Nose work: Nurturing Your Dogs Natural Motivation

Dogs have greater than 220 million smell receptors compared to the 5 million smell receptors humans have. Nose work nurtures your dog’s natural instincts and creates a game out of what they do naturally. They are motivated to find hides (places where scents/treats are hidden) as scent work was what their evolution has led to. It builds their confidence and motivates them to work since it is real learning, they need to solve a problem in order to find the hides. For example, problem solving is required to find hides in odd places such as stuck under a chair or stuck on the wall.


Nose work games begin with getting your dog excited about using their nose to seek out their favorite treats that are hidden in several cardboard boxes on your floor (now a-days everyone has a handful of Amazon boxes stashed in their closets). Other containers such as plastic flower pots, Tupperware containers can be used and the game can be expanded to entire rooms, exterior areas, and vehicle searches. As the dog grows more confident and motivated to solve the problem and find the hide, more challenging locations/hides can be introduced. This Link is a video of Odin and myself doing nose work in class.

In order to determine what motivates your dog to search for hides in the beginning, the following should be considered:

  • Choose the most valuable and stinky reward – When your dog starts searching, you should start with a high value treat that has a strong, distinct smell. This needs to be a treat that they go a little crazy for (Odin’s favorite is small hot dog pieces while another dog in our class prefers sardines).
  • Give your dog a location advantage – Your dog needs to be comfortable with the location they are searching. Whether you are having them search in your living room or in a class, ensure that the location is distraction free and your dog feels relaxed/safe in the location.
  • Keep distractions to a minimum – The rewards in the hides should be the only thing your dog is focused on. If there are other distractions in the area the dog may get confused on the job they are performing and will not successfully search for hides.
  • Know and be able to read your dog Some dogs have bad days and others aren’t ready for a really hard challenge. Read your dog’s body language to determine whether or not they are ready for a challenging hide or if they need an easier hide to boost their motivation to search.

There are multiple benefits to engaging your dog in nose work. Nose work easily burn a lot of mental and physical energy and it can be done anywhere you take your dog. If the weather does not permit you to go outside, then this is a job your dog can perform indoors and will mentally and physically satisfy them. Nose work is designed to motivate dogs into working by tapping into their natural hunting instincts and learn independent problem solving skills. Dogs do well in engaging situations and nose work allows them the use their natural instincts to engage in their environment.

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