Scent Work, or K9 Nose Work, is a sport that mimics the task of working detection dogs to locate a scent and communicate to the handler where the scent has been found. Real-life detection dogs are trained to search for a variety of things–drugs, explosives, human remains, living humans (such as for Search and Rescue), and much more. Scent Work develops an amazing working relationship and is a fun game that any dog of any age can play.
There are two major organizations that offer nose work – the American Kennel Club (AKC) and the National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW). Differences in how the two organizations hold scent trials are noted below.
Searches in Scent Work are completed in a variety of environments, known as “Elements.”
The Odor Search Division of AKC Scent Work uses four odors: Birch, Anise, Clove, and Cypress. The number and combination of odors increases with increasing difficulty levels. In the AKC Handler Discrimination Division, the target odor is that of the handler – a scented article from the handler is concealed in a container, interior, or exterior as described above.
NACSW uses three odors: Birch, Anise, and Clove. Any of the 3 odors (or a combination) may be used in each element at all levels.
Dogs will begin with the novice level classes and move up as they earn titles. Factors such as the size of the search area, the number of hides, whether the number of hides is known or unknown to the handler, and the maximum height of the hides will change with the difficulty level.
Handler-dog teams are judged on a qualify/non-qualify basis. In order to earn a qualifying leg, the handler-dog team must find and call all hides in a search area within the time allowed for the class without committing any non-qualifying faults.
AKC Titling Levels:
AKC Scent Work is broken down into two divisions. The Odor Search Division, in which the dog is searching for the odor of one or more specific essential oils, and the Handler Discrimination Division, in which the dog is searching for the scent of their handler.
Each element in the AKC Odor Search Division, and the Handler Discrimination Division, has four difficulty levels: Novice, Advanced, Excellent, and Master. Dogs will begin with the Novice level classes and move up as they earn titles, and may progress through the elements at different speeds (i.e., a dog may compete in the Novice Interior class and the Advanced Container class). Element titles are earned after three qualifying scores in an element and an overall title is earned when titles are earned for all four elements at a given level.
The Detective Class is the highest-level competition in AKC Scent Work–it offers an integrated search environment with an unknown number of hides (between 5 -10) and odor types in a variety of elements. The intent of the Detective Class is to emulate as closely as possible the work of a true detection dog. The Detective title is earned after achieving 10 qualifying performances.
NACSW Titling Levels:
To compete in NACSW the handler and each dog must be registered with the NACSW.
Dogs must prequalify to enter their first trial by demonstrating that they can successfully identify all three odors. The Odor Recognition Title (ORT) is earned by successfully passing all three odor recognition tests.
NACSW titles are generally required to be earned at a single trial; i.e., achieving a score of 100 by qualifying in all four elements (Container, Exterior, Interior and Vehicle). NW1 and NW2 titles are earned by successfully passing all four elements at the same trial with a score of 100 and no more than 3 faults. NW3 titles are earned by either achieving a score of 100 with no more than 3 faults in a single trial or by achieving two qualifying scores at two different NW3 trials. An NW3 Elite title is earned by achieving the NW3 title three times.
Titles may also be earned for each element. For Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 Element Specialty titles, the handler-dog team must qualify in all the searches at the same trial or earn a qualifying score with no more than 3 faults at two separate trials for the same level/element. NW3 Element titles are earned by either achieving a score of 100 with no more than 3 faults in a single trial or by achieving two qualifying scores at two different NW3 trials.
NACSW holds advanced titling competitions at Elite Division and Summit League trials. Elite titles (ELT1-3 and ELT-CH) are earned by accumulating points at Elite Division trials, while the ultimate Summit League Title (SMT) is earned in competition with other teams by placing in the top 20% overall.
GETTING STARTEDScent Work is easy to train as you don’t necessarily have to take classes to become ready to compete at trial and training can be done at home or in the community. There are many books and videos to help you get your dog started in Scent Work. If you need the discipline of class environment or more expertise, local Scent Work clubs and many dog training facilities offer training in Scent Work. See the ‘Resource’ links for more information.