Dodge the Doggy Doldrums

Enrichment needed: Saint Bernard puppy looking bored

There is an excitement and optimism surrounding newness. In contrast, we come to enjoy a shorthand and unspoken understanding with what is established.

Puppies are a fresh start, like the first day of a new healthy routine or a new piece of furniture we plan on keeping spotless.

I’ve got a Vitamix that I love to polish and keep looking pristine. Despite my efforts I see evidence of gentle use.

Shiny & New

Puppies are like brand new white sneakers, old dogs are like favorite, well-worn boots.

What happens in between is our life together. This is not a straight line. Especially as we work to educate our dogs or change challenging behaviors.

I love how Jenny Efimova of Dogminded Dog Training in Boston recently described progress with our dogs as a ‘…slow and gradual build. It’s a wave that ebbs and flows. It is a cup that fills slowly, sometimes imperceptibly, drop by drop, until one day we look and notice that it’s fuller. Progress is an ever-evolving story and progress is never linear’.

As the novelty of the puppy wears off and as certain life skills are established there is often a drop off in the fun things we do with our dogs.

Frequently I will go to see a student who graduated from my puppy course and reaches out later to focus on some ‘challenging behavior’ that has developed. One of the first things I ask is what is happening in your dog’s life that is fun and enriching. Lots of times the answer is, ‘not a lot’.

Beside the fact that bored dogs may be more likely to develop behaviors that annoy us, we owe it to them to ensure they stay enriched and to do things that are good for their doggy souls.

playing tug for enrichment

The Fun Never Stops

It should not be difficult to do fun things every day with your dog. Here are three things that I recommend you never stop doing. Create versions of these suggestions that work for your dog, your life and schedule.

Enrichment Toys

Can we do better when it comes to how we feed our dogs? Kibble in the bowl, bowl in the kitchen. Yawn. I invite you to explore the countless, more creative, and fulfilling ways, to feed your dog. Life beyond the food bowl is indeed rich! Since you already feed your dog all you need to do is to provide interesting ways for him to search for and eat that food. Examples of this type of enrichment are rubber toys stuffed with food, treat balls, and snuffle mats. Teach the puppy in the early days how to work with these types of toys. It is fun, energy-burning, and builds problem-solving abilities. One of my students uses a treat ball in the grass. Now double the fun, a treat ball game mixed with nature’s snuffle mat. Brilliant!

an enriching game of find it


Seems obvious but it is often lacking in the day-to-day lives of our pet dogs. As our pups grow up the games of their youth seem to fade away. No! You can not let this happen. Help your puppy master his tug, find and chase games, refine them, make up new games and don’t stop playing. ‘Find it’ is a great rainy-day game and a one I play almost everyday. Check out the Games section and get busy playing.

play chase for enrichment
Get it!

Decompression Walks AKA Sniffaris

Did you know that dogs don’t walk the same way we do? Beside the fact they have four legs they like to move forward in big circles, sniffing along the way. When we attach them to a leash, and to us, and force them to walk at our slow, boring pace this can be really frustrating for them. To ensure that they get the opportunity to move and explore the way they are meant to you must provide them with the opportunity. Sniffaris are their turn. They can walk, run, sniff and dawdle until their doggy souls are content. Find a big open space, a trail or the beach. Learn how to use a long line, a great tool for a puppy or a dog whose recall is not rock solid. I don’t think these decompression walks are negotiable. When it comes to your dog’s list of extra curricular activities, make it happen.

Start Your Enrichment Now!

Beyond the leash walks, doggy meet ups and training, you have learned how important it is to provide these key extra curricular activities. Start now. Grow your ‘enrichment’ toy box, head out on sniffaris at least 3-4 times per week, schedule for them! Your motto with your dog should be ‘it’s all fun and games!’

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