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How To Teach Your Dog “Find It” For Leash Reactivity

Dog sniffing ground for treats on a walk with harness on

“Find It” is one of the tools I recommend that every reactive dog owner have in their toolbox. This one skill can single-handedly prevent reactive outbursts from your dog. And, it doubles as a fun enrichment game. What’s not to love?

What is “Find It”?

Find It is a cue (aka signal) to your dog that means they should search the ground for treats.

Sounds pretty simple right? Well, it is!

But how should you first teach it? When should you use it? What’s the point? I’ll dive into all of that in this post.

To start off, here is my step-by-step approach to teach your dog this skill.

How to teach your dog to search for treats (“Find It”)

Start indoors

Plan to practice “Find It” with your dog at home first. That way, once you’re outside where there are way more distractions, your dog will have an easier time focusing on the command.

Practice these steps:

  1. First, say “Find It!” In an excited tone
  2. Next, scatter several treats on the ground
  3. Point the treats out to your dog to help them find the treats if you need to
 

What to look for

As you practice, watch for your dog to look towards the ground, or look towards your treat pouch, right after you say “Find It”. These are signs that your dog is catching on – they are anticipating that the treats are about to appear from those locations.

When you see this, you are ready to take your dog’s “Find It” skills to the next level

 

Increase the challenge

Follow the same basic steps, with one change to add difficulty: while your dog is scooping up the previous treat, toss another treat sneakily behind the dog’s back so they don’t see. When your dog is done eating, give the cue “Find It!” one more time to let your dog know that there’s an additional treat there.

What you’re hoping to see is your dog promptly puts their nose back to the floor and searches for the treat. (See the video associated with this blog post for an example of what this looks like)

 

If they don’t resume searching right away, just wait. Resist the urge to chant “Find It” over and over. Let your dog think it out for a moment. After 5-10 seconds, if your dog is still looking confused, then you can point at the treats to help them out.

Keep practicing

Work your way up to hiding multiple treats quickly in different spots when your dog isn’t looking. Gradually place treats farther and farther apart, so that your dog has to search a larger area in order to find them. 

 

Build up your dog’s searching abilities in this way until you can toss treats to any part of the room and your dog will be able to seek them out. 

What do I do if my dog gives up?

If your dog starts to struggle, “gives up”, or wanders off from the game, try these tips:

 

  • Point the treats out to your dog once again. Do this a few times. Then let your dog try hunting on his own again.
  • Make the search easier on your dog by putting treats closer together a few attempts. 
  • Go all the way back to saying “Find It!” And dropping treats right in front of your dog if you need to. This is totally fine! You can always work your way back up again. 
 

Taking it outside

If your dog is anticipating the cue (i.e. they begin searching once they hear “Find It!”) when playing the game indoors, you’re ready to take it outside.

 

When you first take this skill outdoors, make sure that your dog responds to “Find It” outdoors when no one’s around before you introduce any big distractions.

The first time you play “Find It” outdoors, do it when you’re in a calm location, such as your backyard or front driveway,  with no distractions around. Time it for when your dog is tired out (i.e. not at the start of a walk when they are raring to go). 

 

How to use “Find It” for dogs with leash reactivity

“Find It” helps you walk your reactive dog in two ways:

  1. It prevents reactive outbursts by way of distraction
  2. It trains your dog to do something other than barking and lunging when they spot a trigger

 

For example, suppose your dog reacts to other dogs. And you are walking a narrow sidewalk when you spot another dog walker approaching in the distance. But there’s no “escape route” – there’s nowhere you can go to get more distance to help your dog stay calm.

 

What you can do is step off to the side as far as you can, position yourself in between your dog and the path, and start playing “Find It” in the grass. Here, the skill helps you distract your dog while the other dog walker passes. Without using “Find It”, your dog would be much more likely to have a reaction.

 

Or, you can use “Find It” to train an alternative response to barking and lunging. In this case, you would wait for your dog to notice the oncoming trigger. As soon as your dog sees them, but before they react, that’s when you say “Find It”.

 

With repetition, your dog will see another dog, and calmly think “Oh, it’s time to hunt for treats!”. They will turn to look at you or at the ground, expecting the treats to appear. By creating this new routine around other dogs, the barking and lunging will fade away and disappear altogether.

 

Remember to first practice “Find It” when you are far away from your dog’s triggers. Only cue your dog to “Find It” if you are confident that the trigger won’t provoke a reaction from your dog from that distance. If you’re not sure, get farther away first. Then play “Find It” from a safer distance away. This will ensure your dog remains calm around their trigger.

 

Other ways to use “Find It”

Find It can also be a fun rainy-day enrichment game. You can say “Find It” to signal your dog to search for hidden treats all around your home. 

This searching game engages your dog’s brain (which is the real secret to a calm, well-behaved dog!). And you might be amazed at just how adept your dog is at using their nose.

 

How to play “Find It” as an enrichment game:

  1. Place your dog in another room, in their crate, or have someone hold them out of sight
  2. Place several smelly treats around the room (or rooms) your dog will be searching for treats in
  3. Bring your dog to the entrance of the “search area”, tell them “Find It!”, and then release your dog to go search.

There are very few “rules” when it comes to playing this game. You can get really imaginative with your hiding places.

Try obscuring treats under different objects, so that your dog has to work a little to unearth the treat. Play with different heights. Set treats on top of other surfaces, and watch your dog figure out how to track the scent traveling from different levels.

Just have fun with it! Above all, make sure that your dog is having a good time. If your dog isn’t finding the treats, make the game easier for a few repetitions to keep it fun for them.

And if your dog seems to really enjoy this game, they will LOVE the sport of K9 Nose Work. If you’re curious about other ways to have fun with your dog, check out my in-depth blog post here: All About K9 Nose Work: The Fun Scent Work Sport For Dogs.

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Mara Clare Van Valzah, CTC, PNWI

Mara Clare Van Valzah, CTC, PNWI

Dog Trainer & Behavior Consultant

I founded Collaborative Canines to help dog owners to better understand, communicate with, and coexist with their pets. Here, I share my dog training stories, tips, and tricks with you and other dog lovers all over the world. 

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I help dog owners just like you find better lives with their dogs every day. If you live near Anaheim, CA, and your pup could use some guidance, contact me!

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