Entering Your First Nosework Competition FAQ’s on UKC Nosework

It’s an exciting time when you enter your first nosework competition. Having said that, you probably feel uncertain about what to expect. Below are FAQ’s for entering your first UKC nosework competition.

For the full tutorial on How to Enter Your First UKC Nosework Trial visit https://nosework.huntersheart.com/2017/03/01/how-to-enter-sniff-albertas-ukc-nosework-trial-june-2017/. Scent theory applies to most searches, but every test or competition has its own rules. Please note that competitors are responsible for reading and knowing the rules. You can download UKC 2017 Nosework rules for free at: https://www.ukcdogs.com/docs/showevents/nosework-rulebook.pdf. If you have any questions, email UKC or ask questions during the judge’s briefing.

One of the best ways to build your confidence is matches that simulate competition. In the months approaching Calgary’s next UKC nosework trial, we’re offering Sniff and Go fun matches Monday afternoons and many weekend evenings for $35, where you can get tips on successful handling from a UKC Certifying Official. Our next set of Wed night classes begins March 1 ($220 for a set of 6). In level 3 you can practice Pre-trials, Containers, Interiors, Exteriors, and Vehicles. Info at https://www.kayennakennels.ca/copy-of-nosework-classes. Classes sell out quickly, so register soon to avoid disappointment. To register email  training@kayennakennels.ca or phone (403) 608 – 1590.


Shelley’s question: For Novice UKC, would I register as a A or B in Novice?

Answer: A is for newbies. B is for “been there, done that”. You can enter A in elements where you are running your own dog, who does not have an :”equivalent title” in another organization. So if you have a title in level 4 containers but never titled in vehicles, you can enter novice containers B and novice vehicles A. Check the rules for more details, including page 11.


Keno’s question: I know we have to do the Novice pre-trials. What else should we do? All of the elements? Or, since we are new at this, should we just focus on specific elements for a start? Should we do everything? What do you think Keno will be successful at?

Answer: You have 4 months to the next Calgary UKC trial, so that’s a great opportunity to generalize to new environments. Suggest test your skills at matches, like our Sniff & Go (Kayenna, Calgary). The next one is February 25th @ 5:00pm Beginner; 7:00pm Advanced and see where you’re at with the Elements. Beginner we’ll offer Pre-trial and Containers. Advanced will offer Interior, Exterior, Vehicle. If your dog is confident in practice then you can enter and trial with confidence.

Note that since you’ve trained with cocktail of Birch + Anise + Clove + Wintergreen, your dog can recognize the odors for Novice, Advanced and Superior Pre-trials. If your dog has the stamina, you can consider getting multiple Pre-trials out of the way. Pre-trials can also be a good warm up, since they’re pass/fail with no placements. Some handlers put less pressure on themselves to perform when the event is not competitive, pass/fail only.


M’s question: Am I ready to enter the Masters Pre-trial using Myrrh? Do I just add Myrrh to the cocktail? 

Answer: Many people don’t train odors like Myrrh (since you don’t need to find it in novice level competition), and just expect their dog to succeed in competitions testing Myrrh, even though they never trained that target odor. While the novel effect suggests they have an 80% chance of success, this is not fair to your dog.

The novel effect is essentially when your dog notices something that’s different. For example, my 4 month old puppy in training for bed bug detection does a head snap when he’s exposed to an aged hide of Myrrh nosework oil. I definitely don’t want to reward him for indicating on nosework oils! That’s an expensive false alert (indicating bed bugs when no bed bugs are present)! I only want him to detect the bed bug target odor. All odors other than target odor should be treated as distraction odors, not alerted on.

Let’s say you attended our scent work classes using a cocktail of  B + A + C + W (Birch + Anise + Clove + Wintergreen), then expect your dog to indicate on the novel odor Myrrh. Let’s say your dog indicates Myrrh and you reward him. What happens when your dog’s next search when odors X + Y are presented? Should he alert on X or Y, ignore them both, or ignore X and find Y? Don’t be surprised when the dog is confused about what his job entails when you expect a different performance in competition than you reward in practice.

When you train cocktailed BACW, and test your skills in a competition, your dog needs to find target odor BACW only, ignoring masking odors and distractions such as scented candles, air fresheners, perfumes, coffee, and palettes of pepper at the warehouse. If you are in the habit of rewarding your dog for finding novel odors, then don’t be surprised if he alerts on distraction odors too. You asked for that in the past and rewarded it!

The clearer you are in your training, the more reliable your dog’s performance will be. To set your dog up for success, train the target odors you want your dog to recognize, train your dog to ignore masking odors and distractions, and then only test and reward the target odors you’ve trained for. That’s far less confusing, and success is certainly more fun.

Never forget that scent is like stew. Even a human can distinguish the beef from the carrots, peas, noodles and salt. Dogs have no trouble discriminating between component odors in a stew or cocktail. That’s why you can use a cocktail of several target odors to train the dog to recognize each of the component scents. It’s the most convenient use of your training time. When you want your dog to detect the beef, you should vary everything but beef odor e.g. vary hides, vary human scent, and vary distractions. Over time, the dog learns to detect the target odor of beef only, and ignore everything else in the stew.

So how should you train your dog for a new odor like Myrrh? Don’t just add Myrrh to your beef stew or existing cocktail. If you do that, your dog should treat the new odor as an incidental distraction.You might be thinking you’re training the dog to detect Myrrh because it’s in the stew, but the dog is hopefully detecting the same cocktail he always did, and should be ignoring distractions like Myrrh.

To train a dog to detect Myrrh, start from scratch in the scent detection lab training Myrrh alone, and train that to fluency before you add another new odor. Your dog will initially be surprised when you reward finding Myrrh, but over time, you’ll vary everything but the target odor Myrrh, and your dog will learn to search for and detect Myrrh. Once proofed and generalized, then you can confidently test your skills in competition with Myrrh.


Lisa’s question:

I’ve watched your helpful video (https://nosework.huntersheart.com/2017/03/01/how-to-enter-sniff-albertas-ukc-nosework-trial-june-2017/) a couple of times and starting to get my entry organized for March 1. Not having done one before I wanted your opinion on which entries to do.

My plan was to do the pre trials for novice, advanced and superior on Sat. Trial 1.  Hopefully she will pass those but if not there are 3 more chances! Since up to this point we have only done containers  I was wondering if I should enter just Containers and try Novice, Advanced and Superior Containers for Trial 1 and Trial 2 or stick with the Novice level only but do Vehicles, Exterior and Interior on both days?

I want to do whatever is best for Lisa and would rather make sure she has a positive first experience.  If this means just doing Sat containers then I’m ok with that.

My final questions is going forward the SDDA seems to have a lot more trials in western Canada.  Would it be a good idea to add Pine and Thyme into her cocktail at this stage already? I’m going to try and go watch the one in Innisfail March 24-25 if I can.

Answer: Note that the Sniff Alberta’s June UKC trial does not allow day of show entries. If you might want more chances at pre-trials, you need to enter them before entries close. For example, if you fail the superior pre-trial on Saturday morning Trial 1, then you can only try again Saturday afternoon Trial 2, provided that you enter now. You can’t decide you want to enter at the trial, because no day of show entries are allowed. If you enter Novice pre-trial in all 4 trials (Sat Trial 1 + Sat Trial 2 + Sun Trial 1 + Sun Trial 2) and you pass it on the first attempt, you can fill out a move up form and take the Advanced, Superior and/or Masters pre-trials. (Note pre-trials can be done in any order. I watches one team fail Novice, Advanced, Superior, and Masters pre-trials, and then pass Elite pre-trial on Vetiver, so they did achieved their Elite pre-trial title.)

Your only choice for individual elements at your first trial is Novice. You aren’t eligible for Advanced Containers until you complete Novice Containers title. It’s only pre-trials that can be completed in any order.

I’d be guessing Lisa will be able to perform Interior Searches by then, possibly Exteriors and Vehicles. Four months is a long time if you train every day. Rather than guessing, try blind searches at fun matches to test whether you’re ready. Level 3 classes and Advanced Sniff and Go’s are a great way to test Interiors, Vehicles and Exteriors. (Don’t forget: if you want to train your dog, you need to do known searches. If you want to test your handling skills, run them blind.) After you’ve run your dog, watch the other teams to learn how to read canine communication better.

Outdoor searches are usually the most difficult because wind can affect the searches. And an even greater challenge can be dealing with distractions from small animals like birds and gophers, plus any canine urine/feces in the search area. Start training exteriors by placing a box just a few feet outside a door. Once you warm up with a successful search inside, go outside and see if your dog will find that box. Then cool-down with an easy search inside.

Note that not all scent competitions allow spectators. Even if the rules allow spectators, the judge has the final say based on the particular search, so ask at the briefing. (For example, many trials include a search in the bathroom, which is simply too small for several people plus a large dog and their handler.) Consider volunteering to help work at a trial for a front row seat. When it’s possible, watching competitions and matches is a highly desirable to learn to read dog’s body language, and see how the rules are applied in competition so you know what to expect and can prepare. And of course, you need to practice with your dog in many different environments to generalize the behavior.

See above regarding training new scents. I would focus on training Birch + Anise + Clove + Wintergreen to fluency before adding new target odors.


L’s question: I decided to enter pre trial Sat 1 & 2. Taking a risk not entering pre-trial again sunday but I figure if I can’t pass it Sat after 2 attempts. If you pass the pre-trial the first time do you get a refund for the other entries?

Answer: No there are no refunds. But if you pass Novice Pre-trial on the first attempt, submit a move-up form ASAP, you can move up to Advanced Pretrial (Anise) in the next trial (later that day).

If you’ve trained with Hunter’s Heart, our imprinting uses Birch + Anise + Clove + Wintergreen, so your dog should recognize all 4 of those target odors. Hopefully you can practice some pre-trials so you are more confident at the competition.

The vast majority of teams pass their pre-trial or odor recognition test on the first attempt. (The exception is Masters Pre-trial with Myrrh. Myrrh isn’t in the cocktail we start with. It’s the most difficult odor in UKC nosework because it tends to solidify and not be readily available to the scent dog. So we recommend extra practice on Myrrh for most students before entering the Masters Pre-trial.)

Have a burning question about entering your first scent work competition? Ask in the comment section below.

3 thoughts on “Entering Your First Nosework Competition FAQ’s on UKC Nosework”

  1. Can there be a different handler per trial for e.g. Trial 1 by me & trial 2 by my husband?

    If a dog comes into season, can it still compete?

    1. Rules page 3 – “females in season may not compete…the host club has the option of refunding the entire entry fee or retaining 50% of the fee as a processing fee for any competitor who provides a veterinarian’s certificate verifying that the female came into season after the pre-entry deadline”

      The dog may be handled by different family members in the A section. If one of the handlers is not a member of the family, then the dog can only compete in B under that handler.

  2. Pingback: How to Enter a UKC Nosework Trial, Hunter's Heart, Canada

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