Rainy day game – toy search

By Sindhoor Pangal, Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Jun 22, 2015, 07.49 PM IST

Next week, I leave to Ashville to learn from Anne Lil Kvam, a remarkable woman who trained dogs to sniff out land mines in Angola. In preparation for her classes, I have been brushing up on her book “The Canine Kingdom of Scent”. So today, I’d like to present to you a game from that book that is perfect for rainy days like these – Toy Search.

For this, you will need an appropriately exciting toy and highly exciting treats. An appropriately exciting toy is one that is exciting enough for the dog to show some interest in. But not one that the dog will be so interested in that he will not want to have anything to do with you after he gets the toy. Highly exciting treats have to be fresh chicken, paneer or fish. Biscuits and dry treats just won’t do.
To start Toy Search, we first “charge” a toy. By that I mean I get the dog to learn that picking up the toy will earn the dog a treat. Start in a quiet place. No distractions. No people moving around. Sit down calmly with your dog. The calmer you are, the calmer your dog will be, the more he will be able to concentrate on what you are doing.

Step 1: Dangle the toy in front of him and tempt him to take it. The first attempt he makes to take the toy from your hand, praise and treat him (for brevity, I’ll combine praise and treat to reward). Repeat 3 to 5 times. Take a break. Start again, repeat twice and move to step two.
Step 2: Drop the toy in front of him and wiggle it around. The second he takes it, reward. If he does not do it, go back to step one. If he does it, repeat 3 to 5 times. Take a break. Start again, repeat twice and proceed.

Step 3: Hold the dog’s harness and drop the toy a few feet away from him. Let him go. When he takes it, reward. If he does not, go back to step 2. If he does, repeat 2 times and then name the toy. Naming the toy is simple. Pick a name for the toy like “Piggy” and say the name of the toy just before releasing the dog. Repeat two more times. Take a break. Proceed.

Step 4: Have someone hold him back or tether him. If he has a reliable “Stay”, you can give him that command too. Go behind a wall, drop the toy, name it (let’s say “Piggy”) and release him. When he finds Piggy, reward him. If he struggles, go back to step 3. If he does just fine, repeat this 3 to 5 times.
Step 5: Now start hiding Piggy in slightly harder places in the next room. The point is to find by sniffing the toy out, not by searching with the eyes. So hide it out of sight. If he is struggling, pick simpler places for Piggy to hide in. If he is finding it easy, get more creative. You can start introducing multiple rooms by pretending to hide in three different rooms before releasing the dog. Start from Step 1 or 2 for a new toy with a new name.

Take frequent breaks. During the break, do not engage the dog in any hyperactivity. Just allow the dog to relax. The total session should last five to ten minutes. One session a day is plenty in the beginning. Dogs need long naps after these sessions. Nose work is intense and needs a lot of rest.


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