Hide and seek
Have one person (perhaps the adult who is supervising) enforce a sit/stay. A child takes a dog cookie and before running off with it, the dog should see and smell that the child is procession of the treat. At first there should be no real hiding. Instead, the child with cookie in hand should just run off within view from the dog in that sit/stay and call “Come Fido!” Naturally, the pup will hightail it to the kid. After doing this two or three times, the child should now run beyond the dog’s view but not truly hide—at least not very well. He or she could stand in the middle of a room in plain sight, but in a room far enough away that the dog can’t see from where it’s sitting/staying. Of course, the dog will find the child, and receive the yummy and praise for doing so. Now, the game really begins.
The child hides with the cookie. For the first few trials, make it an easy hiding spot for the pup to discover. And after a few wins, get ready for the big time. Encourage the child to be as creative as possible. Hiding places include under a bed, in a closet, in a shower stall, or in the basement. The dog will seek and find the hiding child, and have a great time doing it. My only caveat is a warning for safety of overly enthusiastic children. I’ve seen kids want to hide in clothes driers or fireplaces—neither is a good idea. Once it’s clear the dog has caught on to the fun, begin to taper off those cookies. Intermittent or random reinforcement is actually most effective, plus, most dogs need to lose and not gain pounds. Over time, you can cut out cookies all together.
Search and rescue training
Take a favorite toy and give it a name, like Fuzzy Bunny. Have one person enforce a sit/stay while a child takes off with Fuzzy Bunny but stops within view of the dog. The child calls the dog, saying, “Come Fido, find Fuzzy Bunny.” Of course, Fido will do it. As a reward, have the child offer the toy for the pup to play with for a minute or two, even better if the child plays with the dog and toy. Repeat the two more times. By repeating, you’re teaching the dog the game. Now leave the toy out of the dog’s sight while in a sit/stay but easy enough to find, for example, in the middle of a room you know the dog will search. And when the dog finds that Fuzzy Bunny, celebrate. Set the dog up for success. Give the pup a couple of wins at these easy finds before a child earnestly hides the toy.
Encourage creativity. Dogs are able to find toys in a drawer if it is slightly open and at nose level, but adult supervision is important so the hiding place is fair and also isn’t among breakable objects. Once the dog learns to find Fuzzy Bunny, it can learn to search for Squeaky Birdie or other individual toys and distinguish between them. A dog that lived across the hall from us knew the names of over 40 individual toys. When I pet sat, the owners had to type out their names. You could spend an afternoon asking Boots to find toys, including the hot dog toy, which was different than the Kosher hot dog toy. Boots could distinguish between the two—I could not. If you really want to provide a service to clients offer these instructions, and ask your clients to use them to teach their dogs to find their reading glasses or car keys.
It’s true that continued brain exercise, such as crossword puzzles and computer games may fend off dementia in people, and the same is probably true for dogs or cats. Puzzle games help to keep canines occupied, and they are indeed brain games. One type are the Nina Ottosson toys, and one example from this brand is called the Dog Brick, which requires a dog to first dislodge removable plastic bones with a nose or a paw and then push the sliding covers and access hidden treats. You can vary the level of difficulty for the brick depending upon the dog’s experience and enthusiasm for the game. Note: Some dogs may get frustrated and simply give up, and these games aren’t for puppies or other dogs who may chew on the plastic or wood toys.
For more enrichment games, check out free PDFs suitable for clients from the Indoor Pet Initiative.