, and feed the ducks and hens and barn cats. The kids collect eggs twice a day, and when a cat is sick, the kids take care of it (before a wild animal eats it).

But my son has a point: He has very little responsibility relative to, say, the farmer, who deals with 1000 pigs and 1000 cattle. Or however many there are. It’s a lot. And my son wants to be a farmer.

So we agree to get a dog. He wants the high-maintenance kind, and I wonder if that is sort of like a guy choosing a bride who is like his mom.

He wants a dog that will sit in his lap and follow him all over the place and, in general, be needy.

We look on the internet to adopt a dog. We want one that is older so we don’t have to potty train it.

The farmer has owned many dogs in his life. He has lots of opinions.

My son finds a dog that is half Pitbull and half Border Collie. He shows it to us.

The farmer says, “Great, it can bite you and then run for help.”

The farmer points out that all dog breeds are meant for a job. Retrievers retrieve, Basset Hounds sniff, Pitbulls protect. The farmer says you have to let the dog do its job or it will not be happy. (This sounds like the animal version of my favorite career counseling book, Do What You Are. The problem that people have, which dogs don’t, is that people judge certain jobs as “good” and others as “bad,” and often the result is a person refuses to see what is really right for them.)

The farmer does not want any dog that wants to mess with animals. For example, a Sheepdog is meant to herd animals, so we can’t have it around the cattle. “My cattle are quiet,” says the farmer. “The dog would drive them crazy.”

My son likes a three-legged Coondog. He likes that the dog has a story — run over by a car in Kentucky. Shipped to Wisconsin by a couple who specializes in pouring tons of cash into injured animals. And now, after an amputated leg, the dog’s only problem is forgetting that he can’t lift his leg to pee.

The farmer likes the idea of a coondog who can’t run. Its job is to hunt, but if it can’t hunt, it’ll be quiet. The farmer likes quiet.

Do you know how people get dogs that look like them? I fear it is too predictable that we would end up with a three-legged dog.

58 replies
  1. Erika
    Erika says:

    "Great, it can bite you and then run for help."

    Made me laugh out loud. If nothing else, the farmer seems to have a good sense of humor.

  2. hsg
    hsg says:

    Did you take these photos? If so, I’m really impressed – they’re an order of magnitude better than any of your previous ones. Looks like you’ve just jumped a rung!

  3. Kathleen Kurke
    Kathleen Kurke says:

    Considering “fostering” a dog before you adopt it. I know, I know, you’re thinking, “But what if we fall in love with it; we’ll want to keep it.” That’s OK! Mission accomplished for the dog and for the family. If the farm ends up not being the right forever home for the dog, or if the dog isn’t the right addition to your family, you’ve given it love and shelter until it finds its right place in the universe. And, might be a great way for the family to learn about what the “right” type of animal is for your family through real life experimentation. Your local animal shelter can probably refer you to any local rescue groups that are in need of fosters. What a great adventure!

  4. Paul Basile
    Paul Basile says:

    A dog on a farm? Now you are really getting middle American. Scary. But I love the post.

    And since matching people and jobs is what I do, using psychology, I like the idea of the post too. Personality match may be good for anxiety reduction but for the right match, competency is the right match because all the research says so. Personality is part of it – and is no part of resume or job requisition… And, who knows their own competencies? Start with self-knowledge. It’s easier to get that than most people think.

  5. Marci Diehl
    Marci Diehl says:

    Loving your tales about the marriage, the kids, the farm, the animals and your journey in finding your place in it all. I’m rooting for you and the farmer. I don’t always comment, but I do always read. Always. Part of me longs for a life on a farm. I once learned to milk cows (and feed calves) because I thought I could combine writing with part-time milking (for which there’s a desperate need… relief milkers). But of course, it was too hard. I wanted to emulate EB White in Maine. Milking is a full time proposition. Farming is a full time proposition. And I admire your ability to keep writing these wonderful posts and try to live as a farmer’s wife as well. Love the pictures. Love your blog.

  6. Roberta Warshaw
    Roberta Warshaw says:

    Have you ever seen Ree Drummond’s Pioneer Woman web site? She has great photos of her kids doing chores on the farm! It is a great site, especially for us city girls who like farms in theory. Her photos of the kids with the cows and her narratives are quite funny and endearing.

  7. Farnoosh
    Farnoosh says:

    Penelope, I LOVE your writing voice. It is impossible to not read your posts from start to finish. I forget I am steeping tea or doing something else or on the phone when I get your emails…You are compelling, captivating, mesmerizing and to be honest, I have never ever cared for farm life one bit (sorry) but it is the way that you relate even to someone like me and for that I want to THANK YOU…..please keep writing. You inspire me to push myself and to connect more with my readers. And I do agree on the exercise thing, although winter and I get along as well as farms and I do so ;)!!

  8. Alex
    Alex says:

    A wonderful post. I was struck by the beginning of the post where you describe the challenges you face in shaping your kids’ behavior. While I’m a bit behind you (my son is not quite three), I’ve been using a wonderful book called 1-2-3 Magic. If you haven’t already heard of it and read it, you might find it helpful. Provides a workable alternative to a battle of wills.

  9. Jean Gogolin
    Jean Gogolin says:

    My grandparents had a farm in Pennyslvania but sold it when I was 5, so my memories of it are as though seen through a scrim — hazy, idealized and without any of the work, because of course I didn’t do any of it. I do remember my grandmother reaching her hand into the coal stove to judge its temperature when she was baking pies, and I still love the smell of a freshly fertilized field. My kids think I’m crazy about the last part. I also remember a small family graveyard beyond the fields and knowing I was related to everyone in it.

  10. Jenn Sutherland
    Jenn Sutherland says:

    A dog is good. And I like the farmer’s approach to finding one that’s right for you – and he’s exactly right on dogs & the jobs they need to do. The three-legged coon hound sounds promising. After our greyhound passed away two weeks ago, we’re adopting a new one this weekend…I KNOW that I need the routine and responsibility of a dog in my life. I hope it’s’ as good for your sons as it is for me. The walks I take with the dog provide needed quiet time in a busy day – there’s no option NOT to do it, and I’m better for it. And nothing beats a wagging tail when you walk in the door. Not even a loving husband. You coming home is the best thing in the dog’s day, and often mine, too.

  11. KateNonymous
    KateNonymous says:

    Your son would love our dog. She’s a toy poodle who followed my husband home from the corner store (stereotype or no, that’s what happened) and almost instantly became part of our lives. She’s a loving, calm, gentle, trusting dog who only needed a bath and some expensive dental care.

    Although we tried, we never found her original owner–or rather, we think we did, but he never went to pick her up from the shelter. So we brought her home again.

    Mind you, she’s not the dog we thought we’d get. Neither of us ever considered a toy poodle. We wanted a medium-sized dog that could go on runs with Mr. Nonymous. But it turns out that she’s exactly the dog we needed. Her peacefulness helped me through what could have been a difficult pregnancy, and she’s been unbelievably tolerant of our baby.

    I hope your son finds not just the dog he wants, but the dog he needs.

  12. Connie
    Connie says:

    When reading your post, I realized how truly globalized the world is that we all live in: We moms are dealing with the same issues: How not to let your kids play nintendo DS all day, how super nanny really is in charge of everything and makes me feel bad.
    Connie from Zurich, Switzerland

  13. Tori
    Tori says:

    I’ve fostered a three-legged dog, and anyone who was hoping for a quiet dog would not have a good match in her. She runs faster than our four-legged dog. Hopefully the people who rescued the coondog can provide good information on what his activity level is like now.

  14. ejly
    ejly says:

    Kudos to you for first considering adopting a dog. That’s the right way to do it. Also save a lot of money, because dog are expensive. Kathleen’s recommendation to foster a dog is a great one.

    And definitely dogs are bred for certain jobs. I have two hounds myself and adore coonhounds, but they aren’t for everyone. (how much of your life are you willing to devote to drool-related considerations?) I foster dogs with the Humane Society of Indianapolis, am a long time blog reader here, and am happy to chat with you about this anytime.

    And, I completely agree with you about the contorted if/then statements. That’s what my day looks like. :)

  15. Erika
    Erika says:

    “Do you know how people get dogs that look like them? I fear it is too predictable that we would end up with a three-legged dog.”

    I am trying not to read too much into this, but I couldn’t help but wonder if this is a sign of your own anxiety with the current situation with the farmer? You and your 2 boys are the three legs and have learned to adjust to life that way. Now that the farmer is in the picture (the fourth leg, so to speak) it should seem like you have everything…that life should be perfect…but you’re having trouble adjusting to this new way of “walking” and leading your life.

  16. Pen
    Pen says:

    I like the farmer’s point about dogs. When I was looking for a dog (17 years ago…. we had 16 wonderful years together), I read a book called “The right dog for you,” by Daniel F. Tortora. Even though I knew I was probably going to get a mutt or mixed-breed (and did), it was very useful, as with a little practice, you can often tell what major influences went into one, breed-wise.

    What I liked about the book is it talked about each breed and then how they ranked on various scales. Here are a couple of examples I remember (this was nearly 20 years ago!).

    Intelligence and obedience. Some dogs are “intelligent” and obedient by nature; some are one or the other, and it’s not quite the same thing.

    Watchdog vs. guard dog. I would not have differentiated between these had I not read this.

    Activity level inside vs. outside. Some dogs are really active everywhere; others are really active outside but not so much in the house.

    How much they shed, maintenance of coat needed, etc. etc.

    On the subject of the hound, the book pointed out that a dog such as a retriever is bred to pay attention to its master, and react to that. On the other hand, a hound is bred to go after the prey and the human is supposed to follow the hound. So they are not as attuned to watching the master.

    Now, I may have some small details wrong since it has been so long since I read the book, but I’m hoping this still gives you some food for thought.

    By the way, my dog was a mix, but pretty easy to tell what his “ingredients” were; and I would have to say that he did pretty much exemplify his breeds’ typical qualities as talked about in the book.

    It is really hard to pick out a dog, knowing that they all need a good home, and also that this is something like a 15+ year commitment. I had to do some soul-searching to decide if I was up for the task (obviously it worked out and was wonderful). One thing I found is that when I was looking at a pound or shelter, the dogs were all pretty hyper/desperate/penned (as I would be), and so it was hard to tell what they would be like normally. One shelter did have a place you could take them to a small room, or outside to play. Ultimately I got a dog that had been fostered, and visiting him in the foster home it was much easier to see what he would be like later. They even let me take him for part of a day to see how he fit into my routine :)

  17. Harriet May
    Harriet May says:

    Sometimes I feel like my career path is whatever my dad dictates. Isn’t that awful? And I should know better, because he made me take Maths at AS Level (an English grade school qualification that you usually take in 11th grade) and I hate math and hard work so I got an E, which prevented me from going to the college that I wanted. But dogs are different. I have a dog, and my parents hate it. It’s the exact opposite of what they would chose. She’s an Australian shepherd, high maintenance so she should be on a farm (and when she’s bad I threaten to send her to English finishing school on my great uncle’s sheep farm in Worcester to learn how to be a real sheepdog), but I have raised her as an urban dog, so she gets to herd other dogs at doggy daycare instead (of course!). And she does, too, because I watch her on the webcam while I’m at work. Her primary job is to guilt me into running with her five times a week: she does it really, really well.

  18. KatherineB
    KatherineB says:

    Get the coon dog. My male lab doesn’t lift his leg to pee. Or a black lab. They are really the best breed all around for quiet, protection and snuggle factor.

  19. Jim
    Jim says:

    Here’s something to think about when getting a dog: relative size to your son. For your son to have a truly good relationship, he will have to be perceived as the “alpha” in the relationship. A dog that is physically superior can be difficult to establish that relationship with as an full grown adult dog, with out a lot of time and focused effort.
    My wifes a dog trainer and has seen so many poor dogs where that alpha relationship hasn’t been established with the owner as the alpha, and it leads to a very unfulfilling life for the dog and the owner.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      Thanks for this advice, Jim. It’s something I hadn’t thought about. It would actually be really empowering for my son to feel like an alpha. I need to figure that out…


  20. downfromtheledge
    downfromtheledge says:

    I love the analogy. We don’t fault dogs for what they’re not, but we get down on ourselves for not being good at everything. At least dogs don’t have to deal with guilt and “shoulds,” they just know what they’re born to do.

    The career I chose was a sucky match for my introverted personality, because I’m horrible at school politics. I was there to help kids, and I didn’t have the patience for adult games – talk about anxiety! I’ve had a hard time moving on and figuring out what to do next. Philosophy and School Counseling … two useless degrees in this economy. Maybe I should read that book.

  21. Meghan Skiff
    Meghan Skiff says:

    “The problem that people have, which dogs don’t, is that people judge certain jobs as “good” and others as “bad,” and often the result is a person refuses to see what is really right for them.”

    Or, if and when the person acknowledges what is right for them, it is frowned upon. As a society we apply class snobbery and convention to career choices and often dismiss the fact that a person is their best self when they are doing what they do best.

  22. vicky
    vicky says:

    Coonhounds (3 legged or not) are bred to run after ‘varmints’ and kill or tree them. They are bred to howl, long and loud. This is so, when they have treed the ‘varmints’ the hunter can come and shoot the varmint.

    Pit Bulls were not bred to protect. They were bred to calmly, and unemotionally, kill other dogs. They were absolutely not bred to bite, or be aggressive to humans, though, of course, over the years, they have changed.

    Your son wants a needy dog, to sit on his lap…you need a small dog, with a coat that needs brushing. Check with a rescue, or with a shelter. Foster first. Check the rescue carefully, there are a lot of ‘scammy’ ones out there.

    I have a lot of dog training videos on You Tube, and a bunch with dogs I have fostered. My channel is ‘vikidobe’.

  23. Irving Podolsky
    Irving Podolsky says:

    I just laughed and laughed. I needed to laugh. I was getting bored. The stress level at work was subsiding. I hate stress but I hate being bored more.

    That said. I’m not THAT bored that I want more responsibility. So I DON’T want a three-legged dog, or a self-cleaning cat. Maybe a plant…if it’s plastic, and comes pre-dusted.


  24. Erik
    Erik says:

    Wow, I’m really amazed with all of the really great post here Penelope. Being a confused 20-something going through my own version of a quarter-life crisis, I really appreciate a lot of the writing that you have on here.


  25. Joselle
    Joselle says:

    I think you should jump on getting a dog. I’m usually very cautious about telling people to bring animals into their home but in some cases, it’s right. Last year, after moving into my husband’s house, quitting my job and being sorta depressed while readjusting, I decided to volunteer at an animal shelter. I vowed not to get a dog. We were too busy for one (how I was too busy without a job is beyond me). A week into my stint, we had a dog. He gave so much rhythm and routine to my day. Whether it’s cold or snowing or I’m sick, the dog needs to walk and eat. And I build my day around the dog, which enables me to get other shit done. If I fail at his schedule, I don’t just let myself down. I get an adorable, sad-looking creature staring at me until I walk him! That’s great motivation.

    Get the three-legged one who can rest on the farm. The farmer is totally right that dogs have jobs they need to do in order to be happy. If you know this, your dog doesn’t have to get abandoned or bored.

  26. Janis Schubert
    Janis Schubert says:

    I love the thoughts about a dog! Yes, every dog needs a job, and one that fits him. I had a Belgian Sheepdog who spent his life missing having sheep to herd. He tried herding the cats and they never let him forget it. He tried herding three of us hiking on mountain trails. He tried herding one old horse when we were visiting friends. I wish I had known someone with sheep!
    So much about dogs is part of what they were originally bred for. I love the big, furry ones who don’t smell and are great for a hug when you need one. But they are who they are. My Belgian wanted to herd. It was in his bones.
    I hope you find a good companion for your family!

  27. Matt Bingham
    Matt Bingham says:

    I enjoyed your post – it has been a while since I’ve read a post out here…a lot has changed. I like your theme here…it is true that you need a job that fits your personality. If you have the wrong combination it makes life miserable.

    I’ve got the RSS feed going and have been having a great time catching up on my reading!

  28. Alotoralittle
    Alotoralittle says:

    We have a 3-legged dog and he lifts up his whole backside to pee – he does a doggie handstand. He is completely unhindered, he is totally inspiring and wonderful. He is our quirky-family, diversity mascot! I cast my vote for the tripod coondog.
    Good luck with your choice!

  29. Christine
    Christine says:

    Kudos for considering adoption – that’s the way to go! And bonus points for adopting an older dog and knowing yourself well-enough to realize you don’t want to house train a dog. I have two mixed breed dogs – on of which is a pitbull mix. She is the most loving dog and despite the fact that she weighs 50lbs thinks she is a lap dog. She is attached to my hip and never leaves my side.

    Good luck with your search. Go out and meet some of the dogs and I’m sure you and your son will feel a connection to at least one.

  30. Don
    Don says:

    This post seems to suggest you are less stressed and happier than recent posts since the broken lamp. I really enjoyed reading this post and its more serene tone. Hope the remainder of the Winter goes as smooth as the swinging gate.

  31. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    “We look on the internet to adopt a dog.”

    I search the Internet for a lot of things but I would recommend a local search (which may include the Internet) to adopt a dog. The possibility exists that the adopted dog may not work out or be a good fit for your household. I’ve seen it happen twice with my brother, sister-in-law, and nieces. They finally ended up with another pet – a guinea pig – which worked out really good for them. My point is that it’s really hard to know the best choice so an option to have a test period with the animal is important.
    I’m still trying to figure out the no microwave in the kitchen which I don’t use for everything but a lot of things.

  32. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    Adopting a dog is so rewarding. I now have 2 from the same rescue and they both challenge me and save me from myself at times. One is a cocker/lab mix and the other is a full cocker spaniel. The rescue fosters out all of its dogs, which are primarily adult dogs. Their mailing address is in Janesville, WI. I encourage you to look up Shorewood Cocker Rescue. Good luck in your dog hunt.

  33. Craig
    Craig says:

    Did the same thing, adopted a dog for the kids…the dog quickly became my dog, since the kids realised that having a dog interfered with their hectic 10 and 11 yr old social lives.

    On the upside the dog is now my best friend, confidant and companion….she is reliable, listens without judgment and loves me no matter how bad the mood is I am in!

    Get a dog, get one now, you wont regret it!

  34. Mike
    Mike says:

    Too many ifs. The point to “if/then” is to create a simple, almost Pavlovian connection from the signal to the behavior response. Sounds like you might be avoiding the “then”?

    Here is an example of an “if/then” that does work: “If I say it will not work, it will not.” This turns out to be nearly always true. Here is a different possibility: “If I say it will work, then it will.” This is not always and universally true, but it is guilt-free.

    A resolution with too many ifs gives new meaning to the phrase, “this dog don’t hunt.” (sic)

    I am happy you are doing better with the farmer. You are good for him and he is good for you. Warm wishes!

  35. Lisa
    Lisa says:


    I will just shoot right ahead and recommend a dog. I have never lived on a farm, so I don’t know if it would be a good match in that regard, but I have lived with my husband who has Aspergers (along with his father) and they are absolutely convinced that the best dogs ever are Mastiffs. Because Mastiffs are ginormous (ours was 200 lbs) they do well where there is a bit of space. They are extremely mellow, and they are pretty much all bark and no bite, unless extremely threatened or if they feel their owners are in life-threatening conditions and are showing signs of being in extreme duress. And, by the way, they almost never bark. They are usually considered the “gentle giants” of the dog world. They require almost no training and can sleep much of the day, but are great with kids. Not hyper whatsoever, not noisy, but they do slobber after drinking (so it’s best to wipe their mouth with a paper towel), are hard on your house just from their size not because they would ever destroy anything, and honestly: they just want a heck of a lot of love. If they were smaller they would be the most popular dogs on earth. BUT – don’t get one if you are not going to give it ALOT of attention and treat it as a member of the family. This is a dog that has to be happy, it’s just too big to be neurotic. Oh, and love the blog!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  36. Lisa
    Lisa says:

    Regarding my comment about the Mastiff – also, adopting one can be tricky. I am all in favor of adopting animals (my cat is adopted), but I’m not sure about a Mastiff. There are Mastiff rescue organizations, but given that you have kids and Mastiffs are so big, it might not be the greatest idea…

  37. @seemasugandh
    @seemasugandh says:

    Maybe you could steer him towards games that are better for him: Scribblenauts anyone?
    Great blog! I enjoy reading the entries! XOXO :-)

  38. Caroline
    Caroline says:

    I’m late to the party here.

    I think I know a dog who meets The Farmer’s criteria to a point. My dog is a keeshond/schipperke/pom mix, and is about as clingy as an infant, with the ability to move around and do dog things. He’s a watchdog, too. If you’re in the room, and he sees someone walk by, he’ll bark once or twice, then look back at you to check if you saw. If you’re not in the room, he’ll bark until you acknowledge his report. He loves strangers though.

  39. Casey
    Casey says:

    I don’t yet have kids, but my mom let me in on some insight recently:

    As the parent, you’re an adult with a full life. You have bills, your job, your marriage, your friends, etc. etc.

    As the child, you have only two main things to figure out: what you want and how to get it. You literally have all day every day to think and strategize about basically those two things.

    My mom said it always helped her to realize this before going into battle (with me, especially, as I got pretty darn good at getting what I wanted).

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  41. Adam
    Adam says:

    When I was growing up I played a lot of video games. Now I still play a little but it just doesn’t do much for me anymore, hopefully your son will grow out of it also. For example, Mom used to feed me lots of bananas as a baby, now I hate them.

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