Fascinating fact: Dogs have a sense of smell that’s between 10,000 and 100,000 times more acute than ours! The sport of Scent Work celebrates the joy of sniffing, and asks a dog to sniff to their heart’s content; turning your dog’s favorite activity into a rewarding game. It is a terrific sport for all kinds of dogs, and is a wonderful way to build confidence in a shy dog.
In so many dog sports the handler is in control but this isn’t true in Scent Work. Neither the dog nor handler knows where the target odor is hidden. The handler has to rely on the dog, and follow the dog’s nose to success. In Scent Work, it is the canine who is the star of the show.
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.
All dogs (purebred and mixed breeds) can participate. Your dog must be 6 months of age or older and must have an AKC number via one of the following:
- AKC Registration Number – This number is provided to a dog owner via a registration certificate received from the previous owner, or via a puppy registration paper given to the new owner by the breeder.
- Purebred Alternative Listing (PAL) – If a dog is purebred but an AKC Registration Number is not possible, owners can apply for PAL number
- AKC Canine Partners Number – This number is given to either mixed breed dogs or a purebred.
- Foundation Stock Service®(FSS) Number – This number is used for breeds whose status is currently in the foundational stage of being recorded into our registry and requires a copy of the dog’s pedigree.
First, make sure you understand how a Scent Work trial (“competition”) works: There are two divisions: 1) The Odor Search Division where your dog searches for the odor of one or more specific essential oils, and 2) the Handler Discrimination Division where your dog searches for the scent of his handler. Each division has four levels of difficulty (Novice, Advanced, Excellent, and Master).
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.
You and your dog don’t have to take classes to become ready to compete at trial as the situations mimic real-life situations with no special equipment involved. Training can be done at home or in the community, and there are many books and videos to help you get started.
If you prefer a class environment, find a local Scent Work club (also called “Nosework”). In addition to classes, your local club will be your best resource when you’re ready to participate in a trial: Just ask them for the Premium List which is the official announcement of an event and contains all the information you’ll need including dates, locations, classes offered, and judges. It will also include an entry form that you’ll need to fill out and send to the specified trial secretary. 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.
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