Hide and Seek: Just Add Dogs!

Hide ‘n seek is the greatest dog game ever because there are so many benefits. It keeps children (or adults) engaged. There’s some exercise involved for dogs. When the dog inevitably finds the person hiding, the human-animal bond is enhanced. It’s a great way to reinforce calling your dog to you. And most of all, it’s just plain fun for humans and canines.

You can teach dogs to find items (such as car keys) or people (a hiding child, for instance). Training is similar but not the same. There are various methods of training, including using a clicker. The following technique simply involves using a favorite food treat and praise.

To Find People

Choose a place and ask your dog to sit and stay. As the dog watches, give the child, or whoever is going to hide, a treat that is special to the dog. The dog sees the handoff and smells the treat because the child or other household member is standing about two feet in front of the dog. The person with the treat says, “Sadie, come!” When she does, reward her with the treat.

Repeat multiple times. Each time the person with the treat takes a few steps further back, while Sadie remains where she was originally told to stay.

Soon, the person with the treat calls, “Sadie, come” from the closest room. Repeat this several times, each time standing or sitting in a different place in that room. Once your dog figures that out, change it up. Stand in plain sight further down a hall or in the doorway of another room. Each time she finds the person hiding, give your dog a treat and praise.

Now that she knows the game, hide in a nearby room when she’s not looking. Choose an easy-to-find spot, and call, “Sadie, come!”

She’ll find you. Bonus: this game reinforces your dog’s response to the cue “Come!”

After two or three easy finds, make it tougher. Depending on where they fit, the hider can be under a bed, in a bathtub, on a different floor of the home, or in the basement.

I’ve never met a dog who doesn’t enjoy the game. Once the game gets going in earnest, you don’t always have to offer a treat.  However, she will always receive praise. If the kids hiding are fairly young, the dog will feed off their excitement and giggles when she finds them. Unless you live in a mansion, I can assure you the dog will always win.

To Find Objects

I don’t know about you, but I am always losing my car keys. How cool is this – just being able to say, “Max, find my keys.”

Finding objects uses generally the same technique as hide ‘n seek with people, but this is a bit more challenging.

Wipe some Cheez Whiz, fish sauce, barbecue sauce (not spicy, please) – whatever your dog loves- on the keys. Just a little bit will do. Remember, a dog’s sense of smell is about 50,000 times better than ours. Use the same treat each time so the keys always smell the same, but don’t use the hide ‘n seek treat for any other purpose.

Again, start easy so the dog can’t help but to see where you put the keys because they’re lying only two feet in front of you. Say, “Max, find my keys.” He obviously will find them in about two seconds. That’s fine; the secret to successful training is to set up the pup for success and positive reinforcement. As he finds the keys, say “Good boy!”

Over time place the odor-laden keys further and further away from where Max is on his sit-stay but still in plain sight. Eventually, place the keys – still fishy or Cheez Whizzy in another room – but in the center of the room where he can’t miss them. Repeat several times, while Max is on a sit-stay, saying, “Find my keys” as the release cue.

After multiple successes finding keys hidden in plain sight, make the game more challenging, placing keys under a sofa (but in a spot where they can be sniffed), or on the floor behind a closed door. Each time he finds them, say “Good dog!” And act excited. You should be. Soon, if you’re like me, one day it will no longer be a game – you’ll actually misplace your keys. And when that day comes, your dog will be the hero!

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Steve Dale, CABC (certified animal behavior consultant), hosts two national pet radio shows and is on WGN Radio, Chicago. He’s a regular contributor/columnist for many publications, including CATSTER, Veterinary Practice News, and the Journal of the National Association of Veterinary Technicians in America. He’s appeared on dozens of TV shows, including Oprah, many Animal Planet Programs, and National Geographic Explorer. He has contributed to or authored many pet books and veterinary textbooks such as “The Cat: Clinical Medicine and Management” and co-edited Decoding Your Dog, by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. He speaks at conferences around the world. www.stevedale.tv.