Having dogs in South Florida during the summer months can present some real challenges. Between thunderstorms and the high heat/humidity index, we often can't go outside to play.
If you find your dog, and yourself, going stir crazy in the house, fear not! I will be releasing a series of activities you can do to beat indoor dog boredom and have a blast in the process.
Like humans, dogs thrive when they have both physical and mental outlets for their energy. When you don't have space to run around, you can cure indoor zoomies by engaging in activities that ask dogs to think.
The same way humans will be tired from doing something mentally taxing, like studying for a test or solving a complicated problem at work, dogs get tired from using mental energy as well. Think of the activities in this series as brain games for dogs.
First Indoor Dog Game of the Series: “Find It”
There are tons of fun games you can play inside with your dog, but one of my favorites is "Find It."
This is a great game to get a dog to use their nose. Stimulating the part of the brain that processes scent enables them to play with you while using their natural abilities.
I spend a lot of time teaching dogs to understand how to live in a human world, so anytime I can do something that plays to my dog's innate strengths, like the sense of smell, I jump at the opportunity.
Dogs’ noses are seriously amazing, I mean like it blows my mind to think about them amazing. If you love to geek out about stuff like this, check out this article that goes into more detail about this incredible cold and wet part of our furry friends:
The main idea is to get your dog to stay still in one area, while you hide food or their favorite toy in another area. When you say "Find It," your dog will use their nose to locate the item and when it is found you throw a party.
Below, the game is broken down in detail with some tips and tricks:
1. Keeping your dog still in one area
If your dog knows how to sit, or lay down and stay then awesome! Use that command while you hide the goods, and then simply release them.
If your dog doesn't know how to stay still, you can have them wear a harness and tether them to something sturdy with a leash. Once you hide everything, you can unclip the leash. Another option is to leave your pup in another room divided by a door or baby gate while you stash the food or toy. Make sure the room they are left in is a safe space where they can be unsupervised while you hide.
2. Make sure your pup understands the game
To help make sure your dog gets the game, you want to start off very easy.
You can put the food or toy in plain eyesight of your dog before releasing them to look for it. If using food, you want to make sure it is something your dog really likes and that it has a strong smell. If it is one of your dog's favorite toys, it will already be loaded up with scents.
Once your dog understands that they are being released to go find the item, then you can progressively make it more difficult, based on your dog's age and abilities.
I prefer to do things in baby steps to make sure your pup has fun and some success, then I add in the challenge. Toward the end, you can hide lots of little pieces of stuff all over a room.
Check out the progression for a dog that is new to the game to what it can look like with an experienced dog in this video!
Here is a written sample progression:
In plain eyesight of your dog 2 feet away
In plain eyesight of your dog 4 feet away
In plain eyesight of your dog close to another object
In plain eyesight of your dog slightly under an object (but easy to see and access)
Out of eyesight of your dog, but easy to spot once in the room
Out of eyesight of your dog, and slightly under something
3. Make sure "Finding It" is rewarding and that your dog REALLY wants to locate the item
To do this, you have to figure out what your dog loves. Some dogs really light up with human touch and affection, and others do not. Some dogs love to eat and others love tug or fetch.
When your dog finds what they are looking for, you can reward them by doing whatever they love the most.
I always celebrate verbally as well by saying, "Good Boy!" when the item is found.
If they are looking for food and find it, they will be self rewarded because they get to eat it:-). You can add a verbal celebration, but you don't need to add physical celebration here because your dog already won!
If they find the toy, you can either let them run around the house with it for a minute or play a quick game of tug or fetch.
Pick whatever will make them the happiest.
Special Note - Hold off on this game, and seek the help of a trainer if:
Your dog has trouble giving the toy back to you. A trainer can help you develop a solid "out" command.
Your dog shows any signs of resource guarding. For example, growling when you try to take the toy or being possessive in a way that makes you uncomfortable. If this is the case, for now, only play with small pieces of food. The resource guarding behavior should be addressed as soon as possible as this can lead to big problems if your dog is allowed to continue to display it.
Start saying "Find It" right before releasing your dog to find the food. At first, this phrase will be irrelevant, but with repetition, they will learn "find it" means go sniff around until you find something cool.
If you want to play this game but don't want your dog licking surfaces in your house because:
You can still play by hiding stuff in boxes instead of on household surfaces. Check out a demonstration in the video below!
You can do variations on "Find It" where your dog will search for people like "Hide and Seek." The game is the same except a person will hold the food or toy and hide. When the dog finds the human, they get the reward.
Check it out!
Have fun playing! Please ask any questions if you hit road bumps while trying to share this game with your dog. I also LOVE to see videos of you playing with your pup and any variations you create:-)