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6 Fun Nose Work Games for Your Dog’s Scent Stimulation (Vet Approved)

Written by: Kristin Hitchcock

Last Updated on July 11, 2024 by Dogster Team

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6 Fun Nose Work Games for Your Dog’s Scent Stimulation (Vet Approved)


Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo


Dr. Paola Cuevas

Veterinarian, MVZ

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

Learn more »

Everyone knows that dogs need physical exercise. However, our canines also need plenty of mental stimulation. Most breeds were bred for a specific purpose, but most dogs are kept as purely companion animals in our modern world. They spend a lot of their time doing nothing, which can lead to boredom.

A bored dog is not a good dog. Bored dogs may try to make their own fun, which can lead to destruction and misbehavior. To avoid this, you should provide your dog with stimulating activities.

For practically all dogs, nose work games can provide this stimulation. Of course, the games may interest hounds the most since they were bred to use their sniffers. However, all dogs have a much better nose than humans and may benefit from these games.

divider-dog paw

The 6 Simple Nose Work Games to Play With Your Dog

1. Guess Which Hand

You can play a fairly simple game using only your hands and smelly treats. This game is a variation of one we probably all played in the schoolyard at some point. Simply put your hands behind your back and place a treat in one of them. Then, present both hands closed to your dog. The idea is that they should smell your hands and signal which one has the treat in it.

You don’t need to train an official signal for this purpose. Instead, you only need to let your dog indicate which has the treat (by licking, sniffing, or even pawing). Then, open your hand and let them have their reward. If your dog guesses wrong, open your hand to show them that it is empty.

Then, put your hands behind your back and wait for 3–5 seconds before you let them try again. You want your dog to learn that guessing correctly is required for the reward. Be sure to switch hands regularly to prevent your dog from assuming that one hand is always right.

Woman giving treats to a dog
Image Credit: Samson Katt, Pexels


2. Find It

This nose work game is also relatively easy, and you may have even played it before without knowing it. Toss a treat on the floor in front of your dog, and let them find it. Most of the time, the dog will find it very easily. However, once they figure out what’s going on, you can increase the difficulty. Throw the treat farther away, and use smaller pieces to encourage your dog to use their nose.

We love to use this game as a warmup to more difficult games. It’s also a good place to start for younger dogs.

3. Cups

This game is similar to the cup guessing game at the carnival. You’ll need three paper cups, but you should start with only one cup, as you must teach your dog what to do. Place a treat on a flat surface, ideally at your dog’s height. Cover it with the upside-down cup. The moment that your dog touches the cup to sniff it, lift it and let them have the treat.

Repeat this until your dog learns that they should touch the cup to get the treat. You can then introduce the second cup, but you should place the treat under only one of them and move the cups around so they aren’t in their original places. Let your dog sniff the cups to determine which contains the treats.

If your dog picks correctly, let them eat the treats. If not, try again. This is an advanced game, so you may need to give your dog multiple tries. We also recommend using smelly treats, especially when first teaching the game. Once your dog is successful with two cups, you can introduce a third one.

cup guessing game
Image By: patpitchaya, Shutterstock

4. Empty Boxes

For this game, you’ll need several boxes. Cardboard boxes work best, though you can technically use any container that isn’t translucent. First, simply leave all the boxes open. Lay them on the floor near each other and place a treat in one of them. Your dog should sniff the boxes until they find the treat inside. Be sure that your dog instantly gets the reward.

Next, you can close the boxes or add lids. Once your dog signals the correct box, open it and let them have their reward. As with other games, only provide a treat when your dog guesses the correct box. Otherwise, they may just start picking random boxes for their reward.

5. Muffin Tin Game

The muffin tin game is very simple. Grab a muffin tin and some smelly treats. Then, place the treats in the muffin tin and let your dog sniff it. In the beginning, this should be very simple. Your dog shouldn’t have to work hard for the treats.

However, you can increase the difficulty by adding a barrier. Tennis balls work well in most muffin tins. You want your dog to be able to smell the treats and move the appropriate barrier.

This game is fairly simple but can provide a fun introduction to nose work.

6. Hide-and-Seek

An advanced (but very fun) game is hide-and-seek. You’ll need two people for this game—one to work as the handler and one to hide. Children love playing this game with their canine companions, so be sure to allow them to play if they’re interested.

First, put your dog in a sit-and-stay position. Then, have the other person go and hide. Make the first spot very easy, such as just on the other side of a doorway. Once the person is ready, let them call your dog. They should have treats on hand to praise your dog for finding them.

Once your pup dog understands the game, we recommend making it more difficult. You can hide in more difficult places, but be sure your dog can actually access them.

You can also take this game outside to work on your dog’s recall.



Nose work games can be very fulfilling for all dogs, especially hounds. Therefore, we highly recommend that all dogs participate in nose work. Those who are often bored will probably benefit the most from these games.

The only way to know if your dog will like these nose-work games is to try them. Since all dogs are curious sniffers, we bet most will enjoy them! We’ve provided several options at different difficulty levels to help you decide which is best for your canine. However, we recommend trying more than one game.

Featured Image Credit: olginaa84, Pixabay

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