Stimulating the dog's brain - with a "Chinese Treat Box":

Making the task more challenging


Once your dog gets so good at getting treats out of the treatbox you started with that it is hard to make it spend more than just a few minutes on getting almost a substantial meal in treats, you need to make things more difficult. Smart dogs need challenges - smart owners provide those challenges.

(If you have not seen the previous page, you should go there first.)

Here is what Bettemuir's old treatbox looked like in a matter of just one minutes:

Notice the "repairs". Duct tape is very useful for this - it is actually quite a reinforcement of a cardboard box. This box isn't really "beyond repair" yet, but it sure illustrates that it is time to move on...

Plastic is tough to bite into pieces, particularly when the object is fairly large and sturdy. This 4 liter (1 gallon) ice cream bucket is a good example: with the lid duct taped on, and only one hole cut in the side, the dog can only get treats out of this bucket by rolling it. If you put in a treat that is just small enough to get through the hole, it can literally take forever for the dog to get the treat out. You have to adjust the degree of challenge you present to the dog so it matches its level of perseverance. Perseverance comes from positive experiences, not from "training patience"....

Sure, you could also make a hole in the lid and no hole on the side - that would call for a completely different technique from the dog's side - and a lot of new learning. (Yes, you can cover the hole on the side with duct tape...)

Preparing the "double box".

Before we combined boxes, Bettemuir had a chance to learn to get treats out of different kinds of boxes. First, there is the big box to the left. It started out just getting closed - with the four flaps on each side being twisted over/under each other. It took only a few seconds for Bettemuir to push her nose towards the center of the flaps, and she could grab the treat inside. Next step was to make that procedure a little more difficult. Duct tap was used to reinforce the four flaps, so it wasn't quite as easy any more to just push the nose towards the center. Well, you can see on the box what that caused in terms of creative responses to a smart dog's determination...

The little box to the right is quite miserable now, but has done a great job as wrapping for Bettemuir's bones and larger goodies. You can see of the way it has been "repaired" that she learned to use a completely different technique on that smaller box...

The idea of the challenge now is to put a fairly big goodie (a lamb bone in this case) into the smaller box, seal it and put it inside the bigger box.

The small box got sealed... It is important here to not go "overboard" and make it too difficult, yet it should also provide some solid challenge for the dog's brain. This is one very nice thing about "duct tape repair" - you can do the job exactly as sloppily as the dog needs....

Here is then the final result with the small box squeezed into the bigger one, and the repair work done on the duct tape "grid". This kind of challenge would be way too much to start with, but for Bettemuir with her two months of experience doing such boxes daily, it will just about fit, taking her physical handicaps into consideration also. Her arthritis is quite severe, so she cannot really tear by grabbing something and pulling with her neck - the pain is too strong. Besides, she broke a fang tooth at the root when some idiot kicked her in the face three years ago, so she certainly has some challenges.

Bettemuir now got the double box but has not yet got the permission to "go at it" She won't be getting that permission before she pays attention to me. She appears to think quite heavily about whether or not this box really is worth her while....

Game started! Bettemuir knows that there is a lamb bone for her in the box - her nose tells no lies... She start turning the box around a couple of times, just to check if it will give up that bone voluntarily. When that is not the case, she grabs the box and swings it around in the air.

This is obviously exhausting, so one has to take a break... A moment like this can become critical, because if the dog now gives up, it is important to encourage it to go back and continue, possibly even help. On the other hand, you don't want to teach the dog either that it can just wait for you to come and do the job, so you must limit your encouragement to the very minimum it takes to get the dog to do the job itself.

Progress! She got a hold of the small box after having done enough damage to the duct tape grid for her to pull the small box out. Notice how she used the stool to help her hold the big box, so it would not move when she pulled the small box out... Most dogs (without arthritis pain) would just use their paws to push while pulling with the neck, but that is not an option for Bettemuir any more. Nevertheless, she figures an alternative way of reaching the goal!

The small box is now attacked with a whole new level of enthusiasm. It represents accomplishment - and she knows that! The timing was excellent - she got this progress just at a moment where she was putting less energy into her efforts. The lesson: work smarter, not harder!

Finally, she could grab the bone and shake the box off her lunch. It was one very happy camper who now enjoyed the result of her hard work. It took her 30 minutes of concentrated work - with just one short break and no intermediate rewards. She was completely pooped for the rest of the day and the entire night.

Give it a try with your own dog - you will both have fun!

You will, of course, have to adjust the challenge to your dog. If you have a giant Dane with a vice for jaws, you will have to make the box much stronger than illustrated here. Duct tape is generally great for that - it is only a matter of the number of layers you wrap the box in. You can also glue cardboard in layers - this way, there is no upper limit for how strong you can make the material. I should not have to tell you that you must stay away from using any materials that can cause harm to the dog, inclug=ding wood that can splinter...

Want more?

My e-book "BrainWork for Smart Dogs"
contains detailed instructions
for more than 50 such exercises...

If you want to learn more about teaching your dog fun stuff to stimulate its brain, you should join me on a camp course!

Or maybe you would like me to come to your place and do a seminar or some workshops for your association? My seminar/workshop "Mental Activation for Smart Dogs" would not only give you all the knowledge, but also have you try out meaningful exercises with your own dog, so you can learn how to get the most out of your knowledge.

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