Most K9 detection trials - the inspiration for NACSW Trials, do not have levels of competition. Professional competition is most like our NW3. The teams do not know the number of hides in advance, and they must find as many as they can. The search environment changes at every event, and there can be surprise scenarios.
One of the challenges in creating this new sport has been to create levels of competition for titling purposes. Standardizing the concept of hide difficulty has been one of our toughest tasks. Unlike sports that simply require a big outdoor area, the environment of NACSW Trials changes dramatically from location to location and even within the same day as the temperature changes or the wind kicks up.
We have developed a standard of training for each competition level; however, there will always be an element of flexibility required from competitors because air currents, unusual objects, shiny floors, groups of people, and other distractions are an inevitable part of this sport. This makes the sport exciting and far from routine. It is your job as a handler to teach your dog to search areas of widely varying sizes, to search when it is hot or rainy or windy, and to search when there are dirty clothes or granola crumbs scattered around. Following are guidelines for the skills and abilities a dog and handler should be proficient in at each level of competition:
The NW1 team should demonstrate the following:
· The dog will seek out the exact source of the odor.
· The handler can identify the dog’s communication of the exact source.
· The dog can maintain the energy, stamina and mental focus to do all four elements in one day.
· The dog wants to find odor regardless of the environment around him.
A key point is that the source of odor is accessible to the dog at this level. We take into consideration that there will be small dogs, large dogs, and disabled dogs. It is always our goal that the hides be achievable for the title level; but remember, there will be unpredictable elements in searches, so create the unpredictable in your training and let your dog learn to solve the problems.
The NW2 teams should demonstrate the following:
· The dog can find multiple hides in one environment.
· The dog and handler team can work through more challenging, less accessible hides.
· The dog can overcome food and toy distractions and alert only to odor.
· The dog can manage a longer, larger search.
Since the team has proven the ability and understanding of going to source, new challenges are introduced. These include things such as thresholds, hides at different heights, mixed environments (say a kitchen and an office, or exteriors with a hide in the concrete and a hide in tree), new vehicle configurations, new types of vehicles and containers, and, of course, distractions (generally in the container search). Teamwork between handler and dog becomes more important as the handler may need to recognize odor obedience over object focus or decide when to put the dog on and off the leash.
The NW3 team should demonstrate the following:
· The dog can find an unknown number of hides in a search environment.
· The handler will recognize the search behavior in a dog when no odor is present (if there is a blank area).
· The dog and handler team can work through even more challenging, less accessible hides with varying heights and containment.
· The dog can overcome food and toy distractions in any environment and alert only to odor.
· The dog can manage much longer, larger searches.
Overall, we have better defined these title levels as we have progressed. We are dedicating much training for our certifying officials who determine trial hide placements. We know things will continue to evolve. Remember that those of us at NACSW and those of you who have joined us on this journey are pioneers in the development of an amazing new sport.