Beginner Nose Work for Dogs (Your Pup Will Love It)!

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If you’re like us, you probably have remnants of half or fully-destroyed dog toys scattered around your house. These can range from barely even used to completely ripped open. 

Instead of throwing them away, we have a way for you to start trying nose work for dogs that’s perfect for beginners! Let your pup use their nose to find kibble and treats in a pile of unused toys! 

We use the “find it” command for this. If your dog is half as food- or treat-motivated as our Prim is, they’ll love it. Prim frequently runs to our “find it pile” in hopes that kibble will magically appear. This behavior is very similar to using a snuffle mat, but doesn’t involve any crafting or supplies at all (except destroyed toys)!

Benefits of nose work for dogs

Stimulates your dog’s mind

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We’ve all heard the old adage that a tired dog is a good dog, but to be more direct, the more outlets they have for energy, the less likely they are to engage in undesirable behavior. If your dog has a lot of chew toys, he’s less likely to chew your shoes. Similarly, if your dog uses their mind to solve problems, it’s less likely they will use all that mental energy to find ways to get into trouble (because they are curious and bored).

We believe mental stimulation is one of the areas that most dogs could use and nose work for dogs is a perfect way to get their minds going. How many of us have a dog that can play for hours or run 3 miles and still have energy left over? We have one of those dogs ourselves, so we understand how it goes. 

Letting your dog forage around in a pile of toys to find kibble is a great outlet to entertain your dog while engaging their innate desire to sniff out food. There are a number of different options for nose work for dogs that can help encourage this behavior, but the “find it” pile is one of the cheapest & easiest.

If you’re looking for another easy way to entertain your dog’s mind, check out our guides for dog lick mat ideas and frozen lick mat recipes! Our dogs love them all!

Easy activity to do at home or alone

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Another reason we recommend this activity, or any nose work for dogs, so much is the flexibility with when and how to to be able to do it. We’ve all had days where we are simply beat from the day and don’t have as much energy as we’d like to entertain our pups or the weather doesn’t cooperate with what you want to do. Since this activity is primarily inside and low effort for you, it’s great for any day. 

As long as your dog is hungry or interested in food, all you have to do is grab some kibble and throw it into the pile.

If you’re looking for more indoor activities for your pup, check out our article on fun games to play with your dog inside!

Perfect for less mobile dogs

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One of our pups recently went through an 8-month adventure of two torn CCLs (similar to a human ACL) and 2 meniscus tears. Typically, he’s constantly running around with us, attached to our hips. It was extremely difficult to keep him entertained when he wasn’t allowed to leave a room, couldn’t go on walks, and had the cone of shame on to prevent licking the wounds (read: infection).

The “find it pile” was perfect as he could stand and find kibble without having to move around too much. As a word of caution, if you plan to use kibble or treats for this activity, make sure you offset the food your pup gets each day. We had to limit his food intake since his activity level was much lower than normal during his recovery.

Recycles old toys

It’s always nice to be able to reuse supplies you already have. For this activity, you don’t have to buy anything new and get to reuse otherwise useless toys!

What to do

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The best part of nose work for dogs? It’s one of the easiest categories of activities you’ll find!

The only prep you’ll need for this one is gathering any dog toys or bones and throwing them into a pile. Follow up by throwing kibble at the pile and you’re done! 

There’s some optional prep you can do to make it better for your pup or easier for you, but it isn’t required. For example, we like to trim the worst of the frayed edges of the used toys, so our pups don’t end up eating any more loose strings or bits than they do with their normal toy-destroying antics. 

We also like to put this pile in a corner so that it contains the toys better. We have a primarily unused closet on hard flooring, which is perfect and easy to clean. Prim is vigorous when searching out kibble, so it helps keep her entertained a little longer, too. You can use a box or anything that has two or more edges to help contain the pile.

If you don’t have room to have a pile of old toys, you can always use puzzles such as this one to get started into nose work as well! We personally use this one with our dogs, even though Goomba tries to cheat and rip the lids off.

Things to look out for

Dog eating pieces of toys

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The only issue we’ve run across while using this activity with our dogs is that they can end up ingesting some toy bits & strings if they’re too enthusiastic. 

Fortunately, this is easy to fix. If you want, there’s no reason you can’t use bones or other non-fabric toys. If we didn’t have as many partially destroyed toys, we’d use these. Rubber or other toys are perfect, as well.

If you have an ample amount of fabric toys, some light pruning with scissors is more than adequate to help avoid most of the issues. 

Another tip is to make sure you don’t use tiny bits that fit into your pup’s mouth. We try to keep the fragments at least the length of their head.


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It’s easy to get started into nose work for dogs, simply gather up a pile of toys and throw some kibble into it! If your pup is playing hard to entertain, you can always find a better treat until they get more willing to participate or understand the behavior. Just remember to watch how much food you use, especially for the senior or injured pups.

We’d love to see your success your own nose work for dogs or any other enrichment you do! Share your photos of your dog trying out a “find it pile” with us on Instagram by tagging @therulybully.

Have fun!

    Lincoln Schaefer

    Hi, I’m Lincoln!  I’m the owner & primary writer here at The Ruly Bully!  My wife and I have two dogs, Goomba & Prim, and a host of other critters in our home.  Feel free to send a message!  We love to hear your stories, too.

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