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Boredom Buster: How To Scent Train Your Pooch

Written by Adaptil, published on April 18, 2023

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Have you ever noticed that once your pooch locks onto a smell in the park, it's hard to tear them away? Having an extra good sense of smell is a natural gift that dogs have. Whereas a human's primary senses are eyesight and hearing, a dog's primary sense is being able to smell.

Dog's noses are far more powerful than human noses and, depending on the breed of the dog, they can have up to 100 million (sometimes more) scent receptors in their noses, whereas humans have only 5-6 million!

When trained to use their noses effectively, they are invaluable in situations such as detection of bombs, or human diseases and frequently they are used in search and rescue missions, such as looking for humans in the rubble after an earthquake, for example.

During the world's pandemic, research is being undertaken to see if dogs can be used to detect COVID-19 - and this would be an amazing achievement if successful!


Together, you and your pooch will have spent a lot of time training in all the basic doggy cues. Building on this, training your dog to use their nose to detect a scent can be great fun and will not only build your bond, but will also keep your dog mentally agile and alert!

Here are some fun games that you can play together and build on that amazing natural gift that dogs have:

1. Find the treat

All doggos will be motivated to find a tasty treat!!

  • Let your pooch have a little sniff of the treat first (just in case they don't know what a treat smells like!)
  • Hide the treat somewhere that is not too difficult to start with, so that they can find it easily the first time.
  • Continue the game by hiding the next treat in a slightly more difficult place, like under a cushion - but not in a place that can be damaged by an excitable dog!
  • Vary the number of treats and location each time - perhaps in a different room or even into the garden, where there will be lots of different smells that might distract them.
  • Remember to give them lots of praise and fuss when they are successful. This will encourage them to continue to search for the next one.

Dog's scent education

2. Pick a hand!

Getting your dog to sit on cueis one of the first things you will teach your dog to do so why not combine this with a game of 'Pick the Hand'!

  • Find a nice tasty treat that you know your pooch loves (some dogs like cheese, others like chicken) but you'll know what gets your pooch excited!
  • Take the treat in one hand and hold both hands palm down in front of you. Ask your dog to 'Find It' and when they sniffs and nudges the correct hand, let him have the treat and give him lots of praise.
  • Continue the game, but hide the treat in a different hand each time and say 'Good Find' each time your dog gets it right.
  • You can make it a little more difficult by getting another person to join in so that your dog has more hands to choose from!

3. The container game

Ever try to find a coin hidden under one of three cups? This is the doggy equivalent!

  • Only use containers that your dog cannotbreak.
  • Start by using one container and hide the treat inside or underneath. Let your dog see what you are doing, but move the container around a little, ask him to 'Find It' and praise your dog when they gets the treat from underneath.
  • Next, use two containers, let your dog see which container is hiding the treat.
  • Move the containers around to confuse them a little but then ask them to 'Find it'
  • Once they has chosen the right container with the treat, givethemlots of praise and say 'Good Find' as they eats the treat.
  • Continue adding containers, making it a little more difficult each time.

4. Hide and seek

Our pooches love a game of Hide & Seek! You can lead your dog on a hide and seek trail easily:

  • First, make sure your pet has your scent! Just in case you have a clean shirt that doesn't yet smell like you, give your dog lots of fuss and praise before you start so that they can get your scent!
  • Get your dog to 'sit and stay', while you go out of the room and hide in another part of the house.
  • Get someone else to give the cue'Find', but stay quiet in your hiding place so that they can't hear you, but will have to use their nose to sniff you out.
  • Give lots of praise and a treat when they finds you.
  • Repeat the exercise but hide somewhere different, in a different room for example.
  • Increase the distance each time, and maybe try outside. This may confuse your dog for a little while as there will be lots of different smells around that can be distracting.
  • You could try the same game by hiding their favourite toy, but always remember to praise and give them a treat to encourage them to continue searching.

5. Create some scent trails

Dog scent trails

As the final game, you could lead your pet on a scented treasure trail:

  • Add a food scent to your pooch's favourite toy. This can be a little bit of cream cheese, peanut butter (dog safe!) or another favourite doggy tid-bit with a strong scent. Make sure they sniff the toy to get the scent of the food.
  • The first time you play the game, keep it short and in the same room. Trail the toy a little way across the floor and then hide it.
  • Bring your pooch in the room and ask them to 'Find It'. They will follow the trail to find their toy.
  • Next time, add the same scent to pieces of paper on the floor in a trail, so that they start to follow the scent of the food, leading themto his toy.
  • Another day, repeat this but with fewer pieces of paper - even going outside where there are other smells - until they find the toy.
  • Your dog will, in time, be able to find their toy without a scent trail being laid.
  • Always remember to praise and reward them for a good job well done!

If you think your pooch has a nose for scent games and training, and you want to expand on the great work you have done at home, you might want to consider joining alocalscent or tracker clubfor dogs.

Following our expert tips will help to ensure your bond with your dog goes from strength to strength.

Make sure to join our community for weekly advice from our dog behaviour experts as well as product offers and competitions. 

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