Keeping your sanity and keeping your puppy entertained are not mutually exclusive of each other.
In fact you can do them both easily. Follow along with me and my puppy Valiant and we'll show you
how we do it. Are you ready? Let's go!
All puppies are motivated by strong inner drives. Our task is to learn and understand how to
use those drives to keep us all happy. Ask your puppy what he likes and then listen when he answers.
Valiant loves to eat. The tastier the treat, the moister the morsel, the more he wants it.
Food, food, food. Valiant wants food and lots of it. The drive to survive means a growing boy
has got to eat. I could set out a food dish and walk away and let my puppy eat. Or I could
grab a handful of the food and create a treasure hunt around the house.
Treasure hunt it is! When your puppy is still very young make the treasure hunt very easy.
While standing in the house with the puppy in front of you have a hand full of your dog's favorite
food. It could be kibble, canned or raw. (Hint if it is a moist, wet or raw food, I have the treasure
hunt occur on tile, linoleum or a similar hard surface that's easy to clean) Let your puppy sniff and
smell your hand closed around the food. Move or wave your hand around a little bit and let your pup get
excited by the fact that you have this wondrous treasure right here in front of his face.
While the puppy is intensely focused on the hand of food, use a gentle motion and toss the food a few feet
away from the pup at the same time in a happy high pitched voice say "Find It". If your puppy is anything
like mine, he will immediately rush right after the food and scarf it all up. Valiant was beside himself
with excitement the first time I did this. He could not believe the amazing treasure trove of food he was
able to go find and eat. He eagerly pounced on every morsel. Relishing each newfound piece of treasure on the floor for his enjoyment.
Valiant caught on right away, when I had a hand full of food, it meant something great was about to
happen. The first three or four times I did exactly the same thing. Valiant soon understood what
was going to happen and now finding the treasure was very easy. My mission now was to make it a
little harder to "find the treasure".
Turning my back on Valiant (quickly, as you might know by now puppies are fast) I threw the food
as I was turning so he didn't actually see it leave my hand. I once again said "Find It" in my
happy fun voice. Valiant was after the food in no time flat. Gobbling here, grabbing there,
snarf, scarf, gone! Your puppy will be too.
The treasure hunt needs to be taken to the next level. Valiant by now has learned the sit command.
Your puppy has too, right? The pup has been with you for a few weeks now. I am sure you are going to
puppy class and doing all kinds of other wonderful learning with him.
I have a handful of food. I have a piece of food in my other hand, I raise my hand with the single piece
of food from in front of the puppy's nose straight up while saying sit. My Valiant sits in front of me.
"Good Puppy" I say. I am standing a few feet in front of a hallway ninety degrees to either my left or right.
I take the hand filled with food and throw it down the hall. I exclaim, "Find it" Valiant being the wonderful
little treasure seeker he is by now, races down the hall after it.
As you see our delighted puppies are playing a wonderful game. They are learning what it takes to find the
most valuable commodity. They are learning first how to read a map that explains where the prize at the end
is and they are learning how to put all the pieces together in the proper order, to get there. Shall we continue on? You bet.
My little genius Valiant now knows he has to do something mom says, then he has to listen to my voice,
look at my hand signals and figure out where his reward is. Your puppy is doing all of that too. The
map to the next treasure has even more steps along the route, but our young ones are up to the task.
I ask for a sit and then a down from Valiant. Of course your little one knows down now too. From
the sitting position in front of you take the piece of food that is held in front of his nose and
bring your hand straight down to the ground. My Valiant drops right down. Once he is there he gets
the food. I am now working on him waiting in the down. At first I know he can only wait for a nano
second, so I ask him to wait for a nano second after the down. This time I throw the treasure up the
stairs. "Oh my" he thinks as the food pieces bounce all around the stairs. He scurries after them up and down and all around.
I repeat this for about a week. The treasure hunt goes up and down the stairs and every time I get
him to sit, down and wait. As the days go by he is able to wait for two nano seconds, then three
nano seconds and finally a whole real second. He progresses to two real seconds, then three, wee isn't this fun, fun, fun!
As an old crone I learned how to scuba dive. Yes, us old dogs really can learn new tricks. After learning
to dive I began embarking on gaining more skills while diving. The next thing I learned was how to go
wreck diving. Another New World opened up to me. One day it occurred to me that it was time for the
treasure hunt game to learn how to go wreck diving.
At class we were learning how to get our dogs to come. Valiant was lying on the floor minding his own
business. I walked by and he looked up but stayed where he was. I had a piece of food in one hand and
a large handful in the other. "Valiant, Come" I sung out to my young boy. I was calling from in front
of the bathroom door.
His ears perked up and he jumped up and bounded after to me, skidding to a sit right in front of me.
"Good Dog" I told him. "Wait" he stayed sitting in front of the bathroom door. I walked in and threw
the food in the tub. I came back out and asked for a down, a sit, a stand and a wait. Then I squeaked
out in my happy voice "Find it"
The adventure was on. Mr. Nose was hard at work. He had his nose pointed straight up in the air trying
to pick up the scent. I went back to work in my office. Soon I heard him go from the carpeted hallway into
the tiled bathroom. Soon after that I heard him whine and start to pace the bathroom. He knew where the food
was, but it meant he had to part the shower curtain and gasp, step into the bathtub. I just kept working. I
knew he'd figure it out and get up his courage.
Oh that treasure was just too good to pass up now that he read the map right and knew where it lay. Sure enough
I heard him hop in the tub and eat up all the food. A little while later a very happy boy was lying at my feet
very content to let me get some work done. We played the treasure hunt game this way for many days. Each time
Valiant had a blast and I was able to get lots of work done.
The treasure hunt game for Valiant was still a big hit. We played it all over the house. We played in the bathroom,
in the kitchen, up the stairs, in the closet. You name just about anywhere in the house and that's where we played.
Now it was time to go to the World Series of "Treasure Hunt". Or as might be more appropriate, it was time to search
out and find the Titanic!
We had many skills, we knew how to read and follow the map, now it was time to execute the grid search pattern
and find the ultimate prize. Valiant was by my side walking next to me. In my pocket was the mother load of
special treats. In my other hand was a few pieces of food to get him to walk around the house with me doing
sits, and downs and stays and stands and leave its and waits and all of our commands, where ever the whim hit me to have him do it.
We were soon upstairs in the remotest corner of the house. I asked Valiant to down and wait. I then left the room.
I planted a trail of food in other rooms and places. The bathtub, behind the grand piano, between two books,
stacked along the floor against the wall, etc. Then I cracked open the basement door just a sliver. Yes, that
basement door, the one that led down to the dark, dank really scary place where strange furnace noises and water
softener screeches could be heard throughout the long night. I had a handful of Valiant's most favorite, special,
smelliest, best treat ever. The sacred and only used for very special occasions liver! Yes a huge handful of
liver was sent careening down all the stairs. Landing here and there on most of the steps and all the way to the basement floor.
The time had come, the words were sung. "Valiant, Find it!" My industrious boy was off on the grandest treasure
hunt of his life. He was searching high and low, all through the house. He scampered here, he scampered there.
He sniffed and snorted the tile, the carpet, and the hardwood floor. He stood and propelled his nose all across
the air, searching, searching for any whiff of a scent, any hint of a smell. There was treasure to be found after all.
Valiant stood poised in front of the basement door. He knew. He smelled the liver. The biggest prize of all
was down there. Did he have the courage to open the door and follow down and claim it? He stood there for quite
some time. Then he trotted off once more to check everywhere else, just in case he had missed a clue on his map.
Alas, he had found all there was to find in the usual places.
Valiant gently placed his nose on the door. Ever so carefully, ever so slow, he slid his nose and then his
whole head inside the door. There he stood half in and half out. All his muscles were tense and he was
poised on the brink. The decision made, the reward too great, the door was pushed wide and down he went.
He found every single treat. Each was eaten with such great gusto! All the way down. Hey, mom it's pretty
neat down here, did you know? There is treasure to be found.
When is your puppy going on his next treasure hunt? Soon I hope. Valiant just got back from another one of
his great adventures. He had a blast, he learned many skills and he became better and better at harnessing
all his innate doggie drives to do things that were very acceptable in the all too human world he lives in. What are you waiting for?