Just like humans, it is essential for dogs to engage in both mental and physical stimulation to stay healthy. Without regular activities to keep them entertained, dogs can become bored, which can often result in destructive behaviours (such as chewing furniture or digging up the garden), barking, or even just following you around and attempting to engage in play.
If you have a particularly anxious dog, regular play and training games can help them to feel more relaxed, channel their energy positively and keep boredom at bay. There are many different ways to engage and play with you dog, but one of the simplest and easiest games I’ve found is the FIND IT game. There is no equipment required – bar a treat – and for anxious dogs it is a great game to play while out on a walk to prevent behaviours like lunging or barking.
Here’s some simple steps for the FIND IT game:
- Introducing the treat and the lure
You can start by luring your dog by presenting the treat close to their nose. Using a high value treat ie something a little more motivating than your everyday kibble will help make the game even more appealing!
- Charge the treat
By talking up the treat, you make your dog want to work for it. Your dog will respond to your tone of voice (“OH, what’s this Fido? What have I got?” – this makes the treat seem like the best thing in the world and incentivises your dog to play.
- Make the game achievable and simple at first
I start the FIND IT game in a low distracting environment. I throw it a few feet away from the dog, making the reward quick, easy and accessible. It’s important to give them a few quick wins; If you throw the treat too far it’s like the equivalent of giving me a 50,000 piece jigsaw when I’ve only ever done 100 piece. Yes it’s challenging, however my lack of experience may cause me to lose focus very quickly and frustrate me!
Start small and build up the level of difficulty gradually.
- Increase complexity, duration and distance
When you’ve boosted your dog’s confidence by starting small, then it’s time to increase the difficulty of the game. Be as creative as you can with hiding the treat, increasing the complexity of the hiding place, duration of the game and distance away from your dog.
- Keep it fresh
Some dogs lose focus more quickly than others and benefit from shorter sessions more regularly. Keep it fresh and interesting by changing up the treat. If you recognise frustration in your dog, then it’s time to stop and revisit another day.
The FIND IT game can be useful tool to distract your dog from anxious feelings or difficult situations, but it’s important to never put your dog in situations where you know they will struggle to cope without more training and strategies in place to offset those feelings.
Helen is the proud founder of Social Paws, working as a pet behaviourist specialising in pet behaviour therapy for anxious or reactive dogs. Her methods are kind, effective and force free. Through her unique, ongoing, support programme she is there to coach and mentor pet owners, every step, with a emphasis on the importance of long term support.