Monday, June 22, 2009

A Fun Scent Game to Play with your Dog

Want to teach your dog a trick that is fun, easy, and will impress all your friends? Try this game to harness your dog's awesome sense of smell.

You will need:

a clicker or other reward marker

some small tasty treats

three boxes or containers of the same size

Step 1: Choose a behavior that your dog already knows, such as sit, down, or a paw touch. Your dog will use this to indicate the box that the scent is in. Place a few treats into one of the boxes. Present to box to your dog on the ground, and allow him to sniff the box. Then give your cue that will become the indication. Click and reward with a treat from the box when he responds. Pick up the box and repeat the procedure several more times. After doing this a few times, try presenting the box to your dog without giving a cue. Wait a few moments without saying anything to see if your dog can figure it out. If your dog performs the behavior without the cue, click and reward him with several treats. If he does not, go back to asking for the behavior for a couple more tries, and then try again.

Step 2: Once your dog is reliably indicating the box when you present it to him, it is time to add the second(empty) box. Place both boxes on the ground next to each other with some space in between. Allow your dog to sniff and explore both boxes. Ignore any attempts from your dog to indicate the empty box. As soon as he indicates the correct box, click and reward graciously. Repeat a couple more times, keeping the boxes in the same position. When he gets good at that, try switching the boxes around. Continue to ignore any incorrect responses and reward correct ones.

Note: Some dogs may get a little confused and frustrated when the second box is added. If your dog is having a lot of trouble, you may want to help him out for a few repetitions rather than have him give up. To do this just wait for him to sniff the correct box, then use the cue for the indication behavior. This should give him an idea of how the game works. Do this for only a couple repetitions, then let him try on his own again.

Step 3: Add the third box using the same procedure you used in step 2. Try placing the boxes in several different orders to test your dog's ability to find the correct box.

Step 4: When your dog is consistently finding the right box, it is time to add the cue. After placing the boxes, ask your dog to "find it"(or whatever other cue you would like to use). Reward correct responses.

Step 5: When he is good at finding the treats hidden in the correct box, you can then transfer it to other scents. A fun challenge would be to use a scent your dog is not familiar with, such as a drop of vanilla. When you decide to try a new scent, start back at step one and gradually work back up to the three boxes.

Have fun!


  1. Quick question, I've been working on this for a few days for K9 Multisports, and once I start clicking the indication, Fred stops sniffing. I didn't pick this up until I added the second container - we were using bricks so he couldn't chew them - and he started just pawing randomly without making any attempt to sniff at all. So it appears I've trained him to paw a brick, rather than indicate a scent/food.

    Any advice?

    Of course using bricks doesn't stop him knocking them around with his paw when I don't click!

  2. Hi Mina,

    That is a great question.

    My first thought would be to train the actual act of sniffing, and put it on cue separately from this exercise. Try using something very strong smelling. Present it to him and click when he sniffs. Add a cue when he is consistent, then try transferring it to other objects.

    Now try the scent game again, cueing him to sniff before indicating the correct one.

    Hope that helps!