12 Scenting and tracking nose games for dogs

For more dog activities check out 50 Boredom Busters and Games for dogs and         Dog Walking Games in the Park for more ideas.

Why play scenting and tracking nose games?

Scenting and tracking nose games are an excellent way to provide that very important mental enrichment and mind stimulation that dogs truly need to be calm, well behaved and happy. When a puppy is born they are blind and deaf but their sense of smell is fully intact. The newborn puppy relies on this sense to decipher the world they have entered and it will continue to do so for their entire lives.

The nose rules the brain and the portion of the dog’s brain that is dedicated to examining scents is 40 times larger than that of humans. Scientist estimate that the dog’s brain can identify smells 1000 to 10,000 times better than humans.

You can combine this extremely powerful sense of smell and a dog’s natural desire to hunt with their love of toys, food, and exercise to play many games. You can have fun together, exercise your dog’s brain, and expend some of that pent-up energy all at the same time. Being a social animal, playing is very important in developing relationships and bonding.

12 Scent and tracking nose game ideas

The objective is to start off simple so your dog is successful from the start and don’t try to advance to quickly or your dog may become frustrated.

Game 1: Which hand

A very simple game to start with is to place a treat in one hand with a closed fist so your dog can’t see the treat and have them select which hand it is in. If they choose the wrong hand, show them the treat but don’t give it to them. For a more advanced version of this, get three or four cups or containers turned upside down. Hide a treat under one of the cups and have them find which cup the treat is under.

Game 2: Find the treat

Using up to ten cardboard boxes you can hide the treat or toy in one of the boxes and have your dog indicate which box it is in. The first few times you can leave the boxes open to make it a little easier. Start by putting your dog in another room so they don’t see which box you hide the treat in. If you have more than one dog, it is best to play the game with one dog at a time.

To take this game to a new level you can teach your dog to find a particular scent similar to how drug dogs are taught. With a ball or toy, put a scent of the item such as an essential oil or similar and get your dog interested in the item. The hide the item in one of the boxes as before and have them find it. As you repeat this game, use the same box to put the item in to avoid cross contamination but simply move the box. As your dog gets good at locating the scent, you can put the scent on a piece of paper and place in the box to test if they are able to locate that particular scent.

Game 3: Find it while on a walk

While you are out on a walk, take a treat from your pocket and show it to your dog. Toss the treat into some long grass or brushes and have them find it. This is good to bring a little variety to your walks.

Game 4: Hide and Seek

Put your dog in a sit stay or have someone hold them while you hide. Then let your dog find you. Stay very still and quiet so as not to give away your hiding place and allow them to figure it out for themselves. As your dog gets more skilled at finding you, hide in more difficult places like under a blanket or behind a curtain. Give your dog lots of praise when they are successful.

Game 5: Hide treats around the house.

Put your dog outside and hide treats around the house in places they can access. Try placing them at different levels so your dog is using both ground scent and air scent skills such as some on the floor and some on the arm of a chair or somewhere reachable but above their head height. let your dog in and allow them to find the treats.

Most dogs will keep going until they find all of the treats and know when there is no more. If they stop looking encourage them to find the treat until all are found and tell them no more when they have found them all. Another way to play this game is to hide the treats in the open but with the lights out.

Game 6: I lost it game

As you are walking drop an item you have been carrying or had in your pocket. Continue walking for a further few metres, then stop and look like you lost something, say to your dog “where is it, find it”. Start to walk back towards the spot you dropped the item encouraging your dog to “find it” If your dog needs help, subtly kick or point to the item and make a fuss of your dog when they find it.

Game 7: Lay a scent trail game

Without your dog present, lay a trail of small treats with a larger bonus treat at the end as a reward. Show your dog where the trail starts At first lay small trails until your dog gets the idea of the game. As they become more proficient, increase the length of the trail or leave a bigger gap between treats. Another variation of this is to lay a trail using beef or chicken stock and watch how they react.

Game 8: Find the toy game 3-2-1

Holding your dog by the collar start playing with a favorite toy to get them interested. Throw the toy into the grass or ground cover. Count backward from three aloud and them release your dog telling them to find it. Once they have the idea of the game you can increase the difficulty by holding them for a longer period of time, say to the count of ten or play it in the dark so they only have a general idea of where the toy landed.

Game 9: Get that one game.

Go to the area you want to set this game up and plant several items or toys around. Then get your dog and start playing with a toy to get them interested in that particular toy. This will allow their and your scent to be strongest on this particular item. Holding your dog by the collar, throw the toy in the area the other items are and give the command to find that one.

If they bring the wrong item just say nothing and put it in your pocket and encourage them to find the one again. When they get it right, reward them with praise, a treat or a game with the toy.

Game 10: Home alone puzzle toy game

Using several puzzle type toys such as a Kong or treat ball. Hide these around the house or property when you are about to leave your dog at home alone. The first time you do play this game, let your dog see you hide the puzzle toys so they know it is a new game. This will occupy your dog as they find all the toys and play with them to get the treats inside before finding the next one.

Game 11: Where is dinner.

Instead of feeding your dog in the same place each day, mix it up a bit by putting their bowl somewhere else and say “where dinner?” Encourage them to hunt for their meal.

Game 12: Tracking a person

This game is great to teach ground scenting as opposed to air scenting. Lay a track in moist grass, where the scent will be easiest to find. Scuff your feet at the beginning to create a scent path. Walk 40 to 50 metres in a straight line, scuffing your feet along the way. As you walk, drop a treat every metre.

You can use cones or something to mark where the treats are so you know where you have walked. At the end of the trail, place an object with your scent on it like a sock with treats inside. Walking your dog on a leash tell them to “find it”. Don’t guide or correct them if they go off course. It is often difficult to distinguish between a dog of course or a dog picking up an air scent. As your dog becomes more proficient at this game, you can make it more difficult by laying the trail going in different directions.

Give some of these games a try and see which ones your dog enjoys the most. If you are wanting to take their scenting skill to a new level, there are many dog sports such as drag hunting or earth dog trails that make use of this talent you may wish to look into.

For more dog activities check out 50 Boredom Busters and Games for dogs and         Dog Walking Games in the Park for more ideas.

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  • Joseph Coleman

    A lifelong writer and proud dog dad. Joseph started this blog dedicated to helping other dog owners find accurate information on how to keep their pets at their healthiest through exercise and nutrition. His passion for all things canine shines through in his writing, and he believes that every dog deserves the best possible care. If you're a dog owner looking for reliable advice on how to keep your pup healthy and happy, be sure to check out Joseph's work.