Find It Games!
This is one of my “Go-to” games for rainy days or any down day that I want to give my dog some mental work in a fun way because exercise is out of the picture. What makes this game so awesome for our dogs is that it’s easy to start simple so they can learn to use their nose, but it’s also easy to keep changing it up to make it constantly harder so that we are challenging our dogs. This is typically the 2nd game I teach all my dogs and especially dogs that I want to train medical alert skills to.
Before the game, use a 2nd person to hold your dog or place them behind a gate while you hide the treats. Once your dog has learned the cues that go with this game you can ask them to down/stay while you hide the treats. Start the game using the same treats every time you play and your dog will associate that smell with the objects they are finding. Once your dog becomes more advanced you can start hiding different items and add in a “sniff” or “smell” cue to tell your dog which scent they are searching for during the session.
At first, allow your dog to see you drop 2-3 treats on the floor in the center of the room, then go to the dog and release them to find it. They will run to the treats and gobble them up. Slowly start moving the treats further away from each other and closer to furniture or other obstacles in the room. Once you’ve made it to the outskirts of the room you are using, start positioning your dog so they can not watch you hide the treats. By this time, they should be starting to understand the game but if they struggle too much, place the treats in easy to find places such as the center of the room again. Slowly add in hiding spots that are at different levels; on the floor, on a low ledge, on the seat of a chair, on top of a shoe, etc. Make sure all hiding spots stay below the dog’s nose when you're in the early stages, but as your dog progresses, you can pick higher hiding spots. One rule that I use is I never place a treat on a table top, even a coffee table, as I don’t want my dogs to think that it is ok to eat food left on tables.
Here are a few more slow progression steps I take as my dog learns to search better:
Make the area bigger, hiding treats in multiple rooms.
Switch to an old dog toy that has been played with often. This allows you to add in your sniff cue. Present the toy, place your dog in a different room to hide the toy in an easy spot, give your search or find it cue, and if your dog struggles you can shake the toy a bit to get them interested. Use the same toy over and over again until the dog starts to get the idea.
Raid the kitchen for smelly items that the dog can’t actually eat such as a banana, empty spice container, or nearly empty peanut butter jar. Loosen the cap on the container or jar to allow the smell to escape. Garlic, pepper, and cinnamon are some of my go to smells in the beginning.
Slowly pick items that are not as smelly such as clothing, a hat, bandana you or another dog has worn.
Hide the treat in places where the dog can’t reach without assistance. This allows you to build in a behavior or alert you want your dog to give when they find the treasure. Our dogs sit and stare at the place the treat is hiding. Make the first higher hiding spots something that is easy to see and smell. I have a chandelier in my living room that works well for this.
Once your dog is really good at the game you can hide items inside boxes, dressers, and other containers. Make it easy at first by leaving a door or drawer slightly open until the dog understands to alert you for help in opening the container for them to find the object.
When your dog is really good you can play with items that you frequently lose such as your keys, phone, inhaler, or meds container. If you associate the name of that item, you will be able to ask your dog to go find your phone which is an awesome task!