I can think of no better way of getting our dogs using their brain and body in perfect harmony than to employ what dogs love, need and crave; scent.
This is a quite simple yet highly enriching game.
You need some catnip (you don’t actually as there are all sorts of things you could use instead but I’m using catnip as it has a nice strong smell). It’s a natural product and mine came from the Amazon (they do next day delivery).
Next you need a mouse (or something that’s not a mouse)
This is a little cat-toy which was already scented with catnip but its best to have your own supply to keep it smelling strongly.
Take some catnip, place it in a container and cover with kitchen roll, place the mouse (or not a mouse) on top and shut the lid. The following day the mouse will have a nice strong smell of catnip. You can keep the mouse in the container from now on and each time you want to play ‘Find It’ everything will be ready.
Step 1: Using the mouse, play fetch with your dog, throwing the mouse just a short distance (I am assuming your dog can already ‘fetch’, if not you will need to work on this beforehand). If the dog is reliably fetching the item back, you can tell him to ‘Find It’ whenever you throw the mouse. This will become the dogs signal to go and look for the item later in the process.
Step 2: Place the mouse instead of throwing it, and encourage Fido to ‘Find It’ (it helps if you have a good wait behaviour but it’s not crucial). Give a great reward for fetching it (this could be a favourite piece of food or it could be a game).
Step 3: Start putting the mouse just out of sight but allow him to see where you put it (maybe in a box).
Step 4: Place it in easy to find places but without him seeing where you put it
Step 5: Increase the difficulty by placing the item in more challenging places around the house or garden and telling him to ‘Find it’ If he has seen you get the mouse container he will certainly know that the game is on so will not be too dependent on the ‘Find It’ signal. It is nice to have the signal (cue) if you advance to hiding the mouse without his knowledge.
If you are concerned that your dog might swallow a small item such as the mouse than a bigger item should be used. You could also start with a larger item to make it easier in the beginning stages and then switch to a smaller item later (if you wish).
An alternative might be a small teddy bear. This is a Kong bear. It has rope inside rather than stuffing so is reasonably hardy
You must ensure that the dog can reliably complete each step before moving to the next. If he is not then you should go back a step. You shouldn’t rush through the steps, take your time and enjoy.
Watch the videos for how the game should look
Using a larger item
Finding the mouse
Advancing it a little
Now go and play ‘Find It’ with your dog. Have fun.
Shay Kelly is the author of Dog training and behavor: a guide for everyone and Canine Enrichment: the book your dog needs you to read