Easter is rapidly approaching and the excitement is building. Chances are if you have little ones of a non-canine variety, you are already planning your own family Easter egg hunt, or are hatching(!) plans to attend one of the many community-based hunts which are run all over the world at this time of year.
Yes, Easter can be a truly memorable time for all the family, adults and kids alike, but what about dogs? You may be instantly hesitant, because the dangers of chocolate to dogs are well known, but who said anything about candy? No, leave the sugary treats to the children (not too many of course!), but at the same time, your furry friend can also get involved in this most popular of Easter activities. Let’s consider how.
The Treat Itself
So, chocolate is out of course, so what are the alternatives for your four-legged friend? Firstly, what about real eggs? Yes, as unusual as it may sound, eggs are in fact an incredible superfood for dogs due to being a rich source of protein and amino acids, which are good for your dog’s stomach, so an Easter egg hunt involving real eggs is a great idea when involving your dog. How should the egg be prepared – well obviously you can’t conduct an Easter egg hunt with a fried or poached variety, so go with the good old-fashioned hard-boiled egg. Incredibly, even the shell is great for your dog as it’s a source of calcium.
What about other alternatives which can be used to resemble the traditional egg? There are actually a whole number of fruits and vegetables that are healthy options for dogs, and if you are a real traditionalist, you can even spend a bit of time shaping them for that authentic look.
“Great foods for dogs include apples, carrots, pumpkin and even sweet potato. All of these options are high in fibre and a variety of other vitamins and minerals, and in the case of carrots and apples, even assist in good dental health for your canine,” remarks Shaleen Robertson, a pet blogger.
One final thing about using hard-boiled eggs. You may want to decorate the eggs themselves – a very popular activity before the hunt. If you are decorating your eggs and intend for your dog to consume them upon finding them, just be sure that you use organic, natural products for the painting purposes. Something like natural egg dye paints will work brilliantly for this kind of activity.
Using a plastic substitute is also a great way forward, and this can be filled with a whole variety of great doggy treats. A really good option here is the plastic eggs found in Kinder surprises, although you do need to consider the size of your dog’s mouth as you definitely don’t want a choking hazard.
As for the treat inside, you could use something particularly aromatic to participate in a bit of scent work for your dog, so something like bacon or another cooked meat or fish would work really well. It’s a good option to fill the plastic egg with treats in front of your canine so that they understand that there is a culinary reward inside the plastic when they discover it.
However, if going down this path of using a plastic substitute, there are a number of safety considerations you need to bear in mind:
- Use a plastic egg large enough that your dog cannot possibly swallow it whole
- Keep your dog on a lead at all times during the hunt so he/she doesn’t consume anything he/she shouldn’t
- Don’t let your dog crack the plastic as the shards can get lodged in the throat
- If painting, use a natural product such as natural egg dye
- Don’t put too much in each, especially if there are several for your dog to find. Being greedy is not a healthy for your dog
- Make sure all treats are collected at the end of the game – you don’t want to attract unwelcome guests into your garden who have sensed the food left behind. Of you don’t want your dog finding it later when unsupervised, and then consuming the plastic shell
Don’t Use Eggs at All
Okay, this is an Easter egg-themed activity, but nobody is saying you actually have to use an egg. Great alternatives here would be your dog’s favourite chew toy, doggie treats, or something with an equally strong scent. If your dog loves your slippers, use them, but just be aware that you are encouraging the habit if you do this!
Setting Up the Hunt
The rules of the game are of course the same as the regular Easter egg hunts you participated in as an excited kid, or as your children are likely to be involved in this Easter.
Firstly, ensure the garden or outdoor space you are using is free of other obstacles and any hazardous objects. A freshly-mowed lawn works best. Next place your eggs in positions that are easy for your dog to access, meaning in tufts of longer grass, behind garden ornaments, or around a walled corner and so on. It’s definitely a good idea to place the prize on a flat surface, however.
To start the search, keep your dog on a lead and walk him or her over to the first egg, and draw attention to it. Once your dog touches the egg (or alternative) with its nose, allow your dog to consume the treat, or empty the contents out if the plastic container. Also, verbally congratulate your dog and rub and pat the coat as you normally would when you are pleased with him or her – make it clear that this is a reward for some good work performed. Keep repeating the activity until your dog understands how the game works. If you use strongly scented treats, it really will come as second nature to your hungry canine friend before too long has passed.
“Once your dog has got used to the game, definitely start to hide the eggs or treats in slightly more difficult places. Dogs are smart and will get very good very quickly at this fun activity,” comments Annie Swarthick, a pet writer.
Something to avoid is placing the eggs or treats in places that can encourage bad habits, such as places where your dog needs to tip something over (like in a plant pot) or where your dog has to leap up to access it. Bad habits are easily picked up and not so easily untrained, so don’t create a problem for yourself further down the line.
Increasingly there are community options to get involved in if you are looking for a more social doggy-based Easter egg hunt. A lot of groups such as dog walking clubs, charities and other organizations set these up and chances are there is one happening near you.
Often these community-based events bring added bonuses to events, with examples being some of the plastic eggs that are found containing information regarding a special prize, instead of an instantly-consumable treat. These prizes will usually be some sort of dog-related paraphernalia, or a toy for your best friend.
These competitions are great fun, but are also well organized. An example would be if your dog gets over competitive or over-stimulated in any way, you have to go to the side to take a time out until your dog is relaxed enough to continue. The objective is always to have some fun, socialize with other dog lovers, and also teach your dog a new activity that you can enjoy together.
Some Additional Safety Information
As mentioned previously, it is a really good idea to keep your dog on a lead at all times during the hunt so as he/she doesn’t consume anything they shouldn’t, and also if there are other dogs involved to prevent over-excitement. For the same reason, if you are doing a hunt with the kids too, it’s definitely better to separate the activities. Lots of little kids running around can really be an overwhelming situation for a dog even of the most placid temperament, so do not allow your dog to get over-stimulated.
And Finally, Enjoy!
It would be easy to forget in the hubbub of all this activity that the main objective is to have some fun with your loyal companion. If you have kids, you may be familiar with the guilt of feeling your dog has been left out due to safety concerns, such as what happens at Halloween, for example. Fostering a great relationship between your dog and your children is really important to a family containing both, and by having a little event for your dog, before or after the event with the children, is a great way for your dog to feel included in all the excitement. And no guilty feeling for you afterwards either, so it’s a win-win situation.