Doggie Dialogues Homemade toys

Drop poses with an assortment of homemade scent toys. 


Doggie Dialogues: The nose knows

By Doris Dressler

From the moment your dog is born, he lives in a world filled with scents.

Did you know puppies are born with a fully functional sense of smell? Their eyes don’t open until nine or 10 days after birth,

Doggie Dialogues Nina Ottoson toys
Dogs find the Nina Ottoson Dog Smart, top, and Dog Brick games challenging but rewarding.

and their ears don’t start functioning until three to 17 days after birth. But their sense of smell is used from day one to locate mom for meals and siblings to snuggle with.

This may explain why our four-legged friends are so obsessed with smell.

The percentage of the dog’s brain devoted to analyzing smells is 40 times larger than that of humans. Dogs can identify smells somewhere between 1,000 to 10,000 times better than humans can. Humans smell chicken soup, but dogs can smell each individual component – chicken, carrots, celery, onion and spices.

According to, humans have about 5 million scent receptors; compare this to the bloodhound, king of the sniffers, with 300 million scent receptors.

Instead of fighting the inevitable, dog owners and trainers are harnessing this desire to smell into something fun and productive. Scent work has become a popular sport with dog lovers.

Why scent work?

Scent work provides an outlet for your dog’s natural instinct for the hunt and is mentally and emotionally satisfying. Scent work is also a great confidence builder and will improve the bond you have with your dog.

Scent games

Most of us aren’t interested in turning our dogs into detection or tracking dogs, but there are plenty of scent games you can play at home with your dog. It’s helpful to use the same cue (such as “where’s the treat” or “find it”) with each game.

+ Which hand is the treat in? Place a smelly treat in one hand and present both closed hands to your dog. Give your dog the cue (“Where’s the treat?”) and wait for him to “nose” or paw at the correct hand. If he selects the wrong hand, open up your hand, show him there is no treat, and let him try again until he gets it right.

+ Towel game. Place a treat at the edge of an old dish towel and fold the towel over the treat once to hide the treat. Encourage your dog to “nose” or “paw” the towel to unfold it and find the treat. Once your dog understands the game, fold the towel over twice (and then three, four, etc., times) to make it more difficult

+ Shell game. Punch several holes in the bottom of three plastic cups. Put a treat under one cup first (hole side up) and let your dog get the treat by either knocking the cup over or picking it up. Once your dog understands what to do, add the second cup and put a treat underneath one cup and encourage him to figure out, by using his nose, which cup the treat is

Doggie Dialogues Outward Hound toys
The Nina Ottoson Tornado and Outward Hound Paw Flapper, top row, are excellent starter games. The Outward Hound Treat Triad and Outward Hound Jigsaw Glider, bottom row, are good options for advanced dogs.

under. Next, put the treat underneath one of the cups but slide them around so your dog really does have to use his nose to figure out which cup the treat is under. Eventually put the third cup into play.

+ Three bottles on a pole.  Can your dog flip the bottles to get to the food? Google “Bella’s bottle game” to locate the YouTube clip to see how this game works.

+ Find the loaded Kong. Make the indoor hunt easy at first by placing the Kong (loaded with a smelly treat) in the open. Then make it more difficult by hiding the Kong. For the ultimate challenge, hide the Kong outdoors.

+ Find the treats. This is a variation of finding the loaded Kong, but hide treats throughout the house instead.

+ Find the toy. Hide your favorite dog’s toy; a slobbery tennis ball works well for tennis ball-crazy dogs. You will discover your dog will use his nose, not his eyes, to locate the toy.

+ Container game. Save the plastic containers lunch meat comes in. Punch holes in the tops of each container. Load one container with a tasty treat. Use the same container to hold the food every time you play the game. Start out with just two or three containers until your dog understands the game. When he locates the container with the food, praise and reward your dog by opening the container. We humans still have the advantage of opposable thumbs!

+ Box game. You can play a similar game using boxes. Use one box consistently as the food box; start out with a few boxes at first and then add more as your dog “gets it.” Place boxes underneath tables, chairs, behind doors, etc., or stash a smaller box inside or on top of a bigger box. Keep one side of the boxes open so the dog can stick his nose inside to sniff and retrieve the food when he locates it.

+ Muffin tin game. If you’ve got an unused muffin tin at home, hide treats under tennis balls in a muffin tin and see how quickly you dog can remove the balls to get to the treats.

Store-bought scent games

There are all sorts of “board” scent games you can purchase. Following is a list of some of my favorites. Go to or use google to learn more about each game.

+ Outward Hound Paw Flapper

+ Outward Hound Jigsaw Glider

+ Outward Hound Treat Triad

+ Nina Ottoson Dog Smart

+ Nina Ottoson Dog Tornado

+ Nina Ottoson Dog Brick

With winter approaching, indoor scent games are a great way to play with your dog when the weather gets daunting. On your mark, get set, hunt! Happy training. 


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