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A Sniffing Good Time – AKC Scentwork

June 9, 2021

The Nose Knows…… AKC Scentwork 

As I stated in an earlier blog post I am in no way an expert at AKC Scentwork.  I am currently trialing dogs in Novice, Advanced and Excellent and training for Master.  I also have a unique perspective as an AKC Scentwork Trial Secretary so these observations are coming from that knowledge. I am also only going to talk about AKC Scentwork, there are other venues and many of the same principles overlap but I currently only compete in AKC Scentwork so I have very little knowledge on the other venues. One of the great things about Scentwork is it a sport for almost every dog. 

It isn’t an extremely physical sport so almost every dog can participate (humans too).  Another thing that is very different is that the dog is the lead in this sport and the handler is just along for the ride.

The AKC describes the sport this way: “The sport of Scent Work is based on the work of professional detection dogs (such as drug dogs), employed by humans to detect a wide variety of scents and substances. In AKC Scent Work, dogs search for cotton swabs saturated with the essential oils of Birch, Anise, Clove, and Cypress. The cotton swabs are hidden out of sight in a pre-determined search area, and the dog has to find them. Teamwork is necessary: when the dog finds the scent, he has to communicate the find to the handler, who calls it out to the judge.

Teams are judged on a qualify/non-qualify basis. Your dog must use his nose to search out the hidden odors, and then alert you when the odors are detected. Dogs may paw, bark, point with their nose or body, sit, lie down, or use any other behavior to communicate the location of the odor.”

Most dogs love the sport as they are using their best sense, hanging out with their peeps and getting treats, what is not to love. So how do you get involved? 

First of all you do not have to take an in person class to get started (they can be hard to find and hard to get into as they are popular and typically small) there are lots of online resources to help get you started.  I personally took online classes at Fenzi Dog Sports Academy.  The classes helped me a lot especially in the beginning. 

There are a lot of resources on Facebook too, I follow Friends of Scent Work University, Scentsabilities Nosework Training Group and Scentwork Central to name a few.  These private groups have general info, and paid webinars that give a lot of help with different topics and exercises.  Plus in your region there might be a group that talks about trials and classes in your area.  Here we have a group called Southeast Scentwork that provides lots of info.

Even if you don’t have a class it is good to take your show on the road.  Try to find dog friendly places and get a friend to help with the hides. Because Scentwork is an individual sport even if you have a shy or reactionary dog you can still compete but remember you have to go to the trial so it is a good idea to make sure you are practicing outside your home environment.

So you are ready to compete, now what?

First like all AKC events you can find what trials are available by searching the AKC Events Calendar on  Once you find a trial make sure you read the premium (the instructions for the trial).  This will give you the classes available, when it opens and closes, entry fees, move up rules, judges etc. Just a reminder, especially for Novice handlers, you can only handle one dog per element. Also remember you can only enter the level you are eligible, if you have your Novice title in an Element you can enter Advance but you can’t jump to Excellent. You can enter different elements at different levels.

There are several types of entries.  Random Draw, First Received and Unlimited entry. 

Random Draw is just like it sounds, all the entries are received and then there is a Draw Until the trial is full.  You need to read the premium so you know when your entries need to arrive.  There is an opening day and a closing day.  The premium will give you those dates and the entry numbers available.  With a random draw after the closing date there is an additional 10 days in which to send in an entry which will be first in, first entered if the numbers haven’t filled or in order on the wait list.  Once the Random draw closing date the draw will be done based on when and where the premium has it listed, within 48 hours.  After the draw the trial secretary will send you the information as to your entry status, again typically within 48 hours but not always.  If the trial fills then you will find out about your waitlist status too.  If you are on the waitlist, don’t despair, you could still get in as people may have to withdraw.

First Received means just want it says, the first entry that arrives gets in the trial and the entries are received they are entered in the trial until the trial numbers are reached.  Then all others are on the waitlist.   Popular trials often fill on the first day so make arrangements to get your entries in asap if that is the one you want to enter.  Overnight mailing might be the answer. 

Unlimited entry – these trials are set up so that clubs will keep hiring judges as the max judge number is reached.  Just an FYI, a judge can judge 125 runs a day.  They trials generally have a lot of area to set up searches.  Again the premium will let you know if it is an unlimited trial.

Hooray!  You got in, now what?

After closing you will get an update from the Secretary that will include the judges program.  It may also include other useful information.  I can’t say it enough please read your info from the club.  As a secretary it is annoying to answer questions that are clearly answered in the sent material.   The judges program will tell you how the classes are going to run, concurrently, back to back, rolling start, numerical start.  Clubs run them differently depending on how they feel will make the trial run smooth and on time.  

You have all the trial info, now let’s go to the trial.

Remember you will be working from your car, so make sure you take everything to keep you and your dog comfortable, If it is warm take shade clothes and fans, if it is cold take your winter gear. Take a chair, water and snacks for you and your dog. Don’t forget your treats for your dog as you can and should reward at the source when you are trialing.

The club and judges will give you a briefing about what to expect, they will tell you about hides, times, warm up areas etc. If you have questions ask them, don’t hesitate to ask what you need to know.

Once you have successfully done your run (you trusted your dog right?) and you got your YES, remember not to share anything other than a thumbs up or down depending on your qualifying. This is an honor sport so don’t mess with the integrity of the sport for the other competitors. Sometimes the trial is set up to run back to back so if you don’t want to do that it is OK, do what is best for your team.

You will get a qualifying ribbon and then you will get your time. The judges have to sign off on the scoring so your official times and placements will be later. Please do not be that person and complain about how long it takes for official results. Rest assured the score room is working feverishly to get them updated as fast as possible. If you can’t wait for the official results then get them the next day or if you can’t do that ask a friend to get them for your. They are rarely mailed unless the club has had an issue with ribbons. Most trial secretaries will email official results so you will get that information.

Speaking of ribbons, the premium will let you know if the club is offering High in Trial and/or New Title ribbons/awards. If there are High in Trial there will be one for each level. To be awarded HIT the team must be entered in all Elements offered and Q in all of them, the team with the fastest time and fewest faults will earn the HIT ribbon. If a club offers Handler Discrimination in addition to other elements there could also be a High Combined Ribbon. There are also First thru Fourth placement ribbons for each level with Novice divided by the A and B classes for placements. Just an FYI if there is a TIE on time the tie is decided by the flip of a coin. As trial secretary I have had to do it several times. Also remember currently there are no rankings for Scentwork, the HIT and placements are just for that day and they are not recorded anywhere other than the trial results.

Ok, you got a ribbon!

You need 3 Qs to earn your title, the AKC also has an Elite level where if you earn a total of 10 Qs in a level you can get an Elite title at that level. You can stay in the level or you can come back to it to earn the Elite title. So if you go 1,2,3 and get your title you can move to the next level if the club allows move ups or you can stay put.

So I hope this helped to explain AKC Scentwork and you are looking forward to trying this fun sport with your dog.

Remember to have fun, be a good sport, maintain the integrity of the trial and most of all TRUST YOUR DOG!

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