One of my favorite games to play with my dog is Find it! We started playing this game when she was very little, almost from the day she came home. It has morphed into various forms including Hide and Go Seek with my son, finding lost keys, finding hidden toys and her very favorite, the 45 minute keep you busy while I’m gone variety, where I run around the house just before I leave for the day and hide many single pieces of kibble and some really yummy treats all over the house for her to find after I leave!
Beginning Level - Teaching the word!
Remember that your dog does not know what the words ‘find it’ mean, and while the end game is all about the dog using their nose to find things in the beginning we just want to teach the dog to look for treats when we say ‘find it’.
Step 1 - We start by tossing a treat away from us and saying the words ‘find it’ in a fun happy voice. The treats should be highly visible to the dog, preferably still moving so the dog will chase them. Once the dog finds the first tossed treat, toss another on in the opposite direction, but still within sight! Play this simple game a couple of times a day for a couple of days until the sound of the words ‘find it’ gets your dog excited and looking for something on the floor.
Step 2 – When your dog starts to understand the word, you can start tossing the second treat in a way that is a ‘blind toss’ meaning your dog can’t see the treat as you toss it. Make sure you are still using highly visible treats and the smellier they are the better, this will help your dog start to use his nose! You can do this by tossing around a corner, or stand in a door way and toss from one room to the other, or use your kitchen island as a blind, first tossing down one side of the island and then down the other. However you do it the idea is that you say ‘find it’ and rather than chasing a moving treat the dog has a general idea of where you’ve tossed the treat but has to put his nose to the ground to find it. Advance to the next step when your dog easily finds all the treats you toss.
Tip – if at any time your dog looks to you for guidance about where the treat is, simply shrug your shoulders and say, “I don’t know, you have the nose!” If they are really struggling you can walk closer to the treat but try to resist the urge to show them (no toe tapping or pointing) where the treat is, this will only teach the dog to come to you rather than use their nose to find it.
Teaching the Nose ‘Find’
Step 3 – Repeat step 2 with treats that are less visible, match the shade of the floor with the shade of the treat. Advance to the next step when your dog easily finds all the treats you toss.
Step 4 – The stationary hide! In this game we ‘hide’ three treats as your dogs watches you, if your dog doesn’t have a good solid ‘stay’ have someone else hold the dog while you hide the treats, again let him see where you are hiding the treats. When all three treats are hidden in plain sight, the person holding the dog can release the dog with the ‘find it’ cue. Repeat hiding the treats in the same 3 spots over and over until the dogs knows where to go and instantly goes there.
Proofing the behavior
Step 5 – The stationary blind hide. Using the same three hiding spots, position your dog where he CAN NOT see you hiding the treats, place the treats in the same three spots you used before, then release your dog with the find it command! He should go right to the same spots you’ve been using all along, if so continue to step 6, if not repeat step 4 a few more times.
Step 6 – The stationary blind hide with a twist! Position your dog where he cannot see you hide the treats. Place the treats 6” away from each of the three hiding places you have been using. Release your dog to ‘find it’! Your dog should go to the original hiding place as in step 5, but instead of finding the treat he/she will have to use their nose to locate the prize. Make sure the treats are smelly and similar in color to the flooring. Repeat until the dog finds the treats regularly.
Step 7 – Begin hiding the treats in more varied places around the same room that you’ve been using.
Step 8 – Begin hiding treats in other rooms.
Step 9 – Begin hiding treats in locations other than the floor.
Other Find it Games
Hide and Go Seek
Have your kids hide in plain sight, give each a doggy treat. Tell the dog to ‘Find Joey’ or ‘Find Sally’ and have only the child whose name was called reward the dog when the dog approaches. With enough repetitions, the dog will learn to seek only the named child. As the dog catches on to this game the kids can hide in more and more difficult hiding places! After several years of playing this game with our dog as the two of them grew up together my pre-teen son was hiding in places like the top of the washer and dryer, in closets, behind chairs, in shower stalls – the list was endless. It became the go-to game on rainy boring days.
Muffin Tin Find It
Using a muffin tin (a 12 holer works best) place a treat in ONE of the muffin cups. Place the tin on the ground and tell your dog to ‘find it’. Repeat 2-3 times until fido is finding the treats with little problem. The after you place the treat in the muffin tin, place a tennis ball on each of the muffin cups so that the treat location is hidden. Place the tin on the floor and hold on to is as now the dog has to find the hidden treat AND get to it. Some dogs will use their paws, some will push the balls out of the way with their noses and some will pick the ball up with their mouth to get to the treat.
The Box Drill
Use 5-6 empty cardboard boxes (small to medium sized are best like the ones from Amazon), scatter the boxes about and while the dog is NOT looking (have a helper hold the dog out of sight) place 2-3 treats in one of the boxes. Release the dog with a ‘find it’ cue and watch as he finds the treats and then is rewarded for his find. As he gets better and better at this game you can start closing the lids on the box, be sure to reward him when he finds the right box by dropping treats on the top of the closed box.
The Dropped Glove
Once your dogs knows what find it means, you can start playing the game anywhere! While out on the trail, drop an old glove on the trail when your dog isn’t looking, then call him to you and point him in the direction of the glove and give the ‘find it’ cue. Be sure to whoop and holler and reward lavishly when he finds the glove. Gradually increase the difficulty of this game by leaving the glove further and further behind or throwing the glove off the trail a bit so the dog has to use his nose, not his eyes to find it.
The Key Chain Find
This works best if you have a leather fob on your key chain, it will naturally retain your scent. Start easy like you did with the food finds, drop the key chain on the floor and say ‘find it’ when the dog picks it up praise and reward. Then ‘hide’ the keys just like you did the treats in the first exercise, slowly increasing the difficulty. Be sure to reward lavishly every time the dog finds your keys. You can even put specific words to specific items, like ‘find my keys’! The more you play the better your dog will be at the game. This one can come in really handy if you lose your keys a lot!
I hope this has given you the information you need to build a great behavior and some fun games you can play with your dog.