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Not being able to find your cell phone is a pain. It's not lost….it has to be somewhere in the house….it's just that you can't put your hand on it. You end up with a ritual where you pat yourself and clothing down, empty your bag, check the car, and come back indoors to have someone call the phone so you can track it down by sound. Only, you then remember its on silent.
How amazing would it be, if your dog was trained to retrieve the phone? Using his awesome sense of smell, finding misplaced items is a joyful game to the well-trained dog. Just think, no more hunts behind cushions and under magazines. You simply issue the command "Find the phone" and the dog sets off, tail wagging, to pick it up for you.
This might sound a flight of fancy, but in truth, many dogs are perfectly capable of learning this trick.
Finding objects is a super-helpful skill, but it's also great mental stimulation for the dog. It gives him a sense of purpose and increases self-confidence when he executes a good find. Add to this that it's a fun activity to teach and suddenly it seems foolish not to do so.
While a puppy is never too young to start training, be aware this is an advanced command. Therefore, be careful not to overtax a puppy, and instead give him a good grounding in the basics such as "Sit" and "Stay".
Again, be aware that some dog breeds such as retrievers, labradors, and beagles have an inbuilt genetic advantage over others. So if your dog is a slow learner, don't get impatient but work at his pace, encouraging him at every step.
It's super helpful if your dog already knows basic commands such as "Sit" and "Stay", along with how to fetch items and drop them into your hand on command.
In addition, you will need a quiet place to train the dog, free from distractions. It's best to work in short bursts, with as many brief sessions throughout the day as you can find time for. However, always keep things light-hearted so that the dog enjoys 'focused play' rather than work.
You'll also need:
- A cell phone
- A cover to protect the phone
- A dishcloth or handkerchief
- An object with your scent on it, such as a glove
- Treats to reward the dog
Remember, some dogs will master this trick quickly, while others will struggle. If your dog is slow to catch on, work patiently in baby steps, only moving onto the next step once he has mastered the one before.
The Fetch the Phone Method
Introduce the phone
Your dog may be wary of the phone, so the first step is to let the dog sniff and investigate the cell phone. Praise the dog when he picks the phone up gently. You may wish to keep the phone in a protective cover so that the screen doesn't get damaged.
Sit and watch
Now have the dog sit. Take the phone and place it in plain sight a few feet away.
"Find" the phone
Now release the dog and when he moves towards the phone, say "Yes" as a marker that he's going in the right direction. Think of this like a game of "hot or cold".
Make the phone interesting
If the dog ignores the phone, then consider making it more interesting by smearing something tasty on the cover, for the dog to lick off.
Mark the find
When the dog touches the phone, mark the behavior with a command such as "Find the phone." Have the dog bring the phone back and reward him.
Repeat this in a game, where you move the phone progressively further away, but always in plain sight.
Instruct the dog
Once the dog gets the hang of things, you start hiding the phone and issuing the command "Find the phone". Giving him helpful clues by saying "Yes!" when he moves in the right direction.
The Advanced Find Method
Cover the phone
In this more advanced method, you teach the dog to find a phone that is hidden. Start as for The Fetch the Phone Method, but this time, with the phone a short distance away partially covered with a cloth.
Find the phone
Issue the command 'Find the phone'. Praise the dog with a quiet "Yes" when he moves towards the phone, and when he picks the phone up, reward him with lots of fuss and a treat.
Make it more difficult
Progressively make it harder for the dog by moving the phone further away and covering more of it with another object such as a cloth or handkerchief.
Hide the phone
Now partially hide the phone close the the cloth, but not under it. As the dog seeks out which object to retrieve, ignore any interest in the cloth and say a quiet "Yes" when he moves to the phone.
Find for real
Now he is ready to find the phone for real. Hide it out of sight but in an easy to find location. As he gets better and better at the game, make the hiding places harder
The Find Using Scent Method
Use his nose
Some dogs, such as beagles, are notoriously scent orientated. This means they are adept at tracking objects using their sense of smell. Since a phone is kept in your pocket and held in the hand, it smells strongly of you. This makes it suitable as an object for the dog to find by scent.
Introduce your scent
Take an object that has your scent on it, like a glove, and offer it to the dog to sniff.
Follow the scent
Place the glove at a short distance from the dog and have him "Find" the glove. Praise him with a quiet "Yes" as he moves towards it, then give plenty of praise and treats when he picks it up.
Hide the glove
Now make things more difficult by fully hiding the glove. Tell the dog to find it. Give him some help by saying "Yes" when he moves in the right direction.
Substitute the phone
Once the dog is able to retrieve an object with your scent on it, you can substitute the cell phone. First hide the phone, then offer him something to sniff that smells of you. Then tell the dog to "Find the phone" and encourage him with "Yes" as he moves in the right direction.
Find the phone
Over time he'll learn to associate "Find the phone" with your cell phone, and retrieve it like a professional sniffer dog.
By Amy Caldwell
Published: 10/11/2017, edited: 01/08/2021