Editor’s note: This article appeared in Dogster magazine. Subscribe to Dogster and get the bimonthly magazine delivered to your home.
Spring brings us good weather and holidays we can share with our dogs. Kids aren’t the only ones who enjoy searching for goodies hidden around the house or yard. A dog’s sense of smell makes him the perfect candidate for Easter games. Just don’t let him eat the ears off the chocolate Easter bunny (or any of the Easter bunny, for that matter). Here are some tips for how to make your dog’s Easter as fun as the official Easter Egg Roll on the White House lawn.
1. Safety first
If your dog will swallow a traditional plastic Easter egg in one gulp or crunch it into his gums and swallow the shards, he’ll have to go on an egg-less hunt. If your dog doesn’t react reliably to a “leave it” command, or if he snatches items and plays keep-away with them, forgo the plastic eggs as well. Rather than plastic eggs, you can use stuffable dog toys, or simply hide the treats.
2. Plastic eggs
These are easy to find in any dollar store or supermarket during the Easter season. They’re usually sold in multicolors, but dogs see mostly in shades of yellow and blue. A red plastic egg will look black to a dog, and green looks gray, so if you’re placing the eggs inside a thatch of dark shrubbery, they will be difficult to see. For eggs in colors other than yellow or blue, consider layering them with strips of black or white tape, or draw stripes around their circumference with a permanent marker to give them some contrast.
3. Different hunts for different species
If you’re creating a hunt for both dogs and kids, do them separately and account for all of the eggs afterward. You don’t want your dog to find an egg filled with candy. Likewise, you may not want a child finding a pretty egg filled with freeze-dried liver. You can place a paw sticker on the dog eggs to visually separate them, or use sparkly or metallic eggs for the kids and plain eggs for the dogs.
4. Smelly treats
Your dog will likely find the Easter eggs using scent, since that’s one of his strongest senses. Every dog has a different “nose talent.” If your dog has a great sniffer, you might be able to use his regular treats, but most dogs will need the help of stinky treats to aid in the game. Remember, the eggs will be closed, which makes the game more difficult. To make it easier, poke holes in the top of the eggs (gently, because they crack easily), or smear a bit of peanut butter or cheese on the outside. If your dog likes actual eggs, you can hide one or two along with the other treats (remove the shell first, of course).
5. Hidden eggs
Place the first egg in front of your dog, and let him gobble the treat inside. Help him open the egg if he can’t do it himself. Sprinkle the eggs around your floor or the yard, and let your dog have fun finding these easy treats. Next, lead him to the first well-hidden egg. After the third or so hidden egg, he should start to understand the game and begin searching. It’s OK if he doesn’t. You might have to lead him to every egg you’ve hidden. This is a game that you’re playing together as a bonding experience, so his understanding of the game is less important than the fun you have playing it.
6. Separate hunts
If you have multiple dogs, make sure that they’re going to play nice. If you have a resource guarder (one who will growl or fight over treats), give each dog his own separate hunt.
7. Pick up
If you’ve hidden 12 plastic eggs, make sure that you have accounted for 12 eggs when the game is over. If you aren’t likely to remember where you hid them, write down all of your hiding spots. You don’t want your dog or another animal to find the egg later and chew it unsupervised.