Belgian shepherd sniffing

Scent work for dogs

Dogs use their nose for so much and it is a skill that comes very naturally to them. Scent work not only mentally stimulates your dog but also enhances their natural ability to sniff things out, all while having fun!

Scent work with food treats

If your dog is food motivated, there are many games you can play with them to keep their minds busy and active. 

Snuffle mat

We have some great advice on how to make your own snuffle mat, which is a fun way to encourage your dog to solve a puzzle using their impressive sense of smell.

Find it!

This is great fun for your dog and entertaining for the family too, watching your dog unearth all of the hidden treats! 

  • Show your dog that you have a piece of food/treat in your hand
  • Say ‘find it!’ and then throw the piece of food/treat across the floor
  • When your dog finds the piece of food, say a clear ‘yes!’ so they know they’ve followed through on the action that you wanted from them

If you’d like to challenge your dog further, you can make the ‘find it’ game more advanced by telling your dog to stay while you hide the treat/s behind pieces of furniture. You can also place your dog in a room, hide all of the treats in a different room and then open the door for your dog and say ‘find it’.

Scatter games

You can also make your dog’s meals more interesting by scattering the entire contents of their food in the garden. Keep it interesting by mixing it up with a bit of cheese sprinkled here and there for extra reward when using their nose.

Scent work with toys

Some dogs are motivated by toys and there are many fun ways that you can get them to find their toys using their sense of smell.

Fetch with a twist

We all know how fetch works; you throw the ball and your dog runs after it to collect and bring it back to you. We’ve all seen this in action, but you may have noticed that when the ball lands and your dog loses sight of it, they usually put their nose to the ground to try and find it. If your dog does this, then you have a dog that is toy-orientated.

How to play

To harness your dog’s drive to find their ball, you can:

  • ask them to sit and stay (if they are able to) or clip them on their lead
  • while they are sat/on lead, throw the ball and wait for it to land
  • release your dog from their sit/lead and ask them to ‘find it!’
  • reward and praise them heavily when they find the ball – they may not find this straight away, but give them praise when they get close to it, even if the first few times you have to point it out

These types of games are also perfect for older dogs because they provide them with the ability to play fetch at a slower pace.

Find it!

This is a nice, gentle game which involves hiding a toy and asking your dog to find it.

How to play
Belgian shepherd in garden

If your dog has a good sit and stay then you can start by asking them to do this. If your dog is too excited to sit and stay, then you can pop them on the lead and ask someone to hold them for you.

  • With your dog either sitting or on lead, you can show your dog their favourite toy and hide it in front of them, so they know where you’re putting it
  • Once you’ve hidden it somewhere that’s easy for them to get to, you can release them from their sit/lead and ask them to ‘find it!’
  • After a few attempts at this, your dog will begin to understand the game
  • Once they have grasped the idea, you can make this harder by pretending to hide the toy in one place but then moving it elsewhere so your dog starts to really use their nose to seek it out
  • As you progress, you can start hiding a toy before your dog’s walk and releasing them to find it afterwards. This can help to calm them after a long walk and is a fun game to come home to.

Name that toy

Dogs remember the look and smell of different objects which is why you can teach them the names of their toys. Starting with one of their favourite toys, you will need to give it a name. Once you have a name for that toy, you just have to say it every time you pick it up and begin play with your dog. Then, using the ‘find it!’ cue, ask your dog to find said toy and praise them for it when they bring it back. After practicing this, your dog will learn the name of that toy and you can test them by asking them to find it among their other toys.

Hide and Seek

Dogs will know their owner’s scent more than anyone else’s. The following two games, hide and seek and searching, make use of your dog's connection to you.

At home:

Your dog will use a combination of wind scenting (sniffing the air to locate you) and tracking (sniffing along the ground to follow where you have walked). You might need someone to hold your dog or wait until your dog is in another room then hide behind a door or sofa and call them. When you first start this game you may need to call your dog more than once. As soon as your dog finds you, praise and give a food treat.

Out and about:

You can play the same game in the garden or in safe areas while out for a walk. When your dog is sniffing and not watching you, crouch down in long grass or hide behind a tree and call them. Remember to be very excited when they find you.

— Page last updated 26/05/2023