Scent Games for Dogs.


Scent games are an excellent way to keep your dog mentally and physically fit and active – and most dogs just love playing scent games!  This article will provide a few ideas to get you started on tracking and seeking games with your dog. Also ideal for our Holidays4Dogs carers who might like to provide their guest dogs with an exciting holiday activity!

Dogs are blessed with 300 million scent receptors in their noses, whereas humans have just six million. This is why dogs are so good at detecting missing persons, truffles, drugs and even cancer cells. Many domestic pet dogs don’t have the opportunity to use this skill.

Nevertheless, scenting it is one of the primary ways in which dogs explore and make sense of the world around them. Once you teach your dog how to hone this skill through simple scent games, you will be amazed at his powers of detection.

Fun scent games will exercise your dog’s brain and encourage your dog to pay attention to you while providing hours of fun for both of you. Many of these games can be trained using the click and treat method and many can also be played indoors. You can find out more about clicker training here.

Which Hand?

This is an easy game to start with.

Place a tasty treat, (cheese or chicken) in your closed fist and offer your hand. Ask your dog to ‘find it’.

Encourage your dog to touch your hand with his nose, or paw, before you release the treat.

Repeat a few times and then offer both hands without letting your dog see which hand you have the treat in. If he gets it wrong, show your dog which hand the treat was in, but don’t give him the treat that time. Have another go.

Tip – you can use a toy or a ball, instead of treats.

Hunt the Treats.

This is another simple starter game. You can use a toy or treats.

Put your dog out of the room and place his toy, (or treat), somewhere easily visible to him.

Let him back into the room and enthusiastically ask him to find it! Make the places you hide the toy harder and harder.

You will soon find your dog is desperate to get back into the room and use his nose!

If you are using a toy, play a short game with it before hiding it again.

Tip – to make it more difficult you can add multiple toys, one at a time.

The Cup Game.

This scent game builds on the skill the dog has learnt in the, ‘which hand?’ game. You will need three, or four, sturdy plastic cups. Don’t use paper, or glass – paper is too flimsy and glass might break if your dog gets too enthusiastic.

Take one of the cups and with your dog watching, place a treat under it.

Move the cup around from side to side for a couple of seconds then ask your dog to ‘find it’.

When he sniffs the cup, lift it up and reveal the treat.

Next add another cup.

Move both cups before asking your dog to ‘find it’.

Let him sniff each cup and when he’s sniffing the right one, let him have the treat.

Keep adding more cups but don’t let your dog see which cup you place the treat under.

Marked Retrieve.

This scent game relies on your dog having a reasonable grasp of retrieving objects. Best played outdoors.

Take your dog’s favourite toy and with him off lead, hold his collar, or harness, and toss the toy into rough grass.

Let him see where it lands.

Don’t throw the toy more than a couple of feet away at the start.

Wait two, or three, seconds before releasing him.

Your dog will have ‘marked’ where the toy fell. However, he will still have to use his nose to locate it exactly. Make it more difficult by using thicker cover.

If your dog will stay, you can leave your dog in a sit, walk out and hide the toy in cover. Return to his side and ask him to ‘find it’. This may be a little more challenging for him, since it will be harder for him to mark the spot.

Tip – for an even harder game, increase the time before you send the dog off to find the toy.

Lost it.

This scent game builds on the marked retrieve, except this time the retrieve is ‘blind’ (i.e. the dog does not know the location of the article to find). It could end up being a really useful game if you ever lose something while out walking! Your dog does not necessarily have to retrieve items for this game.

As you are walking along, discreetly drop an article such as a glove, or a pair of rolled up socks. Fabric items hold scent better, so aim to start on these.

Keep walking for a few paces, (in a straight line away from the dropped item).

Stop, turn around and ask your dog to find it.

As you retrace your steps encourage your dog to look by pointing, or patting the ground, and asking him to find it.

As you get nearer to the object let him try and find it himself.

If he’s having difficulty, nudge the object object with your foot. When he’s found the article, give him lots of praise and make a massive fuss over him.

As your dog gets the hang of this game, vary the type of article you ‘lose’. A bunch of keys, or a small water bottle, for example.  You can increase the difficulty of this game by varying the distance and time before asking him to find the lost item.

Tip – you can try getting your dog to find articles that have been dropped by someone else.

Scent discrimination game.

This is a more advanced scent game because it is teaching the dog to find one article among a group of similar items. Tennis balls are ideal to start with.

Play with your dog with one of the tennis balls so that the scent from your hand (and his spit!) covers the ball.

Move to different area where you have previously placed a few other (clean) tennis balls – say 2 – 3.

Throw the scented tennis ball amongst the others and wait two, or three, seconds before asking your dog to find it.

If he picks up the wrong one, just put it in your pocket and ask him again to look again – (you can mark the target ball with a pen, or use a different coloured ball).

Go forward with him into the search area, if he needs more help. If your dog selects the right ball, give him lots of praise and a game with the ball – (away from the scent area).

You can also try this with pads of material such as thick dusters. These can be washed and hung out to dry outdoors so they are clean and scent free. Don’t handle them once they are clean; use gloves and place them in an airtight container.

Take one of the cloths and let your dog play with it to cover it with his and your scent.

Next, leave your dog in a sit, or tie him to a fence, and place the clean cloths in another area, (using gloves or kitchen tongues).

Place the scent cloth you want him to find among the others and ask him to find it.

Tip – You can make this more difficult by making the search area bigger and using more articles.

Final thoughts.

These scent games for dogs are just for fun. If you are interested in more formal exercises that really test your dog’s tracking and scenting abilities, search for a good local dog training club. There you can learn about the interesting and intricate ways a dog can use his nose. Perhaps you might enjoy entering competitions, or even get involved with a search and rescue team local to you.