Dog Scent Games: How To Stimulate Your Dog’s Mind

Dog scent games were the first thing the dog trainer taught me to help Ruby. When the dog trainer took out some pieces of hot dog, she immediately sat down which is what I had been training her for three months, but when he threw the treats in the grass for her to sniff out and find them, she was baffled. ” What the hell is this man doing? I was being a good girl and waiting to get the treat handed to me”, she must have thought.

Now, we practice scent games almost daily and she’s a real pro being able to sniff out treats from very complicated, hiding places and puzzle toys.

We often take it for granted that a dog’s sense of smell may not always be at its best if it’s not actively engaged often. When most dogs are born, they really don’t know much so it’s important for them to work on their ability to pick up scents and learn to identify and recognize more scents.

For dogs to remain active and happy, it’s necessary for you to engage them in scent and tracking games. It’s been scientifically proven that dogs have a 40% larger part of their brain dedicated to identifying and locating scents and they can identify up to 10,000 more scents than humans, so it’s pretty important to keep the scent centered parts of the brains fully active and stimulated.

Scent games haven’t only helped curb Ruby’s anxiety by keeping her mind active in a fun way but it’s also been a great activity for bonding. Here are a few scent games that we love to play that you might enjoy with your pup.


Our favorite dog scent games

Pick a hand

This scent game is a fun way to bond with your dog and give their sense of smell a good work out. Hold a treat in one hand and present two closed fists to your dog, let them sniff out which hand has the treat in it. Ensure your dog does not see which hand has the treat in it beforehand so they have to use their nose to figure it out.

If they successfully find the treat, reward them with praise and let them eat it but if they do not find the treat, show them which hand has the treat in it but do not feed it to them. Keep repeating the game until they become good at picking the hand with a treat in it.

Where is dinner?

We usually feed our dogs in the same place every day and this can make them a bit lazy. Their natural instinct is to hunt for their foods so a game you can play to this effect and exercise their natural skill for hunting is “where is dinner”. Put your dog’s food in their bowl but place the bowl in a different room or position in the house. Let your dog use their sense of smell to track and hunt for their meal.

When they locate where their food has been placed in the house, they can have dinner while you shower them with praise or extended playtime. This will help them get excited for meal times and put their ability to trace the scent of their food to work every other day.

Hide the treats around your house

This game involves uses your dog’s ability to pick up scents in the air as well as sniffing around surfaces. Bring your pup to a different room in the house and hide treats everywhere in places they can reach. You can put some on ground level as well as hide some a little higher up but still in a position they can easily access. Let your dog come back in and encourage them to hunt around the house until they find all the treats.

If they are able to successfully find all, reward them with a belly rub or take them on a walk and if they are unable to find all the treats, encourage your pup by leading them toward the areas the treats are hidden until they find everything. You can play this in the park as well.

Find the treat

This scent game is pretty popular among dog owners and can be played with multiple dogs. Assemble a number of cardboard boxes and lead your pet out of the room. Place their favorite puzzle toy or a treat in one of the boxes and close it up. Let your dog come back into the room and use scent to pick out which box has the toy or treat in it.

You can leave the boxes open at first if they have difficulty indicating which cardboard box has the item in it and as they get better at the game, close up the boxes or include more boxes in the game.

Hide and seek

Let someone hold your dog or leave him in a different room while you move to another area or room and hide. Make sure you stay very quiet and do not move so your dog relies on using your scent to find you on their own.

Reward your dog with a treat or praise and a nice head rub or cuddles when they do find you and keep playing the game as he becomes even better. For advanced levels of this game, hide in more complicated places that will require a more mental activity for your dog to find you like hiding behind a curtain or in a slightly open closet.


Playing scent games will help keep your pup’s brain active as well as help them get some exercise done and they’re perfect for rainy days when you can’t go on long walks. Try out different games until you figure out the ones your pet likes and play them often so that the games do not become monotonous or predictable.

You can also use dog puzzle toys or lick mats to help stimulate their mental activity. Dogs are naturally very intelligent and insightful creatures and their heightened senses (especially that of scent) need to be given a good work out often so that they remain relaxed, healthy and happy. There are other activities like dog trails or doggie play dates you can join and play games with your pup and other dogs to help increase their mental abilities and let them have fun with other canines.

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