I'm no dog trainer, but recently I decided to take some tips from a few dog trainers and teach my dog the "Go Find" command, and make a mental game out of it. It's been a really great activity to stimulate my dog's mind and use his natural tracking abilities. Dogs "see" the world through scents and have about 25 times more sensory cells in their noses than humans, so it only makes sense to do a little nose work.
The Go Find Game is where you, the human, hide treats, toys or little items (without your dog seeing) and let him "go find" them. The dog uses his nose and problem solving skills to find the objects. To start teaching the command and game, it's easiest to use food or treats to help guide your dog to the hidden treasures.
Side note: Let me tell you, my dog, Über, isn't a totally treats-driven dog. In puppy school, while all other puppies were focused on anything that held a treat, my dog was busy sniffing every corner of the ground, caring less that I had a hot dog in my hand (that he could have had if he was listening to commands). So, learning to go find isn't only for food-driven dogs.
So, we play this game out in our backyard. To start, I put the dog inside, then I use pretty fragrant treats and "hide" them easily around the yard. At first, I didn't hide them under or on top of things, they were just gently placed around. Then, I get Über, make him sniff my hands, so he knows what scent he was looking for, then let him in the yard and tell him to "Go Find". Not being familiar with this command at first, I kept repeating "go find" as he naturally scoured the yard. Each time he found one of the treats (I started by hiding 3 or so), I praised him with "good boy." Then right away, told him to "go find" as there were still more treats hidden. We did a couple sessions and repeated the activity for a few days in a row, hiding the treats in different places, adding more treats, and even changing the kinds of treats, so he was required to use his nose, and not just his memory of where things were yesterday.
Another side note, if your dog gets easily distracted by toys in the yard (like mine) put the toys away at first so they can focus on the task at hand.
A little something happened that I wasn't anticipating while playing our new game of Go Find. After a few rounds of playing, I discovered that this little "game" wore my pup out more than a good long walk did. Using his mind, nose and running around the yard (he can't go anywhere without running practically), totally wore him out! He was one happy pup that night! I like knowing that I did a good job at wearing him out physically and even more so, mentally. An active pup is a happy pup.
Once we were sure that Über had the "go find" command down, we started to broaden the game, hiding the treats in more difficult spots and adding more. Turns out that the game is more difficult when played in snow or after a rain shower (there are a lot more yummy and distracting scents then). As another little party trick, we starting naming some of his favorite toys and then playing go find and adding the toy name...like "Go find squeaky ball." He not only has to go find, but he has to get the right toy. This level is a bit harder, but fun!
I was told by a "Nose Work" dog trainer that when they do the full on training for nose work (a little different than tracking) they end up getting dogs to find a single droplet of a scent. They use a Q-tip's worth of a scent, place it somewhere in a whole warehouse or building, and the dog ends up finding it. I just think that is so impressive. Though we haven't made it to that level, Über has gotten pretty good at finding the hidden treats and toys.
The fun thing is that every time you play the game it's a little different. To change things up, you can bring the game inside. Hide treats around the house and in different rooms to add a new level of difficulty.
The Go Find Game might not be for all dogs, but give it a shot a few times and see. If your dog enjoys it, it can be a fun way to challenge his mind and you will certainly be impressed by how smart your dog can be!
Do you have any fun games that you play with your dog that just wear him out? Share with us in the comments below or on our Facebook page.