I’m constantly looking for new things to do with my dog. Recently I ran across an interesting game called “Sprinkles”. I plan to try this with my dogs and will post a video when I do. None of the following writing is my own. Full credit goes to Sally Hopkins.
WHAT IS “SPRINKLES”?
Sprinkles is throwing and sprinkling small amounts of tiny morsels of moist food over a large area of grass, without your dog seeing what you are doing. You then allow him to take as much time as he needs to search and find the Sprinkles (which leave molecules of scent, even when they have been eaten) without prompting or distracting him in any way. Sprinkles tires your dog mentally, fulfills his working instincts & drive, builds confidence in his abilities, and promotes deep natural healing sleep – all of which help to lower dogs long-term stress levels.
WHAT IT IS NOT….
The concept of Sprinkles is different from that of just throwing food on ground for your dog to find in order to distract its attention. Firstly, for many dogs the sight of their owner throwing food on the ground can be too strong and exciting a cue for dogs – making them over aroused in their eagerness to find the food and also watching their owner in case more food is thrown. This extra excitement can exacerbate their underlying fears or frustrations and be far from distracting. Sprinkles, if properly managed and introduced, can be used to distract dogs but there are some very subtle but effective differences.
Dried food and processed dog treats have very little residual molecules of scent and so the food hunting session is soon over, with little to encourage your dog to remain Seeking. The longer the time that a dog uses it nose, the more calm, relaxed and mentally tired it will become – thus promoting deep healing sleep.
Another difference is that of consistent location. Dropping food in random locations and different contexts can be very confusing for a dog, particularly one who has fears of frustrations to overcome as well. Sprinkles encourages specific “work areas” or Sprinkle Spots, so that the dog is relaxed and confident of what it is going to do, find, and above all promote calmness and being relaxed. Later on, after many repetitions, this calm work ethic can be transferred to specific situations and circumstances.
SUMMARY OF THE MANY BENEFITS OF SPRINKLES
- It is a natural behavior: Sprinkles enables your dog to use his amazing sense of smell to “seek” and find high value food that is not easy to see. It is a structured and regulated form of scavenging and only takes place in specific locations – “Sprinkles Spots”.
- It is fun, motivational and offers your dog an outlet for his strong working drives:Each time your dog finds a Sprinkle he is rewarded instantly. Even when the food seems to have gone the scent and molecules are still on the grass, building drive and determination to find the very last one…. And usually there is another one to find. Sprinkle Spots can retain the tantalizing scents of moist treats on the blades of grass for weeks afterwards, offering further mental exercise and the chance of “winning the Lottery” of one more tiny morsel of tuna fish etc.
- “Going to Work” at a specific location:Sprinkles is done in special places and on a cue, enabling your dog to learn to associate the location and Sprinkles together as “work” – doing something different and slightly challenging.
- It builds confidence in your dog’s own abilities:Because there is no interaction or feedback from a human your dog can work at his own pace. There is no one saying whether he has got it “right” or “wrong”. Each success reinforces him to repeat the behavior.
- Builds strong, calm positive associations For instance – with strangers, other dogs, the environment or location, moving house, re-homing, adoption, separation anxiety, being hand shy, boarding kennels, distraction, etc
- Promotes deep contented sleep:Allowing the body to heal and repair itself – Stress (such as too much exercise, lack of choice or control in its environment) can keep a dog’s adrenaline levels too high for long periods of time so that however tired its body is, the dog is over aroused to be able to sleep deeply.
- More mentally tiring than an hour-long walk:Ideal exercise for bitches in heat who cannot be walked, or those emergency times when you do not have the time or opportunity to give your dog its usual exercise walk.
- Physical fitness is not required:Ideal mental exercise for young dogs, disabled dogs, dogs recovering from illness, and old dogs that are unable to walk far.
- Fulfills their neglected sense of taste – many dogs have a very restricted diet when it comes to taste, often having the same flavor and texture of food for weeks and even months on end. Sense of smell and taste are inextricably linked so when your dog is hunting for Sprinkles and finds a morsel of food he gets two sensory rewards in one – scent and taste – which are highly reinforcing and build up drive and confidence to carry on searching for more.
- Fulfills their neglected sense of taste:Many dogs have a very restricted diet when it comes to taste, often having the same flavor and texture of food for
- Helps your dog become calm and then he is better able to focus and concentrate:Long term stress often affects a dog’s ability to concentrate or focus. This is because the dog’s body is in “fight or flight” mode due to the excess adrenaline in its body. In order for the dog to best use its nose it has to try to lower these adrenaline levels (similar to us taking a deep breath) so that it can find the Sprinkles. Once it has learned how to do this it is more able to calm itself down, particularly if Sprinkles is done just before it needs to focus and concentrate (eg. Sprinkles in the exercise area before a training class, agility run, dog dancing etc).
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