The “Best Life” Challenge

The "Best Life" Challenge 1We have our four key categories: Health, Home, Relationships, and Variety. Again, some dogs will gain more Quality of Life from some of these categories than others. There is no one right or wrong answer. Each dog in your home will be different, because they all are individuals, just like us.
I think of Home and Health as the foundational key categories. We want to optimize these first, because without good health or a stress-less and comfortable home life, they can’t have good relationships or enjoy variety.
2020 has shown us that life can throw us curveballs at any time. The start of a new year is a great time to emphasize that we don’t want to wait for something catastrophic to maximize your pet’s life. We want to do it now.
For this challenge: We will post a new activity three times each week. These activities are mostly focused on Relationships and Variety, but there is a little bit of everything added in throughout the month.
The goal is to help give our pups a fantastic start to the New Year. Our goal is to add joy to both their life and your lives together. You don’t have to do every challenge and you don’t have to do the challenge as written. Not every challenge will bring joy to every dog – take the time to think through the intent of the challenge and modify it to fit your pup and your home.
It is up to you whether you want to do this challenge with just one dog or with each of your dogs. If you have other pets in your home like cats, you can definitely modify these challenges to fit your cats, as well.
Again – the goal is to add more fun and more joy to your lives – don’t stress over meeting each challenge.


Challenge #1 – One-On-One time together (Relationship Category)
No electronics or TV, just be present with your pup and give them pets, cuddles, or quiet time. Take time to enjoy being together with the two of you, without other people or pets around. Report back! What did you do together and what did they think?
Challenge #2 – Go for a ride. (Variety category)

Take your pup on a car ride to see the neighborhood or somewhere new. Roll your windows down a crack to let in all the new smells for them to investigate!

Challenge #3 – Let them pick out their own toy. (Relationship + Variety Categories)

If you haven’t taken your pup out on a car ride yet, this is the perfect time to hit two challenges at once! This challenge could be letting them pick out a new toy from a store, from a box of toys you have on rotation, or just out of your hands when you offer them two or three different options. See what they want to do today! If it is a toy that they can play interactively with, take a few minutes to give them your fullest attention to play together, or just let them “show” it to you and cheer them on. ❤

Challenge #4 – An indoor sniffari! (Variety Category)

Hide your pup’s favorite treats or toys around your home and let them sniff them out! If you have multiple dogs, it might be good to give each dog their own turn so you don’t get two dogs worried about who get what first. Have fun with it! Depending on your dog’s “find it” skills, you might need to let them see you hide things or you might be able to hide them without them seeing. Give them both a try and report back!

Challenge #5 – Spa Day (Part 1!) (Relationship Category)
Sit down with your dog and give them a pampering head or body massage. Here is a great resource on how to start (watch video from 1:11 to around 5:09). See if they like certain touches more than others. Go at their pace and with their comfort level (they can sit or stand while you sit or stand – they don’t have to lay down if that isn’t the most comfortable for them).
Challenge #6 – Play together  (Relationship + Variety Categories)
While we might give our dogs toys and treats, sometimes we forget to just play with them! Find out what kind of play your pup likes – do they want to be chased or chase after you? Play tug or fetch? Ask your dog to play by initiating a small play gesture (for example, taking a few quick steps away from or towards them) and then stop. Wait a moment and see if they like your invitation. If they do, they will offer a play gesture back. If they don’t, tell them they are a good pup and try something else.

Keep your play gestures particularly small if your dog is shy, nervous, or unsure. It is better to start small and grow into bigger play once you have buy in. You don’t have to play for long – just a few minutes. Stop playing before they are bored. It keeps the game fun and makes them want more!

Challenge #7 – New chewie toy (Variety Category)
Being able to chew on things is not only a great outlet for your pup’s natural instincts, it is also a great way to burn up some mental energy. Because dogs need mental exercise just as much as they need physical exercise! There are so many different options to “chews” from (ha!), from harder to softer, to food-filled. Find out what kind of chewie toy your dog likes the most. Check out this great post about chewing and also our Boredom Buster’s resource for more ideas to give your pup’s brain a workout.

Challenge #8 – SMART strategy, Part 1  (Home + Relationship Categories)
One day this week (or ideally multiple days!) your challenge is to give your dog a treat when they are doing things you like. This is a strategy called SMART and it stands for See, Mark And Reward Training.  The goal is to reward our dogs often for doing what we want them to do. That’s right – our goal is to “catch them in the act” of being good!

When it comes to so many things in life, we do more of what we get rewarded for. Therefore, the more we reward our pups for doing things we want them to do, the more likely they are to do it again. And again. And again! The more often you reward them while they are being good, the “better” they will want to be!

Not only can implementing the SMART strategy improve your pup’s behavior, it can also help build up your relationship! You can try this at home, on your walks, and on any outings. Think of rewarding them for things like resting somewhere you like, staying out of the kitchen, watching and not barking out the window, not chasing the cat, etc. The options are endless!

Set yourself a challenge to give your pup 20 SMART rewards in a day, then 35, then 50! Remember, the more we reward for things we like, the more likely we are to get them!

Challenge #9 – SMART strategy, Part 2   (Home + Relationship Categories)

I want you to only tell your dog what you want them to do, and not what you don’t want them to do. This means changing out any form of No, including any nuh-uh type sounds. Instead, I want you to replace them with an interrupter sound – like a kissy noise – and once you have their attention, ask them to do something else.

This comes from learning theory. Imagine you were working on a crossword puzzle and every time you tried a new word and it wasn’t right you heard a negative buzzer. It would get old pretty quick and pretty soon you would hate doing crossword puzzles!

The same thing can happen to us and our dogs. It is so unconscious on our part, but we can soon be that negative buzzer sound to them. Uff! Definitely not what we want!

So, if they are up on the counters or getting into something they shouldn’t, get their attention and then ask them to come to your side, to go to a mat, or to get a toy. All of those things are incompatible behaviors to getting on the counter and will help build your relationship up!

If you are on a walk and they are getting into something you don’t want, sniffing something, or pulling in a different direction, first take stock as to why. Are they overwhelmed by the situation and trying to relieve some stress? Are they interested in all the good smells? Do they have something they want to see or get away from? Address those things first, adjust your expectations, or take a moment to go their direction. After that, do your SMART rewards for good walking manners and interrupt with a silent pause in the walk when they aren’t doing what you need (stopping when they pull, for example) and continue walking when they stop pulling. If they need to be redirected, give a kissy noise and use a phrase like “this way!” or call their name to indicate a change of direction.

It is hard because I bet you say NO to your dog in one way or another way more than you think you do. It is something I am often surprised comes out of my mouth before my brain realizes it has happened.
It is hard work, but important work when we consider building our relationship and improving our dog’s interactions with us! This week – change out saying NO for saying YES to something else instead.

Challenge #10 – Podcast: Forget Everything you Know About Your Dog     (Relationship Category)
Listen to this podcast and phenomenal interview with Alexandra Horowitz, a cognitive scientist (and dog devotee). She is the author of Inside of a Dog and many other books diving into the science of dogs.

Challenge #11 – Hit The Drive Thru    (Variety Category)
We all love getting a snack on occasion! Hit the drive thru with your pup and get them something special, like a puppicino, small ice cream, or a few of your fries!

Challenge #12 – Better understand your relationship with your dog    (Relationship Category)
“Dogs have given up the powerful hunting skills of their ancestors and pledged themselves to us with loving affection. It is the least we can do to reciprocate their trust that we will do the right thing by them and fulfil the modest needs they have.”
We hope that you learned some new ways to connect with your dog and continue building your relationship with them through our Best Life Challenge. Even if you couldn’t follow along with every challenge we posted, there is still plenty of time left in the year to focus on giving our pets their Best Life.

“The reason dogs are our best friends is not because they’re smart, but because they’re built to love us back.”

Continue with the intent of the challenge by making those 1:1 connections and activities that give back to your dog. The more we make these connections, the more our relationship will grow!

Dog Is Love is one of my favorite books. Here is a great short article by the book’s author, Clive Wynne.