Most dogs love to eat. Most also love to use their noses. Why not combine the two into a game? Food games allow dogs to use both their physical capabilities (in this case, their powerful sense of smell) as well as their brains. You might be surprised at how much it can tire them out!
Another great thing about these simple games is that they can be played with dogs of any age, even senior dogs. Many dogs start to experience diminished eye-sight and hearing as they get older - but all they need is a working sniffer to enjoy these fun games. Dogs often end up looking forward to their food games and get very excited. Here are a few easy but fun games you can play with your dog.
What you'll need: a muffin tin, tennis balls and/or balled-up socks, plus treats / food.
The idea is to hide a treat in one of the muffin cups, underneath a tennis ball or balled-up sock. Your dog has to use his nose to figure out which cup contains his treat.
Start easy: put a treat in one of the muffin cups and let your dog eat it. Then place a treat in one of the cups with a ball or sock on top, and again, encourage him to push the ball or sock out of the way to get to the treat. Once he has the idea, gradually add more balls or socks to the muffin cups, hiding a treat under one of them. Your dog can use his nose to sniff out where the treat is.
Note: some dogs will take a more direct approach to finding the treat, and immediately push or knock all of the balls or socks out of the way! It might not be the way the game was intended to be played but he'll have fun nonetheless.
What you'll need: 3 or 4 small empty yogurt cups (or other similar container), plus some smelly treats / food.
First, poke a small hole in the top of each yogurt cup. This is to allow the scent of the treat to escape through the top. Show your dog the treat, then put the cup over top of it. Encourage him to smell the cup so that he can smell the treat (hopefully he'll poke or paw at the cup, or knock it over to show that he knows there's a treat in there).
Once he gets good at it, gradually add the other cups - but only put a treat under one of them. Re-arrange the cups after placing the treat. Your dog will have to use his sniffer to figure which cup has the treat.
What you'll need: treats or food.
This is a very simple, yet fun game where you simply scatter tidbits of food over an area. This is a game I played with my dog nearly every afternoon when it was warm out. You might be thinking to yourself, "borrrr-ring!" ... but dogs find it fun and engaging.
Lawns work great for this game. The grass offers a natural 'hiding spot' for the treats, which forces your dog to use his nose to find them. Make it very easy for your dog to start - very obviously show your dog the food, then toss it to the ground in front of him. Gradually start tossing the food a little further until he gets the idea that he's supposed to go sniff it out.
Once he does, you can either individually toss out each tidbit, varying the direction and distance each time ... or you can grab a handful of food and simply scatter it every which way, then let your dog go for it! If your dog is finding the tidbits too quickly, use smaller tidbits to make it more challenging. If your dog is having trouble finding the tidbits, use slightly larger pieces or a smellier type of food. Combine different types of treats or food to make it even more interesting for your dog.
What you'll need: treats or food.
This game involves hiding treats around the house for your dog to find. Start easy by "hiding" a treat in plain sight, and tell your dog to "seek" or "find it" (or whatever cue you want to use). Do this a number of times before you start to place treats in better hiding spots. Eventually you can gradually hide treats around the house or yard. Try mixing up easier hiding places with more challenging ones to give his brain a better workout.
Some examples of hiding spots include: on chair seats, behind doors, on the floor just underneath the bed skirt (or couch - but make sure your dog will be able to reach these), on window ledges, on the cat perch, underneath the dog bed ... there are loads of places! Be creative.
What you'll need: a big cardboard box, a bunch of newspaper, several smaller boxes or containers (optional), plus food / treats.
The 'forage' game is lots of fun but it can be messy. The idea is to put some food or treats in a box along with a bunch of easily-tearable stuff like balls of newspaper.
Start by showing your dog a treat and then placing a few of them in the box, covered lightly by a bit of newspaper. Let him rummage around until he's successful at getting the treat.
Once he understands the game, ball up some newspaper and throw the balls into the box, along with some yummy tidbits. Then let your dog go and root out the treats. He'll probably end up throwing newspaper everywhere, or tearing it up, but that's just part of the fun!
If he gets really good at it, you can do a few things to make it more challenging. Fold up a few nice, smelly treats inside a piece of newspaper (rather than have them all loose in the box)... or put a couple of pieces into a soft, tearable container like a clean restaurant take-out container. Put everything in the big box and mix it all up so that your dog has to work to find the treats.
For old dogs who aren't able or willing to climb into big boxes, use a smaller box that he can easily stuff his snout into... or take a big box and cut one side out nearly to the ground, to make it easier for him to enter the box.
Cleaning up after this game can be a little messy but it sure is fun to watch your dog enjoy himself so thoroughly!
"It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness."