Scent adventures: 3 easy nosework activities for all puppies and dogs

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When a dog is sniffing Dopamine is released which is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure. Dopamine helps focus attention and gives a feeling of satisfaction - dogs experience a “Dopamine buzz” when they are sniffing searching which is why they find it so enjoyable.  

Sniffing also lowers blood pressure, slows heart rate and reduces arousal.  I like to think of it as a doggy equivalent of reading a book, pottering in the garden or listening to calming music!

Every pup and dog can benefit from nosework fun, including pups, oldies, nervous dogs and dogs who are recuperating too!  They are also really good options for days when you can't take your dog out because of the heat or cold weather, and 10 minutes of nosework is worth around 30 to 60 minutes of exercise.  

We forget that pre-domesticated dogs spent a whopping third of their time searching for food, and that our family dogs don't get much of an opportunity to search and find in their normal daily life. That means we are wasting such an opportunity to bring them joy and enrichment, but it doesn't have to be like that, because you can easily create opportunities every day to use their amazing nose.  

By doing these three quick and easy things everyday and you'll have a happier, calmer and more content dog.

1) Try scatter feeding your dog

It is quick, easy to do and doesn't cost a penny, it has so many benefits including:

  • Enabling natural foraging behaviour
  • Using your dog's mind and their nose
  • Building up frustration tolerance and confidence
  • Helping to relax your dog, settling them and reducing arousal levels
  • Occupying your dog with a "job"
  • Preventing boredom related behaviours
  • Releasing feel good chemicals in their brain
  • Giving them something positive to focus on and the opportunity to succeed

2) Play nosework games with your puppy or dog

They are super easy to do, don't cost anything and can be built into your schedule every day. 

They are great to do in the evening when you want to tire your pup or dog before settling down for the evening. Make sure your chosen 'search area' is safe from any hazards before you begin.

All you need to do is:

  • Hold your pup gently
  • Say 'Find it' (this is going to be your search cue)
  • Toss a piece of food on the floor where your dog can see it (about 50cm away) and indicate towards the food with an outstretched flat hand
  • Release your dog to go and get the food
  • Praise your dog for getting it
  • Repeat several times with the food in sight
  • Repeat with your dog being unable to see the food land when you toss it, give your "Find it" cue and indicate where to search with your outstretched hand.
  • Repeat several times

Now you have a whole new game that all dogs can benefit from. Use some of their daily allowance or "treats" but don't make the dog game too hard at first as we don't want to build frustration, instead we want to build confidence in finding things. This is a great activity for children to do and it is a lovely indoor rainy day activity, though also fab to do outside in the garden and when on your walks. You can also use favourite toys as well as food and have a fun game with them when they find it.

Once you've got your find it cue and your dog is really into the game you can start to introduce additional things into your searches to increase the fun:

  • Use bags, cardboard boxes, towels, toilet roll tubes, bottles, scrunched up paper and other safe things you have at home to make the searches even more interesting and build their confidence. Pile them above up as your dog gets really good at searches so they have to have a good old root about.
  • Put the search item (food or toy) safely and accessibly at a slight height to get your dog used to varying the height of their search.
  • Put search items underneath chairs and tables to vary the search and build your dog's confidence going underneath things as part of their search.

3) Take Sniffari walks

A “sniffari” is a walk that encourages sniffing and exploration. It provides essential canine enrichment and can easily be built into your every day. Puppies, older dogs, dogs in recovery, anxious or reactive dogs and dogs of any breed can benefit.

Regular sniffaris, will satisfy your dog’s innate curiosity and help them connect with the world.

Give your dog fun opportunities to use their nose today, and see the difference it makes to their happiness, calmness and wellbeing!

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