How do dogs experience the world? Well, we know that dogs sniff and experience what is happening around them thanks to their sense of smell. During walks, at home, and everywhere else, our pup takes in information with his nose. And most of the time, we do not even notice. Today, we will talk about scent games and how to play them with your pet.
Nose games allow dogs to channel their love of sniffing. At the same time, it enriches their mind. And if you play these sniffing games properly, you can teach your dog to tell you what he smells.
Benefits of nose games for dogs
Let’s start with a quick summary of the benefits of dog nose work games. Simply put, these games allow your dog to use his natural talent in a fun way. Remember, your dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 times more powerful than his visual sense.
Here are some benefits:
- Fun way to provide mental stimulation for your pup
- Gives your puppy extra physical stimulation
- Gives your dog a job
- Great way to bond with your dog and improve your communication
- They are fun and rewarding for your pet
In a more detailed explanation, we can say that a tired dog is a well-behaved dog. With these dog games, you can keep your puppy mentally and physically fit. It is your responsibility to provide exercise for your puppy.
But most importantly, you have a way to add more commands to your dog’s life. And do it in a fun way with commands like find it, seek. It is a constructive way to keep your dog stimulated and use his natural talent.
How to choose the right treats or toys?
Before we get to the point of how to play nose games with your pup, we have to talk about how to choose the best dog toy or dog treats. The general rule is that you have to use something more rewarding than his regular food and treats. You need to find something enticing, something that will provoke your dog to search for the treats/food/toy.
Some options include carrots, snap peas, popcorn, or some of your dog’s favorite toys. Remember, some dogs are toy driven. And others are food driven and food motivated. And then you have dogs that love both toys and food.
If you have a picky dog, always go with his favorite treat or toy. Think of a treat your dog doesn’t get often. It is a high-value treat you only use for special games. Once your dog learns the game and loves it, you can go back to kibble.
The science behind dog nose games
We mentioned before that dogs have a natural talent for sniffing and searching. While we know hounds can sniff everything in their radius, all dogs have that talent. It is not just a hound dog. Any dog can sniff treats and toys.
Why? Because according to science and research, dogs have around 300 million scent receptors in their nose. For comparison, humans have only six million receptors. Dogs can smell around 300,000 to 1,000,000 individual smells. Humans can detect only between four and 10,000 individual smells.
To put that in perspective, our dog’s nose is anywhere between ten thousand to a hundred thousand times more powerful than our nose.
Now, this powerful sense can put you in trouble. It is why a puppy can sense a fox poo or cat’s poo in the woods and goes nuts until it finds it.
Here is the most important things, you CAN do scent work with any dog. That applies to a younger dog, older dog, medium age dog, or any puppy. For an older dog, scent games work even better. At his age, this pup has more stiff with his joints, he might have lost his eyesight, but his sense of smell is still good. Nose games will keep your older pup engaged and motivated.
Puppies are very playful and always hungry. So treats and food work like a charm. With puppies, you can play scent games with kibble.
How to play Food Nose Games
As we said before, you can play these nose work games with either food or toys. Food is an obvious choice for most dogs. It is a precious resource. It is their source of energy. Dogs need food for survival. You can play these games and feed your dog his meal in a fun and interactive way.
Why do dogs love this game? Well, instead of putting the food on the floor in their bowl, you are challenging them to do something. You give your dog a job to do. He has a purpose. Your pup has to engage and use his nose. And that is something he always loves to do. A win-win situation all the way.
So, what to do?
- Start with showing your dog his food. He needs to see what you are doing. If you just tell him to go find the food bowl, he won’t go.
- Separate his meal into two or three bowls. Place the food in a container, but leave it open. You do not want to encourage destructive behavior by making your dog rip the container and get his food out
- Start with one container, and then spread containers in different rooms. Think of places like under the couch, in the corner, and many more where it is harder for your dog to reach and find his food
- Once your dog learns to find the food and he gets to an open container, close the containers. Punch holes in the top with a screwdriver, make four to five holes at the top of each container
- If your dog is not motivated by his kibble, add some chicken for moisture and releasing extra scents. Mix in some cheese as well
- Guide your dog as he is searching through the room. For example, commands like “hot” and “cold” can street him in the right direction
- If you like, you can also use a Kong toy for food games. Hide the Kong in the same way you hide containers around the house
Take the game outside
Once your dog learns the command find it and goes sniffing like crazy, you can take this game outside. If you have a yard, you can hide food and treats around in the yard and let your dog go crazy.
Or, you can play this game on walks. During your walks, have your dog in a sit position, and then hide some treats around. Let him go have some fun.
This game gives your walkies even more fun. Anytime you can make walks fun for your dog, you have a winning moment. Your dog will love walking with you. And he will try to stay as close to you as possible so that you play. He knows that if he goes away, there are no games.
Nose games with toy
If your dog is toy driven, you can play these games with a toy. I also recommend using a loose lead in the beginning, so that you have more control of your dog and you can easily steer him. You do not want any distractions from the game. If your dog gets distracted, just pull him quickly and continue giving commands to find the toy.
We play this game in the same way we play with food. But there is a catch. Your dog will not go look for any toy. He will look only for toys that you create excitement for and he loves.
So, here comes the magic. You cannot get something that your dog vaguely likes and plays. You need his special, favorite toy. Here is how to play.
- Build excitement about the toy
- Show your dog the toy, let him sniff it, let him grab it for a second
- Now, put him in a sit position
- Go and hide the toy, and then tell your dog “go find it”
- Steer your dog in the right direction and help him find the toy
- Once your pup finds the toy, play together with it. If it is a tug toy, even better. You can play for 10 to 15 seconds, and then tell him to leave it and repeat from the start