7 Fun Indoor Scent Games for Dogs

two aussie puppies sniffing a hand

Are you looking for some fun ways to entertain your dog indoors? Try a few indoor scent games for dogs! Scent games are a fun activity for any dog of any age. A dog’s sense of smell is one of their most powerful senses, but we don’t always pay attention to it.

When our dogs fixate on a scent, we sometimes try to lead them away from it. But, with scent games, we want to encourage them to sniff. The easiest way to introduce a scent game to your pup is to set up a hunt for something motivating for most dogs — food.

These are some fun indoor scent games for dogs that you and your dog can enjoy together:

1. Muffin Tin Puzzles

Muffin tin puzzles are a fun way to introduce your dog to scent games. And, the best part is that you probably already have the things you need! You just need an empty muffin tin, 12 tennis balls or balls roughly the same size, and dog treats that your dog loves.

Start by placing treats into a few of the muffin cups and cover them up with a ball. Then, fill the rest of the cups with balls. Give the tin to your dog and let them find the treats by moving the balls around.

Each time you play, be sure to change up the location of the treats. This way, your dog learns to use their nose to find the treats and isn’t just memorizing the location.

2. Box Search

For this next game, you simply need several empty boxes and dog treats. Delivery boxes work great for this game. Lay the empty boxes out on the floor while making sure your dog is in another room. Put some treats in a box or two, and leave the rest empty.

Let your dog back into the room and allow them to search for the treats. When your dog finds a treat in a box, be sure to praise them and, of course, let them have the treat!

Once your dog finds all the hidden treats, show your dog another treat and coax them away from the boxes by keeping their nose on the treat in your hand. Once again, praise your dog and give them the treat.

This will help your dog understand that it’s a game. It will also discourage them from continuing to search for treats once the game is over. If you don’t want your dog exploring boxes or they already have a tendency to chew on boxes when you’re not around, this may not be the best game for them.

3. Shell Game/Magic Trick

Ready to do some magic with your dog? Although the shell game/magic trick was originally created by and for humans, it can be a fun game for your dog too. Your dog’s amazing sniffing ability is the real magic here!

First, get three cups. For smaller dogs, you can use paper cups. But, with larger dogs, you may need something a little heavier, like plastic tumblers or flower pots. Start with one cup. With your dog watching, put a treat underneath the cup. When your dog nudges or paws at it, cheer or praise them and move the cup to let your dog get the treat.

After repeating this a few times, add in a second cup, but don’t put any treats under it. Show your dog that you are putting a treat under one cup next to the empty cup. When your dog nudges the cup with the treat under it, praise them and lift up the cup for your dog to get the treat.

If your dog paws at the cup without any treats, show them there are no treats. Show your dog the cup with the treat, but don’t give them the treat. Put the cup back down and repeat, cheering for your dog and praising them if they pick the right cup.

As your dog masters the game, you can add more cups. Three cups is the standard we usually see for this game, but your dog could end up advancing to more than that! Move the cups around to show that your dog is using their nose to find the treats, and not just memorizing the location.

4. Pick A Hand

Pick a hand is a lot like the muffin tin game. All you do is hold some treats in one of your fists, and let your dog pick the hand the treats are in.

Don’t let your dog see you while you get the treats ready. Bring them over when you’re ready and hold out your fists. Give a cue like, “Ready?” and then let your dog sniff your fists.

When your dog chooses, either by pawing at or licking your hand, praise your dog and of course let them have the treats. If they choose incorrectly, don’t scold your dog. Simply try again.

However, your dog must guess correctly to receive treats. This game can be played a lot, depending on how many treats your dog can have. You can also use DIY dog treats and healthier treat options if you want to play this game a lot.

5. Find Your Human

Another way to get your dog to use their nose is to play hide and seek with them! Hide-and-Seek is one of the classic outdoor games you can play with your dog that you can also play indoors. This game works best if you have another person to keep your dog in another room while you hide.

Hide in a semi-easy to find place, with plenty of treats. You don’t want it to be too hard for them to find you in order to build confidence. Choose a place like under a high bed or behind a sofa that’s easily accessible.

When your dog finds you, be sure to praise them well! And of course, give them some of the treats. Then, begin again!

6. Find It

Find It might be one of the easiest games to play. You simply need some of your dog’s favorite toys and treats.

Start by putting your dog in another room or in their cage. Then, take their toys and hide treats under a few of them. Let your dog out of their cage and say “find it”. Your dog should use their nose to find the treats hiding underneath their toys.

This is a great game because it helps them associate “find it” with using their nose to sniff out things!

7. Scent Trails

Food scents aren’t the only scents dogs like to sniff. Different scents in essential oils, like anise or lavender, are great for motivating a dog to use their sniffing instincts.

Begin with a toy, like a tennis ball, and put a few drops of essential oil onto it. Then, play an easy game of calm, indoor fetch, rewarding with a treat. Do this a few times a day for a day or two.

The next day without your dog nearby, hide the same toy. Drop small pieces of paper soaked with the same essential oil onto the floor, leading about 20 or so feet away from the ball. Let your dog into the room and say, “Find your ball!”

Most dogs will pick up the scent on the pieces of paper and begin to associate that smell with the ball. Work with them and praise them when they follow the trail. If they are struggling, let them sniff the first scented paper. When they find the ball, praise them and reward them!

To make it harder, slowly cut down on the number of scented papers until they can find the scented ball without any paper helping them. If they can master this game inside, try it outside! Just change the scent and toy, first.

Teaching your dog these scent games is a great way to interact with your dog indoors and try new games. It’s also a great way to lay a foundation for training in other areas and provide some jobs your dog can do at home. Remember, dogs love to sniff, so these indoor scent games for dogs help them hone their skills and it encourages bonding between the two of you!