Fun Nose Games for Your Dog

Tire your dog’s brain, and have a little fun, with these easy nose games.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
4-minute read
Episode #123

We all pay lip service to the fact that dogs have a sharper sense of smell than humans. But just how much sharper? Humans can pick out odors in concentrations of parts per million or parts per billion. Dogs can detect them in parts per trillion. In other words, their sense of smell is literally a thousand times – at least a thousand times! – better than ours..

That puts dogs in a whole different world of perception. But even though we don’t live in that world with them, we can play there. This week, easy nose games you can play with your dog. Not only are they fun, they’ll help exercise his doggy brain and encourage him to pay attention to you, you interesting person. One caution: Food-based scent games may be inappropriate for dogs who guard food or toys. Get help to resolve such issues before you play.

Fun nose games will exercise that doggy brain and encourage your dog to pay attention to you.

Game #1: “Find It” on Walks

Turn those boring old leash walks into puzzle games – and sharpen up your dog’s training, as well. First, show her how the game works. Once she’s gotten peeing and pooping off her mind and you’re just strolling, ask her to sit or lie down and stay. Show her a treat and set it on the ground a few feet away. Come back to your dog, give her a treat to reward her for holding her stay in the face of temptation, and give her the okay to find the treat. Easy! Not only can she smell it, she saw where you put it.

But after you do a few reps so she’s clear on how this game works, you can make the puzzle harder. Hide the treat under some leaves or behind a fencepost. Hide it above ground level, on a bench or the top of a rock. Go to several spots and pretend to hide a treat in each one, but actually hide only one treat. Remember, unless you’re someplace where it’s safe and legal for your dog to be off leash, if you want to hide the treat farther than a leash length away, you’ll need to tether her. Keep her in sight at all times, of course.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).