Hide and Seek, Hotter/Colder, Easter egg hunts—if you’ve ever played these childhood classics, you’ve already experienced the power of what neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp refers to as the seeking system. It’s the anticipation you feel three clues or so before a puzzle is finally solved, the sensation just before you discover that hidden friend, and the reason why, after placing each brightly colored egg in your basket, you immediately start hunting for the next. The thrill of SEEKING is what keeps you hooked on the game, sometimes even more than the satisfaction of winning the game itself.
It turns out that dogs are no different. Activities that encourage problem-solving, foraging, and hunting-related behaviors not only fulfill powerful instincts, but are fantastic ways to fire up the brain. Seeking games provide great rainy-day fun, and are often hugely beneficial for dogs that need to stay home for health or behavioral reasons. Above all, seeking games foster qualities that are desirable in good clicker-training partners—focus, confidence, self-control, and joy.
A good seeking game can be as simple as treats wrapped in a blanket, or as complex as a back-chained, search-and-report behavior. The key to picking the right one for your dog is to assess personality, preferences, confidence level, and ability to stay on task. Shy dogs blossom when focused on simple, low-pressure activities such as locating hidden food, or running to a mat for a jackpot. Dogs that always have their noses to the ground tend to relish scent-detection challenges. Vocal dogs often love the thrill of searching for someone or something, then barking to indicate success. Dogs that like to carry things in their mouths frequently enjoy retrieval jobs, such as finding and bringing back toys or lost keys.
Join me for “Find it! Games to Activate the SEEKING System,” at ClickerExpo 2016 in Reno, January 22-24 and other courses at ClickerExpo 2016 in Cincinnati, March 18-20. Discover what types of games your dog might enjoy, as well as how back-chaining can turn everyday enrichment activities into highly anticipated events.