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A Few of My Favorite Games


It's December, which means Christmas carols in every store, multicolored lights around the neighborhood, my menorah coming out of the cupboard, and the Sound of Music on TV. So in honor of Maria’s much-loved song, this month I’m featuring some of my favorite things, starting with my favorite games.


Find It is a staple for many trainers. You can use it to redirect your dog’s attention on walks, to give him scent and foraging enrichment, and even to give him a little exercise. Here’s how you play:

  • Say “find it.”

  • Then drop a treat near your dog. (As your dog gets better at the game, you can toss it farther away.)

  • Leave a little space between saying the words “find it” and dropping or tossing the treat so that the words become the verbal cue for the game.

  • Practice inside at first to help your dog learn the game without a lot of distractions. Then you can try in your yard if you have one before playing on walks or in the park.

  • Every time you add another level of distraction (for example playing outside), go back to the easiest form of the game (dropping the treat close to your dog) for a few rounds.

  • You can also play a different version of this game inside: hide some treats or toys around the house and then let your dog find them. You might have to walk him through the hiding places at first.

  • As he gets better at the game, you can make the hiding places more difficult.

Eyes Off the Prize (sometimes called Doggie Zen) teaches dogs to focus on their humans rather than on distractions, builds impulse control, and helps dogs settle when they get excited. It’s also a great warm-up for a training session. Here are the steps:

  • Your dog can be in any position as long as all four paws remain on the floor.

  • Hold a treat out to your side at shoulder level (or at least high enough that your dog can’t jump to get it).

  • There is no cue for this game, so you'll wait for your dog to look away from the treat and at you.

  • As soon as she does, say “yes” or click your clicker and then give her the treat.

  • Repeat.

  • At first you’ll say “yes” or click for any orientation in your direction—a quick glance away from the treat, a look at your nose, etc. After a few rounds of play, you can wait for your dog to make eye contact.

  • If your dog struggles to look away from the treat or gets frustrated, try bringing the treat closer to your face for a couple of rounds.

  • If your dog jumps to get the treat, simply bring it to your chest, wait a few seconds, and then extend your arm again.

  • Practice around your house until your dog can easily focus on you before playing the game around more distractions.

My favorite non-training game: Outside of training, I’m not much of a game player--I get distracted whenever the rules are explained--but earlier this century I was obsessed with the computer game Frozen Bubble. These days my husband and I work the NY Times Crossword Puzzle together over dinner, which is sort of a game.


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