Dogs live in a world that is largely centred on their sense of smell.
In the continuing growth of wider canine knowledge among dog handlers and guardians, this incredible sense of smell is increasingly used to provide enrichment and fun to our dogs’ lives in the form of scentwork. A number of different activities can come under the heading of scentwork, with man trailing becoming a popular activity for guardians with their dogs. Scentwork doesn’t need to leave the home or garden to be fun, however, and there are plenty of canine scentwork games we can set up for our dogs to enjoy.
Canine scentwork games do not need to be complicated or expensive. One of the simplest is to pop some tasty treats inside a folded towel and let the dog try to work out how to get to them using nose and paws. A little encouragement may be needed in the early stages if a dog is less confident and not sure about rummaging in the fabric to go hunting, but most dogs will get the idea very quickly.
Instead of three card monte or ‘find the lady’, for our dogs how about three box monte or ‘find the treat’? Start by putting a treat under a box and rewarding your dog when they nose or paw at the box. When they can do this consistently, add a second box with no treat and only reward when they find the box hiding the treat. Add in more boxes and move the treat’s position so that the dog needs to use their nose to identify the correct box.
Another of the popular canine scentwork games that is easy to put together and makes great use of some of the household recycling is to hide treats inside cardboard boxes. This can be set up to be very easy to start, so that all the dog needs to do is open a single flap to find the treats, and gradually add in more difficulty. Use packing paper scrunched up inside the box with treats hidden inside, put boxes inside of boxes so that some of the treats need more effort to get to them. Toilet roll or kitchen paper inner rolls with the ends folded over are also good for hiding the treats inside, and provide extra enrichment opportunities for a bit of cardboard destruction once all the food is found!
As a dog becomes confident in using their nose, canine scentwork games can get more difficult, and make the nose and brain work harder. With a little help to keep the dog contained to an area they can’t observe, hide treats around the house and then let them hunt out the treats. To make it harder as they grow in confidence, put the treats in boxes or cardboard tubes before hiding them.
Canine scentwork games are great enrichment for the dog, and can be very rewarding to watch their confidence grow and the enjoyment they get from working their sense of smell. Use your imagination and have fun watching them have fun!