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What is Nose Work and How to Play Nose Work Games for Dogs?

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Here is a fun fact for you. Dogs who exercise their noses are more optimistic. They are happier and have a higher quality of life. That alone is reason enough to make you play some nose work games for dogs. Do you know what these games are? How to play them?

Well, today, we will talk all about canine happiness by playing nose work games for dogs.

What is nose work?

Well, in the broadest definition, nose work is any activity that allows your dog to use its innate sense of smell and detect scents. It gives your dog a purpose, a job to do. Plus, it gives you and your dog a way to bond.

Now, in a narrower sense, nose work games are a relatively new sport where handlers and dogs compete together. These competitions mimic the tasks of professional detection dogs. Among the organizations that offer such competitions are the American Kennel Club and its AKC Scent Work.

During these sporting events, a dog and a handler work as a team. The goal is for the dog to search for cotton swabs saturated with a dog-safe essential oil. Now, do not confuse this type of activity with the work of professional detection dogs.

But let’s talk about why are these games beneficial? How to play them?

Why try nose work games for dogs?

Do you want to keep your dog busy, engaged, and happy? If you are looking for an activity that provides a fun and mental stimulation, nose work games are the way to start. You can start with simple and basic games, and then move on to some more challenging ones.

We know our dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 times more powerful than our own. Yet, our dogs often rely on visuals in familiar environments. Playing these games is a fun way for your puppy to use its natural talents.

Here are some benefits of playing scent games for dogs:

  • Fun way to provide mental stimulation and exercise for your puppy
  • Provides extra physical stimulation
  • It builds your dog’s confidence
  • A great way to bond with your dog
  • Scent training improves your dog training
  • Gives your dog a job to do
  • It is fun and rewarding

Is it hard to train?

When we mentioned professional competitions before, you probably thought that nose games can be hard to train. But that is not the case. In fact, it is an easy way to keep your dog entertained and engaged. Even more importantly, if you are looking for physical stimulation and mental exercise during a rainy day, these games will do the trick.

With a nose work game, you are using your dog’s natural talent in a constructive way. All you have to do is instruct your dog to find something.

Remember, dogs have been bred to work alongside us. So, teaching them to use their natural talent of smell gives them a feeling of purpose. Your pet will thrive when it feels it has a job to do. And it is your task as a responsible dog owner to keep your dog engaged.

Always remember, a tired dog is a well-behaved dog and a happy dog.

How to choose the right treats/toys?

Now, before we move on to some of the best nose work games for dogs you can play, let’s talk about the important part of the concept. And that is the lure, or the treat/toy that will entice your dog to search.

To entice your puppy to search, you need something special. You can use carrots, popcorn, high-value food treats, dog food, or even toys.

The trick here is to find out whether your puppy is food motivated or toy motivated. If your dog is pickier, go with its favorite toy or treat in the beginning.

I cannot suggest the perfect treat for the game. You know your dog the best. Choose one of its favorite rewards.

Top 5 Nose work games for dogs

Warming up

Before we move on to the games, we have to warm up. The goal of this game is to teach your dog the command find it. It is a new concept for most dogs.

But you can easily teach them. Start by placing an item your dog loves just outside of its reach. Ask your dog to find it.

As your dog finds the item, mark the behavior with a reward. Continue playing, but move the object farther and farther away each time.

Initially, your dog might use its sense of sight. But as you move it farther away, your puppy will have to use its sense of smell.

Once your puppy has its basics down, move on to some more challenging games. I love to play this game by placing kibble and treats around the house. Milo loves finding them.

Pick a hand

This is another beginner scent game you can play. This time, the dog has to find the treat in your hand. The goal is to determine which hand holds a tasty treat.

The best part here is you do not need any special supplies. Just you, your dog, and some smelly treats. You can also play it with dog food.

Put a treat in one of your hands, close both hands, making them into fists. Ask your dog to pick a hand. Or you can use the command find it again.

When your puppy picks the hand with the treat, celebrate and give the treat. If your dog chooses an empty hand, open it, close it, and then ask to find it again.

Hide and seek

You can play this game when your puppy is distracted. This game doesn’t require your puppy to find treats. Instead, your puppy is trying to find you. And I have talked about this game, it is a great bonding experience. You can play it at home, or outside.

Start playing at home. When your puppy finds you, praise and reward.

What is under the cup?

Most of us are familiar with the concept of this game. The goal here is for your dog to use its nose to determine which cup to tip and reveal the hidden treat inside.

For this game, you will need 3 paper cups or other small containers. Turn all the cups or containers upside down and sit them on the floor. Place a treat underneath one of the three cups. Point to the cups, and ask your dog to find it.

When your dog masters the game, start making it more challenging. Move the clips around after placing the treat.

Roll and unroll

For this game, your puppy uses its nose to unroll a towel that reveals treats sprinkled inside. You will need a large bath towel, kibble, or treats.

Start by sprinkling dog food or dog treats evenly over the flat towel. Start at one end, and then roll the towel up. As you roll, treats will be hidden inside the towel.

Then, with an excited voice, tell your pet to find it. Point to the rolled-up towel. As your dog uses its sniffer to unroll the towel, treats are revealed inside the towel. It is quite rewarding for your puppy.

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