One of the best games (other than tug of war) that you can play with your dog is hide and seek.  Playing hide and seek (as I'm about to describe it) will increase your dog's attraction to you, engaging their prey instinct, and it will go a long way towards establishing yourself as the moose in your dog's life.  We want our dogs to come when we call them no matter what kind of distraction is going on, and the only way you'll get that result is if your dog's attraction to YOU is greater than their attraction to the distraction.  Hide and seek gives your dog a chance to do what dogs do best: hunt.  And in "be the moose" fashion, we're going to make you the object of that hunt.

Here's what you'll need:

  1. A long lead.
  2. Some ultra-tasty treats.
  3. A partner (it works best if you have an accomplice).
  4. A place to play that is relatively free from distractions (and full of hiding places). See if you can find some woods nearby with trails, and go at a time of day when that place will be less-traveled.  If there are no woods nearby, read through the description of how to play, and do your best to improvise a spot that will work for you.
  5. Your dog!

OK, now start off for a walk down the trail.  Feel free to let your dog wander a bit - give them a chance to do their thing so that "elimination" won't be a distraction for them.  Once the deed is done, it's time to play hide and seek.

This is how hide and seek is played:

  1. Give your dog a push or two to get their motor revving.
  2. Your partner will hold onto the dog's lead, keeping the dog close (within a foot or two).
  3. You will run off down the trail, then jump off the trail and hide, out of sight, behind a tree/rock/ditch/etc.
  4. As soon as you are hidden, call your dog's name loudly.
  5. The instant that your partner hears you call your dog's name, they drop the leash - letting the dog run to find you. Your partner can slowly walk up the trail, following the dog.
  6. Your dog WILL run to find you (trust me). When your dog reaches you, give them all kinds of praise and a tasty treat or two.

A few notes:

  • Start with small distances.  It's ok if the first couple of times your dog actually sees where you jump off the trail.  It's helpful to find spots where there's a bend in the trail, so you can soon run up and around the bend, be out of sight, and THEN jump off the trail.  Work your way up to longer and longer distances.
  • Your partner should not engage with the dog - they are just there to hold the leash.  It is NORMAL for your dog to get excited as you run away, and it is OK for them to pull at the lead.  Your partner should stay rooted in that place and envision themselves as a leash-holding post, steady and still, no matter how wound up the dog gets.  Just to emphasize - it is NOT their job to make your dog "behave" while you run and hide - in fact, the more excited your dog gets, the more that they are behaving the way that they're supposed to in this situation.
  • If your dog runs past where you're hidden, don't panic! Give your dog a moment or two to realize their mistake and come back in your direction. This SHOULD happen relatively quickly once they've passed your spot. If your dog loses track of you, seems lost, or just keeps right on going in the wrong direction - call them again (loudly) to help them re-orient to where you are. In hunting mode, your dog will mostly be relying on the sense of smell to find you. In fact, it's natural for them to run past you (you'll get to see the mechanics of the hunt in action) - as they pass you the smell "trail" will disappear, and your dog will circle back around to pick up where the scent (that's right, YOUR scent 😉  ) left off.
  • Stop playing hide and seek while your dog is still interested in the game (this is a general rule for ALL training/play-related things that you do with your dog). It will generate more enthusiasm for the next time you play.  Launching into hunting mode and finding you is immensely rewarding for your dog, but it also requires a lot of effort, so err on the side of "too little hide-and-seek" instead of accidentally playing too much during one session.

That's all there is to it.  You now have yet another way to plug into your dog's prey instinct, to engage them at the core of their being.  You're also learning more about what it means to be "prey", and getting a "prey's-eye" view of how your dog experiences the world.  Best of all, it's a game for both of you - so don't forget to have fun!

As always, if you have any questions, leave a comment, trackback, or e-mail me:  neil at naturaldogblog dot com