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The Shell Game Dog Trick

In this trick, you'll hide something under an upside-down bowl or plant pot. You can hide a ball or a dog biscuit, anything the dog likes, and then you'll move the bowls around. After shuffling the bowls, you'll ask your dog to indicate where the ball or treat is. This version of the shell game is very impressive, especially if those watching actually think your dog is watching the moving bowls. In reality, however, your dog will be using his scenting abilities to find the correct one.

You need three unbreakable bowls or plant pots—unbreakable, because most dogs get excited and knock these around a little. Four-inch-diameter plastic plant pots work very well.

You also want to have some good, smelly treats. Hot dogs, freeze-dried liver, or cheese works well.

  1. Sit on the floor with your dog with one pot and a handful of treats.
  2. Place a treat under the inverted pot and tell your dog, “Fido, Find It!” Tip the pot slightly so he noses the crack between the pot and the floor.
  3. Praise him and let him grab the treat.
  4. Repeat for a total of five repetitions and put everything away.
Bet You Didn't Know

At this point your dog is just getting excited; don't be tempted to keep on training. Always stop at five repetitions. By stopping now, you will build more excitement later. Remember: Always leave your dog wanting more.

After several training sessions over a few days, begin setting the pot flat on the floor and encourage your dog to nose it. Don't let him have the treat until he indicates to you the treat is there. He can nose it, paw it, or even knock the pot over. He just needs to give you a very strong signal. When he's doing this, you can move on to the next training steps.

  1. Invert a second pot with nothing under it close to the pot you've been working with.
  2. Place a treat under the working pot.
  3. Do not move the pots at this point.
  4. Ask your dog to find the treat, “Fido, Find It!”
  5. When he indicates the correct pot, praise him and tip it so he can get the treat.
  6. Repeat for a total of five times and take a break.

If your dog appears stuck or confused, give him some verbal encouragement. If he's discouraged, tip the pot slightly to give him a whiff of the treat. Do not give him the treat until he indicates the correct pot, though.

Do this for several training sessions over several days. At one training session, have the working pot on your right; at the next training session, place it on the left. Then have it in front of the dog or in front of you. You are teaching your dog to use his nose, so make the placement different at each training session.

When your dog is finding the treat every time, move on to the next training steps.

  1. Have two pots in front of you, side by side.
  2. Place a treat under one. (You can let your dog watch you place it.)
  3. Without picking up the pots, shuffle them around a couple of times.
  4. Ask your dog to find the treat, “Fido, Find It!” Encourage him to sniff each pot.
  5. When he indicates the correct pot, let him have the treat as you praise him, “Yeah! Super dog!”
    Bet You Didn't Know

    After your dog knows this trick, you can substitute a tennis ball or other favorite toy instead of the treat. Train it as you did with the treats.

  6. Repeat for five repetitions and take a break.

After several training sessions over a couple of weeks, you can add a third pot. Keep the training upbeat, with lots of praise, and make sure you use some really good treats.

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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Dog Tricks © 2005 by Liz Palika. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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