The Wonderful World of Canine Scent Enrichment Activities: DO Try This at Home!

Have you ever stopped to notice just how enthusiastic dogs are when they are using their noses? Over the last decade, scent-based enrichment activities for companion animals have been growing in popularity, and with good reason!

Scent-focused training, games, and enrichment are not only used to teach professional detection dogs, they can be used to improve the lives of companion animals as well.

Put Your Dog’s Nose to Work

Giving dogs opportunities to explore the world with their powerful olfactory sense is one of the most enriching welfare activities we can provide. There are plenty of DIY options online for fun and simple scent training or nose work games that pet parents can try at home. Enrichment activities that focus on a dog’s sniffing skills include (but are in no way limited to):

  • The “shell game” – hide kibble or treats under one of several boxes for your dog to find.
  • Interactive food toys like a snuffle mat are designed for dogs to sniff out the food or treat.
  • “Scatter feeding” – gamify mealtime by hiding kibble and treats throughout the house or throw them in the grass in the yard.
  • Going on “sniffari”- dogs love checking out the neighborhood with their noses.
  • Scavenger hunts
  • Scent-specific sports activities such as K9 Nose Work®

The possibilities are limitless and can fit into any pet care budget. In fact, one of the most enriching activities we can provide for our dogs is completely free of charge; let them sniff on walks. Stopping to smell the (pet-safe) bushes and foliage (watch out for foxtails!), as well as lampposts, mailboxes, and the like, are vital ways for dogs to attempt to make sense of their surroundings and express their “dogness.”

Even meeting other dogs on walks, as long as it’s safe for all participants, can be enriching from a scent, as well as social, perspective. (Consult your veterinarian if you have questions regarding your pet’s immune system health and “sniffy” walks.)

Benefits for Dogs

In general, incorporating strategic enrichment into our inquisitive canines’ lives, giving them the freedom to ‘hunt’ and problem-solve, encouraging dogs to utilize their powerful sense of smell, and tapping into their desire to play and explore, improves their mental—and by extension, physical—health.

Did you know that one of the most pervasive and serious welfare issues for dogs is under-stimulation? A lot of domestic life for companion dogs, safe and secure as it is, flies in the face of their genetic evolution. Dogs, by nature, are predators and problem solvers. Yet, many dogs have little opportunity to exercise their hunting, scavenging, and scenting propensities – and are sometimes punished if they try. Scent enrichment activities, on the other hand, don’t just allow dogs to use their noses – it is the whole point!

Providing legitimate outlets for normal doggy behaviors that work with your dog’s natural instincts can help your pup feel less anxious, more relaxed, and can increase behavioral wellness. In fact, being focused on an enjoyable, self-reinforcing, instinctive activity, can even help alleviate some of the stress associated with certain external anxiety-producing triggers.

Benefits for Pet Parents

Additionally, preventing some of the common doggy behavior problems that pet parents might face helps to enhance and preserve the human-canine relationship.

Dogs experiencing boredom at home often find their own ways to meet their needs and expend excess physical and mental energy, such as destroying prized objects, barking at anything and everything, digging up newly landscaped yards, and so on. Fortunately, you can help reduce or even prevent “problem” behaviors with some easy interventions.

Help dogs make good choices by providing good choices to choose from. For example, hunting and seeking games harness a pup’s energy in productive ways. And the self-directed nature of activities that require dogs to focus on a single (extremely enjoyable) task, burns a lot of canine brain energy, so they’re less likely to seek out those other, unsanctioned, options.

Plus, it’s just downright fun! Providing a variety of enrichment activities for your canine bestie can add up to mutually enjoyable times! From formal nose work classes to scent games at home, dog guardians are sure to feel enriched themselves, watching their pups use their instinctual scenting and problem-solving skills. (Similar to parents watching their human child score a goal.)

Lifelong Learning

If you are looking for a fun way to work with your dog’s natural instincts, build confidence and independence, deepen your bond by enjoying fun activities together, provide pets the freedom to problem-solve, and encourage dogs to utilize their powerful sense of smell, then look no further than K9 Nose Work® and similar programs. Starting off by taking a class is a great way to learn some of the foundations of canine scent work.

From sniffy walks to formal classes, dogs thrive when given opportunities to utilize their innate – and amazing- skills! No matter the breed, age, gender, disposition, or size of your inquisitive canine, all dogs make use of their highly attuned and specialized noses (even dogs who are hearing impaired, blind, or of a senior age). Because of that, virtually all dogs can enjoy and benefit from scent-based enrichment activities… and so can their people!

Here’s to sniffing out some pawsitively enriching adventures with your inquisitive canine!

The Inquisitive Canine was founded by Santa Barbara certified canine behavior consultant and certified professional dog trainer Joan Hunter Mayer. Joan and her team are devoted to offering humane, pawsitive, practical solutions that work for the challenges dogs and their humans face in everyday life. Joan offers coaching both in-person and online. If you are feeling inquisitive and have dog training questions, we invite you to contact The Inquisitive Canine for A Pawsitive Approach for Positive Results ™.


Written by Joan the Dog Coach

Joan Hunter Mayer is a certified canine behavior consultant and certified professional dog trainer who founded "The Inquisitive Canine." More information can be found at

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