Rugby has been the dog with the highest level of energy that I’ve ever owned! When he was a puppy up until he was about 5-6 years old, it was a full time job just to wear him out! Being sure that he was really tired every day sure made him easier to live with, and I know it really helped with his anxiety issues. So how did we wear him out? We did do some obvious yard play, but that was a challenge if it was raining, or if any of the neighborhood dogs were outside.
So….I learned how to teach him tricks and we played simple games that I can pass along to you. I’ve often gravitated to games that are interactive so that Rugby could play with me, rather than just on his own. One of our very favorite games that we’ve played for years at my house is a little game called “Find the Cookie.” It’s simple to learn, and dogs generally really love playing it!
I use kibble to play, but any small treat will work just fine. I grab a small handful…10-12 bites. Then, I put Rugby on his placemat out of the room while I hide his nibbles! Dogs are always accustomed to looking for food on the ground or floor, so I hide the bits above the ground to make Rugby work in finding his reward! If you have small children at your house, they can help hide the nibbles! It’s a great way to have your kids interact with your dogs in a good way!
Here are some ideas of places that you can hide your treats: baseboards (if they’re wide enough), rungs of chairs, pedestals on tables or lamps, fireplace hearth if it’s raised up, runners of rocking chairs, shelves that hold no breakables, etc. Sometimes I bring objects like a vacuum, shoes, boxes, etc. into the room to make it more challenging. Hiding a treat somewhere that is the color of your treat will make it extra hard for your dog to find, as he’s going to have to really use his nose. Use what you hiding places you have have, but don’t put any nibbles where you don’t want your dog to put his nose: ie. table tops, stereo or video equipment, near breakables, etc. And, if you have a dog who is doing some naughty chewing, you might want to consider playing the game outside!
Once the treats are hidden, you’ll want to bring your dog into the room and ask him to “Find the cookie.” You’ll take him around to each hidden bite, and point to it, or tap next to it, saying, “Find the cookie,” so that your dog understands how to play, and what that phrase really means. Dogs understand points, and taps draw his attention to investigate, so that he can find his hidden treat surprise!
By the time we had played this game three times, Rugby understood the rules of the game, so all I had to say was, “Find the cookie,” and Rugby was off and running! He will hunt until he thinks he’s found all of them, and then he’ll come and check in with me to see if he’s right. If I know that he’s missed one, all I have to do is point in the direction of the remaining cookie and say, “Keep looking,” and Rugby will go look in the direction that I pointed. He really loves this game, and it keeps him busy thinking and problem solving. Because he doesn’t know how many cookies I’ve hidden, he keeps looking long after he’s found them all! And when the game is over, he’s very content to play with his toys for a bit or take a nap. The mental challenge is good for all dogs, but anxious dogs really need things to calm their minds and emotions!
A little word about multiple dogs or resource guarding. If you have multiple dogs in the house, I recommend playing the game with each dog separately. That way, you won’t have any situation where your dogs are getting into an argument or fight because they both find the same treat! And, you won’t have any bully tactics where one dog is shoving another off a hidden bite!
Rugby is a resource guarder with food in a bowl, but for some reason, I’ve never had him get snarky at all when playing games with me. However, if your dog gets ugly around food, you may not want to play this game until you’ve made some good progress forward with the guarding issue. I want this to be fun, and I want everyone to stay safe!
Have fun playing with your pooch!!