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Teach Your Dog Hide ‘n Seek


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Hide ‘n seek is “the greatest dog game ever” because there’s a bit of physical exercise involved and lots of mental exercise. And when kids are around, it’s a way to engage them as well as the pup.

You can teach dogs to find either items (like your car keys) or people (like a hiding child) – training is similar but not the same. I’ll offer a description for each:

To find people:

Enforce a sit/stay, even just in front of the refrigerator or at the counter where you keep dog treats. Give the child or any household member that special treat. The dog is supposed to see the hand off, and maybe even smell the treat because the child or other household member is standing only around 2-feet in front of the dog. And now calls, “Sadie come!” Of course, she will – she’s right there. She sees and smells the treat. And that’s fine.

Repeat this over and over – but each time the person hiding in plain sights takes a few steps further back, while Sadie remains exactly where she was on an enforced sit/stay.

Soon, the person with the treat calls “Sadie come” from the closest room. Repeat this several times, and each time the child or other household member stands or sits at a different place in the same room. Soon Sadie will figure it out, and make a beeline to that room. When she does, the next time stand in plain sight further down a hall or in the doorway of another room. She learns that the person hiding is going to change this up. Again, each time she finds the person hiding, Sadie receives a treat and praise.

Now, actually hide in a nearby room – but choose an easy to find spot, and call “Sadie come!”

She’ll find you. A second payoff of this game is that it reinforces calling your dog.

After two or three of the easy finds – make it tougher. Have the child or other household member hide under a bed, in a bathtub, up or down a story – in a second-floor bedroom or the basement.

I’ve never met a dog who doesn’t enjoy the game. Once the game gets going n earnest, don’t always offer a treat, as intermittent reinforcement is actually the most rewarding. However, she will always receive praise. If the kids hiding are fairly young, the dog will feed off their excitement and giggles when she finds them. Unless you live in a mansion, I can assure you that the dog will always win.

To find objects:

I don’t know about you but I am always losing my car keys. How cool is this – just being able to say, “Max – find my keys.”

It’s possible – and finding objects uses generally the same technique as hide ‘n seek with people, but this is a bit more challenging.

Wipe on to your car keys with some Cheez Whiz, fish sauce, barbecue sauce (not spicy please) – whatever your dog will totally do anything for. Just a little bit will do. Remember a dog’s sense of smell is about 50,000 times better than ours. And do use the same treat each time so the keys always smell about the same but don’t use the hide ‘n seek treat for any other purpose.

Same as before, start so easy that the dog can’t help but to see where you put the keys because they’re lying only two feet in front of you. Say, “Max, find my keys.” He obviously will find them in about two seconds. That’s fine – the secret to successful training is to set up the pup for success and positive reinforcement. As he finds the keys, say “Good boy!”

Over time place the treat laden keys further and further away from where Max is on his sit stay but still in plain sight. But then when you think the time is right, place the keys – still fishy or Cheez Whizzy in another room – but in the center of the room where he can’t miss them. Repeat several times, as Max is on a sit/stay, and you say “Find my keys” as the release cue.

After repeated successes hiding in plain sight, begin to make it more challenging, as the keys go under a sofa (but where they can be sniffed), or even on the ground behind a closed door. Each time he finds them, say “good dog.” And act excited. You should be. Soon, if you’re like me, one day it will no longer be a game – you’ll actually misplace your keys.

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Steve Dale is a certified animal behavior specialist who has been a trusted voice in the world of pet health for over 20 years. You have likely heard him on the radio, read him in print and online, and seen him speaking at events all over the world. His contributions to advancing pet wellness have earned him many an award and recognition around the globe.

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