My family has developed an awe-inspiring collection of boxes. Between on-line shopping and the holidays, we have the Rockies in full cardboard sculpture! Often we break down the boxes for recycling, but some we found a new use for: using up our dogs' endless energy!.
While I love my dogs, they seem to have a boundless need for something to do – even when it's too darn cold outside to do something! So here's something that helps my family and can help yours too. Use your dog's nose + empty boxes + some treats/food to create an easy, inexpensive game that the whole family: dogs, adults, and children can get into.
You don't need a lot of room and you don't need any special equipment. Dogs have an awesome sense of smell and nearly all love good treats, so it's easy to get them to use their noses to find a box that has the treats. You start off simple and can get more creative and crazy as your dog gets better and faster at finding the treats. In fact, if you have a real chow hound, totally obsessed with all things edible, you can divide up his dinner (or breakfast) into a few portions and play a few rounds of this game.
Is this really going to tire my dog out? Well, it's not going to tire him out the way a 5 mile run would, but it does provide him enough mental stimulation to keep him out of trouble for a while. Plus, you get the great advantage of strengthening the relationship with your dog.
So what do you need?
2-6 empty boxes. Size is not terribly important, unless you are working with a toy sized dog (Chihuahua or a yorkie, etc) - then try to find boxes that are closer to the size of the dog. As he/she gets better, you can work up to larger boxes.
A hungry dog! Don't feed your dog before you play the game.
Great treats for your dog! Treats that have a strong smell are ideal. For example: cheese and hot dog pieces work great. If you prefer to use more of an actual "dog treat" – I like the Natural Balance rolls that you can easily cut up. Once your dog is playing this game regularly, you can just use his breakfast or dinner food. But at the start, you really want to catch his nose.
Great sense of humor – get the whole family ready to smile!
And if you're really a competitive sort and want to enjoy some family races, you can use a timer to see how long it takes Fido when one person hides the treats vs the other!
How to Play
Decide where to play the game in your home. Don't use a whole living room as the spot – narrow it down and decide on a smaller, 6 foot by 6 foot area. Hallways work great to start with!
Put your dog somewhere that he can't see what you are doing.
Choose one box and put 3-4 treats in that box. Use 1 box at first.
Place that box in the middle of the area you chose. At first, don't close the box – keep it open.
Get your dog and bring him over to the spot – do not point to the box, don't bring him to the box, don't tell him to do anything - just wait. You can look at the box. But that's about it.
This first time will require some patience. While some dogs will dive at the box, others will ignore it or even shy away. Wait the dog out. He/she will eventually smell the treats. When he does, he'll likely try to put his head or paw in. Once he does that – he won! He found the treats! Let me him eat his reward. Lots of praise in happy voice!
Repeat steps 2 through 6 a few times. You can start to close the box a bit. He'll catch on pretty quickly. As he "hunts" for the box, you can name this game ("hunt", "seek", "find") Say this each time he is hunting for the box. If your dog is not quite getting it yet, then try different treats, more treats, and/or smaller boxes that are not closed.
Once your dog is going to the box without a doubt, the real fun starts.
This time, place 2 boxes about 2 feet apart. One should have the treats, the other should not.
When you let your dog in this time, he'll have to hunt again. Again, wait him out.
When he finds the one with the treats, praise him and tell him how great he is.
Repeat the steps with just the two boxes a few times. When he's succeeding, try 3 boxes.
Once your dog is doing 3 boxes, you can start to spread out the 3 boxes. Move them further apart. Put them in different configurations (next to each other in a row; spread out in a circle, etc) Repeat this a few times until your dog is getting to the right box.
From this point on, you can get creative and have fun. Add more boxes. Put a box on a low table or stack two boxes on top of each other. Spread the boxes out more and more. Your dog is going to get better and better at doing this and you're going to get more creative in figuring out how to challenge him! Have the kids help with the boxes. Use a timer to see how long it takes your dog to find the treats!
I hope you have a chance to try this game out! It will be fun, educational, and a great way to keep your dogs occupied! If you think your naughty dog or "dumb dog" can't play this, I challenge you to try it. You will be surprised at what he can do!