Scentwork for dogs
Scentwork for dogs

Do you realise how good sniffing is for your dogs health? Well let me share with you that a whopping 41% of the dogs brain is dedicated to scenting. Proportionally speaking, this area of the brain which is vital for the processing and perception of odour is around 40 times greater than in humans.

Just imagine what that can smell!

Research has shown that dogs can pick up scents that are diluted to 1 or 2 parts per trillion. This means they can sniff out something buried  approximately 40 feet underground or in other words, they can smell 100,000 times better than us! Their sense of smell is so sensitive that they could even detect half a teaspoon of sugar in an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

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This blog explains how to do five scentwork games you can do with in your garden. They are not complicated, nor take a lot of time and your dog will absolutely thank you for doing them.

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Scenting for dogs is like gymnastics for the brain and because using this sense is such a natural behaviour, dogs of all different characters and abilities all feel the benefits.

  • For an anxious dog, they build confidence in their surroundings at their own pace.
  • For an excitable dog, scentwork is something to focus all that energy on and engage the mind, calming them down.
  • For an aggressive/reactive dog, you can do this safely and the dog will enjoy it, stress free.
  • For a puppy, it encourages a new skill which doesn’t involve a lot of impacts on young joints.
  • For an energetic dog, scenting is around 5 times more draining in energy than physical exercise.
  • All dogs can do scentwork!

If you have an intelligent, keen learner then the beauty of scentwork is that it has endless possibilities of fun. Indoors, in the garden, on walks, in the dark, morning, noon and night. For your puppy, elderly or injured dog, it keeps them mentally stimulated without the physical impact or constraints.

Using food is a simple way to start. If you have a dog on a special diet, you can use some of that food for them to find.

As they progress, you could make some of the games harder by hiding a toy or even teaching them to look for a specific scent.

Which hand?

Take a treat and hide it in one of your hands, make a fist. Place two closed fists in front of your dog and ask him which hand, when he chooses the correct hand, praise him and open your hand to give him the treat.

The muffin tin game 

A great game to strengthen your dog’s sense of smell is the muffin tin game. You will need twelve tennis balls, a couple of dog treats broken into pieces and a muffin tin. Place the treats into a selection of the muffin cups, before placing all twelve balls in all twelve spaces and then encourage your dog to unearth the treats from below the balls.

If you don’t have 12 tennis balls, you can use other toys such as Kongs or rubber balls instead.

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For an added bonus, place different treats in each hole so your dog has to choose what they like best. Identifying the scent, processing the information and making choices all adds to enrichment.

The cheese tree! 

I absolutely love this one. If you have a large tree in your garden with knobbly bark that is ideal, but you can also use other things like brick walls, large bushes or close board fencing.

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Cut some cheese of your choice into five large cubes. Then squash the cubes slightly into the cervices of the bark at different heights for your dog to sniff out.  If your dog is fit and able, place some at a level where your dog will have its paws up on the trunk stretching gently to reach it. This is a great way for your dog to stretch and we know how good gentle stretching feels.

Most dogs search on ground level so depending on where you place the cheese, this exercise adds an extra searching dimension by placing them higher.

If you don’t have a large tree, you can use the ledges of a brick wall, the ridges in a closed board fence or even balance the cubes on top of branches of a large bush. Always be careful the surfaces in which you press the cheese into are not toxic for dogs and make sure the dog can access them easily.

Lights out

This one is great fun for the dog and by removing or reducing their sense of sight, this really helps them switch their sense of smell on.  Some dogs need a little help to learn how to use their powerful nose and not rely on sight.

Show your dog a treat or their favourite toy, and then place it out of his sight but easily accessible in a dark room.

Tell him to ‘seek’ and follow them in, close the door and listen for their success which you will praise enthusiastically. Obviously, the rewards for the dog are multiple – they get a treat or find their toy plus a very happy handler. If using a toy, be sure to reward their find with some play before starting again.

When multiple treats or toys are used, this particular game helps to build teamwork and trust in the handler. The dog may initially find only 2 out of 3 treats, but they quickly discover that persistence in searching when you give additional ‘seek’ commands pays off.

If you want to make this game harder, choose less accessible hides in less accessible places (like in a shoe, or placed on a low shelf.)

Sausage hunt 

If your dog is able to, you can combine sniffing with physical activity using a “follow the scent” trail.

A simple way to start is by using something super smelly or super tasty. Be sure to keep your dog indoors while you are setting up.

Soak some kitchen towel in the juice from a hot dog jar and make a scent trail across your garden by dragging the kitchen towel continuously until you feel your trail is long enough.  Place the meat at the end of the trail and go back inside.

You can do this both on or off lead. When you are ready, point your dog in the direction of the starting point, say ‘seek’ and leave them to rely on their nose to reach the prize at finish line.

For an added bonus, click here to be inspired by additional scentwork games the Blue Cross recommend.

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If you enjoy these and want to make things more challenging for your dog, check out some of these recommended scents and scent kits from the American Kennel Club by clicking here.

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Scentwork is so easy to do and it can be done anywhere. Quick to set up, you can use some treats or food, no hassle and no excuses.

‘the problem is not the animal’s behaviour per se but rather the problem that the behaviour poses for its owner’ Askew (1996)

A few minutes of scenting is hugely beneficial for your dog as it improves their general well being and quality of life, meeting the dog’s core needs.

If you are interested in in getting help with your dog’s scentwork skills book a private lesson with me! We will help you personalise a scentwork training plan and progress your dog as we go! Fill out the contact form here.

So what are you waiting for! Get started! You will see how addictive and rewarding it is for both you and your dog. When you are ready for some more guidance and ideas, get in touch

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