How to Nose Train Your Dog With Games

Dog sniffing luggage

Dogs are well known for their ability to smell scents, and they can even pick up a particular odor up to 40 feet away... Underground! That’s pretty amazing when you consider many of us humans can’t even find our car keys in our own house. The secret to a dog’s fantastic ability to smell is in their noses and brains. Dog’s have 5 times as many olfactory receptors in their noses compared to humans, and the part of their brain devoted to scent analysis is forty times greater than ours (source). With all of their built-in ability to sniff so well, it stands to reason that pet parents can capitalize on this for a little reward-based training with their dogs.

Regardless of if you have a new puppy or have had your dog in the family for a while, training Fido to use his nose for rewards can be quite easy. You’ll still want to have some guidelines for you and your dog to follow in order to build upon the training that you’ve already accomplished together. For instance, having your dog ‘sit,’ ‘stay’ and ‘watch’ are vital for beginning nose training. Plus, if you have joined our #12weekpuppychallenge, adding a small amount of nose training is an excellent way to reinforce what your puppy has successfully learned to date.

Nose training, often called scent training or scent work, is a great way to stimulate your dog’s senses and mind. While it may seem logical that a dog, with all of its nose magic, could easy nose train, there’s more to it than simply hiding a treat and letting your dog find it. Remember, we don’t often rely on dogs to use their noses in a hunt-based way, so nose training with games is a great way to start. Also, don’t feel as though your dog has to be a specific breed in order to nose train - even flat-faced (brachycephalic) pups can participate.

To get your dog started with nose training you’ll need a few supplies:

  • Cleared space to train
  • Treat pouch with treats
  • Clicker (or your specific marker word used for training)
  • Nose puzzle games

Once you have the area and items all in place, and you know your puppy, or adult dog, is in the mood for a little training time, then it’s all systems go. To kick things off, remember the goal you are initially going for is to build on your dog’s desire to search or hunt for an item. What better thing to hunt for than treats! A nice odiferous treat is always a winner with nose training. Start by having your dog sit and stay for a treat reward, and click to indicate success Once reinforced, slowly build your pup’s confidence by placing a treats in the nose puzzle game. Allow your pup to watch you while you ‘hide’ the treat, and then guide your puppy with gentle direction (perhaps use the word ‘find’ and point to the game) to search the nose puzzle game. It may take a little while for your dog to get the hang of this type of game as he has to use his nose to lift parts of the toy in search for the treat - but never fear, most every dog succeeds at nose training.

If your dog gets overstimulated, don’t fret, that’s totally normal. Just regroup with a little positive reinforcement through commands your pup already knows, and don’t forget to treat. You’ll know if your dog is overstimulated because he will run around, more in an excited way than going to the game and searching for the treat. Take it nice and slow and guide your dog with patience and positive reinforcement and your dog will master nose training in no time! Once your pup knows the art of nose training, you can practice without the toy and hide a treat someplace in your home for him to find.

There are no limits with nose training, and there are even competitions for dogs, so if you think your Fido might enjoy this, check out the National Association of Canine Scent Work. Nose training is a great outlet for dogs that run a little hyper, as well as for puppies learning how to interact with their environment. If you have a new puppy and would like more training tips and games to play together, make sure you join our free #12weekpuppychallenge and visit our website of the same name for more information.

Rebecca Sanchez

Rebecca Sanchez lives in Seattle with her husband and three dogs and is a published author, and nationally recognized leader in the pet industry. Known as The Pet Lifestyle Guru™ Rebecca firmly believes “we need animals as much as they need us!” Rebecca specializes in researching and writing about holistic dog health and nutrition, and develops DIY recipes designed to enhance a pup's well-being.

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