Competing in the sport of K9 Nose Work will provide you and your dog with many exciting challenges, as well as the opportunity to earn placement awards and national titles. A successful trial day can be a high point in your K9 Nose Work journey, but it can also be disappointing if your performance does not meet your expectations. As a K9 Nose Work competitor and an NACSW member, your primary goal should always be to make the searching experience fun and rewarding for your dog. Having a positive attitude, supporting your dog, and respecting trial officials and fellow competitors will ensure that you achieve your goal no matter what the outcome of your trial performance.
An NACSW Trial is a test of each dog and handler’s ability to perform timed searches for “blind” hides in a novel environment, often with unexpected distractions. NACSW Trials are unique among dog sport competitions because the dog always finds success. As a handler, you are allowed (encouraged!) to reward your dog in the search area each time he finds a hide. If your dog misses a hide, you will lose the opportunity to title, but the judge will still show you where to reward your dog, so he leaves the area with a positive experience (advanced levels of competition may not allow for dogs to be directed to missed hides).
Even though an NACSW Trial can always be a fun experience for you and your dog, it is important to understand that the first level of competition requires a real commitment to training and practicing over many months for you to get the most out of the experience. The Nose Work 1 (NW1) title level is the first level in the sport, but it is testing dog and handler teams for proficiency in a set of skills that is beyond the novice level. Unlike the Odor Recognition Test (ORT), which is a single search conducted in a highly controlled environment, an NW1 trial is four element searches conducted in a novel environment over the course of a day. At trial, your dog must be able to perform searches amidst the distractions of the real world. Although these distractions are not purposely set up, the dog must be conditioned to cope with such things as flapping tarps, sounds of machinery, and people standing to the sides of a search area. The step from passing an ORT, to successfully navigating an NW1 trial can be a leap for your dog.
Success at trial can be measured in more ways than just earning a title. At first glance, the title pass-rate (percentage of dog and handler teams earning a title) at an NW1 trial can be deceptive. It is important to view the element pass-rates in addition to the title pass-rates to understand progress in the sport. Some teams will do well in all four of the search elements, while many teams will miss just one or two elements and miss out on earning a title for that trial day. Often, the dog and handler teams earning their titles at an NW1 trial have experienced missing one or more elements in a previous trial.
All of the hard work and rewards of an NACSW Trial would mean nothing if there were not a culture of sportsmanship and respect among all the people involved in the sport. Trial hosts and officials work tirelessly to secure a trial location, plan the logistics of the trial, and run a safe, fun, and fair trial day. Competitors show their appreciation and respect for trial host and officials, judges, and volunteers by upholding the rules of K9 Nose Work, and refraining from discussing the details of their searches, like hide placement, so that everyone has a fair trial experience. When you compete in an NACSW Trial, you will find that everyone is supportive of you and your dog. Over the course of a trial day, you will likely have made some good friends who will become a part of your K9 Nose Work journey.
As dogs of all ages - regardless of physical ability, breed type, or personality - continue to discover the activity of K9 Nose Work, opportunities to compete in the sport will greatly increase. While competing in the sport of K9 Nose Work can earn you awards and titles, the greatest success you can achieve is to make the experience fun and rewarding for your dog.