Saturday, May 21, 2011

Rainy Day Games: Find the Food

What do you do when it's raining and pouring, or 105 degrees out and muggier than a sauna gnome's sweatpants? Can't go for a walk or run. But the dogs still need exercise, and letting them roughhouse indoors is generally not a great idea. So what are some alternatives to the Smashed Furniture Game?

Many dog trainers will attest that mental exercise can be almost as tiring to a dog as physical exercise. (This is why a 20-minute walk in a novel area can exhaust your dog as effectively as a 45-minute walk in a familiar old neighborhood: there are so many new and fascinating smells to process, corners to explore, bits of half-eaten tourist cheesesteaks to furtively grab...) And when you're stuck inside on a rainy day, it's easier to challenge your dog's brain than her legs.

Training is a great rainy day activity. Distraction chews are also handy. And then there are silly little rainy day games like Find the Food.

Find the Food is incredibly simple.

1. Chop stinky food into small pieces.

I like to use Wellness Pure Reward jerky treats because they're smelly enough to work well for this game, but dry enough that they don't stain or make a mess. Also, they are easy to chop into small pieces. I quarter each one to make little squares of about half an inch or so.
Healthy, convenient, stinky. What more could you want?
Dry biscuits don't work so well for this game because they don't smell strongly enough (also they are usually too big, so you can only play a few rounds before your dog has eaten all the biscuits he needs for the day). Really high-value treats like turkey hot dogs or chopped chicken are a waste for this game -- save those things for training -- and anyway that stuff is a little too messy to strew casually around your house.

2. Hide stinky food.

I put the dog(s) in another room while I hide the chopped-up treats. You could use a crate or even a tether too. The main thing is just to not let the dog(s) see where you're hiding the food, so they can't cheat. Usually I hide four or five pieces per round -- this is enough to create a pretty good Easter-egg hunt without too much risk that I'll forget where I put the pieces and lose track of any food the dogs don't find. (So far, I've been spared any consequences of my own forgetfulness because Pongu never misses a bit.)

One piece goes on top of a wall moulding...

...and another is tucked behind a table leg. (That's not a bug on the wall in the background, it's the first treat!)

When introducing a dog to this game, I will put the food in easy-to-find places that are mostly just on the floor. Gradually I move to slightly harder hiding places: perched on wall mouldings, tucked under the edges of rugs, hidden between a pair of shoes, up on a bookshelf, and so on. As the dog becomes more comfortable with the game, she'll learn to trust her nose even when she can't immediately see the food, and will be more willing to push or manipulate objects to reach the treat.

You can also rub the treat on the floor to make little scent trails to super-hard locations. (I only do this when my husband isn't around. He isn't a fan of me rubbing dog food all over the living room, go figure.)

3. Release the hounds!

And sit back and watch as they sniff out all your hidden prizes.
Pongu finds a Clue.
Pongu is good enough at the game now that he usually sniffs out all five treats in two minutes or less. See? Totally part beagle.

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