by Barkery Team Member Amber Newsome

A dog’s sense of smell is their strongest sense and often their most underutilized.

Nose work helps prevent dogs from becoming bored and can lead to a calmer and ultimately a more relaxed dog.  You can stimulate your dog’s sense of smell through a variety of methods during feeding, with games and toys, or during a simple walk (or more specifically a “sniff”).

An incredibly simple way to allow dogs to utilize their noses is to throw their kibble in the grass in your backyard.  Dogs are naturally scavengers; throwing their kibble into the grass or creating trails for them to follow with a jackpot at the end of the trail allows them to experience that exploratory part of being a dog.  Make sure to toss their food in a yard space that is safe for your pet – without sharp or potentially harmful objects. You may consider using a Snuffle Mat instead, especially once it gets cold out.  You can purchase them easily or even make them yourself.  The Honest Kitchen website has an easy-to-follow tutorial on how to make your own Snuffle Mat:  https://www.thehonestkitchen.com/blog/diy-make-your-dog-or-cat-a-snuffle-matt/.

The Cup Game is a simple game to play with your dog that will have them smelling and thinking through their choices; both of which are great skills to practice.

To teach this game:

  1. Start by placing a cup that the dog cannot see through with a treat under it in front of your dog.
  2. Wait for your dog to smell and paw at the cup, and then raise the cup to reveal the reward.
  3. Add another cup once your dog understands that pawing at the cup is what makes you reveal the treat.  The second cup should not have anything underneath.
  4. Don’t move the cups around at first.  You want your dog to make the connection that they have to think through which cup has the treat under it first.
  5. You can start mixing up the cups once your dog has a high success rate, and you can add the third cup when your dog is frequently winning.

Keep in mind that the cup game often works best when done with smelly treats.  I always suggest something like beef lungs, the Nulo Trainers, or Primal Beef Nibs.

Even without involved games, there is plenty for your dog to learn and explore! Nature is already full of things for your dog to smell, so sometimes going for a nice “sniff” is all you need to stimulate your dog’s nose.  A sniff is a little different from a walk as the goal is to let your dog relax and explore safely, not just get in a hard workout. Try going out with a 15’ lead instead of a 6’ leash so that your dog can work ahead or fall behind as it pleases.  Bring some smelly treats to hide as you go, and choose a location that will have plenty of wildlife for your dog to track.  The sniff should be relaxing for both human and dog; the only expectations you should have for your dog during a sniff is to just enjoy being a dog.

Whether you teach new tricks or find new games to play, you will find the best forms of mental stimulation  – like going for a “sniff” – allow your dog to just be a dog in a world of rules and expectations.

About the Author
– Amber Newsome has been with the Barkery for three years, previously in Lee’s Summit and now in Brookside. Her previous pet care experience includes shelter work and an apprenticeship with a local dog trainer. Amber enjoys educating pet owners about the value of play and nutrition, as well as spending time with her own dog Zuko and cat Iris.