Sniffing and scenting are as inherent to a dog as the fur coat they wear and are an important path to mental stimulation and bonding.
Have you ever seen a Labrador follow the scent toward a bird (or a tennis ball?)
Have you ever wondered at your Pit bull’s ability to sniff out the crumb of a treat in your pocket?
Have you ever watched with amazement as a German Shepherd worked bomb patrol at the airport?
All these scenarios have something in common and it doesn’t matter the breed, the age, or the size of the dog. Their sense of smell is incredibly acute and a true marvel of nature. Watching a dog use their nose is fascinating, and it’s something all dogs share.
The Nose Knows
When dogs are born, they are quite literal sniffing machines. In fact, it’s all they have. Their eyes and ears don’t open until about two weeks of age. If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to watch a litter of newborn puppies, you’ll see them using their noses from nearly the moment they’re born. Granted, at that stage there is one thing and one thing only that they are sniffing toward and that’s their momma. And yes, there is a difference in scenting ability between breeds, but they are all far superior to humans’ scenting ability. That is true whether you have a hound dog or a Havanese.
Sniffing and scenting are as inherent to a dog as the fur coat they wear. But, as humans, we can’t necessarily appreciate how integral scent can be to a dog’s life and it’s frequently overlooked as a path to mental stimulation and bonding. However, if you tap into this very essential piece of your dog’s life, they will be all the happier for it.
Use the following game to start to tap into your dog’s natural scenting ability.
Scent Game 101 ~ Find It
Find three plastic cups you don’t particularly care about, even disposable Solo cups will work fine. Make sure to have treats handy, some extra special treats your dog loves which you can always find at The Pet Beastro. Place all three cups upside down on the floor and let your dog watch you place a treat under one of the cups. Use a command like “Find it” when your dog naturally starts toward the cup with the treat. Do this a few times while your dog starts to understand the essence of the game.
Now comes the true scenting.
When your dog is out of sight, place the treat under one of the cups. When your dog comes into the room, gesture to the cups and say, “Find it.” Watch the magic start to unfold!
This game is great because there are endless variations. Ready for level 201, or even 301? Add more cups. Spread them out, even in several different rooms or outside where there is much competition for scents. When outside, wind can also add a level of difficulty to the game.
Here’s one word of caution: dogs do not scent things in a linear fashion and, many times, people will think their dog is going off in an unproductive direction or opposite where the actual treat is. Let them figure it out and understand that they are scenting the air as much for what they smell as what they do not smell. You’ll often see dogs track in a circular pattern. They are following the scent and when it falls off, they know to double back the way they came until they hit the scent again. So, reel in your instincts - as a primarily visionary being - to point to the object in exasperation.
Finally, if you’ve started to love watching your dog follow a scent, the American Kennel Club has a couple of companion sports for every dog including Scent Work and Barn Hunt. If your dog seems to like scenting, there are also many articles on the web for more suggestions for scenting games to play at home.
In the end, by taking time to relate to your dog on their level, in this case using their inherent sense of smell, you are building a bond to last a lifetime.
Amy Garabedian is the co-owner of Sit Means Sit Metro Detroit, which trains hundreds of dogs locally each year. She has a passion for helping dogs and their owners live their best life. She believes therapy dogs might just save the world.