What is it?
The idea is to invite our dogs to use their nose to find an object that we have unfortunately lost, while walking for example (our mobile phone, the car keys,…).
What do we need?
- An object our dog likes,
- Treats our dog likes.
Description and progression
Step 1: Let’s settle down in a quiet room in the house (in which he feels comfortable). Let’s start by getting our dog interested in the chosen object, let’s say a sock. The sock is placed on the floor, in front of our dog. As soon as he is interested in it (looks at it, approaches it, sniffs it, touches it with his nose or paw, takes it in his mouth,…), he receives a reward. We start again until our dog is systematically interested in the sock, and in the most committed way (each dog will naturally offer a mark: touching with their paw, staring at it while barking or taking it in the mouth for example).
Step 2: In the same room of the house, stand close to our dog and drop the sock on the floor, in full view of our dog, clearly visible on the ground. Our dog will receive a reward for each mark of interest in the sock.
Step 3: In the same room of the house, we stand a little further away from our dog and drop the sock on the floor, in full view of our dog, clearly visible on the floor. Our dog will receive a reward for each mark of interest in the sock.
Only one parameter changes between two stages of the exercise: either the distance from our dog, or out of the dog’s sight, or the environment, or the visibility of the object.
Step 4: In the garden, let’s stand close to our dog and drop the sock on the ground, in full view of our dog, clearly visible on the ground. Our dog will receive a reward for each mark of interest in the sock.
When a new parameter causes a high degree of difficulty (e.g. change of environment), the level of difficulty of one of the other parameters can be reduced (e.g. reduce the distance).
Step 5: Let’s walk in the garden with our dog and drop the sock, out of the dog’s sight, clearly visible on the ground. Let’s stop and invite our dog to look for the sock.
Our body language will help our dog if we are completely turned towards the lost object, as well as staring at the object.
Video: Increasing the distance
Step 6: Let’s walk in the garden with our dog, along a border near a single grassy area and drop the sock, out of the dog’s sight, into the grass. Stop and invite our dog to look for the sock.
Video: Retrieving the lost object
Step 7: Let’s start to “lose” our sock on the walk.
As the change of environment induces an important difficulty, let’s decrease the level of difficulty of one of the other parameters (reduce the distance for example or choose a place where the dog can see the object easily).
Next steps: start all over again… with a new object (wallet, slipper, key ring,…).
Video: Ink is finding lost car keys
Learning without pressure
These game sessions are necessarily very short (less than 5 minutes and a maximum of 3 sessions during the day). Each session involves reflection and scent work which require a lot of concentration from our dog. If the session is too long or if we repeat too many sessions on the same day, we risk failure. It is better to stop on a positive note, even if it seems to us that the last game proposed was very easy to perform. Beginners need time to develop their skills as they go along. 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, there is no need to “motivate” our dog by repeating the request (“search” for example). While our dog is focused on the track of the lost object, he mainly uses his sight and sense of smell. Repetitions of “search”, “search”, “search” distract him and overwhelm his ears and brain with unnecessary information. This is only distraction, not motivation.
There is no need to help them unduly, for example, by pointing to the location of the lost object. Staring at the object and turning completely towards it are already important indications. The game is for our dogs to develop their olfactory skills, it is not a game of speed or performance. When our dog stops searching, the game is over, either temporarily because a few moments of rest will be enough for him, or permanently depending on our dog. Let’s respect his learning pace.
Let’s also respect his recovery pace: a busy weekend means a greater need for rest. The ideal is then to offer our dog an easier search game: a few treats scattered, without hiding them, at home or in the lawn will do the trick (see “treat search“).
Those who do not cope
If our dog is not interested in this game, one question is obvious: does he like the treats we offer him as a reward? It is up to us to offer him treats that live up to his expectations.
If our dog is not interested in the object, let’s ask ourselves how we can make it more interesting. With socks, for example, we can hide a few treats inside and tie the end. It’s up to us to offer him an interesting and attractive object.
If our dog likes these treats and the object but he is not interested in looking for it, it is probably because it is too difficult for him (physically if our dog is old, sick or injured / emotionally if our dog is not comfortable in the environment for example / if we have skipped steps in the learning progression). It is up to us to offer them a game that matches their physical and/or emotional abilities.
Some dogs could also accept playing the game with certain objects but not with others: metal keys, for example, are not very pleasant to play with.
On the other hand, if our dog likes the object “too much”, he will keep it for himself and will not give it back. For later play sessions, let’s use material that our dog doesn’t like too much. We can also teach him to let go on request during specific play sessions.
As soon as our dog has understood that we become extremely clumsy and that we really lose our object very often, it is possible that he becomes hyper-vigilant and observes us excessively. It is up to us to respect our dog’s tolerance threshold.
- Offer treats that our dog likes;
- Offer an object that our dog likes;
- Increase the difficulty, step by step;
- Offer learning without pressure;
- Short sessions are a must;
- Offer a game adapted to our dog’s needs, expectations and abilities.