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A calmer dog - a sniff away.

Updated: Apr 10, 2022

You’re sitting at your desk at home, trying to get work done and there they are - big brown dog eyes. Staring at you. A wet nose, pushing into your leg. A quiet woof, and as you pretend you’re still focusing on the screen in front of you (nice try!), a louder bark. First at you. Then at the kids playing outside, at a door falling shut in your building. In between, the noise of your dog’s nails on the hardwood floor clicking like clockwork as she wanders around the house, coming up with new ideas of preventing you from crossing tasks off your ever-growing to-do list.

Because I know the feeling all too well - mostly a mixture of stress about not getting things done and feeling bad for my dog to be bored -, I wanted to make sure that I share with you one of my favorite and proven ways to help my dog be calmer and happier at home and letting me focus on my job. Here's what I do: I put my dog's superpower to work - I let her sniff! As much as I possibly can, I let her sniff. And you can do this, too: below are 3 different ways to give your dog more "nose time" with little extra cost and work on your part - and no training experience required.

Sniffer meals.

This one is probably the easiest way of engaging your dog's nose more frequently - since you already feed your dog at least once if not twice a day, why not just change how you feed her. Here's the thing: have you ever timed how long your dog needs to eat out of his regular bowl? I have, and can report that my cattle dog Blue needs exactly 54 seconds from start to finish. Not exactly the French idea of how to properly eat dinner, and certainly not your dog’s idea either. Dogs are scavengers (not hunters like their wolf ancestors) and naturally forage for food, using their sense of smell, for more than 10 % of their active time. Assuming that your dog is active for about 8 hours per day, that would be at least 48 minutes of sniffing while searching for and consuming food!

So then how can you turn a boring bowl meal into a fun sniffer meal? My favorite 2 ways of doing this is to simply tossing my dog's dinner in my backyard lawn for her to find it, and to replace my dog's regular food bowl with a snuffle mat. You can get snuffle mat's in your local pet store, online or check YouTube and Pinterest for easy to make and low cost DIY versions.

Expanding mealtimes the easy way. My dogs love their snuffle mats, and when we're outside, I will simply toss treats or their kibble in the grass.

Troubleshooting for sniffer newbies:

(if your dog gives up easily..)

  • Start easy: in the beginning, sprinkle treats or kibble so they are rather on top of the snuffle mat than hidden deep.

  • Mix in some treats that your dog loves, then reduce treats and only feed kibble.

  • Help your dog by pointing out the kibble.

Treat search.

Yep, that's the old fashioned hide n’seek, with treats. Here’s how to get started. Place your dog in a down stay (if he can hold it - it shouldn't lead to frustration, but is a great opportunity to practice!), confine him behind a gate, or tether him. Then get creative and hide treats in a room, or the whole house, out of sight but within reach for your dog. Tell your dog to "go sniff" and release him. My personal preference: bringing a glass of wine and watching my dogs do their magic from a comfy place on my couch.

Hiding treats can be a great way to practice a down-stay and tire out your dog by making use of her nose. I love to challenge my sniffer-advanced dogs by hiding treats higher up. Only play with multiple dogs at the same time if you are sure they are good about sharing food.

Troubleshooting for sniffer newbies:

  • start easy by letting your dog see you placing only one treat, in plain sight.

  • Use treats that your dog loves.

  • Increase difficulty by adding more treats, by not letting your dog watch, and by hiding the treats in 3-dimensional space.

Toy search.

If your dog loves toys and play, adding a mental workout to the physical one may just be the thing for you! It might even help to keep your ball-crazy pooch at a manageable excitement level. Before and in between rounds or fetch or tug, simply hide the toy and let your dog search for it.

Introducing your dog to search for his toy is similar to the treat search process. At home or on your walk, place your dog in a down stay (if they can hold it), or confine them behind a gate or tether them. Once you've hidden the toy, tell your dog to "go sniff" and send her off to find it. Celebrate your dog’s success with a good round of play, then rinse & repeat.

Trouble shooting for sniffer newbies:

  • start easy by letting your dog see you placing the toy in plain sight.

  • Increase the difficulty by not letting your dog watch, and by hiding the toy higher up, e.g. in a tree or on a shelf but within reach for your dog.

3 fun facts about dog's capacities to sniff and the benefits of letting them sniff.
There is plenty of research about the amazing sniffer capacities of our dogs and the positive effects of letting dogs sniff.

Make your dog (and yourself!) happy by giving his nose a job.

He’s born for it, it’s his super-power! Let your dog search for her dinner, some extra treats or her fav toy. This will certainly not solve all problems, but whether your dog is anxious, rambunctious or reactive, this no-extra-cost & no-extra-time & no-training-required entertainment for your dog may just be a lifesaver for your peace at home (that's what my clients tell me).

Send me an email at and let me know how you entertain your dog's nose (I read all my emails!). To stay in touch and hear about new blog posts, sign up for our email list below.


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