Dogs use their noses to get most of their information about the environment. With a sense of smell somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000 times more acute than ours, they experience the world with their noses as naturally as we humans use our eyes. And, as any dog owner knows, sniffing is one of their favorite activities.
Scent Work, which is the AKC’s latest dog sport, utilizes dogs’ sense of smell for an event that turns the joy of sniffing into a rewarding game. Mimicking the work of detection dogs that use their noses to find drugs or explosives, Scent Work requires the dog to recognize and search for an object carrying a specific scent.
There are four environments, or elements, in which the dog works to find a cotton swab saturated with a specific essential oil: anise, birch, clove, or cypress:
- Container — an open area has a number of containers, such as cardboard boxes, luggage, and backpacks. The dog must use his sense of smell to sniff out which container holds the scent.
- Interior — this search takes place in an everyday setting indoors. The dog must search around furniture and ordinary items to find the scent.
- Exterior — the odor is concealed in an everyday outdoor area, in or on an object or structure. The dog must contend with weather conditions, wind direction, vegetation, and common distractions to find the scent.
- Buried — as it sounds, the target is hidden in a small container underground, and the dog must indicate where the scent is buried.
Unlike with many dog sports, in this case the dog, rather than the handler, is in control. The handler has no more idea where the object is hidden than the dog does and must follow his canine partner’s lead. Once the dog finds the object, he must communicate to the handler where the scent is. He will paw, bark, point with his nose, sit, lie down, or use whatever method of communication tells the handler where the scent is. The handler then lets the judge know that the dog has found the scent.
Dogs with all levels of experience can participate in this sport. Each element has four levels of difficulty, and dogs can earn titles in each class. It’s challenging work that frees a dog to do what he does best: explore his environment with his nose. Training and participating in Scent Work also builds a strong bond between canine and human; they must be able to read each other’s reactions, similar to the way working dogs and military dogs work with their handlers. In fact, handlers are encouraged to communicate with and praise their dogs during the search.
Think you and your dog would be interested in this incredible sport? You're in luck! Scent Work demonstrations will take place at the AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin. Attendees in Orlando, Fla. will be able to see firsthand just how this sport works.