Nosework games

September 24, 2019

Nosework is an activity that allows your dog to use their natural desire to track. It harnesses a dog's unique ability to detect scent and determine the source. In this post I will put together the games that we have shared on social media before. These games provide a very easy way to challenge your dogs brain! If dogs can solve them successfully they will:


- Stimulate their brain activity leaving them tired and satisfied
- Increase their concentration
- Increase their self confidence


1. Treat Search


We start with an easy one: the TREAT SEARCH! Start in an environment that has little distractions for your dog and where he or she feels completely at ease. The general idea is very simple: you scatter treats that your dog has to find by using his nose. As you will see on the image below you can then easily differentiate basis the level of experience and attention span of your dog:


1. Easy - have a few treats in your hand, scatter them close together on an easy surface, such as concrete or low grass.

2. Intermediate - scatter the treats where there is no/less vision such as high grass

3. Hard - place the treats on different levels. Best is to have your dog away from the area when you more carefully place the treats so they really only have their nose to guide them (and don't remember from vision where you put them)


Once your dog has had some successes at any level, you can increase the amount of treats or scatter them over a larger area. However, please remember it is very important that your dog is successful!!! He or she has to be able to find all the treats and not get bored or frustrated. Hence start with a small amount and make it easy. It's like a sudoku for people - you don't provide a new player with a 5 star puzzle. This will not make them enthusiastic about the game and they will feel bad about themselves. Instead you start with a level 1 and gradually build from there.

Treat searches never get old / boring for dogs. Stay creative, especially once dogs feel comfortable doing this game outside of their own environment the sky is the limit. Here for example is Ney enjoying a treat search scattered / placed on cut down trees:



2. The Banana Pine Cone


Nosework game 2, the "banana pine cone", is also very easy for both owner and dog. Of course the banana can be replaced by something else that your dog loves. Do supervise your dog as he/she shouldn't eat the actual pine cone.



3. Treat rope ball


Nosework game 3, the "treat rope ball". The ball on the image is purchased from K-mart. I use this ball as it's a very safe and sturdy tool for this game. But of course you can choose anything that you can push a treat in to keep it stuck and/or hidden.

The easy variant is to have treats that "stick out" so your dog can easily pull the treats out with his teeth (though for the shorter nosed breeds this can be challenging enough already). The next step up is to have treats that you push in between the ropes, or even under a string of rope.

Start easy, and realize that different treats can lead to different levels of determination!



4. Muffin Tray


Nosework game 4, the "muffin tray". The basic idea is simple: take a muffin tray, put some treats in there and cover the holes up with tennis balls or of course something else.

As you can see any breed can do this, big or small, as they can use either their teeth, nose or paws to remove the obstacles. When you play this game the first time, leave some spots uncovered so the dog knows there are treats involved and has some success straight away.



5. Towel Burrito


The last nosework game is called the "towel burrito".

For the easy option, make sure some treats are already up for grabs to start with success and really engage your dog. If the dog doesn't seem to get it you can unroll the towel a little in front of his nose. Give him some time to try and figure it out himself first though!

The hard version can of course be adapted. Fold the towel just once at the start, and make it harder from there. It still surprises me how few dogs there are that just lift the whole towel up in the air... seems like the easiest solution to me. Perhaps your dog will be that smart...?


 Wishing your dogs loads of fun with these simple games that can be tailored to fit your dogs ability.


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Dog Behaviour Consultant

Motueka, New Zealand



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