Lessons from a Scent Work Trial

March 10, 2018

Written by:  Megan Esherick CPDT-KA

Last weekend we traveled to Virginia Beach (yes, in a Noreaster) for the Hampton Roads Dog Training Club Scent Work trial.  It was a bit of a drive, but this was the first trial we have found within driving distance to offer every class at all levels.  Maya had a really good October and earned all of her novice and 2 advanced titles in the first few weekends of AKC trials, but hasn’t gotten to play since because her classes weren’t offered.  So, a road trip it was.

The Saturday trial was tiny, with only 3 dogs competing at excellent level, but Sunday’s trials were full for novice and advanced.  We had a great time and lots of Qs, but trialling at higher levels was also a good education in some of the things we need to work on.  Here are a few of the things I learned:

  • Maya will false alert on food distractors.  These aren’t allowed until excellent level and it was only a real issue in containers where I didn’t know it was the distractor she was alerting on.  Maya is the only one of my dogs to originally learn Nosework by searching for food rather than odor.  I get that this method works for a lot of people, but still question the wisdom of spending months teaching the dogs to alert on food and then expecting them to ignore food distractors later on.  It will be odor from the beginning for my dogs from here on.
  • Excellent buried is hard!  We weren’t competing at that level yet, but got to watch the dogs who were.  The search area is basically just a patch of land with 3 hides that could be anywhere.  The dogs seemed a bit confused at first and didn’t necessarily think to  check the ground.  I almost wonder if it will make sense to teach a “search the ground” cue?  Either way, we need to get working on this because Maya is one Q away from this level and it clearly needs some training.  Both of the dogs competing did better on the second round, but there were no Qs in this element.
  • High winds make outdoor searches really hard.  I guess I already knew this, but the weekend was a good reminder.
  • Maya handled her first advanced handler discrimination runs really well.  Juno and C.C. struggled in novice though, so they either need more work, a stronger cue that they are looking for me and not odor, or both.  C.C gave really clear false alerts, which may have been on the judge’s glove.  I need to practice with a second scented glove more often.
  • Juno really doesn’t want to do Scent Work any more than she wanted to do anything else.  She usually finds the hide, but almost always gets 30 second warnings in novice, which probably means that she won’t have enough time to find multiple hides at higher levels.  She needs one more exterior Q for her Scent Work Novice title, and then I think she will retire.  I’m tired of begging her to work and having to pull her out of the crate, while at the same time I have an RV full of PBGVs begging for a chance to play.
  • C.C. on the other hand is really good!  She has only been playing in container and buried since I can only handle on dog at each level, but she has a nice obvious alert (lies down and barks if I don’t call fast enough).  The dog who used to trot through agility courses had the fastest time in all of novice containers in trial 1! Dave and Silk also had a great weekend.
  • Managing Elf in the RV when the weather was bad and unentered dogs couldn’t walk around the trial site was hard.  She did enjoy playing fetch inside the RV and the other dogs were pretty ok with that.  (Well, except Juno who barked and growled the whole time but it wasn’t because she wanted to play.)

The PBGVs and I are looking forward to more scent work trials this summer!

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I am a professional dog trainer, dog sports addict, and small scale breeder of PBGVs.  For more information about The Clever Hound LLC dog training: