Problem Solving Dogs

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One of my readers, Sarah,  sent me this interesting story about how she gives her dogs problem solving, fun, activities, and the differences in how they deal with these situations.

So here is Sarah’s story …

Here’s an activity I do with our dogs to encourage their problem-solving skills. I read it in a book entitled, 101 activities for a Bored Dog. Maybe you know it alright, but if not maybe try it with your dogs and what they do, watch their breed tendencies surface and their personality come alive.

Use an empty toilet paper roll. Push one end under and put a favorite treat inside. Let your dog see you put it in there the first time or a couple of times, depending on how he/she responds. Then push under the remaining open end and give it your dog, telling them to “go find it” or “find the treat” or whatever key phrase you give your dog when you give them treats.

(Note: This is an activity you have to monitor because some dogs like to eat the cardboard. I’ve read that a little cardboard wouldn’t hurt them and somewhere else I read that it could cause problems. So, I choose to monitor and collect the shreds to ensure no problems.)

The first time I did this activity with Lady and Snowball it was amazing to see how they approached the situation. It was completely different. This activity not only helps them in problem-solving but brings out their personality. Snowball took his prize to his corner where we call his bed. It consists of a pillow I made big enough for his whole body. He then tore into the cardboard package and tried eating the cardboard in the process. I really had to keep an eye on him the first few times I did this activity and collect every piece I could get my hands on and teach him that the cardboard wasn’t his treat. I don’t have that problem now. He now can tear apart the cardboard and get his treat leaving the packaging behind and alone even if I’m not in the room. I come in and out frequently to do check-up in his progress because I’ve advanced the game for him.

Lady was completely different in her responses. Once she got the package she too took it to her bedroom (which is a crate with a pillow and a blanket on top to partially cover her to give her privacy and a sense of feeling protected.)  She then laid down and started gently tugging here and there and turning it over and around with her paws. She saturated the cardboard before she was able to open the package and get her treat. She too was interested in the cardboard.

(Note: if you really don’t want the dog to eat the cardboard do not put peanut-butter or squeeze cheese in this package as a treat.)

You can vary this activity by not allowing them to see you put the treat inside, just put it down in front of them (with a treat inside of course). Once the master that you can then try and hide the package somewhere and tell them to “go find it” or “find the treat”, or whatever phrase you use with them when giving them treats or rewards.

Since Snowball conquered this activity really fast, I decided I needed to find something to challenge him more. I gathered an idea from another book I read, How to Raise the Perfect Dog, By Cesar Millian. It involved baby food jars. I didn’t have any of those but I did have a half pint jar. So, I put the treat under the jar (Place the jar upside down so the treat is covered) and told them to “go find it” or “find the treat” Snowball immediately started to survey the situation. He circled this way and that way, nudged it with his nose and toppled it over. The second time I (since he got that challenge rather quickly I increased the jar size to a pint jar. This time he looked at it and picked the jar up with mouth and dropped it on the other side of the treat and gobbled up his reward. SO, I was back to square one on how to challenge him. I tried combining the empty toilet paper roll with this glass jar. And this worked wonderfully. It kept him busy for awhile. I think fifteen minutes. I placed the roll in the jar upright and put the jar on the floor upright. He picked it up in his mouth, brought it to his bed and began to try to put his mouth in the jar to pull the package out. The funny thing is that one time he got it out and then the jar slipped from between his paws and the package fell back inside. Another time he got the package out while I slipped out of the room and when I returned (which was no more than 2-5 minutes later) he looked up at me as if to say that was it and looked at the shredded cardboard beside him. I picked it all up and praised him for a good job and then I went to retrieve the jar I realized why he looked at me the way he did. The treat was still in the bottom of the jar and he didn’t know it. So, I reaffirmed to him to “go find it”, “find the treat” and gave him the jar again and he worked at getting it out. He was successful. The last tried and true challenge for Snowball is placing the package sideways in the jar, wedging in the bottom. He never gives up despite the challenge. He eventually gets it turned upright and gets it out not too long after that. I haven’t had any other need to further challenge his ability at problem solving but continued to give him the last activity on a regular basis just to get him mentally challenged for a while. He loves it.

Lady on the other hand when given the half-pint jar looked at it and cried (well, she started to whimper). I had to really encourage her to “go find it”, “find the treat” She nudged it with her nose a little and walked around it nudging it and then started to whimper again. If I left the room for a short time (Still in eye view of monitoring them) she lost interest or she just gave up trying, feeling frustrated or (whatever). I would return and encourage her again and she would return and try again this time getting her paws involved. She noticed Snowball pick it up with his mouth and she eventually tried that method but couldn’t pick it up. I suppose she didn’t like the feel of it in her mouth. So she went back to getting her paws on it and eventually knocked it over and got her reward. Since she took a little longer with conquering this activity I did it the same way for a few days until she was successful, until she mastered it with no challenge. I then increase it to involving the toilet paper roll like I did with Snowball to further challenge her problem-solving. With each new challenge I gave her, she responded in a more interested manner and more active. She didn’t seem to give up easily. Success is the key before moving to more challenging feats.

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