You know that feeling you get when you find something you lost ages ago or when you manage to find a $20 bill in your winter coat? No matter what you call that feeling, it’s an intoxicating high. Experts have dubbed that feeling the “eureka feeling”, and it’s come into question if dogs are capable of having it, too.
What’s the Canine Version of the Eureka Feeling?
Dogs definitely misplace their toys or bones, and while they’re insanely happy when they come across their long-lost ball, it doesn’t necessarily indicate they’re having the euphoria you have when you finally find your favorite pair of pants after months of searching.
In regards to dogs, experts doing the research define the “eureka feeling” as a dog getting a reward after solving a problem. Experts wondered whether the dogs enjoy the act of solving a problem or if they only like getting a treat. Research performed by University of Agricultural Sciences Sweden (http://www.companionanimalpsychology.com/2014/06/do-dogs-get-eureka-feeling.html) showed that dogs who solved a problem and got a reward afterward seemed happier (i.e. more tail wagging) than dogs who just got a reward for no reason.
Triggering ‘Eureka’ in Your Dog
Exposing your dog to problem-solving not only makes them happier (according to research), it also stimulates them and reduces boredom-based behaviors (vocalizations, destroying property, hyperactivity, etc). Try giving your dog some games to play and reward them when they succeed. These activities are especially helpful for dog breeds that are bred to do a job, like herding and hound dogs, but you don’t own a flock of sheep or go hunting every afternoon. These games aren’t just fun for your dog, either. You’ll find these activities are quite entertaining for you, too!
Hide and Seek
Dogs love to play hide and seek! There’s a double reward at the end, too: finding the thing they love most in the world (you) and getting a tasty treat. This definitely works better if your dog has a solid sit/stay/come command. Position your dog somewhere in the house, tell them to sit and stay, and then dash off to hide. Try not to pick a spot that is too challenging; behind a door or crouching next to the bed are enough to make your dog think. If you have a working breed that’s bred to use their nose, you can get a bit more creative, but don’t hide in places that would really challenge a person.
Once you’ve hidden, give your dog a whistle and wait for them to find you. I recommend finding a place where you can watch them zoom through the house trying to find you (it’s really comical). I’m not sure who gets the better reward at the end: you or the dog. It’s hard to beat the joy your dog exhibits when they find you!
You can also take a bunch of empty boxes and scatter them around the room and put treats in a couple of the boxes. Once they catch on, you can loosely close the boxes and let your dog learn how to open them up for an extra challenge.
You can purchase puzzle games that will keep your dog entertained for hours as they try to get the treat tucked inside, but you can make your own. Keep it simple with two or three cups and hide a treat underneath one of them. Do you have a muffin tin? Put a few treats in the bottom of the pan and then cover every hole with a ball. Give the entire tray to your pup and let them paw the balls out until they find all of the hidden goodies.
Laser-Guided Treat Stash
This is a fun game to play in the summer when the nights are still warm. It will only work if your dog goes crazy for lasers, however. You could theoretically do this with your cat, but they’re less treat-driven than dogs are. Keep your dog in the house and go out in the back yard and hide treats in easy-to-find locations. When you’re ready, bring your dog out and get them excited over the laser. Use the laser pointer to guide them towards the treats. It’s great exercise and hysterical to watch. This is a kinder game than just using the laser with no reward at the end. Whatever you do, though, don’t ever point it directly in your dog’s eyes.
Engaging your dog’s problem-solving skills exercises them physically and intellectually. Dogs are certainly happy no matter what you do with them, but giving them something to actively participate in infinitely boosts their “dog joy”.