TAKE TIME TO STOP AND SMELL THE ROSES
Know how to make your dog supremely happy and tire him out at the same time? That’s right - slow down and allow your dog to sniff on walks. By giving your dog more opportunities to use their powerful sense of smell, they will undoubtedly enjoy their walk more. They will also be more stimulated, gain more confidence, and ultimately, be more tired and relaxed.
On at least one walk per day, give them time to stop and smell to their heart’s content. Not only does sniffing open up a whole world to your dog, it is one of the main ways they communicate, and the mental stimulation is tiring for them too. Sniffing the environment is part of your dog's experience of the world—and we should give our pets the space to be their own authentic selves, embracing their nature and their instincts. You could reward short stretches of loose-leash walking or heeling with frequent sniff breaks. Teach a “go sniff” cue when it’s time for the break, so your dog knows it’s okay to relax and catch some odors.
It is important to remember just how powerful our dog's noses are. They could be up to 100,000 times more sensitive than our own. A common quote is that a dog would be able to sniff out a single drop of blood from an area as large as an Olympic-sized swimming pool! Their sense of smell is crucial for communicating, exploring, and evaluating.
Dogs have been bred to work alongside us; teaching them to use their natural talent of smell keeps them happy and entertained. It gives them a feeling of purpose. Dogs thrive when they feel like they have a job to do; and it’s even better when it’s something as simple as teaching them to sniff things out for you (nose work). Nose work games are the perfect choice. Dogs love having a job to do, something to keep their minds busy.
If the weather’s not cooperating, there are some easy games you can play with your pooch indoors. The most important thing to remember when teaching your dog some basic nose work games is to keep it fun. Dogs can get discouraged if they don’t know exactly what you’re expecting them to do; don’t be afraid to help nudge them along in the right direction.
Probably the easiest nose work game is “Which Hand?” First start with some high-value (irresistible) treats. Put a small piece of food or treat inside one of your hands and close your fists while your dog is watching. Present your dog with both hands and ask him “which hand?” If your dog doesn’t have great manners and begins to gnaw or scratch at your hand, don’t open your hands until he sits.
Praise him when he lightly nudges, puts his nose on your hand, or paws at the correct hand – whichever behavior you prefer.
If your dog chooses the wrong hand, open up both hands to show him where the treat is. Don’t give him the treat if he chooses the wrong hand, but don’t scold him either. Just close your fists and try again. When he gets it right give him a ton of praise and reward him with the treat.
“Find It” is a nose game that easily lends itself to indoors or out. Here’s how to play “Find It” with your dog:
Pick some smelly treats or a favorite toy to have your dog find. Have your pup sit and stay. Show them the treat in your hand, then go place it somewhere your dog can see. Then say “Find it!” as their cue to hunt. As they get better at it, place some treats in obvious spots, and some in more challenging locations such as under rugs or behind a chair leg. Playing this game outside in the grass is also fun. Encourage them as they run around finding treats. If they’re missing some you can point or give them clues.
This is an excellent activity for less mobile dogs that may be on restricted exercise, and it can also be a useful tool for helping nervous dogs to feel more relaxed and confident.
On a rainy day, you can still do this sort of activity on a smaller scale with the use of a snuffle mat indoors. These are usually mats that have felt "grass" strands tied through them, and you can bury your dog's food or treats into them to sniff out.
If you like doing this with your dog, perhaps you would enjoy checking out the sport of Scent Work.
The key thing to remember is that sniffing is one of the most important things to a pup and is part of what keeps them happy in life. Meaningful play is important to your dog and it helps build a better bond. It’s different than regular game of fetch – nose work is mentally stimulating.
So, next time you are out on a walk with your dog, don't get impatient when they want to stop and sniff; embrace it and let them sniff away! You might just find you have a happier dog as a result.