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Teach your dog to play hide and seek

By Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Breed Selection Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

To find someone who is hiding, your pup first needs to be taught a distinctive sound  for that person. (We humans call it a name.)

Many owners refer to themselves as Mommy and Daddy when they're talking to their dog. Other owners cringe at that level of cuteness and just use their first names. Either way is perfectly fine.

Introduce the names of family members

Pembroke Welsh CorgiRemember that "names" start out as meaningless sounds  to your dog. The sound Daddy has no more meaning to your pup than the sound of a bird chirping. You teach him that the Daddy sound has meaning by emphasizing the sound whenever Daddy appears. "There's DADDY. See DADDY?"

Also use the sound whenever Daddy is about  to appear. For example, when he's almost to the front door, alert your dog ("Here comes Daddy. Daddy's coming!") and when he actually opens the door: "Here's Daddy. See Daddy?"

Just make sure that Daddy is within 5 seconds  of appearing before you alert your pup. When introducing new sounds, deliver on your promises quickly so your dog can make the connection!

Also make sure you're not encouraging (or allowing) your dog to freak out about the prospect that Daddy is coming.

Racing around, jumping, or barking frantically should never be allowed indoors, whether Daddy is coming  or not. Your dog can learn Daddy's name without being allowed to practice bad habits of excitability and over-arousal.

Send your dog back and forth from one person to another.

Once your dog is familiar with the names of two people, we're going to teach him to run back and forth between the two of you.

If you have a spacious room indoors, it would have fewer distractions than outdoors. But if not, a quiet backyard will work. Your dog should be rock-solid on "Come", so he shouldn't need a leash, but he can be dragging it, if necessary.

  1. Each person crouches down or kneels, facing each other about 10-15 feet apart.
  2. Daddy holds the pup by his collar, points/motions toward Mommy, and says, in an enthusiastic voice, "Where's Mommy? GO to Mommy!" Whereupon Mommy immediately calls, "Jake, come!"
  3. When Jake runs to Mommy, he is greeted with praise and a treat. She takes hold of his collar, points him toward Daddy and says, "Where's Daddy? GO to Daddy!"

Over time, after  your dog shows understanding of the game, you can add other family members, one at a time, and increase the distance between people. Eventually the family can form a circle and play round robin, sending the dog around the circle to various family members.

Important: only the named family member may give him a treat and send him along to the next person.

If he mistakenly goes to the wrong person, that person should remain perfectly silent and still, without touching the dog or making eye contact. Instead, the person who just sent the dog should point/motion toward the correct person and repeat, "Go to (name of the correct person)."

Time for the hide and seek game!

WeimaranerOnce your dog will reliably go to a family member who is standing in plain sight, it's time to make the game more challenging.

Suppose YOU  are Mommy and your dog understands who Daddy is. Hold your pup's collar while Daddy walks away from the two of you and into the adjoining room, where he hides behind a door or a piece of furniture.

The first hiding places should be very easy so your dog is successful right from the get-go.

"Find Daddy!"

From his hiding place, Daddy calls, "Jake!" and you say, "Where's Daddy? Find Daddy!" Let go of your pup's collar.

"Jake!" Daddy calls again.

Most dogs will rush into the adjoining room and look around. Go with your pup, and if necessary, guide him to Daddy's hiding place.

Hide and Seek  is to make sure your dog succeeds quickly. You want him to get the hang of this game right away.

When you and your dog "stumble upon" Daddy's hiding place, celebrate with whoops and cheers. "Yay! It's Daddy! You found Daddy!" Daddy should be liberal with the treats!

Early hiding places should always be easy and you should accompany your pup from room to room. Motion with your hands to guide him toward possible hiding places. "Find Daddy!"

Peek behind doors and shower curtains, behind chairs and sofas. Encourage your pup to look, too. "Where's Daddy? Is Daddy here? Find him!"

Some dogs will get the idea immediately and begin scouting around, sniffing the floor or sniffing the air.

Did you know that we're constantly shedding dead skin cells that float around in the air and also fall onto the ground? That's the so-called "scent" that a dog follows when he tracks someone – the scent of our dead skin cells, some of which have already fallen to the floor and some of which are still floating around in the air.

Other dogs might rely on their eyes and run around literally looking  for Daddy. That's okay, too. Your pup doesn't need to become a master tracking dog in order to enjoy this game.

Eventually, you can be more creative with hiding places, but make sure your dog succeeds every time. Never let a search go on for more than a minute or two, or your dog will become anxious, discouraged, or bored.

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

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