By Lauren Cassady, DVM
If your dog’s stocking hangs from the mantel, you might find her staring at it for hours, waiting for the goodies inside. Instead, why not play some games to make the holidays special even for your pet? This will strengthen the bond between both of you, activate your dog’s senses, and build lots of happy memories. Playing a game of hide and seek encourages your dog to use her mind and natural hunting skills, and to get some exercise as we stay in more during cold winter months.
If it’s just the two of you, place your pet in an enclosed room, hide the treat, and then let her out to look for it. Give her lots of encouragement, a little guidance, and then celebrate with her when she makes the big discovery.
If you’ve got a family, children will naturally want to join in the fun. Give each child a dog treat and let them find a hiding place for it. When your dog tracks down each kibble, she gets lots of praise. Expect lots of giggles, too.
Before going out to Grandma’s place, or for a shopping expedition, consider putting a few easy-to-chew treats or a chew bone in safe places throughout the house to keep your puppy busy while you are gone. Make a list of where you hid the treats so you don’t find the missed ones in July. And be sure to leave a full water bowl.
Pet stores and online sources sell a seemingly endless variety of puzzle toys that hide treats. But if you want to go ‘old school’ there are ways to make the average household lots of fun as well. Put treats:
- In a big open box
- in a shoebox covered with a lid that can be pulled off
- Inside a toilet paper roll
- under an overturned clear bowl (getting to this treat is harder than you think)
- in one cup of a muffin tin, with balled up socks or tennis balls obscuring which cup holds the prize
- up on a chair seat or some other place that requires just a little stretching to reach
- behind a door
- under a rug
- just barely under the bed so it is easy enough to reach when spotted
- in the bathtub (helps to train her not to be afraid of bath time)
- buried in a basket of old towels (sharpens her foraging instincts)
Places where you don’t want to place treats: behind sheer curtains that could be ripped, in shoes that could end up being chewed, pockets or handbags, near a furnace or other heat source, or anything glass or electrical.
Start simply and teach your pup to work up to the more difficult searches. If you hide her treat in the kitchen or pantry, she will really have to sharpen her senses to hone in on one scent from among many.
If your dog ‘just doesn’t get it’, an online search suggests that you start by showing her the treat, then put it on the floor for her to pick up, and then command her to retrieve it from a little farther away each time. A merrier version is to show her the treat, then hide it behind your back for a moment, show it again with excitement, hide it behind the back again, and this time, wait for her to investigate on her own. Praise her when she discovers it. Then hide the treats a little farther away each time, while teaching her a command such as, “Go get it!” Be sure you have an end-of-game command like, “All gone,” or she may be confused when you stop. You might also hold out empty hands as you say this. Dogs understand visual cues very well.
No matter what you play together, dogs love having special time with their family!
Thanks to our friends at Heron’s Crossing for this guest blog post!