Like people, dogs can get bored, so providing mentally stimulating games and toys is essential to their growth and quality of life. Games that help them utilize their incredible sense of smell not only keep them entertained but also keep them mentally sharp and happy. Today's blog will help you usher the summer weather in, along with its energy-draining heat. If you're a dog lover like me, you're always on the lookout for creative ways to keep dogs—and especially young puppies—entertained on sweltering or rainy days.
Did you know that a dog's sense of smell exceeds a human's by up to 100,000 percent? Your dog has up to 300 million olfactory receptors and a detailed section of the brain to process the different smells around. Each smell gives your dog a better picture of reality, helping to sort through different reactions. No wonder dogs love smelling everything and everyone within their vicinity. It helps them learn!
Below we list games that will help you and your dog bond and beat boredom. All of these games require little prep time and few materials, making it easier to whip out a game when you want. Since your dog or puppy will be most active around mealtimes—morning, evening, and mid-day for pups under six months—hand feed some or all of their meal to initiate the excitement.
1. Find Mine
The Find Mine game hones your dog's scent tracking capabilities in a fun environment. You will teach your dog how to retrieve items beyond the line of sight.
To start, you need a retrievable item that is distinguishable from the dog's toys. We recommend a plastic or leather keychain with keys.
Then, engage your dog and have them notice you throwing the keys. Give the command "Find Mine" to indicate that they should retrieve the keys. You may have to guide your dog initially, but don't worry! Teaching your dog how to play this game may take some time, but it is a rewarding skill for you and your dog to work on together.
Once your dog retrieves the keys, give them praise. When your dog more consistently repeats this process, you can move on to the next stage of Find Mine.
Have your dog stay in one place. This time, you will place the keys somewhere within your general vicinity.
Then give your dog the Find Mine command. Praise and reward when this is done successfully.
Now that your dog is familiar with the Find Mine command, you can now include your dog's sense of smell. Like Stage 2, you will have your dog stay in one location. Hide the keys this time in a location your dog cannot see.
After placing the keys in a more hidden location, give your dog the Find Mine command. Ideally, your dog will follow where you went and sniff out the keys for retrieval.
Praise and treat your dog when they come back with the keys. You can experiment with this game by swapping out the keys with another item and increasing the difficulty by lengthening the distance between the starting spot and the hidden item.
2. Where is the Treat?
This game is simple to perform and requires little space. All you need is a treat and three opaque cups to begin.
Start by showing the treat to your dog; it should pique their interest.
Place the treat on a flat surface in front of your dog. Place one cup on top of the treat to hide it. Then have one cup on each side of that cup.
Weave the treat cup and the empty cups around and pick a stopping point. When stopped, ask your dog to find the treat. When they find the treat, they get to eat it. This game can increase in intensity as your dog catches on.
3. Follow the Trail
Take an old towel or blanket - something with a distinct, recognizable scent - and trail that item around your designated play area. Hide the item and let your dog have fun sniffing out this new smell.
If you are doing this inside, you can turn off the lights to increase the chances of your dog using his nose.
You can switch up the different scents, too, as that will create more interest and stimulation for your dog.
4. Muffin Tin Game
Assemble a muffin tin, tennis balls, and a treat. Put a treat in one of the muffin spots and then put the tennis balls in every muffin spot of the tin.
Present this to your dog and watch the reaction. Your dog will most likely begin sniffing the tin for the treat you've hidden and work out how to get the treat.
This provides a fun little game that can be performed inside or outside.
5. Scent Training
The American Kennel Club (AKC) has scent training competitions that your dog can participate in with extensive training. Your dog does not have to compete to have fun with some of the training games the AKC uses.
The AKC recommends the following: first, put a few drops of a birch essential oil (used for training) on a cotton ball. Then put the ball into a small glass jar with a sealed lid. Hold the jar in one hand and a treat in the other. Give your dog the find command you use. (Find Mine from the first game works fine.)
When your dog sniffs the glass jar, bring the treat over and reward your dog with it. This helps the dog connect the scent and the treat.
Then, proceed to move the glass jar further away from the treat, telling your dog to find the scent. Reward after each successful find.
Continue this training by hiding the jar in more elaborate places completely hidden from view. You can also check out what other scents AKC uses for their scent training.
Please note: Keep the essential oil away from your dog so that it is not accidentally consumed. Some essential oils can be toxic to dogs and their skin, so always check before using oils near them.
Treats to Use
Many dogs are food-motivated, making training easier. For any training, especially extensive training, you want to use healthy, aromatic treats that will not negatively impact your dog's diet. Volhard has an assortment of treats that are recommended to give your dog for use in training.
Want to learn more about training your dog? Check out Dog Training for Dummies by our own Wendy Volhard. This book has the details you need to help your dog at any stage to be trained.