I’m fascinated by a dog’s sense of smell. I love to play scent games with my dogs. In fact, we’ve taken scent games to the level of ultimate fun—playing find it in the house, garden and even on walks. One time a few years back, I watched my dog Chance use her nose to explore our rather weedy grass, sniffing the area until she found the very specific blade of a very specific type of grass (one rare to our yard) to munch.
A dog’s nose can smell 10,000 to 100,000 times better than ours, and the part of the brain that processes scent is 40 times bigger than ours. One scientist likened their ability to catching a whiff of one rotten apple in two million barrels of apples. I have trouble even imagining this!
A dog’s nose can find drugs and missing people. It can tell if a person’s blood glucose is low or if they are going to have a seizure. It can detect cancer at the cellular level before a lab tests can. Dog noses are amazing.
It is no wonder that dogs love to use their noses. And you can enjoy your dog’s sense of smell too when you play scent games together. Here are a few of my favorites.
- Find the treat.
- Find the toy.
- Find the odor (such as birch and other scents used in the formal sport of Nose Work.)
If you want to try this at home, you can teach your dog to “find” an item by first having your dog target the item (using touch for example). Say, “find it” as the dog touches the item. Then hide it in plain sight, just a few feet away. Say, “find it” and when your dog goes up to the item, mark it with a click or yes, and then generously reward. Gradually make the hides harder. Let your dog see where you are hiding when they are learning, but when they get the idea, you can hide it when they aren’t looking.
Or, consider taking one of our upcoming Nose Work classes. In Nose Work 1 (starts in September–click here to learn more or sign up), we teach the dogs to find three unique things–food in a container, a toy or object, and the novel scent of birch. We have a fantastic time learning from our dogs about the way they experience the world. It is a great way to join your dog and share in their scenting activities.
Do you play scent games with your dog? What are your dog’s favorites? I’d love to hear about them!
sandy ettinger says
Hi Mardi, Just referred another Sandy your way, newly adopted AFRP dog and really nice, still has some puppy in there so training’s indicated. On scent work — when walking Kaleo I usually keep my eyes focused about 10-15 feet in front of his nose to keep him away from foxtails and suspected items. And if he lunges towards something I reflexively pull him back since like most dogs he’s an indiscriminate eater. Be well, Sandy
Mardi Richmond, MA, CPDT-KA, CC says
Thanks for the referral Sandy. I hope things are going great with you and Kaleo. I’m glad you keep an eye ahead and keep him out of the foxtails!