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Scent Work 


I am neither an AKC, or NACSW judge nor a certified trainer. Over the past 35 years, I've dabbled in tracking, went to nose work seminars, and trained my dogs in agility, obedience, and herding, but I never competed. With my latest Belgian Sheepdog, Bacchus, I wanted to go further, and have enjoyed the journey. Bacchus has two AKC Master Scent Work titles. We plan to get our certificate and TD, and plan to compete in NACSW next year. 

Our start was rough. The Covid lockdown in California meant there was no local training available. I tried to convince a scent work trainer in Livermore to take us as students, but we were rejected (more than once) because we were just starting.


So, I used very good online resources (Fenzi/Stacy Barnette, Youtube), and had help from Bacchus' breeder Kathay Lovell. Finally, one week prior to our first Novice Scent Work trial in July 2020, Kathay and I had a lesson with Leslie Burnside in Nevada, whom I recommend if you are in that area. Later, I trained with John Strassner, AKC judge, and now Suzie Bluford a fellow competitor and member of the Monterey Bay Area Scent Work Club (MBASWC). I learned so much from joining and volunteering at MBASWC.


So take what I say below for what it is, and I hope it helps you start in AKC/NACSW Scent Work when you can't find a good, local, qualified trainer.

Scent work supplies 

I bought everything except the play sand at Amazon
  • Birch, anise, cypress, and clove essential oils. - you can buy the AKC kit, it has a nice box, or buy as oils and store in a mason jar.

  • Q-tips - cut short

  • Metal tins - can be round, or rectangular, just punch a couple of holes in the top with a nail and hammer.

  • Disposable rubber gloves.

  • An airtight container to hold it - can use mason jars.

  • Get a couple of magnets to be able to elevate your hides for interiors and exteriors.

  • 12+ cardboard boxes make sure you get the type with seams at the corners for airflow. BUY

Buried containers:
  • 6-8 Tupperware boxes with lids. BUY

  • Cookie grid for each. BUY

  • Metal tea strainer - to hold the Q-tip under sand and to let it leave scent. BUY

  • Suckers: BUY

  • Rubber tubes (large enough to fit a q-tip for water hides. 

  • Order Play Sand (no other) from Home Depot or Ace Hardware it needs to have spaces between the particles for scent to get to the surface. Also, don't let it get wet the air can't flow up through the particles.


How to make a hide

  • Prepare your tins by making 1-3 holes in the top of the tin with a nail and hammer. 

  • Magnets - put these into a couple of tins, this will let you stick it to a metal surface.

  • With rubber gloves on, and paper covering the surface, put 1 single drop of essential oil (technically it's supposed to be two, but that's way too much) on 1 cut Q-tip, already placed into the tin, and screw the cap on. Put in Mason Jar.

  • Make all 4 essential oils, and store them separately in mason jars.

  • Don’t contaminate your search. Store all containers that have had a hide in them separately from the other containers - best to put them into garbage bags, and with the buried containers, put the lid on.

  • Whenever you are placing hides, wear gloves.

How to start searching

Cookies - a high-value treat 

First, teach your dog to look for their favorite cookies. Drive is very important, and starting with cookies makes it fun for them. Start easy, especially with puppies, then increase difficulty, I would hide cookies around the patio, behind potted plants, and on top of chairs. I use a term I want for the command: “Look for it”, “Find it.” Any term you consistently use and they will associate with searching. I used "find the birch" - judges chuckle at us a little now that we’re in Master, but Bacchus knows.

When they understand what you are asking for and are actively searching for cookies, start the box game.


3 box monte

Part 1
  • 3 cardboard boxes open, and open side up.

  • 1 cookie goes in a single box.

  • Use your search term.

  • Give lots of praise.

  • Increase the number of boxes.

  • Move the cookie box around.

  • Increase the number of boxes.

  • Repeat until they get it all the time.

Part 2
  • Start with 3 boxes, same as above.

  • Add birch hide with the cookie in the open box, it's called pairing. Go back to this at any time.

  • They start to associate the treats, and your search term, with odor.

  • Start feeding cookies into the box with the hide when they find it, this helps them keep their nose at the hide.

  • Rearrange boxes frequently.

  • Increase the number of boxes up to 10 as they start to find the hide consistently.

  • Keep training very short, very positive.

  • If they fail, reduce boxes, and/or go back a step.

Part 3
  • Start again with three boxes. Close the boxes over so they can’t see the hide, but there are cracks on the sides and they can sniff the space on the top. 

  • Put an X on the hot box so you don’t mess up! (pray your dog can't read...I started to wonder)

  • Use a hide paired with a cookie for immediate gratification. Also, feed cookies when they find it. 

  • Eventually, remove the paired cookie from the hide, and only use the feeding method and make that feeding fast!

  • Rearrange boxes and the hide box.

  • Increase the number of boxes.

  • If they have any trouble, go back to open boxes or paired hides. Make it easy. Let them “win.”

The touch game

Anyone who has trained in agility will know this game, it's used to teach your dog to touch an object at the base of the A-frame, but in this instance, you are asking your dog to touch odor. I taught all 4 odors this way. It is not standard NACSW practice, but it made adding the other odors go quickly.

  • A hide in one hand, a fist full of cookies in the other.

  • Use "search term".

  • Ignore the dog when they hit your cookie hand. When they hit the scent tin hand praise them, and give them a cookie (bring cookie to hide).

  • Sitting on the ground move that tin close to you, with cookies in one hand. Repeat the game, so the dog touches the tin repeatedly. 

Keeping the nose stuck to odor

  • Use a bowl with a colander inside of it.

  • Put the scent tin under the colander (inside of bowl), when the dog sticks their nose in drop cookies into the colander, and whenever the dog starts to raise their head, drop cookie into the colander.

  • Truth....we didn't do this, my guy alerts by looking at me, I was OK with that.

Moving on from containers

Buried Containers (Novice) 

I believe the sand makes this the most difficult element, and the scent can stick to plastic containers!

We had the most difficulty with this element in both Novice and Advanced. A wise judge told me to think about buried like exteriors and give them time to find their way back to the source since they are looking for the strongest scent location. Once I got that, I did better. In Advanced it helped when I learned there is no converging odor allowed. It has to be far away from the other one. I still have not seen a judge put two buried hides next to each other. When you are training, start with the hide on the surface of the sand, and start burying it a little deeper as you have success.

Exteriors (Novice) 

Scent sticks to leaves and grass, plastic, and can pool, or get blown far away. I found taking my time, moving around the area, and letting Bacchus discover where the cone is and work his way back to the source works.

Interiors (Novice) 

We never had a problem with interiors, right up until Master. As a matter of fact, I don't recall failing to get an Interior Q up until Master level. So it's me, not him. Not knowing how many hides is difficult, it makes me nervous. At Master level, I skipped interiors for a few months because it is up to 6 hides in a run. With the 3 other searches that was potentially 17 hides in a row, exhausting for a dog. Now we only need Master Buried and Interiors so we're doing it again. We'll do Advanced HD again in the future. It requires a very thorough search, and I have holes in my training I need to fix.



Monterey Bay Area Scent Work Club

Puts on very well-executed Scent Work Trials. It is a wonderful place to volunteer.


Start here. Go back to it before every trial.
The quickest reference to hide number and containers


We have competed in NACSW
as well as AKC.
It's the original nose work club. 


Lisa Kretner is a judge with  MBASWC

she is very knowledgeable and generous with her experience.


Stacy Barnett's website, blog, and facebook page have valuable information. I wished I lived l closer and take lessons from her.


What does bump say is managed by Karey Krauter. It has all of the Nosework and tracking schedules


During Covid I drove out to Minden
Nevada for training in both
Scent Work and Herding.


Fenzi Dog Sports Academy

I took a course in Scent Work from Stacy Barnett online..  


Catherine Leavitt is an instructor/judge
that trains NASDA
and Barn Hunt. 

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