Simple Nose Work Game for Dogs

Dogs have a great sense of smell, nose work encourages dogs to use their noses in fun ways.

Created: 3/18/2020 Updated: 1/19/2024 - Shelley Audis-Riddell

behaviour, Behaviour & Training, dogs, Health & Wellbeing, puppy, senior, training

Dogs have an amazing sense of smell and are never happier than when they are sniffing and locating something interesting. We can make our dogs use their noses much more by introducing fun and interactive sniffer games. Nose work games encourage concentration and keep your dog mentally stimulated and exercised.

For the beginners: 'Find It'

Nose work games should be easy, to begin with, so that your dog can learn the rules of the game. Start by placing some treats on the floor. Point towards the treats on the floor and say 'find-it' just as your dog investigates the floor for the treats. Repeat this exercise until your dog starts to investigate the floor when you say 'find-it'. Once your dog understands the need to start searching for treats when you say 'find-it', you can stop pointing towards the treat. This will only take your dog a couple of attempts.

As your dog becomes an expert at finding the treat, you can make the game more challenging by spreading the treats out further or placing them in different places around your house and garden. Introducing varied 'find-it' situations will keep your dog challenged.

Searching for a meal

Make mealtimes more interesting and fun for your dog by scatter feeding their meal or hiding food parcels for them to find around the house and garden. Remember to tell your dog to 'find-it', so that they understand what do to. Start by making the game nice and simple by showing your dog the direction of the hidden parcels or scattered food. Keep the search area small to begin with, then gradually increase the area by spreading the food further away.

Terrier puppy sniffing the grass

For the expert sniffer dog: making it more challenging

As your dog becomes an expert at the nose work games, it is a good idea to increase the difficultly so that your pet doesn't become bored and disinterested. Here are some ideas to help keep the games fun and interesting:

  • Try scattering treats on different surfaces. Outside, you could try hiding them in long grass, under leaves, in a sand pit, or amongst stones. Inside, you could try placing them on a surface where the treat would be harder to see such as wooden or beige flooring.

  • Start introducing 'find-it' food games on a walk. This can be a good way to keep your dog under control on a walk and can be played both on and off the lead.

  • Hide treats inside other objects, for example within the layers of a blanket, or inside a box filled with paper. You could try sprinkling some treats in a bowl of water for your dog to fish out!

  • Introduce some toys for your dog to find. Make sure you use a different command such as 'where's your toy?' or 'fetch'. This is so your dog knows what you are asking them to find.

  • Develop your dog's 'find-it' skills by introducing a 3-D environment, making use of both low and high hiding places. A chair or bucket provide good starting places. You could then try a shelf, or even leave some hanging on a branch!

Dog and owner walking through autumn leaves

The Plant Pot Game

Teaching your dog to find a treat from under a set of plant pots can be great fun for dog and owner. The object of the game is for your dog to work out which plant pot has the treat under. It doesn't have to be plant pots – any set of containers will do. Old cardboard boxes, food containers or sieves are just as good, as long as they have a hole in the top to allow your dog to smell the hidden treat.

How to play the game:

  1. Start with 3 plant pots evenly spaced out.

  2. The plants pots need holes in the top, so your dog can smell the treat.

  3. Place a few treats under one of the pots. This will be the reward you give your dog.

  4. Try not to let your dog see you put the treats under the pot.

  5. Let your dog go over to the pots and investigate them.

  6. Watch your dog carefully. Your dog's behaviour will show you when he has found the pot with the treats inside. He may muzzle the pot, scratch the pot or wag his tail harder than usual. He may also sit, whine or bark at the pot.

  7. When you see your dog's attention directed towards the correct pot, lift it up and allow your dog to take the reward.

  8. Next time put the treat under a different pot.

  9. As your dog gets better at the game, you can try to make it harder by adding more pots to investigate, increasing the distance between the pots or playing the game in different places.

Jack Russell dog nose

The Tray and Ball Game

Teaching your dog to find treats under half cut tennis balls on a Yorkshire pudding tray can be great fun. It's a cheaper version of an interactive toy!

How to play the game:

  1. Start by placing treats in some of the sections of the pudding tray.

  2. Place tennis balls over each of the sections of the pudding tray.

  3. Then let your dog investigate the tray and work out which tennis balls have treats underneath.

  4. You may need to encourage your dog to work at the balls by showing them that there are treats hidden underneath.

  5. Then help them to work out how to retrieve the treats by showing them how to remove one or two of the balls.

Do you need further advice?

If you need any further advice, please contact the OSCAR Helpline Team on our freephone number 0800 195 8000 or email