Scent games for dogs are sweeping the canine nation at home and in competitions because they’re just so much fun. Any dog can play scent games, and it doesn’t take a lot to set up a game.
The world is a treasure trove of scents for dogs. Scent is a natural way for them to sense the world and to be enriched. That’s why we encourage you to let your dog sniff when you go on walks together. It’s how he gets his news! A dog’s ability smell things is an important part of being a dog.
Because a dog’s sense of smell is so much better than ours, it is easy to get them in the spirit of nose work type games. From puppies to seniors, dogs love to smell and find the prize.
Home Scent Games for Dogs
The easiest way to start with scent games is to use food treats. Hide a treat in a box or put a treat under a cup along with two empty cups (yes, like the old “shell game”) and then let him find it.
You can make a simple food puzzle at home by hiding some treats in a muffin tin, then covering the holes with tennis balls. Of course, ball-loving dogs may quickly grab the ball and run off, not even realizing there’s food, so you may have to “explain” it to him at first.
Dogs love these activities, and scent games have low risk for physical injury, so they are great for puppies and seniors. These games are also good for dogs who are confined due to illness or recovery.
Scent Work Competitions
If you want to participate in formal canine scent sports, more training is required, but this sport is growing quickly for good reason—dogs and handlers both enjoy the tests.
These scent games tend to use essential oils for the scents, starting with birch oil for the lowest levels. You start by giving your dog a positive association with the scent, pairing the scent with a treat. Dogs quickly figure out that if they indicate where the scent is they will get a great treat or some tug play if they prefer that.
You can move on to hiding the scent indoors, outdoors, in containers, or even buried in sand or water. At the beginning levels, only one scented “hide” is in a search area. Additional scents are later added, such as anise and clove, so the dog must find more than one scented object.
To find a dog scent work instructor in your area, go to the National Association of Canine Scent Work.