Why find-it is awesome for your dog

While scrolling through Instagram, I came across the story of Violet.  Violet is a small mixed breed that is being fostered by a person I follow.  I follow a lot of accounts that post about dogs up for adoption, but Violet’s story stuck out to me because she had been returned back to foster care THREE times because of “bad behavior.”  She would jump and nip at people “relentlessly.”  Would-be adoptive guardians said they were unaware how much energy she had.  (Boy, does that remind me of Rosie’s first days at home with us!)  

While I refrain from giving advice without having enough background information, there is one skill I think almost every dog can benefit from and that is find-it.  

Find-it is simply tossing treats on the ground for your dog to eat.  This game is a favorite for me and both Rosie and Tres.  I don’t have to bend down to deliver treats and they get to chase and seek out treats on a walk.  It’s a win-win! 

Truth be told, there are a lot of reasons you should be playing find-it with your dog.  Make sure you read to the end where I tell you how to teach your dog find-it and put it on a cue!

#1 Foraging

It encourages foraging, a natural dog behavior. Foraging is the act of searching for and working to obtain food.   I have been nerding out big time on enrichment lately.  It’s critical to consider enrichment when treating behavior issues, but that is a post for another day.  Foraging is so important, it is listed as one of the 14 areas of enrichment for dogs. (1)

Foraging doesn’t make a lot of sense to us humans.  Make the food more challenging to obtain?  But this behavior is deeply satisfying and even calming to dogs.  This is because of the concept of contrafreeloading.  Once an animal learns how to work for food, they will opt for that instead of readily available food for free.  

If you want to get some foraging in your dog’s life, start with meal time!  You can sprinkle their kibble in the grass or over a snuffle mat.  For wet or refrigerated food, stuff it in a Kong, slow feed bowl, or a Toppl.  

Sometimes, guardians tell me their dog doesn’t forage or seem interested at all.  If foraging is new to your dog, make it really easy at first.  “Hide” treats in plain sight and then get excited and praise your dog when they “find” the treats!

#2 Redirection

A great reason to put find-it on cue is to use it as redirection.  You can use it to prevent your dog from ever seeing that dog across the street.  Or, back to Violet, you could play find-it to prevent your dog from jumping and mouthing at you by tossing treats away from you. Truth be told, I wish I had known about the magic of find-it when we initially adopted Rosie.  Her jumping and mouthing behaviors were intense

Find-it can also be used as what to do instead of reacting to a trigger.  It gives your dog something to do in the presence of a trigger.  Done well, it should look like you are playing a fun game with your dog!  

Note: When using find-it as something to do instead of react, I recommend starting with counterconditioning and desensitization first.  If your dog is having big reactions to triggers, that means there are big emotions behind that behavior.  To successfully use find-it in this context, addressing the emotions first will then more easily allow your dog to learn what to do instead.

We did this with Rosie and barky dogs behind fences and up on balconies.  At first, we got as much distance from the other dogs as possible and I kept the treats (high-value) flowing as long as the dogs were barking.  We now have progressed to playing “find-it” when we walk past these houses.  I toss treats on the ground a few steps ahead of us as we walk by.  Both my dogs love having something else to focus on!

#3 Multi-Sensory Experience

Find-it can also be a multi-sensory experience, incorporating scent, sight, and sound (if you use crunchy enough treats!)  

I had this realization while out on a nighttime walk recently with my dogs.  It was really dark outside and I had the dog wear their light-up collars for an extra safety measure.  (And, if I’m being honest, because they look cool.  We call them their “disco collars!”) 

I had medium-value treats in my treat pouch that night, which happened to be crunchy kibble, but a different brand than their normal mealtime kibble. 

My dogs could not see the kibble being tossed but could hear it hit the ground and then they would have to use another sense, smell, to find it.  They came home nice and relaxed!

#4 Physical Exercise

It is winter in the northern hemisphere right now.  The days are still short.  It is cold.  Maybe it is windy, raining, or snowing where you are.  It is just not ideal weather to go outside.  But your dog is looking at you expectantly at your evening walk time.  

Guess what? You can also incorporate distance (one of the 3Ds of dog training) into your find-it game.   I got this idea from Allie over at Pet Harmony (and also one of the authors of the book in the references section, I highly recommend it!!)  Allie plays find-it while sitting on the couch and tossing treats away from her dog to chase.  If you have stairs and if your dog is able, you can even toss treats up and down stairs.  

#5 Mental Stimulation

While you can keep find-it to food scatters and treat tosses, you can also put it on cue!  When I say “find it!” my dogs’ noses drop to the ground to search for a treat.  

To teach find it to your dog:

  1. Have a handful of treats in a pouch or in your fist.  Say “find it” and immediately drop a treat on the ground.  Repeat several times.
  2. Say “find it” and instead of immediately dropping a treat, wait for your dog to drop their nose.  Praise and toss a treat as soon as they do.  
  3. Build duration.  Say “find it.”  Praise your dog when they drop their nose to the ground, but wait a couple of seconds before tossing the treat.  Build the duration gradually so your dog doesn’t get frustrated.
  4. Practice in different environments to help your dog get really good at the game.

Are you going to incorporate find-it in more settings now?  Tell me in the comments!


  1. Canine Enrichment for the Real World by Allie Bender and Emily Strong
  2. https://www.bindisbucketlist.com/post/what-is-contrafreeloading-how-does-it-affect-enrichment 

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