What are the two words that can solve almost any problem with any dog? Find out.
Portion the meal or treats into 10 or more parts. A moment before you drop a piece at your dog’s paws, say “find it.” Wait for your dog to finish and look at you without jumping or barking for one full second before you repeat.
Continue with the same exercise in the same location, but increase the amount of time your dog must hold still before you drop the next treat. Will he hold still for two seconds? Great. For that round, drop a portion every two seconds. Maybe your dog can hold it for three. Terrific. Do not make him wait for more than four seconds before dropping a treat. If he jumps or barks, you’re pushing him; go back to the last interval where he was successful.
Vary the intervals. Release the treats after two seconds the first couple times, then after one second, then three, then two, then four, then one, then three, then two, then four. End with a game of fetch or tug.
Why vary? To keep your dog excited about the game. Routine intervals help teach your dog how to play, but once he can predict your response, he’ll get bored with it. A good metaphor is playing slot machines: it wouldn’t be as much fun if you could predict the outcome!
Change your location. Go to different areas of your home. Add a few distractions, like the TV or kids. Try playing when others are eating a meal. If your dog seems less focused, go back to the day one exercise.
Take the game on the road! Not literally, of course, but try playing outside. Go back to the day one exercise to keep your dog focused on the game.
If you’re using a clicker, click the moment your dog looks down. Clickers are very useful in speeding up your dog’s learning and memory skills.
Go back to the first location you played the game and begin to vary your toss slightly: a little to the left, a little to the right, behind your dog, behind your feet. Accentuate each toss with a flip of your fingers, which your dog will pick up as a signal of where to direct his focus. Gradually move this game into more distracting areas as the days progress.
Now that your dog knows “find it” means to look for something on the ground, begin to use the command when playing with his toys or offering him a bone. Say “find your bone” or “find your ball,” for example, to help him identify the object you’re playing with.
For Younger Puppies
For their first few days at home, feed them half of their meals from a flat palm. Spread butter on your hand to encourage them to lick it off. Remember, in the litter, puppies nip their playmates and are licked by their mother. They do not have the muscle memory of licking, so you need to create this habit. Spreading butter on their hand and saying “kisses” while they are licking you helps to do just that. Once they’ve learned this skill, you can play the “find it” game at mealtimes and when offering a treat. For the first two weeks, drop the food or object at their feet. Then, gradually begin to follow the steps above to teach to develop the skills you’ll use for a lifetime!
Now that “find it” is part of your lingo, you can use it at each of the times I listed above. When you want your dog to come, instead of saying “come,” use “find it,” and toss something–anything–on the ground. Need your puppy to stop nipping when medicating him, or attaching a collar or leash? Use “find it” to create a happy association to each event and activity.
I’ve added a video demonstrating how I used “find it” with a young shepherd puppy to help her accept collar touches and to encourage her to walk with me. Upload your own videos and successes in the comment section.
Life’s a game! Grab a leash and come; let’s play!
Having trouble communicating with your dog or puppy? Sarah Hodgson, aka the Happy Dog Mom, is here to help. She's written multiple best-selling books on dog training, and her next book, Modern Dog Parenting, will be out Fall 2016. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website whendogstalk.com.