There are lots of fun ways to harness your dog’s amazing sense of smell
Your dog learns about the world through his or her nose. As a matter of fact, dogs have astonishing olfactory powers. Sometimes dogs can be so engrossed in smells that we have trouble getting their attention. Instead if fighting it, why not harness it to play games! Our Nose Work Games instructor, Cheryl VanVoorhies, has provided some simple starter games that you can try at home.
Place food (real cheese or chicken) in a loosely folded towel. Let Fido try to open it and eat the contents. Eventually you should be able to tie the towel in a loose knot to keep your dog occupied longer and longer. If your dog starts to chew the towel, help him open it. Fido is still learning how to do this so be patient.
Muffin Tin Search
Place a couple of small pieces of food (cheese works well), into one well of the muffin tin. Let your dog find it and eat it. Repeat a couple of times. Next, cover the single well containing the food with a tennis ball or old sock rolled into a ball and then offer it to your dog. Let Fido figure out how to uncover the section and get to the food. As long as he is actively searching, resist the urge to constantly help. Gradually, add more more balls to the muffin tin to increase the difficulty as your dog searches for the single section containing the food. You can also feed your dog’s meals this way so he eats slower.
Here’s a fun video that demonstrates the game: https://youtu.be/QLKYCW83GZs. Thank you to the participants in this video, Jackie and border collie Bear, and Elyse with border terrier Lola.
Unroll & Treat
Roll small pieces of food in a cabinet liner or small, sturdy towel. Space the treats 5-7 inches apart. Roll the liner up tightly. Place one treat at the center of the rolled up liner so when she eats the treat she is also beginning to push the roll with her nose. Encourage her to push the liner, discovering more treats, until it is unrolled and all treats have been eaten. Increase the difficulty by placing fewer and fewer treats in the liner where Fido has to push it all the way open until he or she gets the treat.
Nose Work Basics
• Hold a cardboard box, place some treats inside, and allow your dog to stick her head in the box to eat them. Repeat and then do this with the box on the floor. Next, hold her by the collar, toss treats in the box, and while she is looking at the box wanting to go get the treats say “Find it” and release her to get the treats.
• Place 3-5 boxes in the room and show Fido the box with the treats. Place the box on the floor about 3 feet away and tell Fido to “Find it”. Fido should run to the box and eat. While she is eating, drop a few more treats into the box to build value for the box. Repeat this 3 times.
• Place 3-5 boxes in a room while Fido is in another room, unable to have access to you.
Place food in one of the boxes. Let Fido out of the room and tell her to “Find it”. Once Fido finds the box with the food in it, place a few more pieces in the box to keep Fido’s head in the box. You can praise her as well.
• You can also play the Find It game by hiding a toy in the room and then telling your dog to find it.
- Dogs noses are way more powerful than ours. If you make an analogy to vision, what we can see at 1/3 of a mile away a dog can see as well from 3000 miles away.
- We can detect a teaspoon of sugar in a cup of coffee but a dog can detect a teaspoon of sugar in a million gallons of water (two Olympic size swimming pools).
- We have a measly 5 million olfactory receptors in our brain; dogs have up to 300 million. The canine brain devotes 40 times more real estate to smell detection than the human brain, proportionally speaking.
- Dogs smell separately with each nostril; this helps determine the location of the odor.
- Our best friend’s amazing sniffers are used to find cadavers, drugs, bombs, bedbugs, cancerous tumors, and missing children, to name a few.
- Want to learn more? Here are some interesting resources.
It is certainly fun to appreciate how our dogs experience the world so much differently than we do!