Nose Work 1 an Introduction to Nose Games

Dogs can’t read books, they don’t watch television, (well at least not for very long), they don’t scrap book, or build things but they still need hobbies!  If a dog’s mind is not entertained, he will find his own hobby to engage in, but often dogs choose inappropriate behavior such as; barking, digging, chewing, ripping up carpeting, eating drywall, chasing children, stealing, and other general naughtiness.

Most often when I hear my clients complain about these behaviors I wonder if the dog is truly mentally and physically stimulated at home.  If I was locked in a room with 4 white walls and one sofa with nothing to do for days on end, sooner or later I would shred the sofa too!  You must find ways to entertain your dog’s mind to help him stay well behaved.

A dog’s sense of smell is 2000 greater than that of a human.  I often liken reading a book or watching a movie to a dog following a scent or even digging through layers of ground scents (although we consider this naughty, each layer of ground has a new and different story for your dog’s nose)

A Dog’s Nose Can Find

Your Dog's Most Powerful Sense

  • Missing Persons
  • Cadavers
  • Disease like cancer cells
  • Seizures
  • Molds
  • Insects like termites
  • Explosives
  • Drugs
  • Fruits and Veggies at customs

It is instinctual for dog’s to use their noses, so I like to teach my dog’s how to use them appropriately and how to play games with their noses.  This is also appropriate to do with multiple dogs, as long as it doesn’t get too competitive.

In Nose Work 1,  we will discuss the basics of teaching you dog to use his sense of smell at home, and later I will discuss different ways to teach your dog to use his nose in his outside world and how to teach him scent discrimination.

How To Get Started

  1. Air pop some popcorn, do not use microwave popcorn with butter or salt; this is too hard on your dog’s kidneys.  Use plain popcorn for this training because it is easy to see, nonfattening, and easy to smell
  2. First I toss some pieces of popcorn on the floor in front of my dogs and say “Find It” .  “Find It” means to use your eyes, nose and ears (if appropriate).
  3. Once your dog is adept at looking around and eating the popcorn, hold his collar or avert his eyes as you toss the popcorn so that he will not see it fall, you can use a helper if you need to, then give him the “Find It” command.If he is having trouble finding it, calmly walk toward the popcorn without leaning over or showing him and wait till he finds it, or back up a step in training. When your dog is clearly looking around and you can hear him sniffing he is ready to move on to the next step.
  4. Next toss a piece of popcorn clearly out of his range of sight but within easy reach if he wanders around; like behind your chair or sofa or around a corner and give him the command.  Again, he should be clearly using his eyes and his nose to search for the popcorn.
  5. Then start hiding the popcorn under things like the table or the edge of the sofa, be careful that he is able to get to the popcorn or he may become frustrated bite the furniture or scratch the carpet.
  6. Next hide things at table or sofa level like on the sofa, a chair, or a book shelf (avoid the kitchen table this time ha ha)
  7. Now begin hiding things on a higher level above his nose level.  He must be taught that things can be found on all levels of his environment or he will give up if he can’t find it easily

Play this game for several days or even weeks until you are sure your dog has grasped the concept and is actively searching, now using mostly his nose to seek his treat.

The next step is to find a unique smell and attach it to an object that can easily be hidden.  I often chose a large rag and salt.  Salt is very easily detected by the canine nose so I soak a large rag (so that it cannot be swallowed) in water and lightly sprinkle with salt.  Do not use too much salt, only a very light sprinkle is needed, remember your dog’s nose is 2000 times stronger than yours!  Now allow the rag to fully dry.

Let your dog sniff the rag then go back to step one by tossing the rag to the floor and saying “Find It”.  Praise him wildly when he races toward the rag, you can also give him a treat.  Go back to the list and work your way down the steps hiding the rag on all levels of your room.

When he becomes adept at finding the rag, I like to teach my dog to lay down as a passive sign that he has found his scent.  As soon as he finds it, have him lay down and reward him so that he realizes that this is a behavior chain: find the rag, then lay down to alert that the rag has been found, and then wait patiently for the treat.

As you are training, move from room to room and never use a particular pattern of which level it can be found on, when he finds it don’t let him grab it, have him lay down and reward him for a passive alert.  This keeps him from ever snatching things that could possibly be dangerous.

As he learns this game, I begin to change the scent.  Much later we can teach him scent discrimination but in the beginning using a few different scents to hide is enough.

I keep my rags in Ziploc bags in the freezer to keep their smell fresh and to keep him from playing this game without me, becoming bored, or associating where I keep these rags with the game.  You need the scent to be as fresh as possible in the beginning.

Have a good time and as he learns and becomes adept at this game make the hiding places more difficult for him to find, this challenges his mind!  This is a great game that can be utilized even when the weather is cold or rainy or you don’t feel like taking him out for physical exercise.  Basic nose games are some of my favorite ways to entertain an active, bored dog that needs a job!

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  1. It was extremely interesting for me to read the article. Thank you for it. I like such topics and everything that is connected to them. I would like to read a bit more soon.


  2. I’m so glad to read about Nose Work! I have been doing something similiar with my Lab/G Shepherd mix and he seems to love it!! I use different types of treats, but just make sure that the scent is on my hand, and I have him sniff my hand, then say “Search” and point to the ground. It’s funny because they sniff really loudly when they are trying to find something. I think it’s extra good for him, HUSKER, because he’s slightly insecure with new places or things, and tends to bark and growl due to what he sees and hears, and hasn’t been using his nose as much as he should. I’ve noticed that since we started Nose games, he sniffs more outside, and sniffs people too.
    Thanks for the article!


  3. Ivana says:

    Thanks for the great tips. My lab, Bruce, always sniffs when we go for a walk. Unfortunately, sometimes he’s nose smells something quite far and he just follows it loosing me. But I think having a rag or something like that, I can get him to look for things I want him to find. I’ll try it.
    Thank you


  4. Linda says:

    I am a CPDT and I have wanted to know how to do this for some time, this will be a great game for some of my clients, maybe any of my clients. Thanks for the tips.


    Minette Reply:

    I am glad you enjoyed it! Sent discrimination is fun too so check out Nose Work II and I need to do one on Tracking! I have found that almost all dogs love at least some form of this game! Its great for the mind!


    linda Reply:

    I would love to view the Nose Work ll, could you please send it to me. I have read some other articals of yours and I find your views in some articles better than what I was taught six years ago, of course I have refind, learned, & read to suit my training style & now I will do some tighting up with your advise. I also agree with you on the child aggressive dog article. Over ten years ago I adopted a four pound, four year old Dash Hound that was afraid of children, as I found out the children that came in the feed store would try to catch him by grabbing his tail, which of course he would bite, I didn’t blame him I would too. Well the first thing I did was pick-up my riding buddy Crystal a ten year old, raised with horses, dogs & cats. In no time “Spike” had no problems with any child, & lived to a happy 15 years.


    Minette Reply:

    There it is, Linda. I am glad you have enjoyed my articles! I love writing and playing with dogs and coming up with your own style is the best way to be successful! Thanks again for reading 🙂

  5. linda says:

    thank U thank U and keep writing great articles and of course playing with dogs.
    OK now I need to read Nose Work 3 and any other of your articles on the subject. Is there a site I can go to or will you just send them by e-mail? I know that you are busy so I want to make it easy for You.
    Thank you


  6. Rick says:

    I enjoy Minette’s articles. IS she a pro trainer and can you direct me to her practice.? Does she have a website? Thank you


    Minette Reply:

    Hi Rick and thank you 🙂

    I am a professional trainer and have been for almost 20 years 🙂 I am always a work in progress though, as is anyone who is good at their job 😀

    I am in VA currently.

    I use to have a website, but they tripled their dues in one year, so I let it go…I need to find a website builder and build another.

    I have done a lot of things working with police and protection dogs, running my own nonprofit to take dogs from shelters and train them for adults and children with disabilities at no charge.

    I have sat on the board of directors of local shelters, and have even worked with big cats and other exotic animals.

    In addition I have managed several dog kennels and spent many years as a vet tech.

    If you have a desire for any other information you can email me at and from there I can give you more information 🙂

    Thank you


  7. Teri says:

    Thank you for this! I wanted to start something with my huskey/lab as he uses his nose quite a lot. It’s funny, but he won’t do his “business” unless he has something to sniff while doing so.. Quite often he will search for a while before selecting the place that he wants to sniff while he “does”.

    I call it looking for his newspaper.


  8. polyniki says:

    Thank you so much for the great tips. I would like to ask you for a piece of advice. I have just started scent work with my dog. I stuff a ball with cheese, let her sniff and play with it a while, and then I drop the ball in the garden without her seeing me. I ask her to find it, she sniffs and when she finds it she gets treats. However, the ball is always close to me, it is very smelly, and she sniffs all around the place – yesterday she was practically exactly above the ball with her muzzle and ignored it.

    From you experience, would you say she hasn’t realised yet that she has to find that smell, and maybe when she does find the ball it is coicidence? Does it take more practice, or am I doing something wrong?

    I would be really grateful for a tip! Thank you in advance.


  9. Helen Mitchell says:

    My 9 year old doxie suddenly went blind in December from SARDS. A vet behaviorist that I consulted recommended that I do some scent work with her as animal enrichment. Can you make some recommendations as to how to adapt your techniques to help her?


    Minette Reply:

    Scent work is about the nose, it doesn’t require eyes at all. introduce to the scent and then slowly begin to hide the scent… easy at first and then as your dog understands you can make it more difficult


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