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Celebrate the joy of sniffing

It seems we’re all adjusting to new routines lately. Maybe you’re working from home or at least home more often, and whether you realize it or not, your pup notices it as well! While it may be more challenging to get outside and physically exercise your dog, you can work on mental enrichment from the comfort of your home.

Nosework (sometimes called scent work) is an activity you and your pup can do together. It basically uses your dog’s favorite activity – detecting scents – and turns it into a fun, rewarding game, and even a sport. All kinds of dogs can practice nosework, and it can build confidence in a shy dog by harnessing your pup’s ability to sniff out a smell and find the source.

So, how can you teach your dog to use their nose and desire to hunt and turn it into a creative game? We’ve got a few suggestions to get you started.

Start with something simple. Put your dog in his crate or another room while you “hide” treats around the house. Make it easy at first, and then gradually make it harder the more often you play. For example, hide the treats around corners and furniture legs. Keep everything on the ground for the first few weeks, and then make it more challenging by adding height, say, by putting a treat on a chair.

You can also use cardboard boxes to practice nosework. Put your dog in another room, and then set out a box with high-value treats, such as meat or cheese-based rewards. The less processed, the better—and, hey, isn’t that true for us, as well? Also, treats are about quantity and not volume, so tiny nibbles or bites work just fine. Allow your dog to find the box and give extra treats as he eats from the box. Repeat this and gradually add more boxes with treats. You can also begin to add more boxes without treats (and only give extra treats when your dog eats from the boxes with the treats).

This activity can be made more challenging by expanding your workspace, adding height and box difficulty. The important thing is that your dog taps into their seeking mechanism and is using their nose to find the treats, not just their eyes.

Nosework is terrific for stress relief and keeping your dog engaged. You can also mix up your together time by providing puzzle and/or treat-dispensing toys, having your pup work for their food by trying a scavenging activity like tossing their food nuggets in the grass and giving chew-approved toys. And, just like kids eventually get bored with their toys, so do dogs. Bring toys into and out of the rotation to stave off disinterest.

Just like people need to stay active and occupied, so do our pups. Sitting around the house with nothing to do isn’t good for anyone! Keep your pup stimulated and happy, and, on the plus side, you both get to have more time to bond!

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