Scent games in muffin tins

So, with the hot weather, the wet & stormy weather, (hellooo summer in Melbourne!) and my increasing girth (30 weeks pregnant folks, amazing), exercising and stimulating the huskies has been challenging this summer. Consequently, we have started to see pot holes (man traps) appearing in the back yard for the first time in years. Time to find a new game to play!

One of the trainers at the local KODC has been promoting a new tricks course through a FB group. I haven't had the brain space to commit to following it online, but have really enjoyed her weekly updates. The course relies on clicker training (more on that later) and household implements rather than fancy equipment. 

My favourite activity so far has been the muffin tin game. To introduce this to your dog, you need a muffin tin and a tennis ball (I bought a new tin and two packs of three balls each for about $7 at a local $2 shop.)

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First stage: place two treats in the muffin tin and place the tennis ball on top. The dog is encouraged by the visible treat to try to find the hidden treat. Enjoy watching the efforts of the dog to get the tennis ball off the treat! 

Second stage: up the ante - place more treats and more tennis balls in the tray. See how long it takes the dog to find all the treats. See how well the dog can hone in on the right tennis balls. See whether the dog can find treats faster or slower if they watch you do the set up.  If you have different coloured balls, can you get your dog to associate names of colours with the correct ball? (I haven't tried this yet)

Bree

Bree

some dogs just want to keep the ball!

some dogs just want to keep the ball!

This has proven to be a great success at home - all four of our dogs picked up the game quickly and it is so easy to play! Not much space required, although I am glad the dogs are all crated to ensure everyone waits their turn.

Czar has a very dainty technique of lifting the ball to the side, while Ishka likes to spin the ball on the spot til the treat comes around. Bolo is very quick while Frankie sometimes gets so excited that he uncovers the treat and bolts for his crate without remembering to eat it!

Frankie

Frankie

Czar

Czar

Ishka

Ishka

Things I've found interesting from this game:

1) watching where you put the treat doesn't seem to make any difference to the dog's speed in completing the task - Czar especially, can sit right beside me while I set it up and still has to check (sniff) every ball before deciding which one to pick up.

2) there is surprisingly little difference between the speed of our four dogs in locating the correct ball, even though there is a lot of difference in their extraction techniques.  

3) The dogs haven't yet learnt to count to two. I have varied the placement of the treat, the number &placement of the balls, the number of treats being covered/uncovered, but I have firmly stuck to two treats total. I expected the dogs to learn - two treats, back to your crate - but they will mostly find their two treats and keep checking & rechecking the muffin tin for more.

4) when I do convince them their turn is over, Czar is suddenly very keen to take a tennis ball with him. I had no idea he'd be so focused on balls that don't squeak!  The other three haven't copied this behaviour yet.

I can't say yet whether this game is giving the dogs enough to satisfy their need for intellectual stimulation - certainly another pot hole appeared yesterday - but we've certainly enjoyed playing, especially on days when the weather keeps us inside. The theory is that intellectual stimulation like scent puzzles wears dogs out, more efficiently than exercise. In hot weather our dogs sleep so much that it's hard to see much difference, but we've had so much fun with this that it didn't really matter anyway.