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A Nose for Work

by Dennis ODonnell on April 29, 2020

Nose work capitalizes on a dog’s natural desire to sniff! Their noses are made to work: they have 300 million olfactory receptors that make them 10,000 times better at smelling than we are! Nose work lets her exercise those skills while having fun with her favorite person!

Training facilities offer nose work courses, but not everyone has access (or can afford) to take a class. Luckily, your dog can get all the benefits of nose work in your backyard with a handful of kibble. Hint: Measure the amount of kibble you use when playing these games and decrease your dog’s dinner time serving accordingly to prevent weight gain.

These games–in ascending difficulty–will help your dog learn how to “play” nose work.

Treat Toss

If your backyard is a distracting place — squirrel! — keep your dog on leash for this first game. Otherwise, have your dog sit facing you. With your dog watching, toss some kibble a few feet away, then release your dog with a cue like, “Find it!” Let your dog dash over and gobble up the treats. It seems simple enough, but you’re getting your dog used to the idea that there’s food she’s looking for! Once she has a hang of it and dashes back to you to sit and wait for the next toss, move to the intermediate game.

Find It

With your dog in a sit and stay (or wait or whatever you use) and watching you, walk a few feet away and make a show of hiding kibble. Your dog will obviously see where you put it, which reinforces the concept while increasing the difficulty. Walk back to your dog and release her with the cue, “Find it!” Since she saw where you hid it, she’ll dash over and collect the reward. Play this several times increasing the distance of the hide and the duration of time you make her wait. Once she gets it, move to the difficult game.

Go Find It

With this tough game, repeat the steps from Find It… Except don’t let your dog watch where you hide the treat! Stay close at first; help her with some easy hides, and as she gets proficient make it more difficult. For sniffing experts, you can even have your pup wait inside the house while you hide something in the yard (let her sniff it first so she knows what she’s looking for). My dog Cooper does this, and when I release him, he tears off at top speed, nose to the ground! He finds the toughest spots super fast!

It’s an enriching, instinctive game for your pup, but remember to keep it fun and light, especially at first. Give lots of praise for effort and even more for success!


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