Scenting Fun for the Pet Dog

An empty cardboard box with a treat placed inside can become a fun and creative mind game for your dog. Photo credit: Fran Jewell Photo credit: Fran Jewell

By Fran Jewell

Many dog owners believe that their dog needs physical exercise every day. Owners seem to think that their dog needs to run and play with other dogs every day, as well. It is true that dogs need exercise to enrich their lives and to help many high-activity dogs be calmer around the house. Exercise definitely reduces boredom-related behavior problems.

The fallacy is that exercise must be physical. Working dogs, especially cattle dogs, herding dogs like border collies and Aussies, are extremely intelligent and need more than just a run to clear their head. However, ANY dog can become a better dog when using directed and fun workouts! Walks are always good for a dog to use their nose and get exercise. However, the downside to everyday walks is that daily physical exercise tends to build an athlete that needs more and more exercise to take the edge off. Secondly, walks tend to encourage non-directed, frenetic behavior. Sometimes we all need that. However, changing activities is even more enriching. Another downside to walks is that it puts pressure on a dog that might not be very social, to be social. Walks can also put any dog in danger of an aggressive dog that is not under control.

Almost every dog, however, needs more focus and direction to be happy. Smart dogs need things to engage their minds, not just their bodies. This is where providing scenting games for your dog can be of huge value. Scenting games can also increase the confidence of a dog that shows fearful tendencies. These games can also be done inside when the weather is terrible or if you don’t have time to take an hour walk to take your dog’s edge off. Games using a dog’s nose can also enhance your relationship with your dog and help you to remain creative. It’s a win-win for everyone!

How can you do this? Think outside the bowl! Make every mealtime become a game. Try taking a blanket just scattered on the floor with lots of folds. Place your dog’s kibble inside the folds and let him find his breakfast. Throw kibble out into the backyard in the grass and let him find all those pieces. Put your dog in the bathroom while you hide special treats around, in, or on furniture. Then, let him go find it. I will make hardboiled eggs cut into quarters in the backyard and let my dogs go find and eat the eggs.

There are lots of wonderful kibble-dispensing toys that exercise your dog’s mind. When the kibble falls out, then the nose works to find the food.

I also like to place treats or kibble inside any kind of box, material grocery bags, and even egg crates. Putting his head in a box can be intimidating for a shy or fearful dog.  But, with practice and a yummy treat, he will be lavishly rewarded for his brave behavior! To make the box problem more difficult for a smart dog, close the top that is easy for the dog to open. You can even stack boxes with the treat in the bottom box so your dog has to problem-solve by removing the upper boxes to get to the box with the food.

When going for a walk, I also like to leave my dog in the car at the trailhead. Walk ahead aways and place treats along the path for him to find. When I had two search-and-rescue dogs, this is part of how I taught finding articles. I would go ahead on a walk and place things like a wallet, socks, or maybe a glove. It was so easy to combine fun with training.

Special, highly smelly treats can be cut up, like cheese, eggs as I said above, or cut-up deli meat (uncured is best). Boiled and cut-up chicken or liver can be very scent worthy and healthy!

The idea is to enrich your dog’s life and your relationship by using your dog’s natural gift — his nose. You are limited only by your creativity. Think outside your dog’s bowl!

Fran Jewell is an IAABC Certified Dog Behavior Consultant, NADOI Certified Instructor and the owner of Positive Puppy Dog Training, LLC in Sun Valley. For more information, visit or call 208-578-1565.

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