Written By Leigh Pyron
I met Milo when he was just eight weeks old. I thought he was the cutest chocolate Lab puppy I ever met. I know… have you ever seen a puppy that wasn’t cute? Milo is four years old now, but when he was about six months old I started taking him out with my morning group of dogs. Now that Milo was a part of the group, there were a few things he would have to learn in order to fit in with the pack. I taught him various basic exercises such as, wait, stay, come, sit and “Find-it”.
“Find-it” is so easy to teach and it’s a wonderful way to get the attention of one dog or even 6 dogs! All I have to do when I’m out with a large group of dogs is say, “Find-it!” and the dogs come running as the treats fall all over the ground. Now Milo always loved this game, but as he grew older he became much more interested in sticks and, most of all, tennis balls. Yes, Milo is one of those labs that is crazy about tennis balls. So, given that Milo understood the concept of “Find-it” with treats, I thought I’d try to use the same exercise but instead of searching for treats have him search for tennis balls. Sure enough, all I had to say was, “Milo find the ball, “Find-it” and off he would go with his nose to the ground in search of any lost balls hiding in the brush and long grass.
Now, the space where I take the dogs for their morning outing is a very large, open marshland area that has many large Pampas Grass plants scattered throughout the middle of it. These ornamental grasses grow quite large with long, thick, graceful blades and delightfully fluffy off-white plumes, which grow up through the middle like a floral decoration. The long leaves are very coarse and sharp to the touch, but the dogs love to run through them and rub themselves against them.
One morning at the marsh Milo was looking a bit bored so I told him to go and “find” a ball! So, off he went searching with high hopes of finding one. Not long after I sent Milo on his search I happened to hear a loud crash in the brush. I couldn’t imagine what caused the noise because at that moment my group and I were the only ones there. I continued to walk ahead and as I rounded the bend with the other dogs I happened to see something moving in the middle of a clump of Pampas Grass. As I got closer, I was trying to figure out what it was that was moving back and forth in the middle of the plant, I finally realized it was a tail! Yes, Milo’s tail! That crazy Lab went head-first and dove into the middle of the 5 foot tall clump of pampas grass. I was laughing so hard wishing someone were here to witness this when Milo’s head popped up out of the top of the bush with a tennis ball stuck in his mouth. Just as I called out to him he disapeared again head first down into the grass. I tried calling him to come out, but only halfheartedly because, at this point, it had become quite entertaining. All of a sudden, POP! out came Milo with two balls in his mouth. He leaped into the air out of the clump of grass and took off running looking quite proud of his find.
Now, I said to myself, what on earth gave Milo the idea to search for a ball in the Pampas grass? And then I remembered… when the dogs would get too crazy over a ball and I would have to take it from them, I would usually toss it high up into the middle of the Pampas grass so they couldn’t get to it. I thought it was a great idea because there is no way they could possibly jump up that high or get down into the middle of the grass. Well, let me tell you, the old saying really applies to Milo…“if there’s a will, there’s a way,” Milo’s way!
Have fun when teaching "Find-it." Dogs love this exercise and, why not, there is always a reward of some kind that follows! It’s important to use high value treats when you teach this exercise, because you are trying to redirect your dog’s attention away from something. Usually the more scent the treat has the better. You’re asking him to come back for a treat instead of chasing that fast rabbit that just ran by! Omega Fields’ Omega Nuggets™ make a great “Find-it” treat. They have a strong, appealing smell that dogs love. Another great dog training investment is a treat bag. Most pet stores carry a variety of these. They usually hook on easily to your belt or clip in the back like a fannypack. Load up your treat bag everytime you go for a walk or an outing with your dog. Before you start out, ask the dog for a “sit” or any basic command and give him one of the treats you are carrying. Then, let him get out a little ahead of you and call him back and give him a treat. Now your dog knows that you have treats and are willing to dole them out.
Once your dog has learned the basics of “Find-it” there are endless reasons to use it to redirect your dog’s attention:
- Another dog approaching or a wild animal off in the distance
- If he is going for an object you don’t want him to have, such as something edible or a non-edible item like a childs toy
- To catch his attention before he takes off down the road or heads off into the woods off the walking path
- To get him off furniture or out of the car
- To get him to change directions on an outing or walk when he is not on a leash. Simply toss a few treats in the new direction ahead of you and say, “Find-it.”
Start out by taking a treat and toss it on the ground close by the dog and say, “Find-it.” Once he gets the hang of it you can expand the distance that you toss the treat. If he doesn’t see where you tossed it, guide him by pointing to the treat and when he finds it say, “Yes!” Let his attention wander and then throw a treat and give the command again. When the dog is breaking away from what he is doing and coming over every time you say “Find-it,” increase the challenge by having someone create a diversion. Use a friend with a toy or another dog. When your dog turns his attention to the diversion, call his name and say, “Find-it” and toss a treat. Increase the diversions until you can get your dog to break away every time.
“Find-it” is also a wonderful way to engage your dog to interact with you and play. You can have someone take your dog to another room while you hide treats for him to find upon his return. When he returns simply tell him to, “Find-it.” Dogs have an instinctive hunting mode and most dogs find it enjoyable to look for things. If your dog is bored from being home alone all day while you’re at work, a ten minute game of “Find-it” works wonders to re-energize them and give them attention.
“Find-it” is a great tool to have in your dog training tool box. When a big diversion is needed to get your dog to come to you and “Come” just isn’t working, “Find-it,” when effectively taught, will overcome many enticing distractions. It is also a great way to entertain and interact with your dog. A healthy dog/owner relationship starts with positive, fun, interactive training.