How to offer our dogs to use their nose and their resourcefulness to find a toy that we have hidden.`
- The favorite toy of our dog,
- A container (manna, cardboard, …) adapted to the size of our dog who must be able to easily pick up an object lying at the bottom,
- Newspaper or empty rolls of toilet paper / kitchen paper.
Description and evolution
For the game described below, assume that we have chosen a manna, a toy and cardboard rolls.
Step 1: Let’s settle into a quiet room in the house (where our dog feels comfortable), drop the toy into the manna, in front of our dog. No other object is in the manna. As soon as he becomes interested in his toy (looks at it, approaches it, sniffs it, touches it with his muzzle or his paw, picks him up, …), reward him. We start again until our dog is interested in his toy in the most committed way (each dog will naturally give a marking: by touching with his paw, by staring at the object, by barking or taking it in his mouth for example). It is interesting for this game that our dog brings us back / gives his toy. If he does not do it naturally, we will teach him during specific game sessions.
Video: toy in a basket
Step 2: In the same room of the house, in the same manna, place some cardboard rolls and put the toy in the rolls, in front of our dog. The toy remains visible despite the rollers. As soon as he gives us back his toy, he is rewarded.
A single parameter changes between two stages of the exercise: either the container, or out of the dog’s sight, the environment, or the visibility of the object.
|Video: toy in a basket and with rolls|
Step 3: In the same room of the house, in the same manna, let’s place even more cardboard rolls and drop the toy into the rolls, in front of our dog. The toy is almost immersed in the rollers. As soon as he gives us back his toy, we reward him.
Step 4: In the same room of the house, in the same manna, put the toy and cover it with rollers, in front of our dog. The toy is totally immersed in the rollers. As soon as he gives us back his toy, he is rewarded.
Step 5: In the same room of the house, in the same manna, place some cardboard rolls and put the toy in the rolls, out of our dog’s sight. The toy is visible despite the rollers. As soon as he brings us his toy, we reward him.
When a new parameter creates too much difficulty (out of our dog’s sight for example), we can decrease the level of difficulty of one of the other parameters (less rolls for example).
Step 6: In the same room of the house, in the same manna, put the toy and cover it with rolls, out of our dog’s sight. The toy is totally immersed in the rollers. As soon as he brings us his toy, we reward him.
Next steps: start all over again … with new containers (cardboard or suitcase that can be closed, a bush or hedge from the garden, …) or other objects (new toy, wallet, GSM, …).
Video: toy hidden in the garden
Learning without pressure
These game sessions have to be very short (less than 5 minutes and 3 sessions maximum on the same day). Each session induces reflection and nose work that requires a lot of focus for our dog. If the session is too long or if we repeat too many sessions on the same day, we risk failure. Better to stop on a positive note, even if it seems like the last game was very easy to solve. Beginners need time to develop their skills as they go. And let’s not forget that learning takes place optimally when the dog is not stressed and therefore not put under pressure.
In the same vein, it is useless to “motivate” our dog by repeating the request (“search” for example). While our dog is focused on the treat search, he mainly uses his eyesight and his nose. Repeating “search”, “search”, “search” distracts him and floods his ears and his brain with useless information. It’s just distraction, not motivation.
You do not need to help him, for example by pointing to the treats you see. The purpose of the game is that our dog develops his nose skills and their confidence, this is not a game of speed or performance. When our dog stops searching, the game is over either temporarily because he just needs a break, or definitely depending on our dog. It is important to respect his learning
Let’s also respect his rhythm of recovery: after a busy weekend, our dog needs more rest. Respect also its rate of recovery: a busy weekend induces a need for more rest. The ideal is to offer our dog an easier search game : hide the objet behind a pillow or a piece of furniture, scatter some treats, without hiding them, at home or on the lawn.
Those who do not cope
If our dog is not interested in the toy, we need to make it more interesting. We can use a new toy (novelty attraction), a pencil case in which we will hide treats (a knotted sock may also contain treats). We can also offer him an exceptional treat (a tasty reward for chewing for example). It’s up to us to offer him an interesting and attractive object.
If our dog likes the object but is not interested in this search, it may be because it’s too difficult for him (physically if our dog is old, sick or hurt / emotionally if our dog is not comfortable in the environment for example / if we have skipped steps in the progression of learning / if the container is challenging or scary). It’s up to us to offer him a game that lives up to his physical and / or emotional abilities.
Some dogs could also accept the game with some objects but not with others: metal keys for example are not very pleasant to take in mouth.
On the other hand, if our dog appreciates “too much” the container or the objects of camouflage, they might have all his attention and he might forget the toy. Our dog may also build up pressure and prefer to destroy or shred the container (quick solution) rather than trying to calmly resolve the problem. It’s up to us to respect the tolerance threshold of our dog.
- To offer an exceptional object / treat appreciated by our dog ;
- To choose adapted containers ;
- To improve the dificulty’s level, step by step ;
- No pressure ;
- To organize short sessions ;
- To choose games which are adapted to the needs, expectations and abilities of our dog.