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Have you ever seen an old movie, where a sniffer dog tracks down the lost toddler and saves the day? Just imagine how amazing it would be, if your dog could do something similar and 'find' things when you give the 'Go find' command. In truth, teaching this command is akin to teaching a dog to follow a scent... making it all the more impressive when he does just that.
As well as retrieving hidden toys on command, teaching a dog to find things has a practical side. While your dog may not graduate to being a fully fledged tracker dog, learning to use his nose is a fantastic skill.
Imagine putting down your car keys and not being able to find them. Because keys are handled a lot and smell of the owner, they make a great object for a dog to find. When he's used to finding your sock, hat, or T-shirt, then you can simply give him a piece of clothing to sniff then tell him "Go find." He then helpfully sniffs out and tracks down the missing keys. Result!
Training a dog to find things is a form of scent tracking. It involves identifying an object and then hiding it, such that the dog has to go and find it. This can either be done by giving the dog the object to sniff before it is hidden, or showing the dog the object and then hiding it.
This is a great training game to play with an adult dog. It's helpful if he already has a grasp of basic commands such as Sit and Stay, and has learned to listen to your commands. While it's not impossible to teach a puppy to find things, he's far more likely to be scatterbrained and easily distracted by other objects in the room.
Some dog breeds, such as beagles and bloodhounds, have a natural talent for sniffing. Teaching them to find things using scent feeds into their strengths and provided they listen, they will pick things up quickly. But of course, all dogs have a good sense of smell and so this trick should be within the grasp of most dogs, given enough time and patience.
You'll need something for the dog to find, either a favorite toy or something that smells strongly of you. Also, you need treats to reward the dog and plenty of patience.
A favorite toy
A hat or T-shirt with your scent on it
A collar and leash, or a friend to hold the dog
Make this into a game, so that the dog is playing rather than working. When searching for a toy, it helps if the dog already knows the 'name' or word for the toy, so he knows what he's looking for. When searching by scent, this is less important as you let the dog sniff the object he is seeking ahead of hiding it.
The Favorite Toy Method
Take a toy
Choose one of your dog's favorite toys as the object to find. It helps if the dog knows what the object is called, such as "Ball" or "Bear".
Show the toy
Engage the dog's interest in the toy by playing with it.
Hold the dog
Have a friend hold the dog's collar, or else tie his leash to an immovable object so that he can't follow you.
Hide the toy
To start with hide the toy in plain sight, such as on the opposite side of the room.
Release the dog and give the "Go find" command in a happy excited voice. If he seems puzzled, you can name the object. "Go find, Bear."
Show the dog
If the dog still doesn't get it, show him where the toy is and repeat "Go find, Bear." When he retrieves the toy, give him lots of praise.
Repeat the exercise, and as he gets the hang of things, start to partially hide the toy. Ultimately, you will conceal the toy behind objects and he will go find it for you.
The Find by Scent Method
Select an object
Choose an object that has your scent on it, such as a baseball hat or a T-shirt.
Let the dog sniff
Present the object to the dog and have him sniff it.
Restrain the dog
Have a friend hold the dog or attach his leash to an immovable object (or have him Sit and Stay if he has rock solid training).
Hide in plain sight
Now place the object in a place where the dog can see it.
Point to the object and tell him "Go find" in an excited voice.
Praise and reward
When the dog runs to the object give him lots of praise and reward him with a treat.
Hide the object
Now try hiding the object so that he has to find it by scent.
The Advanced Find Method
Master 'Find by Scent'
Master the skills in the Find by Scent Method. The idea with this method is to have the dog find an object with your smell on it, but not necessarily the same object he sniffed.
Use two objects
You are going to give the dog object A to sniff, but he's to find object B. Both objects should have your scent on it, for example a glove and a sock.
Try going outside, which adds wind direction into the equation and can stir up scents. Hide object B upwind, so that the prevailing air movement will carry the scent towards the dog.
Sniff object A
Present the dog with object A. Then put the object out of reach and say "Go find", pointing towards where object B is hidden.
A bit like a game of "hot or cold", when the dog moves towards the location of object B, praise him to encourage him forward. Then give lots of praise when he finds the object.
By Amy Caldwell
Published: 10/16/2017, edited: 01/08/2021