3 Great Indoor Nosework Games to Play with Your Dog: Canine enrichment

indoor nosework games for dogs

Indoor nosework games for dogs are a great way to keep your dog entertained whether they are on crate rest or it’s just too horrible to go outside. Here are 3 fun and engaging indoor nose work games that will help stimulate their brain and give them some much needed mental stimulation!

Why is nose work good for your dog?

Nose work is a sport for dogs that involves using their sense of smell. It’s an activity that provides mental stimulation and physical exercise which can help to reduce stress, boredom and destructive behaviours such as chewing furniture or digging holes in the yard!

How your dog’s nose works

When a dog smells, the air is pulled in through his nose and then pushed out again to carry that smell into a special organ called Jacobson’s organ. This organ acts like a human’s sense of taste because it can identify different chemicals from the scent by using two distinct methods: orthonasal and retronasal olfaction.

Retronasal olfaction is an event that occurs when the scent particles flow back into a dog’s “smelling” system and this allows them to get more information about what they have eaten. This is more about sensing a smell.

Dogs, however, primarily use orthonasal olfaction. Orthonasal olfaction is a method that dogs use to identify a scent on the outside of an object, such as smelling food before it is eaten. In other words, sniffing their environment for clues. In this case, air flows through the nasal passage and past the odour receptor cells located inside each nostril along with odours from either side of their nose or both sides at once.

Amazing indoor nose work games to p... x
Amazing indoor nose work games to play with your dog from Ruffle Snuffle

What does nose work involve?

In indoor nose work games, your dog will be taught how to use their nose to look for their favourite food or toy scent. There are many different hides that can be used such as boxes, paper bags or even tupperware!

If you need ideas on how to mentally and physically entertain your dog, then read on. Here are three of my favourite DIY beginner nosework games to play with your dog.

The three cup game

This is a great indoor nosework starter game. Get out 3 cups or small tubs. Yoghurt pots are ideal – or something from your recycling stash. Line them up in a row in front of your dog.

  1. To start, put a treat under one of the cups while your dog is watching, give them the ‘Okay’  to show you which one is the right cup.
  2. When they choose correctly praise them & let them have the treat.
  3. Once your dog seems to get the hang of it you can make it more challenging by mixing the cups around after you place the treat.
  4. To make it even harder, use three cups that are the same.
indoor nosework games for dogs

The ‘which hand’ game

This is a great starter nosework game for dogs who haven’t practiced scent work before.

  1. Simply take a piece of kibble or a dog treat and place it in one of your hands.
  2. Hold both of your hands out towards your dog in a fist and have them pick which hand it’s in.
  3. If your dog starts by licking or pawing at your hands ignore them until they stop, then wait until they nose one of your hands. Open it so they can see if they won.
  4. If they continue to use their mouth or paw, move both your hands away from the dog and start again so they learn some impulse control.

Find the treats game

You can use your dog’s favourite treats for this nosework game, or their kibble food if they have that.

  1. Ask your dog to stay while you hide treats around the home.
  2. If your dog hasn’t played this game before, start out by making it easy by placing them in plain sight to get them used to the idea.
  3. It takes a while for dogs to stop relying so heavily on visual cues and to hone in their excellent sniffing ability.
  4. Once your dog has gone a few rounds, you can make it more challenging by hiding treats in some tougher spots. 
  5. See my video on How to Teach your Dog ‘ Find it’ for more details.

Check out this list of 100 tricks you can teach your pets for more ideas.


Playing nose work games is a great way to exercise your dog’s brain and help them stay mentally stimulated. It also provides an opportunity for you to bond with your pet while building their confidence in finding hidden objects around the house or yard. If you’re looking for more indoor activities to keep your pup busy, check out this list of 100 tricks you can teach your pets for more ideas.