Can Dogs Know How to Play "Find the Treat"?

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Introduction

A dog's nose is a powerful sniffing tool, so it's only natural that they want to follow it. For many of our canine companions, tracking down unique and interesting odors is their favorite pastime. Unfortunately, for dog owners, some pooches seem to have a knack of finding the most unpleasant of aromas (like roadkill or maybe moldy food scraps) and then eating them, rolling in them and generally having a grrr-eat time.

Rather than sniffing out all manner of nasty odors, why not channel your dog's sense of smell into something a little more productive? A game of "Find the Treat" harnesses your dog's natural sniffing power, hunting instincts and desire to please, so it's something that many pooches can get the hang of straight away.

Signs Your Dog is Ready to Play "Find the Treat"

Does your dog have a knack for sniffing out food and other interesting smells wherever you go? Can your pooch always smell the last treat in your pocket, or always sniff out their dinner before it hits the bowl? If so, your pet could be a perfect candidate for a game of "Find the Treat".

The basic premise of the game is simple: it's a treasure hunt for your pet, giving them the chance to search for a tasty treat in your home or yard. And you'll usually be able to tell pretty quickly whether or not your pet is keen to take part.

Some dogs have such a strong love of food that they'll do just about anything to get it — Labs, we're talking about you, but also plenty of other breeds. If your dog is a panting, drooling, and overexcited mess when you're dishing up their dinner, that's a good sign that they'll adore playing "Find the Treat".

Other pets may be particularly passionate about sniffing. For example, when a Beagle detects a scent it wants to investigate further, it usually has a single-minded desire to follow that odor and ignore everything else going on. 

Throw in natural hunting instincts and an inbuilt desire to please their owner, and chances are you've got a dog that's going to thrive in a game of "Find the Treat".

Body Language

Watch your dog's body language when they're playing "Find the Treat". You might notice the following body language cues:
  • Alert
  • Wag tail
  • Sniffing
  • Head turning
  • Ears up

Other Signs

Other signs of a dog that's ready to play "Find the Treat" include:
  • Intense focus
  • Excited body language
  • Strong sense of smell
  • Curious, inquisitive nature

The Science Behind Dogs Loving "Find the Treat"

What's so great about playing "Find the Treat"? For your dog, it could be one of many reasons:
  • The reward. For those food-oriented dogs, finding the treat is reward enough in and of itself. For other pooches, finding the treat is grrr-eat, sure, but the real highlight is the praise, attention, and cuddles they get from you after a successful hunt.
  • The joy of sniffing. There's been plenty of research done into why dogs are such wonderful sniffers. We don't have enough space to include it all here, but suffice it to say that our canine companions have a much stronger sense of smell than we do. This sniffing ability would have been crucial to the survival of dogs' wild ancestors, wolves, and is still the most powerful sense available to modern-day domestic dogs.
  • The thrill of the hunt. Many dogs, particularly those that were specifically bred as hunting animals, have a strong prey drive. This is what makes them so great at searching and retrieving, and it's why a game of "Find the Treat" taps into so many of their natural instincts.
  • The mental challenge. Dogs need mental stimulation to ensure their general health and wellbeing. The challenge of not only learning the intricacies of "Find the Treat", but then putting those skills into action to track down a tasty morsel hidden from view, is an excellent way to keep your pet's mind sharp.
  • Spending time with you. Yep, that's right — one of the best things about this game for your dog is that they get to spend a whole lot of quality time with you. Don't that make you feel special? It's fast, fun, and a simple way for the two of you to develop an even stronger bond.

Training Your Dog to Play "Find the Treat"

For many dogs, the basic skills of Find the Treat — sniffing, searching, hunting etc — won't need to be taught. However, you may find that your dog needs a little guidance on exactly how (and why) you want them to combine all these skills together.

The first step is to figure out your dog's favorite treat, and when we say favorite, we mean the one morsel of food that your pooch goes absolutely bonkers for. Once you know what that is, you're halfway there, as many dogs will do almost anything just to sink their teeth into their most-loved food.

Then it's a matter of placing those treats randomly around the home, in the hope that your pet will track them down simply by using their strong sense of smell. They may find the first one by accident, but then quickly realize that if there's one treat just lying around, there could well be more nearby.

You'll gradually be able to move from placing the treats in full view, to placing them in less obvious spots, such as behind the lounge or maybe partially concealed under a cushion. As your dog gets the hang of it, start hiding the treats in more complex and difficult spots, and in different areas of the house.

Before long, you and your pooch will be immersed in this fun and (for your dog) very rewarding game. Your pet will love the thrill of the hunt, the lip-licking conclusion and, best of all, spending time with you.

How to Have Successful Training Sessions:

  • Start slowly. Don't expect your dog to get the hang of it straight away. While the basics of "Find the Treat" might come naturally, putting all those skills together to successfully complete a complicated hunt may take time.
  • Be patient. Don't get frustrated if your dog is a slow learner, goofs off or simply isn't interested. Be patient, use plenty of rewards and never resort to punishment.
  • Aim for short sessions. Dogs only have a limited attention span, so don't expect them to engage in training sessions for hours on end. Keep your training sessions and games short and sharp — this will prevent boredom and ensure that the game always stays exciting.