Useful for: Keeping your dogs attention on you and away from 'hazards' such as parties of school children that may randomly appear in parks, groups of runners, cyclists or horses. If you play this game a lot even when you are not playing they will want to stay a lot closer to you in case you initiate a game at any time!
'Find it' also stimulates your dogs natural scavenging instincts. The harder the game gets the harder your dog has to work so the more they use their brain and nose and the more tired they will be. Dogs like Spaniels and Beagles really enjoy this game and you can make it very difficult indeed. Dachshunds also do well at it, but then they are closer to the ground to begin with....
How to play:
Save some of your dog's food, or take a few tasty treats (not too many, recent stats show 50% of dog are overweight) out on a walk with you. 'Hide' a few treats in plain sight of your dog and give him a 'find it' cue.
When it's been eaten, move away a few steps, put down very small pile, and use the command again. Move further away each time, and when the dog has got the idea, turn your back and put some down so he hasn't got a proper view. Try putting two piles down, reasonably close together at first so he gets the idea that there will be more than one. Once he really knows what he's doing, let him see you put the food behind something like an old log, and again give him the command to find it, before you start making it harder for him to find it by not letting him see you put it down.
Once he gets really good, you should be able to 'scatter' some treats in an area and cue him to find it all. Make it as hard or easy as your dog enjoys, because you want him to clear the area before you leave it. Some dogs prefer to find it easily, or use their eyes, while other dogs will really enjoy taking ten minutes to find just a couple of treats because they enjoy the search so much.
If your dog is really keen and won't let you drop the food before they dive in, use their lead to tether them to a convenient tree or bench. Once you're done, release your dog to 'go find'.
Points to watch: If your dog eats inappropriate things from the floor this will encourage them to keep their heads down so address the pica first via a dog trainer or behaviourist. Allowing dogs to eat off the floor can encourage them to search out other food on the floor, which might not be good for them. It is possible to teach a dog to only eat off the floor on command, but you need to be sure the area you are using is clear of hazards. Dogs who may be possessive over food might react badly to strange dogs approaching to investigate the area, or another dog may run in and try to scare your dog off so they can get the food, so be aware of what and who is around you. Your dog will be doing a lot of sniffing, so don't pick an area where they might sniff up seed heads, grass seeds, small bits of twigs etc. You can keep your dog on a lead if you are avoiding a hazard that they might be more interested in, but allow them to lead you around (as long as they aren't pulling madly!).
How to play:
Our domestic dogs have their roots in hunters and scavengers, so they have be agile and quick, running and jumping, reaching up and climbing to find food. Our staid walks and bowl on the floor twice a day don’t replicate this at all. Wild agility is finding them logs to climb and balance on, low fences or branches to jump over or crawl under, steams to leap over or splash through, and even play and keep fit equipment that’s often installed in local parks. Note: NOT children’s playgrounds which frequently ban dogs, but the ‘natural’ wooden equipment in parks. Often these are swarming with children, but during school hours will often be abandoned! You should give way if humans approach to use the equipment. Please ensure to ALWAYS clear up after your dogs, and try to ensure your dogs don’t ‘mark’ equipment, as leaving mess is the quickest way to get a fence bearing a ‘NO DOGS’ sign installed around it.
Look out for likely looking spots on your usual walks – it’s best not to ask your dog to jump a fence or climb on a log if you don’t know the area – there could be a 10foot drop on the other side!
Once you’ve found a good obstacle, for instance a log, let your dog investigate it by sniffing – some dogs are happy to leap straight up, but take it slow anyway. If they aren’t interested you can put some treats around the area to encourage, or hold some food or a toy in your hand and lead them around – place the toy or treat on the log, so they can reach it a few times, then place it a little further back so they have to reach up, or even jump up. For some dogs that is enough for one session, so move on for a while and try again at the next log. If your dog is more keen let them jump up and explore at their own pace, put some treats along the log in the middle to keep them from straying too close one side, but most dogs manage to balance very well. Long legged/top heavy breeds like Greyhounds might have more problems finding their balance – if you have a dog who is very unsure try doing the same with a very low object that is only a few inches high.
Once your dog has got their balance and is confident you can make things more difficult – ask for a Sit, or a Down, or even ‘give a paw’, or circle on the spot.
For jumping fences start low and with food in your hand lead the dog over the jump – if the dog goes round it, don’t let them have the food. Usually they will jump! If you’ve got a confident dog you can throw a toy over it for them to run and jump over. Try not to have your dog on a lead for this, as they will decide where to place their feet on landing before they take off, so they might land further away from you than expected. If you need to keep your dog on a lead, use one longer than normal and pay close attention so they don't get tangled up or pull you over.
Points to watch: Be careful not to overdo things for your dog, they need to start gently and build up. Dogs under a year old (or 18 months for larger breeds) should not do a lot of jumping as this can stress their joints which might not be fully formed yet. Puppies have very soft bones so need to be looked after. Start gently and build up, encourage your dogs to do some stretching via spins and twists (lure them around with a treat if they haven't done this before) and give them a bit of a rub down all over to warm them up a bit. Visiting a canine massage therapist first can give you some ideas of how to warm your dog up safely. Always be mindful not to ask your dog to jump too high, too far or to climb so high that you can not safely get them down (or if they jump down they won't hurt themselves)
About the author
Linda has been walking her own dogs as long as she can remember, and other people's dogs since 2006. First as a 'foster mum' for homeless rescue dogs, then as a professional dog walker from 2008. She has walked over 300 dogs in that time (not all at once!). She now runs a successful dog walking company, Busters Dog Walking Services in Brentwood, Essex with 5 members of staff, walking 40 dogs regularly every week. She is also working towards accreditation as a dog trainer through the Kennel Club (KCAI) and specialises in terrier breed training . She also runs other professional dog walker training to help others set up and improve their businesses. She lives with four dogs, Beauty, Fred, Scamp and Tinker.