Simple Scent Games for Puppies

Have you ever really thought about how your dog experiences the world? You may know that their colour vision isn’t as good as humans. Did you know their sense of smell is up to 100,000 better than your own? Scent is such an important sense for dogs. It is a major part of gathering information about their world. It’s why they sniff each other’s bums… there is a lot of scent in that area! It is also one of the first senses they can use. Puppies are able to sniff out their mum and her milk even before their eyes are open. Scent can also be a super fun way to connect with your dog. Plus, it will help tire out their brain, which all puppy guardians need some times.

Playing scent games is hugely beneficial to you and your pup. By teaching them to use their nose, you can direct their attention. Either to you or away from something they are very interested in. The easiest way to do this is through the ‘Scatter’ game. Teach this at home to start with. Pick a word or short phrase to mean “there are treats on the floor, sniff them out” – for example, “go sniff”. That’s the cue for your dog to start sniffing. Say the cue and scatter a few treats on the floor. Wait for your puppy to snaffle up the tasty treats. If they look to you and haven’t found all the food, you can help by showing them where to sniff. This reinforces them for looking at you as well.

Practice this a couple of times in low distraction places before taking it on the road. Again, try it first without much going on around. Build it up so that when you say your cue, they look for where the treats could be. Should you have a very friendly puppy, ‘Scatter’ will give them something fun to do while people or dogs go by.

A more focused version of ‘Scatter’ is ‘Find It’. It takes less food and you can use toys for this game. Start by throwing a treat away from your dog and say “find it”. Repeat 2 or 3 times. Next, when you throw the treat, aim for it to land behind an object. This could be a footstool, toy box, or something similar. The point is your pup doesn’t see where the treat fell. Let them know when they are getting close. Again, if they look to you, help them by indicating an area to sniff. You can have a lot of fun by throwing the treat in a box and asking your dog to sniff it out.

Is your dog not interested in food? Use a specific toy and play with your dog when they find it. This can be a great game to play in the park – using natural resources like bushes or downed trees – but be careful not to make them stand on anything slippery or rotten.

A fun party trick for your pup is playing ‘Chase The Ace’. Use plastic cups or small Tupperware pots, just in case it gets broken. With your dog watching, put a treat under one pot. When their nose or paw hits the pot, lift it and let the pup eat the treat. If you have taught them a strong leave, make sure you give them the cue to take the food. When you’ve done this a few times, add in a second pot and repeat. Don’t move the pots, but alternate where the treat goes. Did your dog choose the wrong pot? No worries. Lift the one they indicated and show them there is nothing there. The show them, but don’t let them eat, the treat under the correct pot. Ask them to choose again. When they are reliably choosing the right pot, add in a third. Practice again until they are getting it right every time. Then you can start moving the pots. Introduce this by swapping the empty pots to start with. Get them used to the movement before moving the pot that holds the treat. With enough practice, you can introduce your dog as ‘Puppy The Magnificent’!

All these games give your puppy’s brain a good workout. Make sure whenever you’re using scentwork to keep the session short. They will tire quicker than given the same amount of time walking. End the games when they are getting it right and enjoying themselves. That way, they will be excited to play the game again next time. Happy sniffing!