I’m all for creating simple games that we can learn and teach our dogs to play with us. Rugby is often trying to engage me in some sort of creative play, and he loves any and all games!
I call this game, “The Shell Game” because it’s similar to the old gambling game of hiding a marble under one of three cups, mixing up the cups, and then trying to see if you can guess where the marble is. This might be a canine version, and it’s going to use your dog’s nose and problem solving skills.
Almost everyone has a small box used to store leftovers in their kitchen. I personally like boxes that are about the size of a sandwich. They’re square, and low to the ground, so they’re harder to tip over and most dogs can’t fit their mouths over them to pick them up. The ones I use were purchased at a local dollar store, and I think I got five of them for a dollar! (They were in Rugby’s stocking one year for Christmas!) They are opaque, so your dog can see under them, which will help in the game. You’ll only need the opaque box part…not the lids.
You’ll place your dog in either a Sit/Stay or a Down/Stay. While your dog watches, you’ll place a treat on the floor, and flip your box over so that it’s a domed top, and cover each treat with a box. Once you have all of the boxes covering treats, release your dog to come and investigate. He can probably smell the treat, and he watched you hide them, so he has a pretty good idea that the treats are somewhere around. He just doesn’t quite know where to look for them!
You’ll pick up a box cover to show him the cookie, and quickly cover it again when he tries to steal it. You can slide the box on the floor so that he understands pushing it around. You may need to repeat these steps a few times before he understands how to play the game. I turn this into a relay race with Rugby. I grab a small handful of kibble to start, and as soon as he uncovers a bite, he moves onto the next box. I place a new bite under the box he just left, so as quickly as he uncovers one, I’m hiding new treats under it all over again. He loves to race and see how fast he can uncover all of the treats!
While you’re playing this game, you’re teaching impulse control while your dog is letting you set it up for him. You’re teaching him to problem solve as he uncovers the treats, and that burns mental energy which tires out your dog. For a puppy, you’re providing some socialization and letting him learn cause and effect.
Just some troubleshooting help for you. If you have a shy dog or one who is sound sensitive, you might want to start the game on carpet and then move to tile or hardwood floors. I’ve had a few sensitive dogs who are bothered by the noise the lid makes when they scoot it across the floor. Once they understand the game, they seem to work through their fear of the noise, so it can be a very good tool to help your dog work through a fear. It’s much easier to flip the boxes over when it’s on carpet, so if you have a dog who frustrates easily, start on carpet!