If you’re looking for something to challenge your dog and engage his brain, nose games are the perfect solution.
Dog’s naturally excel at nose games and because they stimulate the mind, elevate boredom, help burn excess energy, they help prevent unwanted destructive behaviors such as, barking, chewing, digging, household destruction, etc. Every day, dogs use their incredible sense of smell to locate missing persons, diseases, mold, drugs, termites, explosives, fruits, vegetables and more.
By harnessing their natural sniffing instinct and incorporating it into the training you provide at home, you are providing your dog with an outlet to use their nose, hone their skills, and participate in a meaningful activity.
Step one-introducing the Find It Command
Teaching your dog to use his nose starts very basic by teaching the Find It command. Find it is fairly straight forward. All it requires is choosing a fragrant dog treat and tossing it on the floor and when your dog goes for the treat, give the command Find It.
When the dog picks it up, click/praise and treat. After your dog connects the cue word, Find It with locating the treat, begin challenging your dog to find the treat by holding his leash and tossing the treat where he can’t see it fall but within close proximity, not across the room.
Give the Find It command and allow the dog to search for the treat. If he doesn’t find it you can lead him with his leash and let him sniff around for it. When your dog clearly understands this step and begins to actively search for the treat, you can move on to the next challenging step. Toss the treat out of site, but clearly accessible, such as around a corner, behind a bush, etc. The treat should be easily within his range but he will have to look for it. Give the Find It command and allow him to search for the treat. As he searches, make it more challenging yet still rewarding by moving the treat around, placing it under the table, behind a piece of furniture, under a desk, a chair, etc.
Once your dog has mastered finding things on the ground, begin to raise them up higher (above nose level) so that he now has to use his nose to locate the treat on a higher level. Practice this and intermittently lower the treat so that your dog learns to search for things on all levels. Practice this however long it takes until your dog has learned the concept that he is searching with his nose for the treat.
Training tip: Always make sure he can find the treat to keep the game fun and prevent frustration and use fragrant high value treats your dog enjoys searching for.
Step two-increasing the challenge
After your dog has mastered step one, the next step is to introduce a new smell, such as a drop of essential oil, a sprinkle of spice, etc. on a rag that is large enough it cannot be swallowed. Using this object, go back to step one and toss the object on the floor and teach your dog to Find It. Follow all the steps, increasing the challenge until your dog masters this step.
Step three-teach your dog to signal he’s found it
After one and two are mastered, you can teach your dog to signal you when he’s found the object. You can do this by searching with him and when he finds the object, give him a sit or down command and have him wait for a treat. Keep practicing until he understands to signal you rather than pick up the object. This is a great indoor training activity but can also be trained outdoors. Once your dog has mastered Find It and can locate various objects with different scents, the next step is to teach scent discrimination, which is in another article.