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Scent-Based Games for Dogs

Teach your dog to play scent-based games.

A scent-based game is when a dog practices sniffing out something, like a toy or a treat. It is a fantastic mental exercise and can combat stress and boredom. It's also a fun, bonding activity for a human to engage in with their dog.

How to Teach Your Dog a Scent Game

To play a scent game, you must first teach your dog a command to do it. Otherwise, you'll have no way to let him know that the game is afoot. And to learn the command, your dog will first need to understand how to sit, stay, and come reliably.

Choose a command such as find it or use your nose. Then, follow these steps to train your dog to respond to the chosen command:

  • Have your dog sit and stay.
  • Move across the room and put a treat in a hidden spot while allowing your dog to watch.
  • Give your dog the command you use to release from stay (like OK).
  • Then say, "find it," and point to the "hidden" treat.
  • Repeat this until you don't need to point for your dog to reliably go for the treat.
  • Gradually, begin putting the treat farther away, out of sight of the dog, at increasing distances and difficulty of hiding spots.

Note: When you're first training your dog for these games, use a high-value reward. You know your dog best, so you can choose this. It may be a yummy treat or a super fun toy. Once your dog knows how to follow the command, try using plain dog kibble—depending on the dog's personality, you may need to switch back to something of higher value to the dog if the kibble doesn't keep his attention.

Scent Games to Play with Your Dog

Once your dog knows the find it or use your nose command, you can incorporate it into some fun games. You're only limited by your imagination.

  • You can put a treat in one hand and ask your dog to find it.
  • You can hide several treats around the house and have your dog find them all.
  • You can even play the find it game outside.

When your dog is first starting and there is a significant distance between treats, you may wish to leave a scent trail to help your dog find them. Drag a treat or piece of kibble at intervals along the path to the hiding place. As your dog gets better at the game, you should be able to stop leaving trails.

You May Also Like These Articles:

Games You Should Be Playing with Your Dog

Tug Of War

How to Teach a Dog to Fetch

How to Teach Your Dog to Sit

How to Teach a Dog to Stay

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