Sniffing For Fun

Nose Model: Bridget (currently available for adoption) Photo: Maria L. Uribe

Nose Model: Bridget (available for adoption)
Photo: Maria L. Uribe

We continue National Train Your Dog Month with some fun training tips from one of our expert dog trainers, Cheryl Oelschlagel, CPDT-KA, who teaches a dog training class called “Sniffing For Fun.”

There are so many fun things you can train your dog to do and using her nose is one of them. A nose game session once or twice a week where a dog is using her brain and senses to their utmost limit, tires your dog far more than a hour of strenuous exercise.

Not only are they fun, they’ll help exercise your dogs brain and encourage her to pay attention to you. One caution: Food-based scent games may be inappropriate for dogs that guard food or toys. Get help to resolve such issues before you play.

Game #1: Find It – First, show your dog how the game works. Show her a treat and toss it on the ground a few feet away. Give her the okay to find the treat, saying “Find It.” Not only can she smell it, she saw where you tossed it. But after you do a few reps so she’s clear on how this game works, you can make the puzzle harder. Put her in a stay, and hide the treat under something (towel) or behind something (chair). Go to several spots and pretend to hide a treat in each one, but actually hide only one treat. Keep her in sight at all times, of course. Return to her and release her from the stay, tell her “Find It.” Watch her search for the treat.

Model: Stella (currently available for adoption)Photo:Maria L. Uribe

Model: Stella (currently available for adoption)
Photo:Maria L. Uribe

Game #2: Lay a Scent Trail at Home; Play this game in your yard or indoors. If you’re indoors, you may want to choose a room with a tile or linoleum floor. Have your dog out of the room, or inside if you’re playing outdoors, and in her absence lay a scent trail to a hiding place where you leave the treat. To lay the trail outside, drop tiny pieces of the treat every few inches along your route, with a big treat bonus at the end. Indoors, you can rub the treat along the floor to leave a trail. The first few times you play, make the trail short to help your dog learn how the game works. Now bring your dog and show her the starting point of the trail. I think the next step is an obvious one, and so will your dog. As your dog gets better at the game, make the trail longer. Indoors, stop leaving a continuous rubbed line of scent instead, rub the floor for an inch or two and then leave a patch of clean floor before the next scent rub along your trail. This way you form a dotted line of scent, and she has to work harder to follow it.

Model: Lizzy (available for adoption)Photo: Maria L. Uribe

Model: Lizzy (available for adoption)
Photo: Maria L. Uribe

Game #3: Hide Food-Dispensing Toys around the house. Even a well-exercised home-alone dog can get bored. I often recommend that any food not being used as training rewards be delivered to your dog in food-dispensing puzzle toys. But you can go one better by dividing some food among three or four such toys and hiding them around the house. The first few times you play, let your dog see you hiding the toys. She might happen to sniff them out anyway, but it helps to clue her in that you’re giving her a new game. Use the same number of toys every time; dogs have a rudimentary sense of number, so that way she’ll know how many she has to find. As your dog gets better at the game, make the toys harder to find by placing them on different levels of your house and behind and under furniture. Use dry food / treats rather than canned food. A word of advice: Don’t hide toys under the sofa cushions, okay?!

If you’re interested in exploring nose games with your dog, check out “Sniffing for Fun” on our dog training page.