The Hidden Toy Game

Liz Palika
Teach Your Dog to Find a Hidden ToyHenry waits for the "find it"
command to find his blue toy.

Teaching your dog to solve a puzzle or problem is great fun. Not only does it occupy his mind and relieve boredom, but you can cheer him on and celebrate with him when he succeeds. Far too many dogs develop behavior problems because they’re bored and a dog’s life shouldn’t (and doesn’t have to) be boring.

An Introduction to Problem Solving

When my friend Kate adopted her Jack Russell Terrier puppy, Qwill, he didn’t have any problem solving skills. She gave him a food dispensing toy in his crate one day and although he sniffed it, he didn’t try to manipulate it at all. Even when she encouraged him and helped him, he just waited for her to get the treats out.

She decided to create a very simple food dispensing toy by cutting the neck off a small plastic water bottle. By creating a hole an inch and a half across, the food would fall out easily if Qwill moved the bottle even slightly. This rewarded him for very little effort. When he succeeded with that, she then cut less off the next water bottle, and even less off the next one.

Within a couple of weeks, she introduced an easy food dispensing toy and he was able to get the treats out. He had developed some problem solving skills. Now, a year later, with lots of experience solving problems, Qwill is willing to try when faced with a new challenge, instead of sitting back waiting for Kate to do it. He’s thinking about things and has confidence in himself; both very good skills.

The Hidden Toy Game

You can challenge your dog’s brain in many ways and food dispensing toys are certainly good ones since most dogs will work for food. However, not all challenges need to be for food. You can also use praise and toys.

To play the hidden toy game, you’ll need a couple of towels and one of your dog’s favorite toys. The goal is for your dog to find his toy hidden underneath a towel and, when he can do that, then find his toy when two towels are on the floor.

Begin by playing with your dog with his toy. Play as you normally do with this toy and get your dog excited about the play. Then ask him to sit and, while he is, place the toy on the floor partially covering the toy with the towel. Make sure some of the toy is visible. Tell your dog, “Sweetie, find your toy!” and encourage him to get it. Do this several time and then stop and take a break.

Over several days cover the toy more and more until finally it is completely covered. Encourage your dog to find the toy. Depending on your dog, you may need to cheer him on or may even need to give him a peek or sniff under the edge of the towel. Don’t help him too much though, as he should be finding it on his own.

When he’s finding the toy every time you play, then simply drop a second towel on the floor next to the one covering his toy. Let him sniff and search. If he acts discouraged or like he’s going to quit, then help him but, again, the goal is for him to solve the problem on his own.

Variations

Once your dog can play this game well, make up your own variations of the game. Hide a toy outside under a lawn chair or in a pile of leaves. Invert a bucket over his toy and ask him to find it. There are lots of ways you can play this game. Just remember to have fun.

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