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Have you ever considered playing nose games with your dog? Also known as scent games, nose games are a great way to harness the incredible power of your dog’s nose. Playing a game with your pup is a great way to bond, and it’s a fun form of dog training.

Here’s a look at a few different nose games. Each game is easy to try and may come in handy at some point. You never know – a nose game might one day help you find those lost car keys that have been driving you crazy.

What Makes Your Dog’s Nose So Amazing?

Before getting into different scent games, it’s important you realize as a dog parent just how incredible your pup’s nose really is. If you think your nose is sensitive, that’s nothing compared to a dog. A human has about 6 million olfactory receptors – a dog has about 50 times more, or about 300 million. Also, the area of a dog’s brain that interprets scent molecules is 40 percent larger than that of a human.1

nose games | Ultimate Pet NutritionHere are just a few interesting facts to illustrate just how impressive a dog’s sense of smell really is:

  • One part of the canine nose senses scents. The other is responsible for helping the dog breathe.
  • A dog can tell how scent molecules fade away over time. That’s one of the ways tracking dogs are able to tell in which direction the person or animal they’re tracking has headed.
  • Each nostril in a dog’s nose detects scents separately. The canine brain combines the information from in order to determine the location of an object putting off a scent. It’s similar to the way the human brain combines the information from each eye in order to form a three-dimensional picture.2

Nose Games That You Can Play With Your Dog To Train Them

There are plenty of “nose games” you can play with your dog. Here are three of the most popular ones.

Hide And Seek

This is a fun twist on the game you probably played when you were a kid. You distract your dog with a toy or a treat while they’re in another part of your home. Then, you find a place to hide. It could be anywhere your dog won’t expect you to be. Eventually, your pup is going to start looking for you, and they’ll likely track you by scent. Once they succeed, give a lot of praise and some sort of reward.3

The Food Game

dog searching | Ultimate Pet Nutrition

Here’s another game that will put your dog’s sense of smell to the test. Hide some treats in hard-to-find places around your home. It could be in a closet, under a piece of furniture, whatever you like. Your dog will probably find the first one by accident – but then, they’ll start focusing on finding other goodies by using their nose. Hide the treats while your pooch is outside or otherwise occupied.4

The Shell Game

This one will be great fun for you and your companion. Here’s how to do it.

  1. Grab three cups. Put one on your coffee table with a treat underneath it.
  2. When the dog touches the cup with their nose or a paw, pick it up and let the dog eat the treat while giving a lot of praise.
  3. Do this a few times, and then add a second cup. Don’t put a treat underneath this one. When the dog points to the cup covering the treat, give the reward and praise.
  4. As your dog gets better and better at this game, add more cups and move them around.5

Which Nose Work Game Is Best For A Puppy?

You can play a nose work game with your new puppy as well. An interactive game isn’t just fun, it’s also mentally stimulating – and it will also help tire them out. There are a lot of nose games you can play with your pup, but one of the best is known as “Which Hand?”

puppy training | Ultimate Pet NutritionHere’s how you play it.

  1. Gather some treats, and put one in your right hand.
  2. Close the fists of both hands, and put them near your dog’s nose.
  3. Wait until the dog chooses one hand or the other.
  4. When your dog (or puppy) picks the right hand, award the treat.6

Positive Reinforcement Is Key For Dog Training

Whether you’re playing a nose work game or you’re doing some other basic kind of dog training, it’s important to use positive reinforcement. It basically means providing a reward whenever a dog exhibits the behavior you want.7

The more the dog demonstrates good behavior, the more often they’ll get the reward. You want the dog to associate their good behavior with something positive, so they’ll behave correctly more often. Food is typically used most often in positive reinforcement, but playing tug with a toy can work too.8

Unfortunately, some dog owners lose patience during training. Don’t ever punish your dog for not doing what you want them to do. They won’t understand why they’re being punished, and it’ll only make them scared of you. That’s the last thing that any dog parent should want.

Scent Games Are Used To Train Specialist Hounds And Other Professional Detection Dogs

Whether you call them scent games or nose work games, they can be great fun for you and your dog alike. In some cases these kinds of games are used to help train dogs for important – and highly specialized – jobs. Trainers often employ nose work when training detection dogs, the ones who sniff out things such as narcotics.9

dog training | Ultimate Pet NutritionThe Central Intelligence Agency even uses dogs to detect explosives. The dogs go through an intensive, six-week class where they’re exposed to thousands of scents associated with different kinds of bombs and other incendiary devices. They’re then matched with a CIA handler, and they go through another 10-week course of intense training.10

It’s during this second round of training that the dog and handler work to find devices in objects such as luggage and vehicles. Once the team passes this test, the CIA deploys the dog and handler to areas across the globe, protecting buildings as well as CIA agents.11

The American Kennel Club has even created a sport out of nose work. They call it AKC Scent Work. It’s designed to, in a way, mimic the kind of training detection dogs go through. Dogs use their sense of smell to find hidden cotton swabs dipped in essential oils. When the dog finds a swab, they let their handler know. The handler then tells the judge of the event.12

The Nose Knows

Hopefully, you have a better idea of how to play nose work games with your dog – and a greater appreciation for just how amazing a dog’s nose can be. The games mentioned above are only a few of the ways you can enjoy nose work with your pooch. You can put a treat in a puzzle toy, for example, and wait until the dog sniffs it out.

Whatever kinds of nose work you choose, remember to have fun and always use positive reinforcement. You might just find you’ll have a stronger bond with your furry family member than you had before.

Learn More:
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What To Do When Moving With A Dog? Keep Your Dog’s Routine Unchanged