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6 Nose Work Games for Dogs You Can Play Today!

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By Misty Layne

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You know your favorite pup needs walks, runs, and doggie play time to stay healthy and happy. But that isn’t all your dog needs; canines must also stay mentally stimulated, or they might get bored and resort to destructive behaviors. You don’t want to come home to find your pet chewing on all your favorite shoes, and you certainly want them to stay happy. But how can you give your dog more mental stimulation in its life?

By providing it with stimulating activities! And some of the best activities that stimulate your pup mentally are nose work games. What are nose work games? Just what they sound like—these games are designed to challenge your pup to use its sniffer.1 And utilizing nose work games creates a win-win situation—your dog is engaged and having fun, and you don’t have to worry about a bored canine getting into mischief!

Check out these six games if you’re unsure where to start with nose work games. All of them are easy to play and will enable you and your favorite four-legged pal to have some seriously fun bonding time!

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The 6 Nose Work Games for Dogs

1. Find It

This nose work game is very simple, so it might be one you want to start off playing. And chances are you’ve already played this one with your dog! How does it work? You toss a treat on the floor near your pup and let it find its snack. This game is fairly easy for dogs, so you can up the ante over time by using smaller treat pieces or tossing treats further away, so it isn’t in your pet’s line of sight. This will encourage your dog to use its nose rather than its eyes to find the treat.

This game can also be good as a warm-up to more challenging games such as cups or empty boxes!

dog sniffing the ground
Image Credit: algae, Shutterstock

2. Cups

When you hear “cup game”, you probably think about those street games where a ball is hidden beneath a cup, and the cups get swapped around. This nose work game is the same thing. Like the street game, you’ll need to have three cups placed upside down on a flat surface that your pet can reach, like a coffee table. Put a treat beneath one of the cups, then move them around until they’re all mixed up and no longer in their original position.

Then let your pup sniff at the cups to determine which cup holds the treat! If your dog gets it right, it gets the treat. If not, simply try switching the cups up again. This nose work game is a bit more advanced than some of the others on this list, so you might want to start with a simpler game and work your way up to this one.

3. Empty Boxes

If you have a bunch of boxes lying around, this nose work game is an excellent one to play. You’ll need a handful of boxes (preferably cardboard, though any kind of box will work as long as it isn’t see-through).

To begin, you’ll place the boxes around a room and leave them with the tops open. Place a treat in one box, then give your dog the opportunity to sniff around until it finds the treat. And then, of course, let your pup eat the treat!

Once your dog has accomplished finding the treat this way several times, you can make the game more difficult by closing the boxes or placing something on top of them to act as lids. Then, when your pet finds the correct box, you can give it the treat.

cardboard boxes
Image Credit: Alexas_Fotos, Pixabay

4. Guess Which Hand

And yet another game you might have already played with your favorite pup is this one. All that’s required here is grabbing a few treats, putting one in your hand (where your dog can’t see which hand it’s in), then presenting both hands to your pet, so it’s able to figure out which hand holds the treat.

Most dogs will signal which hand they think the treat is in by pawing, licking, or sniffing at it. Once your pet has chosen, open your hand to let it see if it’s correct. As with all nose work games, if your dog is correct, let it have its treat. If incorrect, let your pup try again!

Also, remember to switch up hands randomly so your dog doesn’t begin to think the treat is always in one certain hand, and so it doesn’t recognize a pattern of where the treat will be.

5. Hide-and-Seek

Hide-and-seek is probably the most difficult game on this list, but it’s also a lot of fun and will help train your dog’s nose well! And yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like.

You’ll need more than one person for hide-and-seek, as one person is necessary to keep hold of your dog while the other hides. To start, have the dog handler tell your pup to sit and stay. Then, have the hider go hide. Begin with easy spots to find when you’re the hider, such as beneath a table; you can work your way up to the back of the closet and harder places as your dog gets the hang of the game. When the hider is ready to be found, call the dog by saying something like “Find me!”. The hider will also need treats on hand to give your pup when it’s located its target.

Once your dog understands the game, you can make the hiding spots more challenging or even take the game outside to the backyard. Plus, this is a game the kids will love playing, so be sure to include them!

woman palying hide and seek with her dog in the woods
Image Credit: TeamDAF, Shutterstock

6. Muffin Tin Game

If you have a muffin tin handy, you’ll find that the muffin tin game is very simple to play. Just take your muffin tin, place a few treats in some of the cups, and let your dog go to town trying to figure out which cups have the treats. It couldn’t be easier!

However, you’ll eventually want to make the game more challenging by adding barriers to the cups (tennis balls typically work well!). Much like  you buy, the point is for your dog to figure out where the treats are and then how to remove the barrier.

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Nose work games are a fun and easy way to both train your dog’s  and have a great time hanging out with your pup. There are many excellent nose work games you can try—ideally, begin with the simpler ones, then work your way up to harder ones (like hide-and-seek!). Not only will your pet get to work its nose, but it will also enjoy the mental stimulation that comes with nose work games (and you’ll avoid any bored behaviors that could turn destructive!).


Featured Image Credit: olginaa84, Pixabay

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