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A Beginner's Guide to Nosework Organizations

I'm a Nosework student. I have two competing shepherds and one mixed breed that I used Nosework as a confidence builder for.

Here's a guide to some of the more well-known canine nosework organizations in addition to a run-down of the types of training/trial environments.

Here's a guide to some of the more well-known canine nosework organizations in addition to a run-down of the types of training/trial environments.

National Association of Canine Scent Work (NACSW)

The NACSW is nosework sport's grandfather. Founded in 2006, it runs its organization much like detection-dog training such as bomb and drug dogs. Interest bloomed fast, and soon after its creation a community of sniffer dogs and their owners created the competitions that take place today. The NACSW strives for the highest standards for its competitors.

They use the following scents in practice and trials:

  • Birch
  • Anise
  • Clove

The four scenarios used for each competition are interior, exterior, vehicles, and containers. And there are many tiers of titles (as shown in the table below).

The NACSW also has a dog shelter program that provides opportunities for shelter dogs to learn the sport and even allows the shelters to compete in NACSW trials for free.

Performance Scent Dogs (PSD)

The PSD is an archive/certification organization for scent detection. They typically offer five classes: buildings, exteriors, containers, speed, and distance with three levels (as shown in the table below).

They also use birch, clove, and anise for their scents.

Dogs must earn three qualifications in any one of the classes to earn a title. When the dog has earned each of their class titles, they then receive their level title.

Dogs and their owners are allowed to mingle amongst each other if space allows it, unlike the NACSW who cautions against it.

American Kennel Club (AKC)

At the AKC, dogs search for cotton swabs scented with the following essential oils.

  • Birch
  • Anise
  • Clove
  • Cypress

All dogs participating must be six months and older and hold an AKC number:

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  • AKC registration number: Provided to an owner via registration certificate
  • Purebred alternative listing: If the dog is purebred but an AKC number cannot be given, the owners can apply for this.
  • AKC Canine partner number: This number can be given to mixed and purebred dogs.
  • Foundation stock service number: This number requires the dog’s pedigree and is for those in the beginning stages of registration to the AKC.

For the AKC, there are two levels for nosework.

  • The odor search: The dog searches for one or more essential oils.
  • Handler discrimination division: The dog searches for their handler via their scent.

Dogs and their handlers are not required to take classes to compete as the AKC equates trials to mimicking real-life situations; no specialties (equipment) are needed as well.

The Three Most Well-Known Nosework Divisions for the USA


Odor Recognition Test (Prerequisite) *Dogs must demonstrate their ability to detect the hide. The NACSW now requires dogs find all three scents for their ORTs.









NW3 (Title is awarded AFTER the completion of three NW3 trials)



NW3 Elite (ELT1, ELT2, ELT3, ELT-Champion)



Summit Title (Earned by placing in the top 20% overall of competitive teams. This title can be achieved multiple times)



Other Factions of Nosework Divisions

  • The United Kennel Club (UKC) was the second organization to become a sanctioning association for Nosework trials.
  • The Sport Detection Dog Association (SDDA) is the first Canadian division for Nosework, founded in 2013.
  • There is also the Australian Canine Scent Work (ACSW).
Dea searching in class for odor.

Dea searching in class for odor.

  • Interiors (Building search): This search takes place inside. It can be any building (schools, offices, campground laundry rooms, and bathrooms). Searches can be in one room or multiple areas. At the discretion of the officials, handlers have the option of working on or off-leash. Any dogs who mark or eliminate in the search areas will be disqualified.
  • Exteriors (Outdoors): This search takes place outside and can have grass, dirt, gravel, asphalt, and cement. These searches can be difficult because dogs have to learn to contend with “distractions.” These distractions include trash, food, pollen, other animals, including wildlife. The dogs will work in all weather conditions (rain, snow, fog, or shine). Any dogs who mark or eliminate in the search areas will be disqualified.
  • Vehicles: This search can be three or more vehicles. The search will never take place inside a vehicle, the hide will always be outside the vehicle (engine compartments, mufflers, wheel wells). The types of vehicles can vary from compact cars to trailers to semi-trucks. Any dogs who mark or eliminate in the search areas will be disqualified.
  • Containers: This search can use different types of containers depending on the level of difficulty. Beginning levels always use white "unmarked" cardboard boxes. Advanced levels can use luggage, bins made of different mediums, and more. Containers can be arranged in patterns or randomly. (At one trial I attended, the officials made a large W-shape.) The hides can also be placed at different heights, such as on chairs. Any dogs who mark or eliminate in the search areas will be disqualified.

What You Get Out of It

Practicing with trainers can be a rewarding experience as it is the perfect way to make new friends with similar interests and create a network for yourself.

Unless you are extremely self-assured, trials can be nerve-wracking as the pressure to call "alert" correctly becomes almost unbearable. Even though you are at the trial for your dog, and he/she is having a blast no matter what, anxiety will always rear its head.

What you must remember is to take a lesson from your dog and have fun. And it isn't the end of the world if you don't succeed at a trial; chalk it up to a learning experience and a fun all-day event where you got to bond with your furry friend.

One last bessage: Always be humble. You could be in the Nosework sport for years and still have room to learn and grow. No one is 100% an expert. The goal is to have fun.

© 2021 Regin St Cyr

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