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:
First, make sure you understand How a Scent Work trial (“competition”) works.
There are two divisions:
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.
Nose Work is a sport modelled on the scent detection skills used by police and military detection dogs but without the danger these valuable dogs face in real life. It requires the dog to detect the exact location of the source of a particular known scent in four different scenarios: container, interior rooms, exterior and vehicle. The dog must pass all four scenarios in a day to earn a title which makes it a challenging test requiring consistent excellence. It is really a fun activity that dogs enjoy and which does not require as much physical activity by the handler as tracking.
The tests were created in 2010 and are administered by the National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW).
AKC has not recognized NACSW titles although they may do so sometime in the future. But the tests have all the same essential attributes as AKC tests and their titles are worthy of the same respect for the accomplishment they represent.
Serpentine Tracks: A New Method of Introducing Dogs to Tracking (pdf) Revised, Copyright 2000 by Allison A. Platt