Pet Keen is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Learn more.

Home > Dogs > 6 Simple Scent & Nose Work Games to Play with Your Dog

6 Simple Scent & Nose Work Games to Play with Your Dog

beagle hunting

Everyone knows that dogs need physical exercise. However, our canines need plenty of mental stimulation, too. Most dog breeds were bred for a specific purpose, but in our modern world, more and more dogs are kept as purely companion animals, though. These dogs often spend a lot of their time doing nothing, which can lead to boredom.

A bored dog is often not a good dog. Dogs may try to make their own fun, which may lead to destruction and misbehavior. To avoid this, you should provide your dog with plenty of stimulating activities.

For practically all dogs, nose work games can provide this stimulation. Of course, these games may interest hounds the most, as they were bred to use their sniffer. However, all dogs have a much better nose than humans and may benefit from these games.

divider-dog paw

The 6 Simple Nose Work Games to Play With Your Dog

1. Muffin Tin Game

This game is very simple. Grab a muffin tin and some smelly treats. Then, place the treats in some of the cups on the muffin tin and let your dog get sniffing. In the beginning, this should be very simple. Your dog shouldn’t have to work hard for the treats.

However, you should then increase the difficulty by adding a barrier. Tennis balls work well in most muffin tins. You want your dog to be able to smell the treats and move the appropriate barrier.

This game is fairly simple, but it can provide a fun introduction to nose work.


2. Find It

This nose work game is also fairly easy (and you may have even played it before without knowing it). Simply toss a treat onto the floor in front of your dog and let them find it. Most of the time, the dog will find it very easily. However, once the dog figures out what’s going on, you can start to increase the difficulty. Throw the treat further away and use smaller pieces to encourage your dog to use their nose.

We love to use this game as a warmup to more difficult games. It’s also a good place to start, especially for younger dogs. Canines that aren’t hounds may also find this game a bit more on their level.


3. Guess Which Hand

Next, you can play a fairly simple game using only your hands and some smelly treats. This game is a variation of one we probably all played in the schoolyard at some point. Simply put your hands behind your back and place a treat in one of them. Then, present both hands closed to your dog. The idea is that they should smell your hands and signal which one has the treat in it.

You don’t need to train an official signal for this purpose. Instead, you only need to let your dog indicate which one has the treat (by licking, sniffing, or even pawing). Then, open your hand and let them have their reward. If your dog guesses wrong, put your hands back behind your back and try again. You want your dog to learn that guessing correctly is required to get the reward.

Be sure to switch hands regularly to prevent your dog from simply assuming that one hand is always right.

Woman giving treats to a dog
Image Credit: Samson Katt, Pexels

4. Empty Boxes

For this game, you’ll need several different boxes. Cardboard boxes work best, though you can technically use any container that isn’t translucent.

First, simply leave all the boxes open. Lay them on the floor near each other and place a treat in one of them. Your dog should sniff the boxes until they find the treat inside. Be sure that your dog instantly gets the reward.

Next, you can close the boxes or add lids. Once your dog signals the correct box, open it and let them have their reward. As with other games, only provide a treat when your dog guesses at the right box. Otherwise, they may just start picking random boxes for their reward.


5. Cups

This game is similar to the cup guessing game at the carnival. You’ll need three different cups. Place the treats into one of them and place all the cups upside down on a stable, flat surface your dog can reach. Next, move all the cups around so that they aren’t in their original place. Let your dog sniff the cups to figure out which one contains the treats.

If your dog picks correctly, let him eat the treats. If not, try again. This is a bit of an advanced game, so you may need to give your dog multiple tries. We also recommend using smelly treats, especially when first teaching the game.

cup guessing game
Image Credit: patpitchaya, Shutterstock

6. Hide-and-Seek

An advanced (but very fun) game is hide-and-seek. You’ll need two people for this game—one to work as the handler and one to hide. Children love playing this game with their companions, so be sure to give them the chance to play if they’re interested.

First, put your dog in a sit-and-stay position. Then, have the other person go and hide. Make the first spot very easy, such as just on the other side of a doorway. Once the person is ready, let them call for the dog. They should have treats on hand to praise the dog for finding them.

Once successful, praise your dog and give them the treat. Once the dog understands the game, we recommend making it more difficult. You can actually begin to hide in more difficult places. Just be sure your dog can actually access them.

You can also take this game outside to work on your dog’s recall. If your dog will come when you call while hiding, they will likely come when you aren’t hiding, too.

divider-dog

Conclusion

Nose work games can be very fulfilling to all dogs, especially hounds. Therefore, we highly recommend all dogs partake in nose work. Those that are bored and more nose-driven will probably benefit the most from these games, though.

The only way to know if your dog will like these nose work games or not is to give them a try. We’ve provided several different options at different difficulty levels to help you decide which one is best for your canine. However, if possible, we do recommend trying more than one game out.


Featured Image Credit: olginaa84, Pixabay

Our vets

Want to talk to a vet online?

Whether you have concerns about your dog, cat, or other pet, trained vets have the answers!

Our vets