Many dogs who don't get enough physical exercise and mental stimulation will start developing "bad" behaviours in order to relieve the boredom. Stuff like excessive barking, digging in the garbage, or gnawing on furniture are common examples. So what can we do to keep our furry pals feeling happy and fulfilled?
Cold winters are often the time when dogs don't get the same amount of exercise as they're used to in the warmer months. This is particularly true of dogs that can't maneuver through deep snow or on icy surfaces, or who don't enjoy or cannot handle the freezing temperatures. That's where indoor games come in. Indoor games are a way to provide not just physical exercise, but also mental exercise. Working their brains is a fun challenge for dogs and it tires them out too (many people will say that the mental exercise tires them out much more than just physical exercise).
One type of indoor game is known as "nose work". Nose work is the term used to describe an activity that utilizes a dog's amazing sense of smell to perform a task. Their natural scenting abilities are nurtured by playing games. An example of this would be to hide a treat and have the dog find it. It's a fun way (if taught in a positive way) to allow dogs to burn off physical and mental energy. It also helps to build confidence and strengthen the bond between dogs and their people.
What makes it even better is that it can be done by all types of dogs, from the tiny to the giant breeds, from pups to seniors, from shy dogs to outgoing dogs. Nose work is even suitable for reactive dogs because it is an individual activity rather than a group one. Games can be modified to suit active breeds, senior dogs, or dogs with mobility challenges (including dogs that are rehabbing from injury). Games can be played both indoors and outdoors, and are great for those cold or rainy days when the dog might not get as much exercise as he needs.
Remember, dogs use their noses for everything... it comes naturally to them. Think of drug-sniffing dogs, cancer-sniffing dogs, search & rescue dogs, and the many other types of service dogs that help people every day. Nose work is a fantastic way to tap into a dog's natural instinct to use their nose and seek or hunt something out. Dog owners can all attest to how excited their dogs get when they catch a scent (whether it's food or another dog or wildlife or...)!
Nose work classes are available at many dog training facilities. You might wonder why one would take a class when scenting comes so naturally to dogs. Classes essentially train the dog owner how to encourage and develop the dog's scenting ability in a fun and positive way. Once the owner gets the hang of figuring out how to encourage and reward the dog, then they can create their own games based on the dog's interests and physical abilities.
Check out this video of some of the types of scenting games that can be played with dogs. The dogs really look like they're having a great time!