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Most dogs are naturally good at following their noses: They can often track everything from a dead mouse in your yard to the turkey sandwich you left unattended on the kitchen counter. This ability to nose out interesting smells can be channeled into a constructive skill with some simple training.
“Find it” can be helpful in a variety of situations. A quick game of “find it” can help nervous or timid canines to relax around new people or in unfamiliar situations, like at the vet’s office. “Find it” can be a way to help your dog channel excess energy or calm himself when greeting visitors. And “find it” can provide important mental stimulation by encouraging your dog to work for his meals and treats, which mimics the hunting his feral ancestors would have done.
“Find it” is a simple and fun game to teach your dog. Here’s how to get him sniffing.
Teach your dog to play “find it” by encouraging his natural talent for sniffing things out. A verbal or physical signal of the start of the game can help your dog know when it’s time to put his nose to the ground and go searching for something interesting.
To start, give the signal or cue — “find it!” — and immediately toss a desirable treat or favorite toy. Start easy, by tossing the treat or toy in a flat, open area. If your dog doesn’t understand what you’re asking, help him out by pointing at the item or walking toward it to draw his attention to it. When your dog finds the item, reward him with praise and repeat the process: Give the “find it” cue and toss another treat or toy (or reuse the same toy if your dog returns it to you after he finds it).
Once your dog catches on and begins to associate the “find it” cue with retrieving the tossed item, start to increase the difficulty and make the task more challenging. Rather than one treat, toss several. Or rather than tossing a toy, ask your dog to stay while you hide the toy. You can also toss treats or a toy where your dog cannot see it, like behind a piece of furniture, and let him hunt for it.
“Find it” can be utilized to turn your dog’s mealtimes into a form of enrichment and mental stimulation. Scatter his kibble on the kitchen floor or across an outdoor patio or use a food puzzle to serve your dog’s meal. Both of these options require him to work for his food, which is good mental and physical exercise.
“Find it” can also turn playtime into hide-or-seek: Ask your dog to unearth his toy before engaging in a game of fetch or structured tug. “Find it” can also be a useful way to encourage structured greetings or calm interactions with people: Toss a toy and have your dog find it and bring it to your guests.
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