Comparing SDDA and UKC Nosework

In today’s blog, I’ll compare and contrast nosework competition under the Sporting Detection Dogs Association (SDDA) and United Kennel Club (UKC).

Please note that I’m competing in UKC (in the USA and Canada) at the Masters level, while I’ve only titled in Started SDDA in Canada. This blog represents my opinion. There are many nosework organizations and they all have something to offer, so pick the one you like best!

Rules may change. Regardless of the organization, written rules are inevitably subject to interpretation by the individual judge. The judges briefing is always the best time and place to get the answers to your specific questions as to how judging will occur that day. I hope this blog is helpful preparation when you’re entering your first trial in a new organization so you know more about what to expect and feel more comfortable so you can enjoy competing with your dog in nosework.

Scoring and Faults One fundamental difference between the organizations is that SDDA scoring incorporates subjective evaluation while UKC is a more objective evaluation and placements are determined solely by the time of faultless runs.

In UKC nosework, you don’t need to look at your score sheet to know how you did, since you are not being evaluated on your style, leash handling, etc. The fastest fault free run always places above runs with faults. If you’ve read the rules, UKC faults should be very obvious to everyone e.g. the dog eliminated on course, or the handler dropped food on the hide and contaminated the search area. In UKC you should always look at your score sheet and to take a picture, so if there are any reporting errors, you can prove you qualified at that event and have the record corrected quickly. Of course the show secretary and the UKC also keep archived results, but it’s a best practice to keep track of your own results to you can enter upcoming events correctly.

In comparison, in SDDA, upon completing your search, you won’t necessarily know how you did, since the judge is making a subjective evaluation of your style, leash handling, etc.. You absolutely must check your score sheet in SDDA, since both the handlers and the dogs performance will be scored, and you won’t necessarily realize you had faults. The judge is evaluating the overall impression of the entire performance. As clearly stated in SDDA Rules, dog deductions may include lack of enthusiasm, repeatedly passing the hide, distraction, disregarding handler direction, substantially disturbing the hide, and leaving the hide. Handler deductions may include poor control of the dog, inconsistent search, repeated commands or rough handling. In UKC, none of these subjective aspects of performance would be faulted, and none are even evaluated.

Non-qualifying Faults Note that some obvious non-qualifying faults are shared by both organizations. For example, if the dog bites the judge, false alerts (indicates where no odor is present), or eliminates on course, you will not qualify in either SDDA or UKC.

Leash Handling Leash handling is an important difference between the two organizations. In SDDA you are subjectively evaluated on your leash handling and your style may be faulted. UKC is simpler. Searches are almost always on leash, unless directed by the judge. Judges have specifically briefed that if a handler drops a leash, (s)he will NOT be faulted as long as (s)he picks it up. So if your dog needs to search and entire public washroom, you may drop the leash to allow the dog to pass freely between cubicles, as long as you pick it up later.

Social Pressure I’ve heard one SDDA participant report that at the upper levels part of the judge’s evaluation incorporated the dog’s response to social pressure when the judge intentionally hovered close to the dog while searching. There is nothing comparable in UKC rules, and I’ve only seen judges remaining far away from searching teams, although this may be hardest in Vehicle searches with 5-7 vehicles and changing wind conditions.

Events & Entries In UKC, Elements can be presented in any order. In SDDA, Container searches must occur before Interior and Exterior searches.

Both organizations offer 2 streams. In SDDA, there’s a working stream and an amateur stream. In UKC, there’s a Class A for newbies and class B for experienced teams that have “been there, done that”. The specifics about which stream to enter differ, so consult the rules for more information on how to enter correctly.

In SDDA, For Exhibition Only (FEO) runs are allowed. There are no FEO runs in UKC.

In SDDA, judges score performances. There are 3 components: Containers, Interior & Exterior (which MAY include vehicles). In UKC, 4 Elements are required: Containers, Interior, Exterior, and Vehicles (mandatory).
Scoring differs. For example, in SDDA Starters, the ideal performance achieves 100 points total. This is divided as follows:
* Containers – 30 points total, with 15 points attributed to the find
* Interior – 40 points total, with 20 points attributed to the find
* Exterior – 30 points total with 15 points attributed to the find
A title is achieved once a dog receives a passing score of 50% in each component at one level. In comparison, UKC runs do not receive numeric scores. Only time and faults are listed, and the fastest fault free run wins. High in Trial is awarded to the fastest faultless run, out of all levels and classes at that trial.
In SDDA, a non-qualifying score will occur if the dog or handler moves entirely out of the search area boundaries. In UKC, cones demarcating a search area are guidelines which will tell you where the hide can be found. If a team leaves the search area, they are only wasting time and will not be faulted for doing so.

In UKC, you MUST pass a pre-trial (demonstrating the dog’s ability to detect the target odor) before you are allowed to compete in the 4 Elements (Container, Interior, Exterior and Vehicle). The NACSW Odor Recognition Test is an acceptable alternate. If you enter all events at your first UKC nosework weekend, but fail the pre-trial at Trial #1, you will not be allowed to compete in the Elements at that trial. FEO runs are not allowed. So in order to compete that weekend, you would need to pass the pretrial at the Trial #2, 3 or 4, held later that day or the next day. In SDDA, the Designated Odor Test is NOT mandatory. You may simply start competing in Starters Components at the outset.

Maximum Height In both SDDA & UKC, at the highest level of competition, the location of all hides must be 4 feet or lower.

Start Line In the SDDA trial I observed, the judge asked handlers questions at the start line e.g. what dog is this. The judge wanted handlers to maintain eye contact until the judge directed him or her to start searching, and faulted teams that did not. In comparison, in all UKC trials I’ve participated in, the day begins with a handlers briefing where you are allowed to ask questions and walk by the search areas (without your dog). When it’s your turn to search, a volunteer brings you to the search area, but you are not allowed to ask questions. There is no discussion with the judge, who may remind you simply to start when ready.

Vehicles Vehicle searches are also different. In SDDA Started level, teams search all 4 sides of vehicles, while in UKC Novice Vehicles, teams only search the front bumper area. The teams will not be asked to search all 4 sides of the vehicle until the UKC Advanced level. In both organizations, hides are always outside the vehicle, never contained inside the vehicle.

Containers Container searches also look different. In UKC, all levels of Container searches always feature a straight row of cardboard boxes. In SDDA, Containers made from any material e.g. plastic may be scattered throughout the room, in a circle, or square pattern. At the Excellent level, boxes may by raised or placed below furniture.

Scent Target Odors differ as well. The SDDA Started target odor is Wintergreen, while in UKC, the Novice odor is Birch. At the upper levels, more odors are introduced.

Toys SDDA rules recommended that toys and tugs be clean so as not to introduce dirt or hair and contaminate the search area. UKC rules specify that the judge should inspect any toy before it is used. Undoubtedly, handlers using toys in any organization should always bring a clean toy into the search area and never contaminate the search area, as a courtesy to other participants, and to achieve full credit.

Where is it? Note for both organizations, the written rules do not specify how close the team must be to source in order to receive full credit. Once the handler calls “Alert”, the judge may ask the handler “Where is it?” So how close to source do you need to be? In written correspondence, SDDA responded that the judge “will know it when [(s)he] sees it”. In UKC briefings, judges have specified from 2 to 6 inches plus. In competitions I’ve seen UKC judges dividing objects into segments e.g. dividing a vehicle’s wheel well into 4 separate areas and giving teams indicating adjacent areas full credit, faulting the farther segments as “fringe” alerts (which still passed), and failing teams that indicated the body of the vehicle away from the wheel well. The best practice is to aim for indicating within 2-6 inches to be sure to receive full credit.

Spacing of Multiple Hides Another anecdotal difference is the distance separating multiple hides. I’ve heard SDDA participants say that hides have been as close as 1 foot apart. In UKC, 2-3 feet is the closest distance I’ve observed. Since the distance is not specifically spelled out in the rules, competitors dream of judges who apply common sense in choosing their hide location.

I hope you find this post helpful. Don’t forget it’s not an exhaustive list, and is subject to change. For exact requirements of the hides, searches and faults in the levels of competition, consult the rules of the individual organization and/or ask your judge at the handler’s briefing. And don’t forget the most important thing is to have fun!

Did I miss any differences between SDDA and UKC nosework? Please share in comments.

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