K9 Nose Work is also a sport in which you and your dog can earn titles. Of course, it's not necessary to ever go to a trial; it's merely an option for those who enjoy testing their training in a formal setting. Jill and Kimberly were quick to point out that first and foremost, K9 Nose Work is a fun activity to share with your dog.
But for those who enjoy a bit of competition, here's a little bit of information.
Are You Ready?
There are three levels of competition in K9 Nose Work, and according to Jill and Kimberly, on average each level will require about a year of training. They suggested several ways for you to know that you and your dog are ready for a trial.
First, your dog will have searched in many environments. This helps the dog know that a search can happen any time and in any place. Since an official trial has four elements (more on this in a moment) that happen in four different environments, this is a pretty important thing for the dog to learn.
Next, you need to understand your dog's particular search body language. In a trial, you will need to not only identify when your dog has found the source of the odor, but you will need to be able to tell the judge where it is.
It's also important that your dog has built up some endurance. K9 Nose Work trials tend to last all day and involve four different searches during that time. Since the activity can be pretty exhausting in and of itself (not to mention the fact that he will be in a trial environment for long periods of time), your dog will need some stamina to be successful!
Finally, your dog needs to know what he's searching for, which brings us to...
The Odor Recognition Test is like a mini-trial, where the dog proves that he is able to find (and the handler can recognize when he's found) the target odor. In the first level of K9 Nose Work, the scent searched for is Birch. In levels 2 and 3, the dogs search for anise and clove. An ORT must be completed for each of these scents, and is required before a dog can compete at a trial.
The Four Elements of a Trial
K9 Nose Work trials involve four elements: the container search, the interior building search, the exterior area search, and the vehicle search.
The container search includes 15-20 containers with the target odor in one (or more, depending on the level) of them. These containers can be boxes, although it becomes progressively more difficult as the dog advances. At the upper level there may even be distraction scents of food, toys, or other animals!
The interior building search can happen in a variety of locations. At the seminar, we were shown videos of searches happening inside of a preschool classroom and another in a science lab: challenging indeed! There can be between one and three hides in the room (depending on the level).
The exterior area search takes place outside in a pre-marked area. Nature- including critters and the weather- can make this particular element incredibly challenging.
Finally, the vehicle search requires the dog to hunt for the hidden odor on three to five vehicles, including cars, trucks, trailers, motorcycles, etc.
For More Information
Please see the National Association of Canine Scent Work for more info on scents, ORTs, and trials. There are also some pictures available!
My friend Dawn's son David and his dog Siren recently became the first team in Minnesota to achieve the NW1 title. Read about their experience here.