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How to Start Scent Training for Puppies

5 min read

Your dog's sense of smell is one of their most powerful senses and sniffing is one of their very  favourite activities, so it only makes sense to start nose training when they're puppies! Learn more about how to begin to scent train your dog with our helpful guide and advice.

For owners who really want to take their relationship with their dog to the next level, one of the best ways to do this is to focus on the most underappreciated of our dog’s senses… their incredible nose. That means it’s time for some puppy scent training!

It’s probably because we don’t see the world in smell the same way that our dogs do, that we don’t understand how important the sense of smell is to our dogs. For that reason, we miss an entire way to interact with and stimulate them. It’s thought that the part of the dog’s brain that analyses smells is 40 times larger than ours. And if you compare our measly 5 million scent receptors to a Bloodhound’s 300 million, you can see that our noses are pretty pathetic in comparison!

The good news is that puppy scent training is easy! Read on to find out how to scent train a dog and some of our favourite puppy scent training games.

Why is dog scent training important?

Scent is incredibly important to dogs – as much, if not more so, as sight and sound – and it tells them far more about their environment than we can ever begin to imagine. If we can incorporate this into some of our games and puppy training, we can discover a whole new way to interact with our pups. By giving them an outlet for this need to sniff, we can make our dogs lives better, more fun, and even prevent behaviour issues. Scent training for dogs can be an incredibly enriching experience for both you and your puppy!

Dog scent training: hide and seek

The hide and seek dog scent training activity is a combination of scent work and basic problem solving (and for some dogs, just trial and error!) but it is a fun starting point for nose work!

How to play hide and seek with your dog

  1. Get someone to hold your dog, or ask them to wait, and then go and hide somewhere in the house. Don’t go too far at the beginning until your dog gets the hang of this fun new puppy scent training game. You can leave a trail of kibble or treats to start with to make it easier. When you are ready, your friend can let go of your puppy, and they can use their nose to follow the trail and discover where you are hiding.
  2. Once they have worked this out, you can start to get more adventurous with your hiding – but remember that the point is that your puppy succeeds in finding you and not that ‘you win’!
  3. When you go further, you can leave a trail of kibble or treats to start with to make it easier. Once you are ready, your friend can let go of your puppy, and they can use their nose to follow the trail and discover where you are hiding.
  4. When your puppy finds you, give them their favourite treat, and if they are toy-focused, have a great game. Then you can go somewhere else, where there is no fresh scent of you or the treats, and try again.

Another way to scent train your dog with hide and seek

There are loads of variations of this simple nose work exercise that you can play outside in the garden and further afield (with your puppy on a long line if their recall isn’t good).

One of them is to take your puppy’s favourite toy and get them really excited about it, then get someone to hold your puppy so they can’t see where you are going. Walk a little way and put the toy down. Remember not to go too far, and don’t hide it in too hard a place to start with. Retrace your exact steps back to your puppy so there is only one scent trail and then release, encouraging your puppy to find the toy.

When you start with puppy scent training, your dog may be using more than just his nose to find the toy, but as you begin to make it harder and go a little further (always in a new spot), you will see your pup following your scent with their nose – which is always awe-inspiring to watch and great fun to do!

Puppy scent training: find the treats

How else can you scent train a puppy? Treats are a good place to start! This is another easy game where you hide treats around a room for the dog to hunt out with their nose.

How to play find the treats

  1. Once again you can start with obviously placed ones, but then you can begin to hide them under a sheet of newspaper, or a plastic plant pot, in an old cardboard toilet roll, under a towel – the choices are endless! Get creative but don't hide them on sofas or chairs unless you want your dog tunnelling around in your furniture. It’s best kept purely at ground level altogether for chewy dogs or house-proud owners.
  2. You can also leave a trail of treats that lead to a tasty treat like a stuffed Kong toy, which can be hidden somewhere more challenging like in a handle-less bucket. Just always make sure everything you do is safe and supervised. You can also offer encouragement to your puppy too, to make it a nose work game you do together.
  3. You can also do this in the garden using a snuffle mat, or if you are feeling really lazy, you can just scatter a handful of kibble in the grass and leave your dog to sniff them out, as a fun and simple puppy scent training game.

How to puppy scent train depending on breed

It’s amazing how many things you can find lying around the house that you can turn into a scent-training dog toy. For some dogs – often terrier types – it’s as much fun ripping open cardboard tubes, wrapping paper or lightweight boxes to get treats, as it is to sniff them out – so always be on the look out for things that you can use to stimulate your puppy and make an interactive dog toy.

For some breeds and individuals, these nose work games can turn into the most fun you and your pup can have together, and give you a whole new way to interact.

Once you have started working with your puppy on these simple dog games, you start to get much more appreciation for the wonder that is your dog’s nose. 

When you do get out into the great outdoors, remember just how incredible a dog’s nose is and what an important function it plays for them in understanding the world. Let them spend time sniffing, even if you don’t understand it!

For further information and puppy advice, have a look at our content hub.