Have you come across this activity for dogs yet?  The first time I really heard of it was through a community education flyer at a local college.  I’m a sucker for anything that has to do with dogs, so I signed up for the class.  Not only do I have dogs who I love to try new things on, but I also love to help others find new activities they can enjoy with their dogs.

This was really fun!   It wasn’t a class where you bring your own dog. That might have been a little chaotic.  It was, however, a demonstration of this activity with dogs that were both familiar with the games and totally new to them.

So what are the games??

The official name is K9 Nose Work.  It was developed to give household pets and their owners ways to use the dog’s natural scent abilities to develop scent detection skills.  Dogs learn to search for and find specific odors and get rewarded when they succeed.

The games start out easy, where basically a 2-year-old child could find them, but the difficulty is raised as the dog gets better at the search.  Different scents are used, how well hidden the scented object is gets more difficult, and the places change along with adding other smells that are not the object of the search.

This can start out in your living room, and progress to places like cars, campers and sheds. It can be on a nice sunny day in the backyard, or in the pouring rain.  The ways to make it a different adventure each time are endless.

Why play these games with your dog?

THEY ARE FUN! It is a joy to see a dog succeed and have his enthusiasm increase as he starts to understand the game.  It is like re-living the childhood game of hide and seek, but instead of you hiding behind obstacles, you get to hide toys, treats or just items that have the scent on them, and stand back to watch your dog go at it!

Did I mention it’s a great way for your dog to burn off excess mental and physical energy?  This is a great activity for a dog to use all the skills he has, to find a reward he realllly wants. Most dogs enjoy the games because they are allowed to do what dogs do best. The games can be played anywhere and under almost any weather conditions (which can increase the difficulty).  You can create obstacles, hiding places and items to find out of every day things around your house.  Or you can go pro (or unique) and buy some of the items here.

Almost any dog can participate, because the search is at the dog’s pace.  Older dogs can take it slower, while younger pups can race through the game.  How long the game lasts depends on the difficulty and the number of targets the dog needs to find.

You can go ANYWHERE!  Your backyard, your living room, the park.  I would just suggest you have one dog at a time do the search.  You don’t need to add competition when trying to find treats and treasures. It could turn into a battle.

How do you start?

Start small and easy.  You want this to be fun for your dog, not frustrating.  Get a yummy treat or toy and some boxes of all sizes (start with ones without lids).  Let your dog watch you place the treat/toy (called the hide) in the box and move the boxes around. If you don’t have someone else there to hold the dog back while you do this, you can put him in a crate in the room. You want him to figure out the game.

Let him loose and watch him look in the boxes to find the hide!  Most dogs will figure this out quickly.  Their sense of smell is over 40 times better than humans, so they can find smells over great distances, through water and even underground! These games will help a dog refine his scent skills and allow him to do doggy things with permission!

Try doing the same level, but moving the boxes around, keeping the treat in the same box for now, but in different places.  The treat will leave behind a scent, so while we are trying to make it easy for the dog, keeping it in the same box will keep the scent in only one place.  Once the dog has found the hide, reward with more treats or a short play session with the toy.

Once he has mastered this, you can add difficulty.  Add more boxes, or other types of containers.  Spread the boxes out over a larger area or bring the game to a new location.

What about competitions?

There are competitions for dogs, at three different levels, using three different scents to find, with four different components. If you want to compete, I would suggest you get into a nose work training class, because instead of looking for treats, at the competition level the dog needs to find specific odors.

Before he can even compete, he must pass an Odor Recognition Test (ORT).  The odors that determine the level of competition are (1) birch, (2) birch and anise and (3) birch, anise and clove.  For the first two levels the dog is not required to have a formal alert when he finds the scent, but in the third level he must.

The four components in competition are container, interior, exterior and car search. Container is what I described above with the boxes, where there are a variety of containers on the floor of one room that the dog must search to find the target scent. Interior is the search of a room for the scent, and it can be anywhere in the room.  Exterior is the search outside in a specified area where the dog searches for the scent, and car search is obviously where the dog finds the scent inside a vehicle, with the search of several vehicles involved where only one contains the target scent.

In a competition, the increasing levels are in the number of scents the dog needs to find. All four components are included at all levels.  There are increasing difficulties which include adding competing scents, such as food or other animal smells.

The competition training is difficult to train at home, unless you have experience in it.  A class would give you and your dog a great foundation to grow from.

So what do you say?

Does this sound like an activity you and your dog would enjoy?  It’s a great bonding experience with your dog.  You learn to watch your dog and understand his body language better. And you get to reward him for doing something he loves anyway!  What’s not to enjoy?

Have fun! Go hide some stuff!

If you have any questions, or would like more information, please leave a comment below.  If you have any topics I have not covered in my posts, let me know what you would like to see.

Have a great day!

Comments (4)

  1. Reply

    This sounds like a great thing! I have two dogs and I can see the three of us having lots of fun. I don’t see any link to check this out. Is there a way to learn more, and then purchase? Seems like my dogs would have a ball!

    • Reply

      Thank you so much for reading my post! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I added a couple links to support on Amazon that can help you start with the games. If there is anything I can help you with, let me know!

  2. Dan


    Hi Joanne,

    I have never heard of this game before. If I’m correct this is how police dogs are typically trained to find narcotics. Do you have any tips for trying this game with my bulldog? He’s a bit lazy and its hard to get him motivated to do any kind of training. It’s been a struggle for a while now.

    • Reply

      You are correct, this is how police dogs are trained to find drugs and many other things. The developers of K9 Nose Work worked in the professional canine detection field and wanted to develop something fun for pet dogs and their people, and used their knowledge to develop these games.

      Is your bulldog motivated by food? Toys? Find what motivates him to want to find something. Maybe start with some chicken or tuna. Something with a strong smell that will attract him.

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