The Scent Work Games presented below are suitable for any breed at any age from 6 weeks on, but I recommend strongly that these games be a regular part of your puppy’s development. All of these games stress reliance on his nose, not his eyesight.
To avoid confusing your dog, I recommend you choose one word which indicates food or dog toys (I use “SEEK”), and a completely different word for objects with human scent or people themselves (I use “FIND IT”). In this fashion, the dog is always clear about WHAT he’s looking for with his nose and will not confuse food scents with human scent. One of the most common problems with using food to teach scent discrimination or tracking is that you must ultimately teach the dog that the food is not what you really meant at all!
WHICH HAND? This is the simplest of all games. With food or a toy in only one hand, present both closed hands to the dog. Ask him, “Which one?” You may improve upon this game by insisting he touch with a paw or scratch lightly at the correct hand before receiving his treat, or simply have his nose bump your hand. If he gets it wrong, show him the correct hand but DO NOT give the treat! Just try again. Add lots of dramatic flair to this – dogs love a good show.
HIDE & SEEK This is a doggy favorite best played at night or in a darkened house initially. Partially open closets are great (closed closets may not allow sufficient scent to escape), as are shower stalls/tubs with the curtain drawn, standing behind an open door, crouching behind a bush, standing very still near a tree (dogs, like all predators, distinguish movement much better than stationary objects) or sitting on a picnic table or laying across your car’s trunk, or wherever!
To add to the dog’s eagerness (or in the event that you are unable to sneak away or can’t leave the dog), have someone hold the dog. They should be verbally exciting to the dog, asking, “Where did she go? What is she gets lost? Can you FIND her?” and release the dog with a FIND IT command.
Give the dog a chance to work it out, but if he passes you more than twice, give him a “clue” by making a noise AFTER he’s passed you the third time. A good clue is a distinctive but brief sound, such as clearing your throat or a short whistle that does not allow the dog to find you by using his hearing, but helps him target the general area you are in for further investigation with his nose. However the dog finds you, tons of praise is to be heaped upon his head, and of course a treat or two never hurts. Toy motivated dogs will delight in a game of fetch or tugging as a reward.
As the dog gets more skilled at HIDE & SEEK, you can increase the difficulty of the game by throwing a blanket or tarp over yourself, not moving until the dog actually touches you, or even hiding in an area that the dog can smell you, see you (or part of you) but cannot get to you. This is useful for teaching a scratch or bark alert if desired (commonly used in drug work/search and rescue training). ALWAYS praise the dog generously for his brilliance.