How to Start Scent Training for Puppies

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

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!

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 training, we can discover a whole new way to interact with our pups. Scent training for dogs can be an incredibly enriching experience for both you and your puppy!

You’ll probably find yourself wondering how to scent train a dog. Read on to find out some of our favourite puppy scent training games!

Dog hide and seek

This 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!

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. When your puppy finds you, give them their favourite treat, or if they are more 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.

puppy nose training

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!

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. 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.

puppy smelling

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.

You can also do this in the garden using a snufflemat, 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.

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.

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. 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.

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.