How to make your dog’s life happy: the six components of joy

László Enikő

2023. September 1 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary, Enikő László, YouTube

Everyday experiences are very important for dogs. When a pet is exposed to more exciting stimuli every day, it becomes a happy and balanced dog. Dog trainer Kyra Sundance shows us how to do this.


Kyra Sundance’s latest book, The Joy of Dog Training, presents 30 fun and almost unbreakable lessons for keen owners. Using only positive reinforcement, she will turn your pet into a well-behaved, happy dog. In the following excerpt, learn what the trainer considers the six components of joy.

Kyra Sundance: The Joy of Dog Training /Photo by Enikő László

Problem-solving challenges

Problem-solving challenges make your dog work its brain. Your dog can experience the joy of success in these games.

Your dog will get much more pleasure out of finding its food piece by piece than it would from getting it all in one bowl. The problem-solving challenge can be anything, and once you’ve discovered a few, you’ll realise how many objects there are in the household that can be used for this type of game: cardboard boxes, egg cartons, paper towel rolls, and so on. Here are some of these toys you can show your dog.

Bone in the towel

Tie a bow from the towel on the bone. Let the dog struggle to get it out.

Play under the basket

Hide your dog’s favourite toy or a food-filled toy under a laundry basket and let it see it, smell it, but how will it get it?

Blanket game

Put a blanket over your dog and encourage it to get out from it. Cover yourself up. Where have you disappeared to?


Build your dog’s confidence by encouraging it to explore new experiences. The success of the discovery eases fears and brings joy to the dog.

The key to overcoming fears is to allow the dog to approach the object at its own pace, and eventually the encounter will have a good (or at least neutral) outcome for it. Never force an object your dog is afraid of onto it.

Balancing disc

A balancing disc is a developmental device, usually a circular disc with a dome-shaped moulding at the bottom that allows the disc to move in several directions. Use a reward snack to entice your dog to try this strange object.

Find the hidden snack

Hide dog food, biscuits, treats around the house: under a chair, inside a toy, behind a cushion. Start outside to get in the mood.


Start with a short tunnel. Put snacks in the tunnel to make your dog more eager to explore.

The tunnel is a real challenge for some dogs.

Hide and seek

Hide behind the door and call your dog in a happy voice. Have a snack and give it to it when it finds you.


Find opportunities to let your dog make a decision. This helps it to feel it has some control over what happens to it, and it’s also a great opportunity to communicate.

We mostly tell our dogs what to do; we decide where to go, when to play, how to play. Sometimes it is worth giving our dog the “paw” of control, giving it the opportunity to decide. Should we go to the right or to the left? Would you rather have cheese or chicken? Would you rather play with a Frisbee or a ball?

Where would your dog like to sleep? Put its bed in different places around the house for a few nights and see if it shows you which place it likes best. Does it like to go outside? Teach it the bell trick (Lesson 20), which makes it easy for it to express its will.

Does your dog have lots of toy and offter its initial enthusiasm, is the latest toy still lying untouched in its basket? Give your dog the pleasure of choosing what it wants to play with today. Put the toys on a shelf in a neat row. Once a day, lead your dog to the shelf and let it choose which one it wants to play with. Interestingly, the dog seems to prefer the toy of its choice.

They want love

Your dog thinks about you more than anything else in its life. Show it your love with kind attention, with touches, with words.

Just as we can sense our dog’s love, they know we love them. They see it in our eyes, hear it in our happy voices. They understand that we apologise when we step on their tail, they sense our caution when we clean their ears, clip their claws or treat a wound. Our dogs allow us to give them a coat because they trust us and assume our good intentions.

Dogs are content with what they get, so in many cases it is easy to put their needs aside and focus our attention on ‘more important tasks’ such as work, chores around the house and social relationships.

Here are some ways to tell your dog how much you love it

  • Look gently into its eyes. Dogs communicate with each other through eye contact, it will instinctively understand why you are looking into its eyes
  • Scratch the base of its ear.
  • Snuggle up with it, sleep together.
  • Lean on it – like it leans on you.
  • Talk to your dog.
  • Watch it, encourage it and cheer it.


Dogs are pack animals so it is coded in them to live a structured life with a set of rules and regulations. The system also means predictability for the dog, they don’t have to worry about being left on their own, or not having enough to eat.

Structure means security and predictability. The dog can live without constantly worrying about whether there will be dinner tonight, whether you will ever come back when you leave the room.They understand patterns well and enjoy the little rituals we build into their daily lives.

How can we incorporate these rituals into everyday life? For example, we develop a routine that the dog sits down before it gets his dinner. When you leave the house, make it clear that you are leaving, so it doesn’t have to worry every time when you go out of the room.

Dogs are extremely good at learning associations, they quickly realise that when you grab your keys it means you’re leaving. If you put on trainers you’re likely to go for a walk together. These little rituals will create a special bond between you – it will become your secret language.

Sense of humour and play

Nothing makes a dog happier than a loving, playful owner. Dogs enjoy being teased, and they enjoy it when we fool around with them.Dogs enjoy play and understand humour.

Try the popular disappearing game with your dog: stand in the doorway, facing your dog, and lift a blanket in front of you so that it completely covers you, and while you’re dropping it in front of you, hide somewhere. You’ve enchanted yourself! Where could you have disappeared to? Play with your dog’s ball and hide the ball in your back pocket while you play. After a moment of perplexity, your dog will be delighted to search for the missing person or toy.

Your dog will often play tricks on you! In the park, it will pick up a stick and pretend not to care until you reach for it. At which point it will put it in its mouth and run off? Other times, it’ll grab one of your shoes or one of it’s toy and wait for you to chase it around the apartment. If you’re lucky, you’ll also often witness your dog almost smiling or doing a happy dance when it likes something.

Kyra Sundance: The Joy of Dog Training

30 unbreakable lessons to learn to think like a dog trainer! You can learn different teaching methods and practice them with your dog in a positive, motivating and enjoyable atmosphere.


Positive methods make your dog happy!

Dogs trained with non-aversive methods are happy and motivated to do good instead of fearing they will make a mistake.


Think like a dog trainer!

Each lesson introduces a different approach, such as the use of snacks, positive redirection and the designated place technique. Each new skill is reinforced with a step-by-step exercise.


Turbocharge your enthusiasm!

Train your dog in a way that is enjoyable for both of you; because you’re having fun doing it, it’s easier to tune in day after day.


The concept is clear, short and simple and each lesson is illustrated with photos.

Kyra Sundance is an acclaimed dog trainer, instructor and New York Times bestselling author and she has performed with her dogs in front of the King of Morocco, on the Disney stage and on The Tonight Show.

book reviews dog happiness Dog Training dog training at home Game independent decisions love sense of humour Training

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