Is Your Dog Bad At Finding Treats On The Ground?

fearful dogs Aug 29, 2022
dog finding a treat

Does your dog struggle to find treats on the ground, even when they're right under their nose?  This week I talked about how to help out dogs who are really bad at finding treats. 


Why Bother Teaching My Dog To Find A Treat? 

Who cares if your dog is terrible at finding treats?  Well, there are lots of advantages to being able to deliver treats to your dog by dropping them on the ground. Here are a few: 

  • Good option for fearful dogs: Many fearful dogs aren't comfortable taking treats from your hand. Dropping treats on the ground could be a more reliable way to get them to eat, so you can use food in training.
  • Hands-free way to move dogs:  When trying to move dogs around, many people resort to grabbing their collars, picking up smaller dogs, or "herding" the dog by crowding them.  None of these are great options, especially for dogs who might already be anxious about being touched.  Tossing treats for a dog to chase, or laying a trail of treats, can be a kinder way to get a dog to move where you want them to go. 
  • Encourages desirable behaviors:  Looking down and sniffing the ground are nice alternatives to other behaviors a fearful dog might choose in stressful situations, like fleeing or lunging and barking.
  • Makes the treat-eating process last longer:  There are times when stretching out the process of finding and eating treats is helpful. Maybe another dog is passing by across the street, and you'd like your dog to keep their head down and looking away from that other dog for several seconds. Or, you have visitors and you're training your dog to hang out next to you quietly rather than barking.  You want to space out your treats so you don't fill up your dog before the visit is over. Tossing treats onto the ground (or even onto something like a snuffle mat) so your dog has to work a little to find them can give you more engaged time per treat.
  • Encourages sniffing: On a walk or in a new environment, many anxious dogs are too busy scanning for danger to spend time sniffing. If you can get your dog to put their nose down to sniff out treats, they might start to do more sniffing in general and enjoy being out and about more. 
  • Good option for enrichment: Indoors or out, sniffing out treats can provide a fun mental and physical activity for dogs. 


How To Make Treat-Finding Easier For Your Dog

What can you do right now to increase the likelihood that your dog will find treats you drop? Here are a few tips:

  • Use bigger treats: Your dog might be more likely to find large treats that are easier to see.
  • Use smellier treats: Very smelly treats, like microwaved hotdogs, are easier for dogs to find. 
  • Show your dog the treat before dropping it: See the video for a demo of this.
  • Drop the treat right in front of your dog: This is also demonstrated in the video. Dropping the treat right in front of your dog, so they see it fall, can increase the chances they'll find it on the ground.
  • Drop the treat on a hard surface so it makes a sound (or not!): If you drop a firm treat on a bare (uncarpeted) floor, the sound of the treat hitting the floor might help your dog find it. However, if you have a fearful dog who is startled by sounds, try dropping treat onto a soft target, like a folded towel, instead.
  • Drop a handful of treats: If your drop several treats, your dog is more likely to find at least one or two of them.
  • Drop the treat(s) close (or far) from you: If you have a "velcro" dog who prefers to be right next to you, dropping treats close to you might encourage them to spend more time searching. However, if your dog prefers more personal space, try tossing treats a little farther away from you, or dropping treats at your feet but then stepping away. 
  • Train a "Find it" cue: I talk a little bit about training "find it" in this video, and in previous blogs. If you'd like help with "find it" training, and want to have fun in the process, check out our self-paced Beginning Scent Work course. 


If you try any of these strategies to help your dog find treats on the ground, we'd love to hear from you! Shoot us a message or email ([email protected]) and tell us what worked, and what didn't. 



If you're looking for more training support for your fearful pup, check out our monthly training membership, or our one-on-one training program