Getting Started in AKC Scent Work

What is Scent Work?

AKC Scent Work is a sport that mimics the task of working detection dogs to locate a scent and communicate to the handler that the scent has been found. Real-life detection dogs are trained to search for a variety of things--drugs, explosives, human remains, currency, other contraband, living humans (such as for Search and Rescue), and much more.  AKC Scent Work takes this amazing working relationship and turns it into a fun game that any dog can play.

Am I Eligible?

To be eligible to compete in AKC Scent Work, a dog must be:

How a Scent Work Trial Works

Scent Work trials, as with any AKC sport, are organized and held by AKC-Licensed or Member Clubs. The club is always your first contact regarding specific events.

The official announcement of a club's event is a called a Premium List. It contains all relevant information regarding the trial, including date, location, classes offered, and judges--as well as an entry form.

To enter an AKC Scent Work trial, the owner of the dog must submit an official AKC entry form, which can be found in the premium list. The entry form should be sent to the trial secretary that is specified in the premium. After the entries have closed, a program showing the schedule for the judging will be sent to you along with all relevant information about the trial.

AKC Scent Work Program

The Divisions

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.

The Elements

Searches in AKC Scent Work are completed in a variety of environments, known as "Elements." The Elements in AKC Scent Work are:

  • Container: The target odor is concealed within a container (such as a cardboard box or briefcase), and the dog must indicate in which container the scent is hidden.
  • Interior: The target odor is concealed on or in an object in an indoor search area.
  • Exterior: The target odor is concealed on or in an object in an outdoor search area--this requires the dog to locate the scent despite changing airflow patterns, weather conditions, and natural distractions.
  • Buried: The target odor is concealed within a small container and then buried underneath the ground.

The Difficulty Levels

Each element in the 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). 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.

The Odors

The Odor Search Division of AKC Scent Work uses four odors: Birch (Betula lenta), Anise (Pimpinella anisum), Clove (Eugenia caryophyllata), and Cypress (Cupressus sempevirens). Novice searches are for Birch only, Advanced searches are for Birch and/or Anise, Excellent searches are for Birch and/or Anise and/or Clove, and Master searches are for Birch and/or Anise and/or Clove and/or Cypress.

The Detective Class

The Detective Class is the highest level competition in AKC Scent Work--it offers an integrated search environment with an unknown number of hides 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. In the Detective Class, the dog is searching for one or more essential oil odors.

The Qualifying Performance

In AKC Scent Work, handler-dog teams are judged on a qualify/non-qualify basis. The dog must use their nose to search out the hidden odors, and then alert their handlers 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. The dog is the star of the Scent Work trial--the handler remains mostly passive, guiding the dog's search only when necessary and letting the judg eknow when the dog has found the scent.

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.

Teams that qualify will then be ranked 1st through 4th, based on fewest number of faults and then on time. 

For more detailed information, please see the AKC Scent Work Regulations.

How Do I Get Started in Scent Work?

Scent Work is a terrific sport, because you don't necessarily have to take classes to become ready to compete at trial. And because the searches mimic real-life scenarios, 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 a little more expertise, local Scent Work clubs and many dog training facilities offer training in Scent Work (or "Nosework," as it is sometimes known). See our Club Search or our Training Resources pages for more information on finding Scent Work classes near you.