Day 55 Sniffing Saturday

Welcome to Day 55 of #100daysofenrichment and thank you for joining us on this journey!

Although our challenges are directed mainly at dogs, we want all species to enjoy and benefit from #100daysofenrichment so, please join in, adjust and adapt to help your pet or companion live a more enriched life.

Don’t forget to review all the information leading up to #100daysofenrichment and more here on playing safe. Know your dog!


Sniffing Courses

Saturdays during #100daysofenrichment are all about emphasising the dog in all our dogs; all about sniffing and doing dog things.

Today we are going to formalise searching and hunting a little, by setting up courses specifically for sniffing and finding a particular hide.

For our work today, we are going to be searching for food rewards or toys, but this training may be more and more formalised and the dog learn to search for specific odour, for example.

Let’s keep it fun and light, rather than competitive, and have our dogs search for their favourite foods or toys.

We have already worked on putting sniffing on cue, now the cues are going to be the obstacles on our course.

Sniffing courses don’t need to be elaborate. Just 3 or 4 obstacles and you’re set! (Clip)

How The Nose Knows

Air is inhaled and warmed and humidified. Scent chemicals are processed by sensory cells via cila (tiny projecting hairs) that extend into the nasal cavity, with cilla housing numerous scent receptors and each scent receptor has tens of connections delivering messages to the olfactory bulb.

That cross section shows the turbinate bones, a beautiful network of scrolling bones that are lined with scent detecting tissue.

For this complex system to work, the dog’s nose must be moist and lubricated. The philtrum, which is the tiny crack running from the dog’s top lip to its nose, will move fluid up from the mouth to the nose via capillary action.
That’s why it’s important that water is always available for your dog during sniffing activities. 

Images and more from here

Dogs have a much greater surface area within the nasal cavities than humans. This nasal cavity tissue is covered in sensory cells, well over 125 million (we, pathetically, have about 5-10 million!). This huge amount of input can use to a third of the dog’s brina power when they sniffing.

Not only that, but they have two olfactory (sniffing) systems! The vomeronasal organ doesn’t link up with the olfactory bulb, like the nose does, and instead links up with the accessory olfactory system.

The Scent Puzzle

To understand the sort of puzzle you are setting your dog, and to get a little understanding of the puzzling they undertake when sniffing, having an understanding of how scent works can be helpful.


How Scent Works

The scent puzzle is affected by:

  • airflow

The scent plume is the shape created by airflow as the scent becomes weaker the further it moves from source.
Airflow moves scent and scent diffuses from the source in a scent cone.

Airflow will be affected by windows, doors, heaters and so on.

  • layout of area

Height of the ceiling and the room shape will affect airflow and the scent puzzle. Scent will diffuse around the space.
The scent will pool in corners, bouncing off the floor, walls and ceiling.

  • ambient temperature

Heat distributes scent and cold contains scent.

  • surfaces

Scent may soak into softer surfaces as it passes over them and it will pass more smoothly over shiny surfaces.

Damp areas may retain scent for short periods.

  • obstacles

Scent will travel around, through, over, and under obstacles. If it can’t, scent will travel upwards and then fall down again causing pooling.
Scent will move smoothly over round, smooth obstacles and angled obstacles will cause scent to travel up and over the top of the item, circling (turbulence) before falling away on the other side, causing pooling.

  • disturbance

Someone walking in the area will disrupt the scent cone. As you move about the sniffing course, think about you might disrupt the scent. When organising the sniffing course and moving obstacles, move several about. When you move or disrupt an obstacle, you cause a disturbance of the scent and if you just move one obstacle, the target obstacle for example, the dog may learn just to seek out disturbance rather than odour.

Setting up Searches

For our sniffing courses today we will be using food and familiar items, the dog’s toys.

You need only use very small amounts of food and it’s a good idea to use food that your dog really likes, to motivate them to work out that scent puzzle.

If you can smell the search item, then your dog will find it very strong and possibly even aversive. Very strong scents can overwhelm the scent receptors, making it harder for the dog to source the hide.


Use a specific plastic or metal tub or container for your searches. Put your search items, the food or toy, into the tub and hide that.
This prevents you contaminating obstacles with odour, which will confuse and frustrate your dog.

In scent based sports, there’s a lot of talk about the dog’s indication. This is the behaviour the dog shows when they have found odour.

For our purposes, indications don’t really matter as the dog can source the target immediately, and eat it or play with it. But, it can be fascinating exercise to observe your dog closely and learn to ready him or her.

What might tell you that your dog is on to the target scent? Your dog might go still, become more focused, close their mouth, do a double take, change speed of movement or tail change and you might observe air scenting. 

Watch those noses workin’! (Clip)

Safety First

When choosing a search area, check it carefully before bringing the dog in and beginning the search.

Check for cables, sockets, glass, sharp objects or corners, machinery or moving parts, nails or staples, hot surfaces, slippery surfaces, hazardous substances, distractions from scents; even things like doors or steps can cause the dog to bring their head up suddenly, striking it.

Check each obstacle that you use too.

Always play safe!

Designing searches

Arrange the obstacles in a sort of rough circle. This will keep odour within a smaller search area so that it makes for a better puzzle and teaches your dog to stay within the course, rather than needing to search the entire space.

Having each obstacle facing or opening in toward the centre of the circle will contain scent and make for a more fun and straight forward search.

Think about the scent puzzle before introducing your dog.

We can’t possibly imagine what it’s like to live in an olfactory world, like our dogs. But, we can understand the way scent moves, a little, by imagining it to be like the flow of water.
Stand in the room or space where you will set up your course. Picture water seeping into the room from all the available gaps, and as it flows in, how it moves about the space. What does it do when it meets an obstacle?
How does it behave when it hits a wall or door?

This example shows the movement of fog to represent how odour might move in a space and around obstacles:

Clip link

This visualisation will help you to experience just a hint of how airflow moves scent around the space and what your dog is dealing with.


Ideally, work with your dog off lead, but if that’s not safe, use a long lead and hold it without tension. Walk behind your dog so as not to disturb the scent.

When just starting out, the dog might be unsure of what they are doing. Make the first searches really obvious and it’s not a big deal if the dog finds the hide visually. Just let them learn that this set-up means the reward is available; soon they will start to search for it.

If the dog is really stuck, walk across the sniffing course, close to the hide. This will usually draw them across the scent plume and helps them to catch it and follow their nose again.

Don’t be concerned if they begin to manipulate or play with the obstacles. This is normal exploratory behaviour and may be very enriching for them. Make the food or toy really easy to find so that they begin to go directly to work, with some practice. 


Keep your dog out of sight while you set up. I find that, with one course set-up, I can move the hide around 3-5 times. Each time, I reset the dog elsewhere, go back and set up and then release the dog to search again.
You can use your sniffing cue, or develop a new one for this game; lots of people who compete in scent based sports, use the verbal cue “Google!“, which I think is perfect!


As soon as your dog finds the hidden food, move in and drop a couple more treats in the same spot. This encourages the dog to stay at source a little longer, and rewards them for working hard.

Sniffing courses are especially wonderful for puppies and shy dogs. The dog is encouraged to interact with its environment, with weird things that are set-up and they get to take the lead. This is their thing, that they excel at.
This boosts their confidence and allows them to navigate their world on their terms. 


You can use your dog’s favourite toys too. Set up just as you would with food. 


Start easy and to raise criteria, increasing the challenge, you can add a minor bump in difficulty by adding one of the following at a time:

  • hide in smaller boxes; while bigger boxes dilute the scent, they create a bigger scent cone
  • use height – as soon as odour is off the floor, the dog will find it much more difficult so add height carefully and sparingly
  • obstacles in the scent cone
  • lay hides in corners, at the start line, in the middle of the area, along the perimeters
  • close or turn boxes

But for maximum fun and sniffing enjoyment, keep it simple and the dog successful. Sniffing courses should be about the dog winning!

Sniffing on cue

We don’t need to teach our dogs to sniff; they got that down. But, we can teach them the meaning of a specific signal: see this set up…sniffing for food.

Cues (or antecedents) are the things that tell an animal to do a behaviour because it results in reinforcement (or tells them to avoid a behaviour that results in punishment). All behaviours are naturally cued by things that happen around the animal and teaching is about helping the animal learn the meaning of cues we introduce.

Cues can be sounds, words, hand signals, gestures or other environmental signals, like our sniffing course set-up; anything that the dog can perceive.
Different types of cues work better in different environments, for different dogs, and for different behaviours.

Today’s challenges will rely on environmental cues – your sniffing course set-up.

Sniffing for food

Ideally, we would like our dogs to be sniffing out their regular meals, as much as possible. But, some dogs will need a little help to get them going and we can have our dog sniffing for treats too!

Kibble is a pretty versatile food type for enrichment type feeding, and works well for this exercise.

You can add kibble in with other yummier treats and toss those. Or you can make a Training Mix so that kibble smells and tastes yummier, but without having to add extra calories or other foods, should the dog be sensitive or restricted.



You can improve the smell/taste of kibble by grilling it a little, so that it becomes crunchier and oilier. You might also soak it in stock or other flavouring.

Wet and fresh foods can be a little more challenging:

  • Fresh meats and meat mixes (e.g. raw and home prepared diets) – cut up into small pieces, boiled or baked, frozen in small ice cube trays or pyramid baking mats for small individual treats.
    Alternatively, you could use dried or semi-moist meats and cut them into small pieces for tossing. (Note that you feed a smaller volume of dried or dehydrated foods as they are more concentrated.)


  • Wet feeds (e.g. canned foods) – frozen in small ice cube trays or pyramid baking mats for small, individual treats.

Don’t forget fruit and vegetables too, if you’re dog likes them. Frozen peas are one of Decker’s favourite for sniffing!

Your challenge

Now it’s your turn. Show us what you and your pets, of any species, can do with these challenges!

Post to your social media accounts, using the #100daysofenrichment so that we can find you and join our Facebook group to share your experiences, ideas and fun!
You can comment right here too 🙂

We look forward to hearing from you and your pets – have fun & brain games!