Scent Work Activities to Do With Your Dog

Putting Your Dog’s Incredible Nose to Work: Scent Work Activities to Do With Your Dog 

Do you ever watch your dog sniffing away and wonder what they are thinking? What sort of secrets are they learning from the smells in the yard or on their favorite walking path? I know I wish I could ask Dover what is going on when he is intensely sniffing our world, and that beautiful shiny black nose is hard at work. 

Our dogs’ noses are truly miraculous. Did you know that furry best friend of yours sleeping next to you has 300 million olfactory receptors, compared to our measly 6 million? Those 300 million olfactory receptors are just the start of your dog’s sniffing superpowers. They even have a special section of their skull that is just for the job of figuring out scents! So, when they get to go on fun adventures in which they get to use their noses, it makes them happy and satisfied. In this blog we will introduce three canine sniffing sports that you can start training your dog to do right now. 

Nose Work for Dogs

K9 Nose Work is a sport that mimics the work of detection dogs. Instead of sniffing for contraband or harmful substances, dogs in K9 Nose Work seek out essential oils including Birch, Anise, and Clove.

Nose work can be done in small spaces like apartments, or outdoors, making it a great activity no matter where you live and regardless of the weather.  You can easily start now on days you are stuck inside, so that you will be ready to move outside when the weather gets nice. Nose work is open to dogs of all shapes, sizes, energy levels, and breeds. You can also participate in nose work just for fun or during competitions. 

There are several nose work organizations with information to help you get started. You can also find training classes at many local dog training facilities. Check out K9 Nose WorkThe National Association of Canine Scent Work,  or The American Kennel Club for information on how to get started. 

Barn Hunt for Dogs

There is not any actual hunting in the canine scent activity of Barn Hunt.  During Barn Hunt activities, dogs use their noses to find rats inside of hay bales and tunnels of hay in a barn or barn-like environment. The rats are well-protected in safe, aerated tubes, and their well-being is of the utmost importance. All the rats are pets and as well-loved as the dogs who participate.  In fact, according to the Barn Hunt Association, the rats “jump eagerly into their safe, comfortable aerated tubes and truly enjoy interacting with the dogs.” 

Just like Nose Work, any breed or mix of breeds can participate in Barn Hunt. Although terriers and dachshunds come to mind when picturing a dog most suited to find small animals, any dog who can fit in an 18-inch tunnel is welcome to participate. Many Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, and other larger breeds or mixed breeds will happily shimmy through the tunnels as they sniff to find the rat. 

To learn more about how to get started, check out the Barn Hunt Association or The American Kennel Club

Shed Hunting with Dogs

Just like Barn Hunt, shed hunting is not an actual form of hunting. Shed hunting might be better named antler collecting. Sheds are antlers from animals in the deer family, including white-tailed deer, moose, elk, caribou, and mule deer. After their annual mating season, known as the “rut”, the antlers fall off naturally when testosterone levels in the male animals decrease. New antlers will grow back as the next mating season approaches. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, antlers are made of bone and grow up to an inch a day.

The best time to go shed hunting is as early as January and into the spring months of March and April. Of course, this depends on the area in which you live and the type of deer who live in your part of the country. You can start training your dog now for excursions in the spring. 

How to get started shed hunting

Whether you train your dog to sniff out deer sheds for fun in the woods, or for shed hunting competitions, it is important to keep your training fun. There are a variety of websites with information to get you started. Many shed hunting enthusiasts are also avid hunters of birds, upland game, and deer, but shed hunting can be enjoyed by anyone with a love of the outdoors. Check out, which is sponsored by dog trainer Tom Dokken, who is a reputable name in the world of retriever training. This article from The Bark magazine also includes great information for beginners:

If shed hunting sounds like fun, remember to only go out during non-hunting season. It is also important to get permission from the owner of the land before searching for sheds on private property. 

Antlers are eco-friendly dog chews

Antlers have become a popular eco-friendly dog chew and an alternative to bones. Not only are they hypoallergenic, they are odor free, a great source of mental stimulation, and satisfy a dog’s desire to chew, but they are 100% humane and eco-friendly. The animals lose them whether we humans pick them up or not. Finding them and preparing them for dog chews is pretty win-win for everyone: the deer, the humans, and the dogs.

Unless you are knowledgeable about how to prepare the antler sheds that you find so that they are safe to give to your dog, the safest option is to sell any sheds that you find or use them for décor in your own home. Then you can purchase antler chews for your own dog that you know are safely made and ready for consumption, like the Cheese Spread Antler in our Pure Earth Pets retail store

If you do want to use the antlers that you find as dog chews, you can find information online about how to prepare them. Most antlers will need to be cut into the right size for your dog. You can also learn about how to blanch antlers to sterilize them without making them hard and brittle. This can be a lot of work, which is why we suggest searching for antlers just for fun. 

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published