How to Add Gorgeous Color to Dreary Winter Days

That’s a weird topic for a dog blog, right? Well, I’m not talking about dying your dog’s coat purple (although I’ve done that before) and I’m not talking about doing pawprint paintings with your dog (but if you want to learn to do that, we can teach you). No, I’m talking about adding metaphorical color zest to the doldrums of this gray, brown, lackluster time of year. How do we do that? Keep reading!

Human and Puppy Both Feeling Enriched

After I meet with clients for our initial consultation, I often get texts or emails where the owner comments how tired their dog is when they get home. They haven’t exercised, they haven’t played fetch or tug, they’ve just sat in my office for two hours while the grown-ups talked. While we talk, I am also consistently doling out puzzles and riddles for the dogs. It allows the dog a way to tell me their own tale. By showing me how they interact with novel puzzles, which ones they like, which ones scare them, which ones they give up on, which ones make them bark with frustration, they are telling me information about their confidence, intelligence, bravery, life experience, ability to tolerate frustration and solve problems, and what puts a sparkle in their eye! I use this as a diagnostic tool but there’s a practical aspect to it also. I want to keep these dogs busy so I can talk to their owner. If the dog is barking or being frantic, it stops us from using our time productively and results in frustration.

This is what I do with dog bowls…graffiti

This isn’t unlike what happens at home with your dog. You have two choices. You can rotate through a bunch of puzzles and riddles to keep your dog engaged or you can wait until boredom pushes your dog to annoy you with barking, chewing things up, running away or other unwanted behaviors.

So, we’re talking about enrichment here. Enrichment. Making your dog’s life richer, more colorful, more satiating, more robust and just…more. These days, it’s so easy to provide inexpensive and effective enrichment for your dog. There are books about it, videos and podcasts, and old-fashioned articles like this one. I’m going to give you a list of enriching activities you can do to make life a pure delight for your dog which means that you also get the benefit of all that delight!

  1. Lose the food bowl. Feed your dog without a food bowl. Scatter the food in the yard or house and have them find it. Put in an Amazon box, tape it up and let them rip through it to find their kibble. Train them and reward them with handfuls of their dinner. Put it in a Kong or feeder toy and let them bang and lick it out. Sprinkle it in a cupcake tin, pour a little broth in each compartment, freeze it and let them figure out how to get it. Buy any one of the zillion feeder toys out there and use that for feeding (you can see my Amazon storefront for PBC’s favorites). Save your money and check out DIY ideas on websites like Bindi’s Bucket List. Make up your own ideas!

One very enriched doggo

  1. Play Hide & Seek or Find Me games. Wow, what a great way to 1) build recall 2) tire your dog out 3) strengthen your bond with your dog and 4) work on wait/stay! Put your dog in a wait or give him something to keep them busy for a minute (dab of peanut butter, small kibble scatter) and go hide somewhere in your house. Loudly call out your dog’s name and say “Find me!”. Watch your dog race around, up and down stairs, backwards and forwards, until they find you. Have a huge celebration when they find you and repeat. Each time, make your hiding place a little further away and a little harder. I practice this on hikes (hiding behind a tree), at home I go under the bed or into the shower or squeeze behind curtains or doors. It’s a blast!

  1. Play non-verbal impulse control games and watch your fall asleep before your very eyes. Doggy Zen and any variation of it will guarantee you hearing the sizzle and pop of their little brain cells vibrating from working hard. You might even see some smoke come out of their ears. In short, Zen is showing your dog something they want and WITHOUT WORDS doing a series of repetitions where every time they try to take it, you block them and every time they leave it alone you allow them visual access. At some point, their fragile canine brain will look at you with some confusion as if to say, “what the heck? how do I get this stupid thing?!” and that’s the moment you mark with a clicker or a verbal marker like “yes” and deliver them a delicious nugget…that is better or equal to the thing they have left alone. They never get the thing they are doing zen with. When we use this in training eventually the thing they are zenning is a dead animal they want to roll in, or a tylenol, or something else we want them to leave alone forever and ever. OK, so here’s the cool thing. Your dog isn’t just learning this game where they leave something and then get a treat. They are learning that when they have big feels about something, if they leave it alone and check in with you instead, they will be richly rewarded. This can create absolutely incredible communication if you take it further than a winter enrichment game. Sue Ailsby, a wonderfully articulate writer and trainer, has written out several levels of zen in her Levels program. You can check that out at

Enrichment on equipment!

If you take 20 minutes to play these games with your dog every day, I would wager you’d be thrilled with what you saw. Your dog will be better behaved, happier, nicer to be with, I can promise you that 20 minutes of enrichment is way more fun than 20 minutes chasing your runaway dog around the neighborhood or picking up shreds of your favorite shoe! Winter is almost over so make the most of these gray days with colorful enrichment that will brighten your day in ways you’d never expect!

Always put on parental controls with computer enrichment

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