Coile, who is the author of How Smart Is Your Dog (Sterling Publishing), says take your pooch with you as you hide biscuits around the house. Hide one under a sofa cushion, another underneath the sofa, another on a shelf low enough for your dog to reach, another on your bed, one under the bed, and one more on the floor in the corner of a room – but behind something so it’s hard to spot. "The messier the house, the more places to hide things," says Coile. "I’m pretty lucky – my house is messy."
She adds, "If you get into the game, your dogs will too. I tell my dogs, ‘I’m putting it here, now take notes. And don’t eat it yet!" She says her dogs follow her from location to location as she places the goodies, because by now they know the drill. But at first, they scarfed up some treats as quickly as she put them down.
Now take your dog into another room where there are no cookies. To test short-term memory, wait about 30 seconds, then release her to search the house. To test long-term memory, wait five to 10 minutes. You can keep your dog occupied for that time by playing a game of fetch. Or go through some basic obedience exercises, and when she completes them, let her find the treats as a reward.
"That long-term memory test is a test for my memory too," Coile says. "I’m sorry to say that more than once the dog found a treat, and I forgot I hid one there."
Coile says to more efficiently test your dog’s memory, rather than your dog’s nose, don’t use liver treats or really great smelling goodies. Avoid having your pup sniff out your trail by walking all over the area; otherwise your dog can just follow your footsteps. "The object of the game is that she’s using her brain, not just her senses," Coile says.
Coile, who holds a Ph.D. in psychology, says this game isn’t only fun, it’s also great exercise for canine craniums. "Brains need exercise too, particularly older dogs," she explains. "In people, keeping brains working and active can potentially inhibit cognitive problems. There’s no reason to believe the same may not be true for dogs."
While this game works as a memory test, it isn’t necessarily a test of intelligence. For example, Coile’s dogs, who are Salukis, learned a long time ago that if they decide to, they don’t have to search at all; they can just stand there and look tired, pitiful, and confused. If they do that, Coile will show them where the cookies are hidden. "The truth is that they’ve trained me." Now that’s intelligence!