Nala has a new favorite game, and it’s a little bit surprising.
I’ve mentioned here before that Nala isn’t one of nature’s fetchers. She’ll chase a toy as you throw it, but as soon as it hits the ground and dies, she tends to quit–why would she go catch the dead thing when her human will probably move around and make sounds? Better return to the human, or, if the human isn’t playing, return to looking for real squirrels in the trees. Sometimes, with much coaxing and when there is nothing better to do, she will plod over to the dead toy, then sprint back to me with it so that we can play tug, a game which she considers infinitely superior.
A couple of weeks ago, I found myself confronted by a staring, squeaking, bored shepherd on a chill, rainy day–one of the first of the season in our southern clime. As the weather has grown more mild, Nala has remembered that she is actually a young, energetic herding dog. After a perfunctory walk in the rain and a few short potty breaks, she had had quite enough of being bored.
Normally, this is when I break out the food and train, or play with a food puzzle, or scatter a handful of food around the room while Nala waits in her crate and then release her to snurfle it up like a gigantic, wolfy Roomba. But on this day, we were low on treats, out of kibble, and I didn’t want to fill her stomach with junk in the name of a few paltry seconds of entertainment. So, on a whim, I decided to try a game that I had always thought would be a terrible failure: hiding Nala’s toy and letting her sniff it out.
I still think I had every reason to expect this game to be a real loser for us–it’s just an even worse version of a thrown toy that hits the ground and dies, right?
I sent Nala to her mat, then recruited my partner to gently hold her in place while asking her, “What’s she doing? Where is she putting your piggy?” Meanwhile, I hid piggy in the open, under the coffee table. Then I went back to her and released her to “Go find piggy!”
Nala sprang up, trotted into the next room, found her toy immediately and grabbed it up, prancing around and squeaking it joyously.
Since then, we’ve alternated between easy hides and hard ones (partially concealed by blankets or pillows), used the game to proof the difference between being sent to her crate and being sent to her mat, and improved her stays (no need to hold her in place and whisper to her–she stays put, listening intently and beaming, until I come back and release her to “find it!”). Then she springs out of her stay, runs to whatever room she means to start searching in, and air scents, nose high and then low, tail waving high in the air, until she locates her toy.
When she finds the toy, she runs around to show it to everyone in the house, prancing and wiggling it at them, squeaking it rapidly and throwing her head back. Then she settles in on her mat to chew it a little longer, before eventually spitting it out and staring at me.
And for those of you with mischievous, energetic pups who are dreading a long, dull winter, Nala is just as tired by several rounds of this game as she is after a long walk.
I don’t really know why this game is such a hit for Nala, although I know that she’s a dog who really lives through her nose. It makes me think that I need to find more nose-related games and jobs for her, though! Any suggestions, dear readers?
What about you guys? Does your dog enjoy scent games? Have you ever been surprised by how much she enjoyed something?