Did you know just how incredible your dog’s sense of smell is? The scientists tell us that a dog’s nose can spot molecules in a concentration as low as 1018. But what does that actually mean? Well, imagine a beach that is around 1,500 feet long, 150 feet wide, and about 40 inches deep. Your dog would be able to find 2 grains of sand on that beach that smell different from the rest!
It’s hard to imagine being able to do that, but that’s the world that our dogs live in every day. So, when we’re looking for opportunities for new games and ways for them to keep their brains busy, then scent games can be the perfect solution.
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Before we get started
Here are our top tips for your dog to get the most fun out of scent work games:
- Games should be fun for your dog, so if you try one which they don’t seem to be that interested in, try something else.
- Your dog may not be interested in playing if they’re tired or just had their dinner.
- Try to find a quiet area for your dog to learn a new game. If there are too many distractions, they may struggle to focus on using their nose.
1. Game One – Newspaper Parcel Fun!
This game is an excellent introduction to helping your dog learn how to use their nose. It does need supervision, though, to make sure that your dog doesn’t eat the newspaper!
For this game, you’ll need a newspaper and some smelly treats.
- Place a treat in the middle of a sheet of newspaper and then crumple it into a very loose ball
- Encourage your dog to open the ‘ball’ to get their treat
- Repeat three times
- Now repeat stages one to three but make the newspaper ball tighter
- Place a treat in the middle of a sheet of paper and crumple it into a ball
- Now place the ball onto another sheet of paper and wrap that around the ball
- Encourage your dog to open the ‘parcel’ to get to the treat
Once your dog understands this game, then you can keep adding layers to increase the complexity. You can also add extra treats into the newspaper layers to make it more fun.
2. Game Two – Find Your Treats!
This game helps your dog to learn how to search, so we suggest playing this one first if they’re new to scent games.
- With your dog on a leash, throw a few treats three or four feet ahead of you (there’s no need to tell your dog to stay, you want them to be keen to get out there)
- Once they fall to the ground, encourage your dog to find them.
- Repeat a few times till your dog is desperate to ‘go find.’
- Now throw three treats, one after another, in a slightly wider area but still close to each other.
- If your dog struggles to find a treat, help them by guiding them to the right area
- Now increase the number of treats to five and again throw them in a more extensive area.
- Repeat three or four times until your dog can find all the treats.
If you’re progressing from stage one, don’t forget to give your dog a break, a chance to the toilet, and to have a drink.
- With your dog off-leash, drop a treat for your dog to find
- Now take a few steps away and drop another treat
- Watch for your dog to find the second treat, take a few steps away and drop another
- Repeat until you have dropped ten treats
- Leave your dog inside the house
- Go outside and throw a handful of treats across the ground
- Now bring your dog out and ask him to ‘go find.’
- If your dog is unsure, drop one treat on the floor so that they see it land
- Then walk around the area to encourage them to find the treats
The final stage is what’s called generalization, so that’s playing the ‘find your treats’ game in different areas. Now, this might be in the home or out on a walk, but there’s no need to progress to this stage if your dog finds it difficult to focus when out and about or when there’s the risk of other dogs joining in the game!
3. Game Three – Hide and Seek
Hide and seek is like the “Search for Treats,” game, but your dog is being asked to find an object rather than food this time. To start this game, you first need to find a toy that your dog loves to carry around.
Remember to take breaks between each stage. That might mean moving to the next step the following day.
- Hold your dog by the collar or harness and throw their toy in front of them.
- Immediately let your dog go, to run towards it.
- Remember to give lots of praise when they get it and to have a game.
- Repeat three times.
- Now, throw the toy again so that it lands behind something out of your dog’s sight, but do make sure that they see it being thrown.
- Release your dog to run to the toy and, as before, big celebrations when they find it.
- Tell your dog to stay if they know how to do this. If not, have a helper to hold them or tether your dog to something.
- Now, rather than throwing the toy, take it to place it behind something so that it’s hidden. Do though, still, let your dog see where you’re going.
- Return to your dog via a different route
- Release them to go find
- Repeat several times, hiding the toy in different places
Now you’re not going to allow your dog to see you hide the toy.
- So have your dog wait in another room or a crate covered with a blanket.
- Hide the toy but make it easy; we want your dog to be successful!
- Steadily make the hide more difficult. If your dog struggles, help them to find the toy and then make it easier next time.