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Have you ever been playing Hide and Go Seek and, while you were really struggling to find the hider, you looked over at your dog lying beside you and thought, "I bet my dog knows where to find him?" Dogs have a fantastic sense of smell and many dogs loyally try to keep track of where all the people that they love are. Playing Hide and Go Seek with your dog is not only fun but it can also really encourage your dog to pay attention to you, to come to you, and to stay close to you. It is a great game for building a bond with your dog. Plus who would not want your dog helping him when it's his turn to be the seeker?
Games like Hide and Go Seek are a great way to prepare your dog for search and rescue work. Although your dog may be too old now for such work, the types of activities involved in search and rescue training can build many of the same important traits that keep an older dog still feeling young. Hide and Go seek can teach your dog how to use his nose when he is looking for someone, and when your older dog uses his nose it also stimulates his brain, which is good for his mental health. It can help him to take direction better, and many older dogs struggle to obey when their energy levels and, thus motivation, decrease. It can help him to focus, which is also good for mental health. It can help him to grasp the concept of searching for something that he cannot see, and it can help him to learn to think independently while he makes decisions and problem solves. Both of which are good for his mental health. Furthermore, Hide and Go Seek is a great way to exercise your older dog physically to keep his body healthy.
Not only is Hide and Go Seek fun, a great way to build your relationship with your dog, and a great way to keep your older dog feeling young, Hide and Go seek can also be very convenient. Have you ever been at home and wondered where everyone in your house was? Did you have to walk into several rooms before you found the person you were looking for? By teaching your dog how to play Hide and Go Seek you are also teaching your dog how to find individual people by name. Later, when you are looking for that person that your dog usually plays with, you can simply tell your dog to find that person. This is one great reason to get your family, roommate, or friends involved in teaching your dog this game. If that person plays the game with your dog, then your dog will know how to find that specific person when instructed to.
Some dogs grasp the concept of looking for someone rather quickly. After all, certain breeds were bred to be able to focus on their owners even from great distances. Other breeds were bred with fantastic noses for tracking people and animals. If your dog is one of these types of dogs, or just inherited that specific trait in general, then this game might come rather easily for your dog. If your dog is far more independent and is not used to using his nose to find things, then you will need to be more patient with him and expect this to take longer to teach.
In general, expect this to take between three and six weeks, with more difficult hides with multiple people possibly taking even longer. You can speed up the process by being sure to choose the method that will motivate your dog the most. For example, if he does not care about affection and praise but is obsessed with toys, then you should probably not choose the 'Run and Hide' method, but instead should try the 'Toy' method.
Because this game demands physical exertion from your dog, be sure to pay attention to how tired your older dog is getting. If he seems to be getting winded or sore, end the game for now and resume it after he is rested and feeling well. It may also be difficult for him to focus for long periods of time, so be aware of his mental state as well, and give him breaks if he is becoming mentally tired or frustrated.
While training this, remember to not take yourself too seriously. You will need to have fun with your dog and to get him excited to play the game. Do not be afraid to act silly. A little goofiness can really get your dog into the game. If you are too serious or frustrated it will only hinder your efforts at training. Plus laughter is good for your health too, so why not enjoy!
To get started, you will need several things. First, you will need an assistant that your dog loves. You will need a spacious and safe location, where your dog cannot run away, to practice this in. A fenced in backyard is ideal as a starting location. You will also need a happy attitude and a bit of silliness to make things fun for your dog, and for you! This is especially important if you are using the 'Run and Hide' method.
If you are using the 'Treat' method, you will also need several small and tasty treats. Ideally, something that your dog can easily eat, since he will be moving a lot. If you are using the 'Toy' method, you will need two toys that your dog loves. If you dog likes to play Tug of War, then two tug toys to play with him with will work well. One toy for each person. If your dog does not like to play Tug of War then you can substitute the tug toys for balls, to play short games of fetch with him instead.
The Run and Hide Method
Get set up
To begin, go to a location where there is space to run and lots of objects to hide behind. Somewhere like a fenced in yard with bushes and trees will work well for this. Outfit your dog with either a harness, a buckle collar, or a collar and a short traffic leash.
While your assistant holds your dog by the collar, harness, or leash, run away excitedly and hide behind something. Make sure that your dog sees you doing this.
As soon as you are out of sight, have your assistant release your dog while telling him excitedly "Find (insert your name)". When he reaches you, the hiding person, make a big deal out of it. Praise him, pet him, and tell him things like "You found me! You found me! Great job!", to make him feel very happy. He may not understand your words but he will understand your excitement.
Repeat with your assistant
After the you are done praising him, grab onto him and have your assistant run away and hide while he watches her. When she is hidden, release him while telling him "Find (insert your assistant's name)". When he finds her have her praise your dog and get excited too.
Repeat this process, taking turns hiding, until your dog is anticipating finding the other person as soon as you grab his collar.
When your dog is anticipating what comes next, make the game harder for your dog by hiding while your dog is not looking. While your dog is distracted finding the current hider, your assistant, slip away and hide right before your dog finds her. This way he will not see you leave. If he struggles to find you, give him hints by either calling his name, making a noise by moving, or clapping until he gets to you.
Practice hiding when he is not looking, until he becomes quick at finding you. When he has mastered that version of the game or constantly tries to keep an eye on both of you, make the game different again. To make the game different, you can add more people, you can randomly slip away from him when he is not expecting to play, or you can hide in harder locations. Always make sure that your dog is having fun, and continue to give him hints if he is struggling to find the hider so that he will not give up.
The Treat Method
To begin, go to an enclosed area with lots of space with your assistant and your dog, then let your dog off his leash. A fenced in backyard is ideal for this.
When your dog wanders away from you, call his name and excitedly yell "Find (insert your name)" while running away. As you run away, act really goofy. This should get your dog excited to run after you.
When your dog reaches you, praise him excitedly and give him two treats, one at a time. After he has eaten the treats tell him "OK".
Find your assistant
After your dog has been told "OK", have your assistant immediately call your dog to her by saying his name and yelling "Find (insert her name)" excitedly, while running away.
Repeat this process until your dog is automatically looking for your assistant as soon as he is released. When he begins to do this, have each person hide partially out of sight, rather than run away, when it is her turn to call him next. Continue to reward him when he comes both of you.
Change the instructor
When your dog can find both of you quickly, even while partially hidden, have whoever tells the dog "OK", also tell him "Find (insert the hider's name)" so that the person who is hiding is no longer the one calling your dog. If your dog struggles to find you, give him hints by either calling his name, making a random noise, or clapping until he locates you.
Make it harder
When your dog can successfully find the hider when you tell him to find her, make the game harder by hiding completely out of sight. Practice that until your dog has mastered finding under those conditions as well. When your dog has mastered that, continue to make the game harder and harder. Do this by adding more people to the game. Do this by hiding further away, or under things, or inside your house on a different level than your dog. Always make the game lots of fun for your dog and give him hints if he gets stuck so that he will not give up.
The Toy Method
Get set up
To begin, go to a safely enclosed area with a lot of room. Somewhere such as a fenced in yard is ideal. Choose two of your dog's favorite toys. If your dog likes to play Tug of War, choose two tug toys, one for you and one for your assistant. If your dog does not like to play Tug of War but loves to play Fetch, then choose two balls.
Call your dog
In the enclosed area let your dog off leash. When your dog wanders several feet away from you call his name and excitedly yell "Find (insert your name)", and run away from him while acting very goofy.
Reward with play
When your dog gets to you show him the tug toy or ball, and initiate a game of Tug or Fetch. Make it really fun for him. After a couple of minutes of playing, stop the game, and when he drops the toy tell him "OK".
Repeat with your assistant
As soon as you tell your dog "OK", have your assistant call your dog's name and yell "Find (insert her name)", and run away excitedly. This should cause your dog to chase her now. When your dog reaches her, have her play with him with her toy also, and then release him with an "OK" after.
Repeat calling him back and forth like that until he immediately tries to go to the other person when told "OK". When he does that, then make the game harder by hiding partially out of sight while your dog is playing with your assistant still.
Change the instructor
When your dog can find both of you pretty quickly, even when partially hidden, then change who tells the dog to find. After you have told your dog "OK" then tell your dog "Find (insert your assistant's name)". If your dog seems confused then have your assistant give your dog a hint by saying his name, making a random noise, or clapping until he locates her. Once he has found her, have your assistant tell your dog to find you also.
When your dog is able to find both of you when told to, make the game harder by choosing hiding spots completely out of your dog's sight. If he struggles to find you in these new spots, give him a hint until he is successful. Continue to reward him with a game of Tug of War or Fetch whenever he finds either of you.
When your dog can find you even while out of sight, increase the difficultly even more. To increase the difficulty, you can introduce more people to the game, hide in a harder place, such as on a different level of your home than where your dog is, play the game in locations with competing scents, like a field outside, or instruct your dog to find someone he did not know was hiding. Continue to give your dog hints if he cannot find you or your assistant, so that he does not give up on the game. Always make the game fun for your dog and enjoy including him!
By Caitlin Crittenden
Published: 01/22/2018, edited: 01/08/2021