Ep. 22: What Does All of This Mean?!

Aug 20, 2019

Nose Work. Scent Work. Detection. SAR. Tracking. Trialing. ... What the heck do all of these terms mean?! It is enough to cause someone to rip their hair out!

In this episode, we try to break down what each of these terms mean, where they come from and how they relate to one another. Is Nose Work and Scent Work really interchangeable? How does Detection and SAR relate to Nose Work or Scent Work...or do they at all? Where does tracking fit in? What about trialing?! For anyone who is more experienced, we also stress the important of remembering just how confusing all of this CAN be and the daunting amount of lingo associated with this activity.


  • Dianna L. Santos


Welcome to the All About Scent Work Podcast. In this podcast, we talk about all things Scent Work. That can include training tips, behind the scenes look at what your instructor or trial official is going through, and much more.

In this episode I wanted to outline some really simple distinctions between Nose Work, Scent Work, detection, search and rescue, trialing and tracking.

Before you start diving into the podcast episode itself, let me just do a very quick introduction of myself. My name is Dianna Santos. I'm the owner and lead instructor for Scent Work University, Dog Sport University and Family Dog University. These are online dog training platforms that are designed to provide high quality dog training instruction to as many people as possible, and we're very fortunate to have a client base that is worldwide.

For Scent Work University in particular, we provide online courses, seminars and webinars that are designed to help you with the training for Scent Work, as well as preparing for trial.

Now now that you know a little bit more about me, let's dive into the podcast episode itself.

The reason I wanted to do this podcast episode is that there has been several people who have contacted me over the last probably two weeks, either in public forums or private emails, and there just seems to be a lot of confusion about all these different terms. And it really is confusing, particularly if you're coming from a different dog sport that you're trying to figure out what exactly does all this stuff mean.

And if I wanted to get involved, I'm not really sure what thing it is I'm getting involved with. And then what part is training and what part is competing and are these things part of organizations? I just don't know. It's really confusing. It really is. So to anyone who has any questions about these things, I don't fault you at all. It is all very hard to wrap your brain around.

So what I wanted to do is just offer a really quick podcast episode, just trying to break down what these different terms mean and try to take a step back and see how other people may think what it is that all of us within the Scent Work community mean when we use the terms that we do, because it can be very confusing.

So we're going to start at the very beginning with what is Nose Work and is Nose Work different from Scent Work?

So Nose Work is the original term that was coined by NACSW, which is the very first organization that created the activity as well as the sport. But they also trademarked the word canine Nose Work. And what Nose Work means is a activity for dogs to go out within a space to find trained target odors, Birch, Anise or Clove for NACSW's purposes, within a variety of different search elements. And you're already like oh, you're throwing all these words at me. I promise I'll explain it.

So search elements are basically what it is, the type of location or area or space that the dog is actually searching. So for NACSW, their search elements or the search areas that the dog is actually trying to find the Birch, Anise or Clove within, are interiors. So an interior space can be inside of a room. It can be inside of a building, could be a classroom, could be a warehouse.

Exteriors, which is basically any outside space. Containers, which is supposed to mimic luggage searches that you see a TSA officers will do, but they could be boxes, lunchboxes, things of that sort. Then you also have vehicles, which could be anything running from cars and SUVs, to buses or boats or planes.

All of these search elements are supposed to mimic what actual professional detection dog teams, police, military, so on and so forth, will actually see when they're doing their jobs. So again, TSA agents will see luggage, so we have container searches for Nose Work. Military dogs will be looking for bombs, oftentimes out within the field. That is what an exterior search is supposed to replicate.

You have detection dog teams that may be trained to find drugs or other kinds of contraband. Those may be hidden within a house or a warehouse. So you have your interior searches.

And the same thing if you were to do traffic stops. As a detection team, you're trying to see whether or not people are trying to smuggle in drugs, contraband or something else. That will be your vehicle search that we have within Nose Work.

So again, Nose Work is supposed to be like a civilian equivalent to what professional teams may actually encounter when they're doing their jobs.

So I think that helps as far as that piece, that Nose Work is the civilian equivalent for what professional dog teams do. It means that dogs go into various search elements, interiors, exteriors, vehicles or containers to search for scented Q-tips that are scented with a very specific target odor depending on the level of competition. So Birch, Anise or Clove. That's what Nose Work is.

It can be either an activity that you do on your own and having fun with your dog, or it can also be competition. And then people say okay, that kind of makes sense. But what on earth is Scent Work?

Scent Work is the exact same thing. Then people say, well why on earth do you use the words Scent Work? And the reason being NACSW used to be, for a very long time, the only organization that offered Nose Work competitions. And they also have two branches to them. The organization provides certification of instructors who will then go out into the communities and then provide the training for what dogs could do with Nose Work, whether it be playing the game for fun or getting ready for competition. And the other branch of NACSW is actually providing the competitions and trials that people go to to get titles and pretty ribbons.

NACSW trademarked the term canine Nose Work, which meant that no one else could use a term, which is completely fine. Again, they created the activity, they created the sport, no worries.

But then as the years went on, there was a huge demand for more trials, but one organization can only do so much. Other organizations then started to take root and they could not use the term canine Nose Work. So they started coming up with other terms to describe what they were doing within their organization, and that's where you'll see things such as just Nose Work, like UKC Nose Work and they spelled a little bit differently. You'll have United States Canine Scent Sports for USCSS. You have Performance Scent Dogs, for PSD. You have Sniffing Dog Sports for SDS. Then you have for AKC, AKC Scent Work. Then for my purposes, for the online university that we have, we have Scent Work University.

Honestly, it all means exactly the same thing. People are just trying to make certain that they're using the terms that aren't going to be getting them in trouble, but it also is good for NACSW to distinguish themselves because they provide their own way of teaching Nose Work. They have their own approach to Nose Work. They have their own school of thought as far as how you should go about teaching Nose Work, training Nose Work, why you should be doing Nose Work, how should be progressing in Nose Work. And that's very important to them, which is a fine thing. So it's a good way of distinguishing in that regard.

But as far as if you were to look at a more macro level of everything Nose Work and Scent Work really are the same thing. So the terms are interchangeable. If you start getting into the nitty gritty of it, such as someone who is certified as CNWI, such as myself with NSACSW, that means that they are certified to teach Nose Work and follow the NACSW method of training. Someone who is a Scent Work instructor who's not certified with any organization, they may have designed or come up with or have a mishmash of different approaches that they put together that works for them and their dogs and their clients. But there is a difference between the two.

So again, for the big picture, you absolutely can interchange Nose Work and Scent Work. Where it gets a little bit more complicated is when you start talking about the way that people train and how they may progress and why they may do the things that they do. And a lot of that is quite honestly based on preference.

So I think we've kind of figured out what Nose Work and scent work is. The next thing that people start asking about is detection. They're like okay, well you already talked about this and I don't really know what it means. No worries.

So when we talk about detection in the context of what all of us as civilians are interested in, so whether it be playing the game at home with our dogs where we're hiding either food or target odors somewhere within our house, or if we're getting ready for trial, all of that is based on what professional teams are doing with detection work out in the world, police, military, things of the sort.

So what's important to remember about this is that the technician is professional. It is a job. Nine times out of 10 it is a life or death sort of thing. We are not doing that. We're not finding bombs or dead bodies or anything like that. We are at playing a game. This is a sport and it's a fun activity to do with our dogs that can have a lot of great benefits to our dogs, but it is not the same. This is not detection dog light. This is something that is based off of what detection dog teams do more so that civilians can have a greater appreciation for what those teams do and because there is a lot of benefits for dogs to do hunting and there's a lot of teamwork involved and there's just a lot of really great things that go along with training your dog to actually do Scent Work or Nose Work. Again, they're interchangeable.

But it's not the same. You're not starting Scent Work and then going on the beat with the local precinct to go find bad guys. They're not interchangeable. So I hope that part makes sense.

In the same line of thought a lot of people say okay, well I kind of understand that, but what about SAR? What is SAR? I don't even know what that is. So S-A-R stands for search and rescue. That is where dog and handler teams are typically involved in a search group and they may be called to deploy to disaster zones. So it could be a natural disaster, such an earthquake or an avalanche or a hurricane or a tornado, or it could be man-made, an explosion, something else. For instance, for 9/11 there were search and rescue teams that went to search the rubble.

Something to keep in mind about a search and rescue. Number one, I am not a search and rescue trainer and I don't have a lot of personal background within it, so I am not an expert in this at all. The few things that I do know about it is that there are civilian teams and then there are more professional teams. This is not something that should be taken lightly because you could be called in with your dog to do something that is really life or death or life changing to a potential family, either providing closure if unfortunately the survivor was no longer alive, or that they were still alive, but your dog needed to perform in order to find them.

There's a lot of environmental stressors that would cause a lot of to fail by being search and rescue dogs. Again, think of a rubble pile. It's hot, it's very unstable, it's very uneven. There's a lot of noises. There's smoke and potentially fire. There's sharp things they have to navigate through. It's really dangerous. It's not easy at all.

So that, again, is not a close resemblance to what Scent Work or Nose Work is. They are not the same. One does not lead to the other.

So if you are interested in doing search and rescue work, one of the things you can look at is the Penn Working Dog Center. They are a fantastic resource and I'll make sure that there is some information in the description for this podcast where you can actually look up their program.

But again, I just want everyone to understand that Nose Work and Scent Work, fun sport activity, not a requirement, not life or death. It's just a fun thing to do. Detection work and search and rescue work, potentially life and death. It is a job and Nose Work and scent work does not lead you to do those two things. So I hope that makes sense.

So when people start wrapping their brains about okay, so those things are what professionals do. I don't really need to worry about that. I may want to look into the search and rescue thing, but probably not. But I heard about tracking. What is tracking and how does tracking relate to Nose Work and scent work? So it's an excellent question.

Tracking is used with a number of different organizations, AKC for instance, or with your production dog sports where the dog is tracking where a person has walked and they're basically being tested with how closely they follow that track. So there may be different turns within the space that the person is walking and the judge will be testing whether or not the dog misses those turns or cuts off the corners or anything like that. The person may also be dropping articles behind them and the dog has to alert onto those. There may be different terrain that the tracking test will be taking part of. So it could be a very, very large grass field. It could be a field that also has other obstacles where the person may have walked over something, under something, through water, but it also could be urban where it's a combination of some grass but also parking lots and things of the sort.

Tracking is a sport. It is something that's done for fun. It's not the same as Scent Work in that the dogs are not finding a target odor. They're finding and tracking skin cells that basically all of us shed when we go from point A to point B. So they're following the track of the person and then there's an alerting on anything that person were happened to drop as they're doing their track.

Now a question that a lot of people ask is whether or not doing Scent Work or Nose Work would interfere with tracking or the other way around. I have not found that to be the case. I think dogs are contextual enough where they're able to figure out that those are two different games, as long as you provide different cues to them where maybe when you're doing your Scent Work training you provide them with some opportunities to sniff some warmup boxes first. So they sniff some boxes that have Birch and then they get to go search in the search area to find Birch. And also the setup with tracking is just completely different.

The only thing that some people may have as far as an issue is that tracking takes a lot of space in order to do properly. Like as far as acreage. The tracks are actually fairly large. So that's the only big hindrance. For myself personally, trying to find a place to train in southern California where it's either the weather is cooperating with you or where there's not a lot of foxtails, it's challenging.

So that's another thing to think about, but just know that again, Scent Work and Nose Work are not the same as tracking. They don't necessarily contradict one another. You absolutely can do both and your dog may actually do better if they were to start off in Scent Work and Nose Work and then do tracking, or even the other way around. I think that anything that helps promote the dog to hone their sense of smell is a good thing.

So just as a complete aside, I've found the clients who have done Scent Work or Nose Work, again, those terms are interchangeable, who then want to go onto something like barn hunt, which is a sport where dogs go into a enclosed ring, it contains a hay or straw maze and it has several live rats that are safely contained within PVC tubes within the maze itself. The whole purpose is can the dog go through the maze and find the rats? It's more involved with that. But that's the general gist.

What I have found anecdotally is that dogs who have done Scent Work or Nose Work do better in their barn hunt training than those who have not because they've perfected some hunting skills while they've been training for Scent Work and Nose Work. Because no training happens within a bubble. It stays with your dog and there's skills that can be applied across the spectrum.

So I hope that helps clear up any questions there may be about Scent Work and Nose Work and how they may relate to tracking.

The final piece is trialing. What is this trialing stuff? So so where is it that I do the trialing for Nose Work and Scent Work? What is actually the sport? How do I even get started? This is so confusing, and this is confusing and has gotten more confusing as more organizations have sprung up.

So to try to help, think of this as though Nose Work and Scent Work, again, those terms are interchangeable, is the sport that we're talking about. Within the sport, there are different organizations that you can choose from to compete with in order to earn titles that they offer. Every organization is going to be providing their own take of what Scent Work trial or Nose Work trials should be offering and what those tests should consist of in order to prove that you and your dog are a good Nose Work or Scent Work team.

As of this moment, I believe there are eight or nine active competition organizations within the United States alone. Canada has several. There are more international organizations popping up all the time, which is good. So the big thing to know right of the gate is that if you're interested in competition, you should look into which organizations are where you live, which ones are offering trials locally to or where you're willing to travel to, and then read the rules.

Know that there is some basic things that are the same as far as every organization is going to be offering a specific number of or types of target odors that dogs have to find within a given search element. So we have the target odors, which could be Birch, Anise or Clove or other odors, and we have the search elements. So again, for NACSW that's interiors, exteriors, vehicles and containers. But then for an organization such as AKC Scent Work, they offer interiors, exteriors, containers, and then buried and handler discrimination. So it's important for you to know that the things that change are which target odors the competition organization is offering, which search elements are they offering, how many levels of competition are they offering, and what is the progression.

The other thing that differentiates some of the competition organizations is the type of classes that you can sign up for for trialing. And what I mean by that is you have an organization, again, like NACSW, which is the one that started at all, they have traditional searches, meaning that they are supposed to mimic as closely as possible what detection dog handlers may see out in the field.

You then have other organizations such as United States Canine Scent Sports or Performance Scent Dogs that also provide traditional Scent Work searches such as NACSW does, but they also offer games where they are zeroing in on having the dogs perfect and then showcase a very particular skill such as how many hides can your dog find within a given search area within a given period of time, as an example.

So all of this matters because you now do have so many choices, you have to figure out what works best for you and your dog. Which are the organizations that interest you the most? Which ones are more in line with your personality and your goals? Which ones are closer to you? Which ones are more accessible to you? Which ones can you get into to play with at all? And which ones do you think would be most beneficial for both you and your dog, depending on, again, the personality of both you and your dog?

So the last thing to touch upon in this regard is as a general rule, as a general concept that started when NACSW created all of this, was that Nose Work was supposed to be something that all dogs could do. Meaning that if you're a dog, six months old or older, if they were blind, if they were deaf, if they had any kind of ambulatory dysfunction, maybe they were amputee or if they were reactive, they should have been allowed to play, even at competition, which for anyone who has a background in dog sports knows that's not normal. In a lot of dog sports, the dogs can't be blind because, again, it's the safety problem. Or they can't be deaf because there's a safety concern or they can't accommodate dogs in carts, but they definitely don't accommodate dogs at reactivity. Again, a lot of it is for safety.

Because NACSW was started by trainers who had a large and varied background working with shelter dogs, they understood the benefit the activity itself had for those dogs in particular and some of the shelter dogs were reactive. So again, making the distinction between reactive and aggressive. Aggressive dogs are not welcome, it's just not safe. But dogs who are reactive, NACSW goes through a pretty long process in order to ensure their trials are designed in such a way to ensure that all the dogs can be safe and so that everyone is very mindful that there are some dogs who may need a little bit more space than others and so on.

It's important to understand that was the intention from the beginning. That being said, the newer organizations have all come up with their own definition of what that means and there are some like AKC Scent Work that doesn't recognize the term reactive dogs at all and they will not make any accommodations.

So this is where you just have to do your homework. And the two things I would urge you to do, read the rule book forwards and backwards and inside out and volunteer, before you ever enter in any organization. First of all, it'll give you a really great appreciation for how difficult it is to put on a Scent Work trial to begin with, but also give you an idea of what those trials are like and whether or not that's a good fit for both you and your dog.

So I hope this cleared up some of the confusion that I know people were having as far as what these different terms mean. And I also hope that for those of us who have been involved in this for a while, it helps us kind of just pump the brakes and say okay, there's a lot of terminology that's attached to this that we're just so used to, odors and hides and vessels and elements, there's so much. This activity's exploding in popularity, which is a wonderful thing. More dog sniffing is good. Whether or not they ever trial or not doesn't matter. We want more dogs sniffing because it's so beneficial.

But we don't want to lose anyone because we're just talking over or past them. So if you ever have a question, please reach out. We're always happy to help. And for those of us, and for my fellow veterans Scent Work people, make sure that you don't just brush anyone off like oh, I can't believe that you don't know the answer to that. You didn't know all this either at some point. All of us started somewhere and we're all still learning. So make sure that you take the time to answer someone's questions and see if there are ways that you can make your explanations even more succinct, make it so they're even clearer and you may find out that wow, like I didn't really have a great way of explaining that in the first place. This is a good exercise in order to figure out how you we do that better.

So again, I hope this episode was somewhat helpful. And again, if you ever have any questions you can always reach out. The one thing about the Scent Work and Nose Work community, again, those terms are interchangeable, is that it's a pretty welcoming one and we're pretty happy to have more dogs sniffing. So feel free to ask your questions and we'll always be happy to answer them.

Thanks so much for listening. Happy training. We look forward to seeing you soon.

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