Sense of smell in dogs

Sense of smell in dogs

For dog owners who really want to take their relationship with their dog to the next level, one of the best ways to do so is to focus on possibly the dog's least appreciated sense... His incredible nose.

It's probably because we don't see the world the way our dogs do. That we don't understand how important the sense of smell is to our dogs, and we, therefore, leave out an opportunity for interaction and stimulation. It is believed that the part of a dog's brain that analyzes odors is 40 times larger than ours - and if you compare our measly 5 million olfactory receptors to a bloodhound's 300 million, you can see that our noses are pretty pathetic in comparison!

The sense of smell is incredibly important to dogs - as important, if not more so, as sight and hearing - and it gives them much more information about their surroundings than we can ever imagine. By incorporating this knowledge into some of our games and training sessions, we can discover a whole new way of interacting with our dogs.

Many scent exercises work best outside, but some can be played indoors or in the backyard so the whole family can be active no matter the weather!

Hide and seek with puppies

This is a combination of scent training and problem solving (some dogs are just trying things out here!). Nonetheless, it's a fun starting point!

  1. Get someone to hold your dog (or ask your dog to wait if he is reliable in this regard).
  2. Walk away and hide somewhere in the house. Don't go too far away at first until your dog gets the hang of this fun new game.
  3. You can put a trail of kibble or treats at first to make it easier for him. Once you're in position, your friend can let go of your dog, who can then use his nose to follow the trail and figure out where you're hiding.
  4. When your dog finds you, you can give him his favorite treat, or play with him if he is more focused on toys.
  5. Following that, you can go somewhere else where there is no fresh scent of you or the treats in the air and try again.

There are many variations of this that you can play outside in the yard and even further away (while doing this, you should have your dog on a long leash if he is not yet listening well to his recall command). One of these variations is to take your dog's favorite toy and really turn your dog on with it.

  1. Then, once again, you can have someone hold your dog so he can't see where you are going.
  2. After that, you can walk away a bit and put the toy on the ground (don't go too far and don't hide it in too heavy a place at first).
  3. Retrace your steps closely back to your dog (this way there is only one scent trail). Then you can let him go and encourage him to find the toy.

Initially, if the toy was still hidden within reach, he may use more than just his nose to find it. However, as you make it harder for him and move a little farther away (always to a new spot), you'll see him follow your scent with his nose - which is always amazing and entertaining to watch!

Find the treats

This is another simple game where you hide treats in a room or in the yard for the puppy to sniff out with his nose.

  1. Again, you can start with obviously placed treats. 
  2. However, then you can start hiding them under a newspaper or a plastic pot, in an old toilet paper or kitchen roll, under a towel, etc... Get creative, but don't hide the treats on sofas or chairs unless you want your dog to play around on your furniture. For this reason, it's best to only hide treats on the floor if you have a dog that is eager to buy or is a proud homeowner!
  3. You can also leave him a trail of treats leading to a fabulous treat like a stuffed Kong toy (which can also be hidden in a difficult spot, like a handleless bucket). Just always make sure everything you do is safe - and that you supervise. You can also encourage your dog by making it a game that you both play together.

This game can also be done in the backyard. Use a sniffing mat for this - or, if you're really lazy, just sprinkle a handful of kibble in the grass and leave your dog to sniff it out.

On a lighter note, it's amazing how many things you can find lying around the house that would normally be thrown away but could turn into a dog toy. Some dogs - often terriers - enjoy tearing apart cardboard tubes, wrapping paper, or lightboxes to get to treats as much as they enjoy sniffing out the treats. So always be on the lookout for things you can use to stimulate your dog and make an interactive dog toy.

Once you've mastered these simple smell games with your dog, you'll start to feel a lot more appreciation for your dog's nose, which is a small miracle. For some dog breeds and owners, these games can become the most fun you have together and give you a whole new way to interact. And often without having to leave the living room!

However, when you go outdoors, remember how incredible a dog's nose is and the important function it plays in helping him understand his world. Therefore, let him take his time sniffing, even if you can't comprehend it!

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