All dogs need an outlet for their energy, and a couple walks per day usually will suffice. However, some dogs seem to have an endless amount of energy, regardless of how much activity and attention you give them. These dogs usually are prone to mischief and require a more thoughtful training and management approach than the average dog. If this sounds like your dog, the solution is right in front of your nose. More accurately, the solution is your dog's nose.
A dog's sense of smell is thousands of times more acute than ours. When explaining a dog's sense of smell to clients, I often compare it to a human appreciating a Picasso; we view it with great appreciation – every stroke of the artist's brush, the subtle interplay of light and shade, the variations of color. That is similar to the level of complexity with which a dog uses his nose to explore and understand his world. His inclination towards his nose provides a perfect avenue for us to challenge, mentally exercise and entertain him. When my clients have dogs that need an extra measure of mental stimulation, I often prescribe a game called “Find It.” Here is how it works:
• Place a few pieces of bacon into a salt shaker and screw on the lid. The holes in the lid will allow the aroma of the bacon to escape, providing a “scent cone” for the dog to search for.
• Let the dog smell the salt shaker (and the bacon contained therein) and then give him a treat. Do this a few times.
• Put your dog in a sit-stay (or have someone hold his collar) and place the salt shaker on the other side of the room in plain sight. Then tell the dog “Find It” and release him. He will run straight to the salt shaker. When he gets to it and starts licking or sniffing it, give him a treat.
• Play this game over and over with your dog, hiding it in more complex places. Don't rush it; increase the complexity gradually. Let your dog watch you hide the shaker. Try to fake him out by acting like you are placing the shaker in various locations. Always reward your dog with a treat when he finds “the hide.” Eventually, your dog will exhibit some behavior to let you know he has found the hide. This is called “marking behavior,” and it could be something as simple as a glance in your direction or as complex as sitting and barking. Have fun discovering what your dog's marking behavior is.
• Teach your dog he may find the shaker along walls, behind furniture cushions, in flower pots, on bookshelves, etc. Your innovation is the limit.
As your dog progresses, you can start hiding the salt shaker when he is not observing you. You can even move the game to your back yard where mild wind currents will make the search more challenging. As the game becomes more complex, you will notice it actually tires out your dog in a very fulling way. You also may find yourself growing more fond of your dog as you discover how amazing he really is.
About the writer: Thomas Aaron is a certified dog training instructor and the owner of FetchMasters, LLC in Denver, Colorado. He is a strong advocate of positive reinforcement training, believing it provides the most humane path to a well-trained dog and nurtures an appropriate and strong bond between people and their dogs. He has trained hunting hounds since childhood and currently specializes in off-leash obedience training, behavior modification and positive gun dog training. FetchMasters.com