5 Nose Work Activities For Dogs Who Love A Challenge

Dog’s noses are incredibly powerful, and they typically enjoy using them to engage in mentally stimulating activities. These may include sniff walks or meeting other dogs, as the smells from both can teach your dog a lot about their surroundings and the dogs they encounter. However, there are ways you can facilitate more nose work to sharpen this sense and stimulate their minds. If your dog likes a challenge, needs some more mental stimulation, or simply enjoys a fun game involving nose work, there are plenty of options you can explore at home. This article covers five of the best nose work activities to try. 


Activity 1: Snuffle mats

One of the most popular ways that owners engage their dogs in nose work is by using snuffle mats. A snuffle mat is an interactive feeding mat with numerous felt strips in a pattern that requires your dog to engage their nose and their brain to earn a reward. Most owners hide treats in these mats, but you could also hide some of their food or even dog-safe human food like pieces of carrot. 

The idea is that they use their nose to seek out the hidden treasures, which is also useful for dogs who are particularly fast eaters as it helps slow them down. If your dog has had plenty of physical exercise but could do with some extra mental stimulation, this is a great nose work game to try out. It also helps keep them occupied on their own, meaning they can be fully entertained while you’re busy with other tasks like work or running errands. 


Activity 2: Hide and seek – toy edition 

A fun game to try with your dog to get their noses twitching is a twist on hide and seek. While you could hide yourself, most owners choose to hide a toy their dog loves. This is because many dogs will have a toy or two that they seem to have around them all the time. They will know the scent of their favourite toy, and will also likely want to find it if it’s not around. So, hiding their toy in a challenging but ultimately accessible spot for your pooch is a great way to get them sniffing.

This game is sometimes more effective when you teach your dog the name of their toy first as it makes the command to find it clearer, but some dogs don’t take to this and/or don’t need it to enjoy hide and seek. It’s important to give them lots of praise when they successfully find the hidden toy as this reaffirms the behaviour and makes it easier for them to understand the game if you continue to play it regularly. 


Activity 3: Shell game

You may know of the shell game for humans, where an item is placed under one of three identical cups, and you have to point out which cup contains it after they have been shuffled. This may seem a little complex for dogs, but in reality, they are armed with noses that help them succeed at this game, sometimes more so than humans. Instead of having to watch the cups and try to figure out where the item is going, dogs can use their powerful noses to seek out the correct cup containing their prize. 

As is the case with hide and seek, it’s important to make sure you give your dog lots of praise when they successfully identify the cup containing their treat. Training treats are ideal for this type of game, as they’re small enough to fit under any cup. They also allow you and your dog to partake in multiple rounds of the game, as it’s safe to give your dog multiple of them. This game requires your participation and attention, meaning it’s an engaging and fun way for you to bond with your pooch.


Activity 4: Scavenger hunt

A scavenger hunt can take many forms, and may involve indoor and/or outdoor elements depending on the space you have available and your dog’s preferences. Regardless of the setting, a scavenger hunt involves hiding high value items, such as treats, toys, or dog-safe human food around the area for your dog to, well… scavenge. Depending on how well your dog does with scent work, you can make this very simple or very difficult. The key is to make sure that it’s challenging enough to be engaging but not so challenging that it’s frustrating, overwhelming, or unattainable. 

As is the case with the shell game, training treats are an excellent choice as they can be eaten in multiples and therefore hidden in various different spots. Praise after each successful find is also important in helping your dog understand the idea of a scavenger hunt. It not only rewards them for their actions, but encourages them to continue on finding more treasures. This activity takes some setting up, but once that’s finished, you can sit back and watch your pooch’s nose and tail go wild. Depending on how long they take to find each treasure, you may also have time to take on your own tasks between instances of praising them for a job well done.


Activity 5: Scent trails

If you’d rather give your dog one big reward, such as their favourite chew, rather than a bunch of little ones, a scent trail activity is a great option to try. This involves rubbing a cloth or towel on the chew they will receive and dragging it along the floor to leave its scent behind. You can make the trail simple and straight or zig zag it all over the place, depending on your dog’s abilities and attention span. It’s generally a good idea to keep it simpler for the first try and gradually build up to more complex trails.

Once your dog successfully reaches the end of the trail, it’s time to shower them in praise and offer them the chew you used to create it. This is a rewarding way for your dog to enjoy the chews they love while also sharpening their scent work abilities and engaging their minds. This activity can be a short or long one, depending on the length and complexity of the trail and how your dog responds to nose work activities. The main interactive parts that involve you happen at the beginning during the set up and the end during the reward, which means they’re getting some enriching solo entertainment in between. This allows you to get on with your own tasks or simply relax while they have fun with the activity you’ve set out for them. 


Final thoughts

Dogs love to sniff, so scent work activities are a great way to sharpen this skill as well as their minds. Some of these activities require your full attention, while others offer your dog some solo enrichment. Both are useful options to have and can come in handy in different situations. It’s also worth noting that some dogs will respond to these activities more readily than others. Additionally, some dogs may only enjoy one or some of the activities on the list. However, if your dog loves nose work, they’re all worth trying out. If there’s treats and praise in it for them, they’re likely to give it a go. Whichever option(s) you choose to try out, we hope you and your pooch enjoy them – happy sniffing!

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