I’ve noticed many people think they have to rough house, or go outside and hike in the wilderness, or go to a dog park, or teach their dog to retrieve something or buy a new toy to really play with their dog.
The other thing is most people don’t take advantage of the food they are buying and feeding their dog, they just dump it into a dog dish … dog eats it, interaction done. That food is pretty pricey just to plop out there without any expectations.
Zoos used to do that too, just put the food in a pile for easy access/intake, ‘let’s get there when they feed the…, oops missed it.’ But the zoo behaviorists came to realize that most of the weird, trapped-in-a-cage behavior, was because of lack of things to do, lack of an enriched and interesting environment.
What does trapped in a cage-like environment look like? The animal is under-conditioned and often overweight and pacing, circling, whirling, humping stuff, eating non-food things, licking self excessively, over-reaction to stimulus (like the mailman), compulsive behaviors – barking, chasing sunlight/reflections, chewing … Basically there’s nothing much to do, so make something up to pass the time or create excitement.
So what did zoos do? They added more space and more natural features (I’m not suggesting adding an indoor dog park-although it sounds fun) and zoos started playing games with the food – hiding it, putting it in places that the animals had to work to get it out. The zoo animals have more interesting lives getting to find food, which is a major daily project in the wild.
Dogs like to find stuff and eat it. Afraid your dog doesn’t like his kibble that much that he would search for it? Cut back on the daily amount by 1/4 (so if you feed 2 cups per day, change down to 1.5 cups per day). For dogs who actually are underweight, then these games will re-energize their interest in the plain kibble.
But, I already take walks with him on a leash …. Yay, that’s good, but have you watched how a dog moves around unleashed? Our walks aren’t much of a dog work out. Face it, we’re slow and we have more dogged endurance, they’re quick and they love sniffing.
Find it! games Playing the games is amazingly entertaining for both you and your dog and even spectators are entertained. Of course, it only works if you are actually having fun.
- toss kibble (the regular dry dog food you already use) one piece at a time, dog finds it, cheer, then he comes back to you to start over (the come back can include a hand touch or sit or down for a reward too). Do close at first, then vary it. Do different directions to include short sprints.
- teach back up by tossing when he takes a step backwards, keep playing and he will figure it out.
- hide food (one piece or many – or if you use wet food put it on a small plate or plastic lid) while dog is tethered or held, then send him to find it. Make it very easy at first, progress to more difficult.
- hide food in many places and do a room search for it with encouragement but not direction from you.
- separate food into several smaller dishes and put them in different places for your dog to find and eat
- do mat training – put down a small rug, focus on it and when dog approaches or looks at it drop food into middle. Keep building this so the mat becomes a valued place to go to, then start waiting for your dog to lie down on it, reward. Now start adding distractions and kibble tossed away from the mat, but only reward if he’s planted himself back onto the mat. Once you’re sure he will go to and lie on the mat add ‘mat’ cue. If you’ve done this progressively enough, voila, the problem of the dog bouncing at the door may be over, because he will go to his mat instead, if he doesn’t he just needs more good practices.
- hide food at different heights, use cardboard boxes as new locations, add other agility type pieces – step, cone, tunnel.
- add hidden child with kibble (this starts the process of person finding)
- try things, like gloves, keys, slippers… to find and get food reward
- food stuffed toys, like Kongs or food Cube or Treat and Train to add eating interest when you can’t take much time or won’t be around for a while.
Even those of you who don’t like regular dog training will find scent games interesting , mainly because the sense of smell is so underdeveloped for us our dog is like a master, a sensing magician.
Do you have any find it games you play with your dog?