Glossary of Scent Detection and Nosework Terms

Scent Dog Training Terms are explained in this Glossary of frequently used terminology.

Air Scenting – Technique a dog can use to locate target odor where he searches wind or air currents

Ageing – The amount of time between placing a hide and when dogs begin searching. During this time odor disperses into the surrounding air, generally making it easier to find. Generally, try to age for at least 5 minutes. Train for short and long ageing so your dog is accustomed to different scent profiles.

Aggressive Alert – When a dog scratches or bites at source, resulting in a fault being incurred for disturbing the hide

Alert – The pre-determined response the dog offers when he has located target odors. The handler says alert (and may raise his arm) while his dog is indicating source to let the judge know he has found the location

Altered aka fixed aka spayed or neutered – The technical term for a dog of either gender which has been surgically made unable to reproduced

Benching/ Benching area – To set up one’s belongings, dog crate, etc. in a designated area at a competition while the handler waits between turns competing

Blind – A type of search where the handler doesn’t know the location of the target odor, since it was hidden by somebody else

Blocking – When a handler is standing in the dog’s way and prevents the dog from searching or moving to that position. For example, if a handler is standing on top of a hide, he is blocking his dog.

Bracketing – The dog moves left and right, back and forth, searching for the scent cone

Breed Standard – The blueprint for the ideal specimen f a purebred dog of a certain breed, including functions for which it was bred, appearance, temperament, size, colors, etc. Breed standards may vary between countries and between registering bodies e.g. United Kennel Club vs Canadian Kennel Club, Federation Cynologique Inernationale, etc.

Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) – The primary registering body for purebred dog breeds in Canada, which compiles breed standards, organizes events, specifies rules, governs judges, etc.

Clear – When a handler determines that his dog has completed the search of an area and no target odor is present, he says “clear” to communicate that to the judge and stop the timer’s clock.

Cocktail – A combination of more than one target odor. For example, in Sniff Alberta (a UKC club), we usually search for a combination of Birch, Clove & Anise target odors. To prepare a cocktail, a drop of each odor should be placed in a separate location on a piece of blotting paper, rather than combining them into a soup which may have unpredictable chemical reactions.

Cold – A box or object without target odor (vs hot is a box that contains target odor)

Contaminated a) If the handler drops food in the search area, he is faulted for contaminating the area. b) When scent is mistakenly taken from where it should be in a clearly marked container to an area that should be free of it. As a result, handlers may be confused when dogs don’t search or react as expected.

Correction – Punishing a dog e.g. using a leash pop or jerk, shouting, which may be faulted by the judge as unsporting behaviour, or dismissed if the treatment of the dog is overly harsh.

CWAGS (Canine Work and Games) – An organization that offers titles in scent, obedience, rally obedience and games

Commitment to Odor aka Odor Commitment – When the dog has value for odor, forms a positive association, and odor becomes rewarding

Dismissed – Asked by a judge or official to leave a search or competition e.g. if a dog bites a spectator during a trial

Distraction – An intentionally distracting toy or food (odor) is required to be included in superior+ level UKC nosework searches e.g. tennis ball or peanut butter placed inside a box in Master Container Searches

Elements – In UKC nosework competition, there are 4 Elements, types of events according to the search environment where the hide is placed:

Pre-trial – Inside a box. The dog searches a row of boxes and demonstrates that it recognizes the target odor. This is the easiest type of search. This is the first step which must be passed in order for dogs to compete in the other elements.
Container – Inside a box. The dog searches a row of boxes. To increase the difficulty, more boxes, different shapes and distractions may be added.
Interior – The hide is secured inside, underneath, between or on top of objects inside a building. For example, the dog may search an office where the hide is taped under a chair.
Vehicle – The hide is secured on the outside of a vehicle, for example, on the front bumper. More advanced searches include more vehicles, and different types of vehicles e.g. buggies, ATVs, or tractors.
Exterior – The hide is secured around an object outside. Surfaces may include grass, gravel, leaves, snow, etc. Because of changing wind and weather conditions, and frequency of animal smells including urine, this is the most difficult type of search.
Elimination – Dog urinates or defecates in the search area resulting in failing that search

Event Listing – A brief description of an upcoming event on the UKC website, describing a nosework trial (including events & levels offered, location, fees, judge, etc.)

False Alert – The handler calls and alert when there is no odor present but the dog has indicated, or when the room has odor present, but the dog indicates in the wrong location

Finish a) Complete all of the requirements for a title b) Once all the hides in a search are found, the handler must say “finish” to stop the clock. If the handler doesn’t say finish, he won’t fail, but he will be faulted.

Focussed Response – An indication where the dog freezes and stares at source with intense focus

Formal Indication – Dog is trained to perform a sit or down as his alert behavior

Fringe –  A fringe alert occurs when the dog indicates close to the target odor, but not at source. For example, the dog indicates by lying down on the driver side of a vehicle when the hide is actually on the front bumper and wind is blowing scent to the dog’s location. This is a very common error that may occur when the dog has a training deficiency and responds on lower thresholds of odor and does not work odor truly to source. Depending on the test or competition host organisaiton, fringe alerts should be faulted or failed, and measurements/guidelines on what is close enough may be included in the rules.

Full Nosework Trial – A club includes all 4 elements at the same trial and competitors must compete in all 4 elements at the same level. For example, a Novice Nosework Trial would include Novice Container + Interior + Vehicle + Exterior.

Handler Discrimination – A nosework event where the dog searches for his handler’s scent on a glove in one of the boxes presented in a row.

Handler Error – The handler makes an error when the dog’s performance may have been without fault. For example, the handler may call an alert twice on the same box in a superior level container search.

Head Snap – The dog makes an abrupt change of direction when he picks up the scent

Hide – The package of target odor inside a ventilated container that is hidden in the search are for the dog to find. The photo shows a very common type of hide, made from blotting paper scented with target odor inside a metal tin with magnets, which easily secure the hide to a metal surface. Other favorite hide containers include metal tins with holes, shipping labels, plastic tubes, etc.

High in Trial – The award given to the team with the fastest faultless search. As of Jan. 2017, High in Trial is awarded for each level e.g. High in Trial Novice + High in Trial Advanced + High in Trial Superior + High in Trial Masters + High in Trial Elite, at each nosework trial.

High Value Rewards – Spectacular rewards the dog finds highly motivating, even in what might otherwise be a distracting situation. For example, a dog might be very exciting about steak rewards (high value), while he would not always be interested in a piece of lettuce (lower value).

Hot – The box containing the hidden target odor is called “hot”. The empty boxes in the lab are called cold.

Indication – The behaviour (or chain of behaviors) the dog displays to show that he’s made a decision about the exact location of the target odor e.g. freeze like a statue with eyes staring at source

Individual Element Trial – A nosework trial that picks and chooses from the 4 elements available e.g. a club could offer containers and interior elements only

Intact – A dog that is able to reproduce, not spayed or neutered

In season aka Estrus aka in heat – The stage in a female dog’s reproductive cycle during which she becomes receptive to mating with males. Females in season are ineligible to compete in nosework trials.

Judge’s Briefing – The judge shows competitors the search area and explains relevant details such as the start line, any safety concerns, the time available, then recaps applicable rules and/or responds to questions from competitors.

Junior Handler– A participant aged 2-18 years who participates in UKC events under the applicable Junior Rules and Regulations (

K9 ABC Games – A nosework organization created to provide dog/handler teams with a relaxed yet realistic search challenge designed to further the teams’ skills. We emphasize that the games are just that – games. Although performed in a trial like setting, it is not the purpose of the games to have the competitive nature of trials. Hence, although ribbons may be awarded for each earned leg and title, placements are not calculated… K9 ABC Games™ are both a skill builder and a skills assessment tool. Judges will provide feedback…

Kibble – A slang term for dry commercially available dog food (as opposed to moist diets, raw food, etc.)

Lab, Scent Detection – An arrangement of boxes and drawers used to teach new dogs how to systematically search for target odor and to indicate (see Andrew Ramsey’s training video). In Hunter’s Heart scent detection lab, the white cardboard boxes have 3 inch diameter holes in them. The hide container e.g. tin containing scented paper is taped inside the box close to this hole. So we know when the dog’s nose is inserted into the hole, that he is very likely smelling the highest concentration of target odor. This makes our criteria for success very concrete, resulting in more timely, clearer rewards.

Leaving Source – The dog leaves the target odor location

Leg – One passing search towards a nosework title e.g. a team passes one novice container search. (2 passes are required to complete a title.)

Luring – A handler places a reward in front of the dog’s nose and moves it to elicit a desired behavior. For example, when a handler places a cookie a the dog’s nose and draws him away from an odor

Match – An informal event without strict rules, used to practice and gain experience

Multiple Hides – A search where more than 1 hide is placed in the area. For example, a Superior level UKC container search will include one box with a clove hide and another box with either a birch or anise hide.

Move-up – When a handler has entered and event, but subsequently completes a title, he has the option to continue to compete as entered in the B class, or fill out a move-up form to advance to the next level. For example, a handler completes his novice container title in Trial 1 on Saturday, and completes a move-up form so he can compete in Advanced Containers in Trial 2 on Sunday.

National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW) – A scent detection governing body, which offers competitions, trains officials and judges and promotes the sport of nosework.

Obedience to Odor – See

Rewards should be placed “at source”. So in this example, the handler is holding the food in their closed fist and they physically touch their hand to that red year sticker on the license plate to reward the dog there. Reward placement – the physical location where the reward is delivered. While the dog is enjoying his reward, he is continuing to smell the target odor. Because rewards appear at source, the dogs learn to focus their attention at source, clearly communicating where it is, which is very helpful during blind searches.

Scent detection aka nosework – An activity whereby a dog (or other animal) searches for a specific scent. In canine scent detection, dogs are trained so they know in advance which scent or target odor to search for. In the sport of nosework, note that human scent is found on all nosework boxes and the dogs must learn to ignore it. This is a marked difference from search and rescue, or scent detection in utility obedience competition, where the dog searches for a human’s scent.)

Source – When the dog smells the odor, he is trained to find the “source”, also called “sourcing”. The “source” is the highest concentration of odor. For example, if the dog is searching a vehicle where odor is hidden behind the license plate, the source is the exact position on the license plate where it is located, within 2-6 inches e.g. behind the red year sticker. While the dog is actively searching around the license plate, he is close to the source, but not “at source”. The handler must wait until the dog indicates to know the exact location. Once the dog indicates, the handler calls out “alert”, to let the judge know the dog has found the source.

Target Odor – Sniff Alberta is a United Kennel Club (UKC) Nosework club. The target odor we usually use is equal amounts of 100% pure and undiluted Birch/Anise/Clove Cocktailed essential oils dropped onto a piece of artist’s blotting paper (or cotton swab). The same odors are used by NACSW. Other organizations may use different target odors e.g. Wintergreen, Pine, Thyme for K9 ABC Games and SDDA.


For more detailed scent detection terminology, see UKC Nosework Rules 2015, Chapter 16 Definitions, page 32 at:

Search and Rescue – VSRDA Glossary at: