Scent Games with your Dog – Training You Can Do At Home

The weather in Toronto can be described in one word: SHIT!

Toronto, ON - 7 Day Forecast - Environment Canada


That pretty much sums up the past 3 weeks, and apparently the next few more. This cold weather has been as hard on the dogs, as it has for me. Keeping them warm, and as comfortable as possible, while getting their exercise in can be a challenge. The younger dogs, especially, need a lot more activity than the older ones. During the freezing temperatures, more time is spent inside, working their brain! This is just as exhausting, if not more, than physical exercise. You’d be surprised!

With Duke entering my life full time, as my forever dog, I quickly noticed his incredible sense of scent. Dobermans’ are known working dogs, and have a very keen sense of smell.

Your average dog’s nose is tens of thousands of times as sensitive to odors as yours.

Dogs’ sense of smell overpowers our own by orders of magnitude—it’s 10,000 to 100,000 times as acute, scientists say. Dogs can detect some odours in parts per trillion.

What does that mean in terms we might understand?
According to the book, Inside of a Dog, Alexandra Horowitz, a dog-cognition researcher at Barnard College, while we might notice if our coffee has had a teaspoon of sugar added to it, a dog could detect a teaspoon of sugar in a million gallons of water, or two Olympic-sized pools worth. Another dog scientist compared their ability to catching a whiff of one rotten apple in two million barrels.

Experts have reported incredible true stories about the acuteness of dogs’ sense of smell. There’s the drug-sniffing dog that “found” a plastic container packed with 35 pounds of marijuana submerged in gasoline within a gas tank.

There’s the black lab stray from the streets of Seattle that can detect floating orca scat from up to a mile away across the rough waters of Puget Sound. Read about it!

Here are a couple fun and easy games you can play with your dog, to get you and your dog introduced to scent detention.


All of these games stress reliance on his nose, not his eyesight.


To avoid confusing your dog, trainers recommend you choose one word which indicates food or dog toys (I’ve started using “SEEK”), and a completely different word for objects with human scent or people themselves (I use “FIND IT”). By doing this, the dog is always clear about WHAT he’s looking for with his nose and will not confuse food scents with human scent. One of the most common problems with using food to teach scent discrimination or tracking is that you must ultimately teach the dog that the food is not what you really meant at all!

Now for the games!


This is the simplest of all games.
1. With food or a toy in only one hand, present both closed hands to the dog.
2. Ask him, “Which one?”

You may improve upon this game by insisting he touch with a paw or scratch lightly at the correct hand before receiving his treat, or simply have his nose bump your hand.
If he gets it wrong, show him the correct hand but DO NOT give the treat. Just try again.

Add lots of dramatic flair to this – dogs love a good show.

This one is great fun for the dog.
1. Show your dog a treat (preferably crunchy) or his favorite toy
2. then place it out of his sight but easily accessible in a dark room.
3. Tell him to SEEK – follow him in to listen for his success which you will praise enthusiastically.

Obviously, the rewards for the dog are multiple – he gets a treat or finds his toy plus a very happy dog parent.   If using a toy, be sure to reward his find with some play before starting again.

When multiple treats or toys are used, this particular game helps to build persistence and trust in the handler. The dog may initially find only 2 out of 3 treats, but he quickly discovers that persistence in searching when you give the SEEK command pays off. He learns to believe you – there really is another one there!

You can increase the difficulty of LIGHTS OUT by hiding the cookies in less accessible places (like in a shoe, or placed on a low shelf.) This can be practiced outdoors as well as in your car, or a parking lot or anywhere else- be creative!

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