Canine Cabin Fever?? You "NOSE" it!


A cold and blustery winter day is a great time to break out the board games and spend quality time with friends and family. Dogs love games too and since Catchphrase or Monopoly can be a challenge when you don't have opposable thumbs, your dog will sure appreciate you finding some games that cater to their most amazing physical feature....their NOSE!

Most dogs LOVE to seek and find things with their noses. In a way, your dog's nose is like their own version of a computer, constantly receiving and processing information about their world. And if you think of the air surrounding them as WiFi, it follows that in wintertime, when the air can become stagnant, stale and sterile, "nose reception" can grind to a standstill and life can become oh, so boring!  So try some of the games below to stir up that air a little and get your dog's nose back "online"! 

  • Treats Galore "Find-It": Secure your dog in one room and place 10-20 small, fragrant treats in various places around another room. Release your dog into the "game room" with a cue (I use "Find-It!") and let them sniff around and find all the treats.
    • If your dog has a good "Stay" (or you're working on it), incorporate an unrestrained Stay into the game. If not, you'll probably have to confine them in the "holding room".
    • Don't hide treats anywhere that the dog is normally restricted from accessing. Examples include tabletops or buried deep in couch cushions.
    • Don't be afraid to let your dog sniff around and find as many of the treats on their own as possible - it's part of the fun!
    • But do remember where you hide all the treats and make sure they're all eventually found. It's no fun to discover those fragrant chunks of food a week later!
An empty red pepper container with holes poked in the lid makes a great treat target!

An empty red pepper container with holes poked in the lid makes a great treat target!

  •  Targeted "Find-It": Your dog will be looking for one specific object, either a favored toy or a "treat target" made from a small container with holes in the lid and yummy treats inside. Secure your dog so they can't see into the "game room" and let them give the object a "good sniffin' ". Hide the object somewhere in the game room and then release your dog with a cue to come search for the object. 
    • Start out with fairly obvious hiding places and then increase the difficulty as your dog catches on to the game. Setting out several shoe boxes, with the object inside one of them, is a good starting point since it directs the dog to something unusual sitting in the room and they'll naturally go and check it out.
    • Let the dog search with as little intervention from you as possible...give them time to think and figure it out! But if you see them start to get frustrated, then it's OK to step in and coach a little.
    • Once they have found the object, mark their success with a "Yes", pick up the object and then provide them an appropriate reward. This reward can either be a few minutes playing with the toy or removal of the treats from the container and letting them gobble them down.
  • Hide-and-Seek: the classic. Your dog needs to have a pretty good "Stay" or you need to play with another person who can hold them while you go hide somewhere in the house. Call your dog to release their stay or at the same time they are let go by your helper. They'll have a blast trying to figure out where you are and once they do, reward them with a treat from your pocket, a quick game of tug with their favorite toy or just some enthusiastic praise and petting!
    • This game is great to reinforce your dog's recall ("Come"). If you've been having trouble with them coming when called, it may take a little bit of practice for them to realize that you will have a reward for them when found, but it'll be worth it! And make sure and use the exact cue you're using to teach the recall.
    • Avoid startling your dog when they're close to finding you....the experience needs to be fun, not scary!
    • Played with multiple family members, this game is a fun way to teach your dog everyone's name. "Find Rebecca!" "Find Sam!" They may not make the distinction right away, but you'd be surprised how well they pick up on family names overall.
Snickers concentrates hard on where that piece of pork is hidden.....

Snickers concentrates hard on where that piece of pork is hidden.....

  • The Shell Game: You'll need three similar, "vented" containers, such as empty yogurt cups or margarine tubs. (I used empty K-cups from my Keurig for the picture on the right!) Wash them thoroughly and poke several holes in the bottom.
    • Get on the floor with your dog and set the containers upside down on the floor between you. Cue your dog to sit still and not bother the containers - I use a "leave it" cue.
    • Place a treat under one of the containers and then move them around so that your dog doesn't know which container has the treat. They should still be laying calmly and not nuzzling at the containers, but watching closely and engaged.
    • Release your dog to sniff the containers and indicate to you where the treat is located. I use "OK...which one?"
    • Your dog may push with their nose or bat at the containers with their paw. At first, they may get a little over-excited in their search, so make sure and only reward them for calm behavior. If they choose the wrong container, say "Nope, try again!" in an upbeat voice and give them a hint so their next guess is successful.
    • Some dogs won't use their nose to hunt, especially at first, which is OK. Sometimes the right reinforcement will redirect them and sometimes, they just don't get it, which is also OK! As long as you're both having fun and you are not reinforcing behavior that you don't want to see (for example, attacking or mauling the cups in a frenzy!), it's really up to you how the game progresses!
  • K-9 Nosework: A more formal approach to using scent games with your dog can be found on this website. It's one of the latest trends in "dog sports" and is a whole training methodology built around helping your dog "tap into their hunting instinct, learn independent problem-solving skills, and to build broad and solid foundational scent detection skills." Check out the official K-9 Nosework website here. 

Don't be discouraged if at first, your dog doesn't catch on to a game. The games are really a type of training since your dog needs to focus, be engaged and stay relatively in control to get rewarded, so step-by-step progress is good! And remember, practicing restraint and focus is all about using the mind, which is a big help in beating that cabin fever!


Next week's blog: Impulse Control and Indoor Agility Games!

For Food Games, check out  Canine Cabin Fever? The perfect time to play with FOOD!

Posted on February 8, 2014 and filed under General Training.