Nose Work Games: The Best Way To Have Fun With Your Boat Dog

K9 nose work tires Honey out, works her brain, and brings her joy. No wonder nose work games are a great way to have fun with a boat dog.

Enjoy fun K9 Nose Work Games with your dog.

K9 Nose Work: What Is It?

K9 nose work, at its most basic, is an activity where dogs seek out a specific scent and try to find its source.

It can be a fun game where your dog tries to find treats or toys or a competitive dog sport where your dog searches for scents hidden in rooms, outdoor spaces, or vehicles. K9 nose work is the foundation of the advanced searching professional dogs do to find accident victims, cadavers, drugs, or explosives.

Heavy, huh?

On board Meander, nose work is one way Honey and I play together. And it’s a game that has dozens of benefits. For both of us.

Honey the golden retriever plays nose work games on the dock.

Nose work is my favorite game on the boat. It sure beats swimming.

Benefits Of Nose Work:

Honey and I have played with agility, trick training, and obedience. But we haven’t found any dog activity with as many benefits as nose work.

Nose work can be done anywhere

Agility takes equipment. And space. It’s just not an option on a boat or any other small space. But we’ve played nose work games in our saloon (what boat people call their living room), on the dock, and in the park.

Nose work builds confidence

Honey and I first discovered nose work when our local shelter offered a beginner’s class. They strongly recommended it for newly adopted pups with confidence issues. The most improved student in Honey’s class was a pup who started with her tail between her legs and by the sixth session was joyfully doing searches with her tail fluttering happily in the air.

Nose work works your dog’s brain and body

After nose work classes, Honey slept like a stone. Smelling engages your dog’s brain and tires her out more than any physical exercise. But Honey got her share of physical exercise as well—after finding the last treat, she ran a victory lap to celebrate with all the people taking the class.

And because nose work is gentle activity, it may be an appropriate way to exercise your pup recovering from an injury. Ask your vet.

Honey the golden retriever is tired after playing nose work games.

After searching the whole boat for my dinner, I need a nap. Wake me when it’s time for breakfast.

You don’t have to train your dog first

Nose work is a no-obedience zone. You don’t make your dog sit or stay or come. In fact, you are supposed to do everything you can to encourage your dog’s enthusiasm.

Honey was an adolescent when we took our class. And while I had started training her basic obedience, she did not have to practice impulse control while in class. That makes it an ideal activity for a dog you’ve just adopted. Which brings us to…

Nose work builds your bond

Nose work is done solo, with your dog working on his own. When you start, you have nothing to do but observe your dog and learn his search style. Watching your dog closely and having fun together will do a lot to grow your relationship.

Playing Nose Work Games With Honey

We use nose work games many different ways.

I hide treats around the boat to work Honey’s brain when we’re stuck on board. I’ve also fed her in the park without a bowl, making her sniff out her dinner.

But it’s also an amazing way to recover that toy or ball that gets lost in tall grass.

After years of practice, Honey can find a toy or even a stick just from my residual scent on it. Cool, right?

Do you think it would be fun to do nose work games with your dog?

How You Can Get Started Playing Nose Work Games

To play nose work games with your dog, you need to teach her what you want her to do. You start by setting up boxes with smelly treats inside.

The first searches should be easy. As your dog begins learning what you want from her when you say “find it,” you add distractions to make the searches increasingly difficult.

Eventually, your dog will know just what to do when you tell them to “find it.”

When Honey and I learned about nose work eight years ago, there was very little information about it online. So I’ve gathered some great resources so you can learn how to play nose work games with your dog.

Nose Work Resources on Something Wagging This Way Comes

Want to know how K9 nose work helps you in real life? Check out—

How To Calm Your Dog When She’s Just Gone Crazy

And if you’re ready to start playing nose work games with your dog, I’ve written a series of tutorials to help you get started:

Some of the links below are affiliate links.

Other Nose Work Resources

For information about playing basic nose work games, check out K9 Nose Work.

If you’re interested in competitive scent work, visit The National Association of Canine Scent Work.

And if you want to follow the story of dogs competing in nose work, visit My GBGV Life.

For great ideas on using your dog’s nose, read The Canine Kingdom of Scent: Fun Activities Using Your Dog’s Natural Instincts by Kvam, Anne Lill (2012) (affiliate)

Your dog can use his nose without any special work to find treats in the Wooly Snuffle Mat  (affiliate)

And to work your dog’s problem solving abilities along with their ability to track down scents, try Nina Ottosson’s Hide N’ Slide Treat Dispensing Dog Puzzle (affiliate)

So if you want to try a great activity with your dog that you’ll both love, try nose work today. It’s the best way to have fun with a boat dog. Or any dog.

Your Turn: Have you tried nose work games with your dog? How did your dog like it?

  1. We play some simple games using my nose. It’s great fun! It started with a biped asking me which hand held a smelly treat when I was quite a small puppy. I have a 100% success rate with that!

  2. We do lots of sports, but nose work is our main one. It is so easy to practice, so much fun, and we get worn out quickly. Funny, as we posted a NW post today too. Thank you for mentioning us. If only you were closer, we would love to search a boat, how fun. The closet we have gotten is a boat trailer, but we have searched farm machinery. Happy sniffing!

    • I love that your family is competitive in canine scent work. Being nomads, it isn’t something we could do. But I love that nose work can be a casual game around the house (boat) or a competitive dog sport.

    • By following every step in the tutorial, starting with hides in the boxes, and using VERY stinky and delicious treats most dogs will start focusing on the task. And being reinforced over and over will help them focus.

      That said, not every dog is a little robot. I wrote at the time about one of Honey’s bad nights when she got so distracted by a ball she could not get back onto finding the scent even a little bit.

      I suspect you’d find Sam developed focus once he understood what you were asking him to do. But if you try it and it doesn’t work, please let me know. And post video. 🙂

  3. Finally have a chance to catch up a little, without Sam griping about my computer time….

    Before I left for my brother’s home in Islamorada back in mid-February, I was playing nose work games with Ducky and Shadow – along with having them walk on the treadmill every day – and it was helping a great deal. Unfortunately Sam was not the least bit interested in keeping it going, so now I’m going to have to start from scratch again. Luckily, they devise their own NW games outside and run around the yard playing with their favorite outdoor toys. Sometimes they even let me play too. 🤣

    • As you say, our dogs are playing Nose Work games all the time. But sometimes they humor us by letting us play along. 🙂

  4. I never thought about nose work as being something strenuous – I might have to look into this for Jaxson on those days when it’s just too hot for us to go outside and play. Trust me, in Charleston, there are a lot of those. Thanks for this post my friend!