Your dog’s Gotcha Day is probably one of your life’s most heartwarming memories. So how do you celebrate the anniversary of such a special day?
If you’re searching for creative, fun ways to pamper your pup on the anniversary of their Gotcha Day, we’ve “gotcha” covered 😉. By the end of this post, you’ll have 19 creative ideas for celebrating your dog’s Gotcha Day including dog games, puppy play dates, special treats, and more.
What is a dog’s Gotcha Day?
First, you may be wondering what the term “Gotcha Day” means in relation to our sweet pups. In short, “Gotcha Day” is the term for celebrating the anniversary of the day you adopted your dog. Dictionary.com defines pet Gotcha Days this way:
“Among pet parents, Gotcha Day is the day people celebrate bringing home their new pet, usually a rescue.” – Dictionary.com
To expand on Dictionary.com’s definition, if you adopted your dog from a shelter or rescue, you may not have a record of your dog’s birthday. However, you do know what day you first held your puppy (or dog) in your arms and welcomed your pal to their forever home.
Gotcha Days are a relatively new event gaining in popularity since the 1990s. Much like birthdays, Gotcha Day celebrations may include cakes, parties, Gotcha Day cards, and, most importantly, spending quality time together with your furry bestie.
While the term “Gotcha Day” was first associated with rescue or shelter pet adoptions, it has expanded into the pet parent vernacular and is commonly used to describe the day any puppy goes to his or her forever home. Marking the official “going home” day—even if you do know your puppy’s birth date—as the Gotcha Day and then celebrating that day each year is a tradition any pet parent can enjoy with their dog.
Tips for celebrating your dog’s Gotcha Day
How do you tell your puppy just how much you love them in a way that’s appreciated by your sweet dog? Here are 19 ideas on how to celebrate your dog’s Gotcha Day in ways that you both will love.
1. Give your dog a special Gotcha Day treat or meal.
Is there one special dog treat that your dog absolutely drools over? On the anniversary of your dog’s Gotcha Day why not treat him or her to a really high-value dog treat that you usually reserve for special days. In our household, frozen pup cups top the list of drool-worthy treats. If you’re looking for a special snack for your dog, check out our easy yogurt dog treat pupsicle recipe.
2. Take your dog to a pet-friendly store to pick out a Gotcha Day dog toy or treat.
If your pupper enjoys going to dog-friendly stores and is comfortable in situations where there are other dogs and people, you may want to include a trip to a pet store to celebrate the anniversary of your dog’s Gotcha Day. Your dog can sniff out a favorite dog toy from one of the shelves as a fun activity.
It’s important to call out that your dog needs to be up-to-date on vaccinations before heading to any environment with other dogs.
3. Play some canine enrichment games with your dog.
Spark more joy in your dog’s day with some dog enrichment games. Canine enrichment is basically just allowing our dogs to be dogs. On the anniversary of your dog’s Gotcha Day, offer your dog plenty of time to do what comes naturally—sniff, play, run, etc. Here are a few canine enrichment activities that your dog may enjoy:
- Feeding enrichment: Place treats or kibble in an interactive dog puzzle toy and ask your dog to “find it.”
- Occupational enrichment: Practice some of your dog’s favorite tricks or tasks such as sit, stay, or fetch.
- Sensory enrichment: Take your dog on a new pet-friendly walking trail so your dog can breathe in all the surroundings of a new place.
For more ideas, please check out our mega list of dog enrichment toys, games, and ideas for happier dogs.
4. Let your dog choose with a “This or That” activity.
Want to switch things up a bit? Rather than you picking the Gotcha Day activities, why not let your dog in on the decision making. Here’s how:
Holding two different items in your hands (i.e. a ball in one hand and a frisbee in the other), ask your dog, “this or that.” The one that your dog approaches, sniffs, or shows an interest in first is the activity you do together. Here are some ideas:
- This ball or that frisbee (play fetch or frisbee)
- These car keys or that leash (go for a drive or for a walk)
- This dog treat or that carrot (enjoy a dog treat or a dog-safe fresh veggie)
5. Organize a puppy play date.
Dogs are inherently social and enjoy being with their pack. If your dog enjoys playing with other friendly, social dogs, you can celebrate the day your puppy came home by inviting another friendly dog over for a play date.
6. Give your dog a gentle ear rub.
If your dog leans into your hand when you’re scritching his or her ear, it’s a pretty good sign that you’re making your furry friend happy. But what does an ear massage do? According to Pet MD, dogs’ ears are chock full of nerve endings. When you rub or massage a dog’s ear, endorphins (the feel-good hormones) are released. Giving your dog gentle ear rubs is a caress that’s calming for most dogs.
7. Play some old-fashioned games with your dog.
Enjoy spending time with your dog while playing some old-fashioned childhood games. You can easily turn classic games like hide and seek or a treat hunt. If you need some inspiration, check out our ultimate list of easy games to play with your dog for fun and happiness. Most don’t require any special equipment…just your dog and you!
8. Set out on a dog sniffari adventure.
Want to add happiness to your dog’s Gotcha Day celebration? Then let your dog “nose” out an outdoor adventure. Research shows that decompression walks (also called dog sniffaris or sniffing walks) and other scent work activities make our dogs happier.
You can easily take your dog on a sniffari by intentionally giving your dog time to stop and sniff the sniffs while on a leisurely walk. In other words, rather than walking with the purpose of going somewhere, walk with the purpose of exploring the air, the trees, the grass. If a sniffari sounds like a fun way to celebrate the day your dog came home, check out our article on how to take a dog sniffari and nose out joy for your dog.
9. Walk your dog for good health.
While we’re on the subject of dog walks, just a good, old-fashioned walk around the block is a happy way for your dog and your to celebrate the memory of their Gotcha Day. As long as you’re both healthy, of course, walking is happiness…for both ends of the leash.
10. Talk to your dog in a soothing voice.
Did you know your dog loves the sound of your voice? For your dog’s Gotcha Day, why not sing to your dog? Who knows? Maybe they’ll howl along with you.
11. Play some nose work games for dogs.
For a “scentsational” Gotcha Day celebration, try playing some nose work games for dogs. Why? Turns out dogs who exercise their noses are more optimistic! Wouldn’t you love to make your pupper even more cheery? Who’s in? If you’re new to nose work games, the most basic is simply teaching your dog to “find it.” Your dog uses his or her sense of smell to find a treat. It could be hidden in your hand or simply placed on the floor just out of your dog’s reach. For more ideas, check out my complete list of nose work games for dogs.
12. Donate to a rescue or shelter.
If you adopted your dog from a rescue or a shelter, the anniversary of your dog’s Gotcha Day is a great time to pay it forward by making a donation. While money is probably at the top of many dog shelter wish lists, donations of food, toys, towels, cleaning supplies, and even office products are often needed. It’s always best to contact your rescue or shelter to learn exactly what is on their wish list.
13. Start a photo-taking tradition.
You probably have a photo of your pupper’s actual Gotcha Day. Why not create a photo-taking tradition and capture a picture of your dog (and you too) in the exact same pose each year on the Gotcha Day. Then over the years, you can look back through the photos and remember each one. For some ideas, check out my tips on how to take cute photos of your dog.
14. Take your dog to a pet-friendly restaurant.
If your dog enjoys outings and is comfortable in pet-friendly spaces, celebrating another year of togetherness at a dog-friendly restaurant is a memorable way to mark the day. There are many dog-friendly outdoor patios and some even have a special menu just for our doggos.
15. Say “I love you” in a language dogs understand.
There are many ways to show our dogs how much they are loved in a way they understand and appreciate. One of my favorites is giving is simply giving an “eye hug.” This isn’t a stare down contest, which dogs would not like. Rather, an “eye hug” is simply gently gazing into your dog’s eyes. Sharing a kind gaze is a Gotcha Day gift that doesn’t cost anything and may increase the bond you share with your dog.
16. Play some music for your dog.
According to a Psychology Today article on musical preferences in dogs, research confirms that dogs have musical preferences and react differently to different types of music. The article explains how psychologist Deborah Wells exposed dogs to different types of music. Classical music seemed to have the biggest positive impact—dogs settled as the music had a calming effect. You and your dog may enjoy just chilling together to some classical music on the anniversary of your dog’s Gotcha Day.
17. Give your dog a hand.
Did you know that most dogs respond better to you when you pair a hand signal with a verbal cue? If you’d like to up your communication level and speak to your dog in way that’s more understood, why not teach your dog a new trick using both a verbal message combined with a hand signal. By learning something new, you and your dog can bond together…just like you did on the actual Gotcha Day.
18. Give your dog a job…even on the Gotcha Day anniversary.
While we humans may enjoy taking off work on our birthdays, our dogs enjoy work. It gives them a sense of purpose. That’s why adding joy to your dog’s day may include giving your dog a job. You know what jobs your dog enjoys most. Here are a few jobs that many dogs enjoy:
- Retrieving a ball
- Finding a toy
- Hunting for their food
19. Simply focus your attention on your dog and being together.
And the number one thing that you can do to celebrate the anniversary of your dog’s Gotcha Day? Just give your dog what he or she loves most—You! By sharing your focused attention on your dog, you’re showing your furry friend your love in a way that they understand and appreciate.