My dogster readers are generally pretty dog-savvy individuals. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to most of you that dogs LOVE sniffing stuff. Regardless of your dogs breed, age, whether she is blind or deaf, she probably really enjoys using her nose. I havent actually asked my dogs, but I suspect both of them would prefer losing their sight and/or hearing to losing the ability to sniff. Scent is so powerful to a dog; it can be one of the strongest distractions in training to reliability.
Dogs that are encouraged to use their sense of scent productively blossom when given the opportunity. This is why air scent training, tracking, and more recently, canine nosework activities have become so popular. Scenting can be exciting and exhausting work for dogs.
Find it! is a great game which allows pet owners to capitalize on this inherent doggy desire. While my preferred Find it! object is generally a stuffed Kong, a variety of items can be used, from small piles of kibble or other treats, to a biscuit or a favorite toy. This game may be easier if your dog can hold a down, sit, or settle on a mat behavior for distractions, duration, and distance. If your dog does not have one of these behaviors on cue reliably, you may need to use a tether, crate, baby gate or other management aid until such a behavior has been trained to fluency.
First, prepare your Find it! item. For me, this means stuff the Kong. Then, place your dog in a stationary position or use a tether to secure him in place. Show him the Find it! item and then walk a few steps away from your dog, place the item on the ground in plain site, and return to your dog. If you placed your dog in a stationary position, you can use your release cue and then say Find it! to reinforce the release. Your dog should immediately go to the Find it! item if you have selected an item he is eager to obtain. If you tethered your dog, ask for a behavior he knows, and then reinforce him by removing the tether and releasing him to Find it!
Once your dog is enthusiastically and immediately running to find the item, you will begin making the exercise harder for him. Here is a sample plan for making this exercise more difficult for your dog:
- Gradually increasing distance, object still in sight
- Reduce distance, your dog sees you place object out of sight (behind the couch, for example)
- Reduce distance, your dog does not see you place object
- Increase distance, object out of sight (place object in other room, for example)
- Increase difficulty of hiding spot (this may include hiding the object behind or underneath things or raising the height level of an object by placing it on a crate, shelf, etc.) I do not recommend hiding the object on any surfaces which you do not want your dog to investigate (like the kitchen table or counters).
Each of these steps may have multiple component steps. When you are increasing distance with the object out of site, for example, you may first hide the toy in an adjoining room but eventually work up to hiding the object on a different floor.
Avoid increasing the difficulty too quickly. Your dogs success should be the determining factor in when you make this exercise more difficult for your dog. If your dog is routinely giving up the search before finding the exercise, you may need to temporarily make it easier for your dog and increase the difficulty more gradually in the future.
If you choose to introduce new Find it! objects, be prepared to go through the steps of training for each new object. Rest assured that your dog will learn to find the second object more quickly than he learned to find the first, and that each new Find it! object will be learned more quickly than the previous Find it! objects.
It may be helpful for you to do some work training find it! well in advance of needing it to stimulate your dog on a rainy day. It may take days or weeks to work up to really complicated searches, so training this exercise in advance will allow you to fully capitalize on the benefits when you need it most!