It’s hot out there! This week’s heat wave has forced many of us back indoors (as if we weren’t spending enough time in the house already…) and has made afternoon walks and trips to the park a bit less appealing. If you’re looking for ways to release some of your dog’s pent-up energy, encourage them to follow their nose in these rewarding, mentally stimulating indoor games.
Why Scent Games?
Dogs have extremely sensitive noses, and they experience much of the world around them through their sense of smell. Hiding treats or a specific odor around the house can help them engage their senses, enrich their minds, and keep them mentally stimulated while they’re indoors. A good mental workout is often more tiring than physical exercise, and is a great way to build communication and teamwork between you and your dog.
If your dog has a great nose and a love of finding things, they might enjoy moving forward with training that focuses on utilizing their senses. There are a variety of sports that allow you to team up with your dog to find odors. From Nosework and Tracking to Barn Hunt, there are a variety of scent-sational activities that you can train your dog to compete in! If you'd like more information about training for these specific sports, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Starting Simple: Which Hand?
A game you’ve probably played yourself (without using your nose, of course) that can be just as fun for your dog! In this simple game, put a treat in one hand and present both closed hands to the dog. Ask them “Which Hand?” and let them use their nose to sniff out the treat. As your dog gains more understanding of the game, you can insist on a nose bump or a paw tap as their “alert” to identify the correct hand. If your dog guesses the wrong hand, show them the hand with the right treat, add some dramatic hand gestures as you rearrange your hands, and let them try again!
The shell game, a swindling trick that you might see in movies or in your local park, can be recreated in your own home (betting is optional, but we won’t judge). Using identical dog bowls, dishes, or cups, hide a treat under one and let your dog watch as you shuffle the cups around. To start, let your dog knock over the cups and try to find the treat. To increase difficulty, wait for them to indicate on a particular cup before revealing their reward. If they pick the wrong cup, show them where the treat is and shuffle them again.
Hidden Treat Obstacle Course
Creating an obstacle course of open boxes is a great way to get your dog searching and engage their mind and body. If you’ve been doing a bit of quarantine shopping, you probably have a few Amazon boxes lying around that can be utilized for a fun game of treat hunting.
Fold the top flaps of boxes in so that they are open containers, and place them around the room you want to work in. You can put some boxes up high, like on a couch, and under chairs or tables so that your dog has to work to find the treat. To being, wander around the room and drop a high-value treat into an open box. Your dog will hear the treat fall, and then can use their nose to source it. As your dog begins to understand the game, you can hide treats more quickly so that they are motivated to search through the containers quickly. As you near the end of your session, allow your dog to go back and search the remaining boxes for any treats they haven’t found yet.
In this video, Biscuit, a Harmony School puppy, learns to follow his nose in his first experience with treat hunting.
Hide & Seek
For the dogs who only have eyes for you, Hide & Seek might be their new favorite game! This game is fun, but it can also help your dog learn some important life skills. By asking your dog to stay until called, you can help teach them a strong out-of-sight stay. You can also use this game to improve recall skills. This will be a rather on-sided game of Hide & Seek. You will do all of the hiding, and your dog will do the seeking. To play, put your dog in a stay (or leave them with a family member—you can take turns hiding!) and leave the room. If you’re working with another family member, they can give the command (example: “Find Dad!”) or you can call the dog. You might just use the dog’s name “Fluffy! Come find me!” or you can get creative with something like “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” The dog will hear you to get your general direction, and then will use their nose to find your exact hiding spot. Great places to hide in the house include under the bed, in the closet, or in shower.
We hope these beginner scent games will help you and your dog stay cool and occupy your time indoors!