What You Need on Trial Day

May 14, 2023

What You Will Need on Trial Day

You and your dog have played, trained and practiced. You’ve read the rules forward and backwards. The day you make your trial debut is fast approaching. But what will you need the day of to ensure both you and your dog can rise to the challenge?


It is crucial to remember we are asking our dogs to go into a novel location, with a ton of strange people and dogs, not to mention other interesting and new smells, sights and sounds, and somehow focus on their searches. It is a tall order! Thus, we must do all we can to ensure our dogs are as comfortable as possible so they can be the sniffing powerhouse we know they can be.

Your list of what to bring on trial day should include the following:

Poop bags - you MUST clean up after your dog and dispose of it as directed during the briefing. You do not want to be stressed out when a trial staff member is less than pleased when you do not pick up after you dog. Bring a whole roll of poop bags with your just in case.

Crate – this is going to be your dog’s homebase throughout the trial. Take the time to ensure they can indeed settle, rest and nap in this crate without any issue. Many teams have multiple crates. If that is the case, make certain your dog can settle equally in each (the bolted down car crate as well as the fabric travel crate).

Crate fans – these will help keep your dog cool on those warm and summer trial days.

Ez-Up – having a canopy set-up at the back or side of your vehicle can offer more shade for your dog, give them an opportunity to crate outside the car and give you a place sit and relax.

Shade sheets - these can be attached to the sides of your canopy or drapped over your vehicle to provide some much-needed shade and cooling. The reflective surface will keep the interior much cooler.

Crate mats - the crating area can be in a variety of locations, such as a paved parking lot, dirt lot, grass, mulch and so on. A good sized mat that you place under to canopy and/or crate can provide another layer of comfort for you and your dog, especially in areas where the ground is particularly hot, cold or where ants can be an issue.

Canopy weights - all it takes is one small breeze to turn your canopy into a giant kite that is rolling across the crating area, which is NOT good! Having weights that you place on each foot of the canopy can help prevent this. Additionally, having tie outs to further anchor the canopy is highly recommended.

Day-to-day collar and/or harness – you will use this to bring the dog to and from the potty area, from search area to the staging area, etc.

Scent Work-specific equipment (collar, harness, leash, long line, etc.) – this is what you should have when the dog is getting ready to search. The more context cues and routines we can put in the place, the better. Practice how you will “dress” your dog at home and when training so it is smooth process on trial day. Some teams will put on their dog’s Scent Work specific collar or harness at the crating area but have the leash attached to their day-to-day collar, until they get to the start line for the search. Experiment to see what will work best for you.

Water – sniffing is hard work! Our dogs must stay hydrated to do their job. This is essential in all weather conditions, but it especially important in the summer months. Bring plenty of water with you (not every dog will drink “not from home” water and a way for the dog to drink. You may have to make the water more enticing, so consider putting high-value treats or a tablespoon of wet food into the water.

Treats – the more, the better. Have a variety as well (treats for the crate, potty area, getting through the parking lot and the search itself). Experiment to see what works best for your dog to reward them in the search (what makes it into their little mouths, doesn’t fall out, require a ton of chewing or difficult for you to handle).

Toys – having one or more toys can be a wonderful idea to reward your dog after the search or allow them the stretch their legs a bit at their crating area. Experiment with which toy you will use in training and ensure it works for your dog (they can still think after playing with the toy, doesn’t cause them to vocalize too much, etc.). If you are using a toy reward for your dog in the search itself, ensure it is a tug toy that will not leave your hand. Otherwise, you may earn a fault for “disturbing the search area”.

Chews – trial days are LONG with tons of downtime for the dogs. Ideally, they will spend the crux of their time napping, but it is also a good idea to bring a few chews with you. Experiment at home ahead of time to determine what your dog prefers and what will work best. For instance, on warmer days, have a few frozen stuffed Kongs may be a good idea whereas a stuffed bone, bully stick, beef roll or similar chew may work better in over contexts.

Snufflemat – giving the dog something to do to pass the time that is lower octane can really help some dogs stay within an ideal arousal level.

Spray bottle – to help with misting your dog to keep them cool before and after a search. Be mindful with the type of spray bottle you choose (use a misting setting) and practice using this before trial day to ensure your dog doesn’t find it aversive.

Warming and cooling blankets – Scent Work trials are held in all sorts of weather. It is our job to ensure our dogs are kept safe and comfortable. Take the time to acclimate your dog to any “clothing” you want them to wear on trial day far in advance. Do NOT introduce brand new equipment on trial day if you can avoid it.

Booties – these can be excellent pieces of equipment to protect your dog’s feet (hot pavement, salt-treated icy areas, etc.) and grant them more traction on slippery surfaces. Be certain to check out Kayla Dever’s and Samantha Winslow’s webinar, The Floor is Lava! Webinar, as it highlights an excellent training protocol to help your dog acclimatize to wearing booties.

Towels – can use these dry off your dog if it is raining or snowing or to help cool your dog down by soaking the towel and the wiping down their ears, neck, chest, arms pits, belly and between the hind legs.

First aid kit – while many trial hosts will have a first aid kit on-site, it is always a good idea to bring a travel kit with you. Accidents happen!

List of vaccinations, medications, medical conditions and allergies – this is a good idea whenever you are traveling with your dog. Keep this in an easy-to-access place should there be an emergency or the need arises.


While it is absolutely true that your dog is the one with the nose, you are an equally important part of the team. If you do not take the steps necessary to ensure you have necessary supplies to be the best handler you can be, it will hurt your team. When we are uncomfortable or distracted, we cannot perform to our full potential!

Your list of what to bring on trial day should include the following:

Water – you must stay hydrated in all kinds of weather. There is an awful lot for a handler to try to keep track of during a search and this is close to impossible if you are suffering from a dehydration-related headache or migraine.

Snacks/lunch – did we mention how long trial day are? Fuel your engine by packing plenty of snacks and even a lunch. Sometimes food is also offered by the trial host, but it is far better to bring something you know will agree with your tummy and tastebuds.

Outerwear – being overprepared is far better than underprepared. You and your dog will be tackling searches in all kinds of weather. You need to keep yourself safe and comfortable so you may be the partner your dog deserves. Practice wearing this outer wear in your training sessions ahead of time to ensure you can still proficiently handle and any associated movements or noises are not distracting or worrisome to your dog.

Extra socks – remember how we said trials happen in all sorts of weather? They also typically start early in the morning, which means you may be walking around the trial site, going to the potty area with your dog or doing walkthroughs, when there is lots of morning dew on the grass. Why does that matter? Well, depending on your footwear, your feet may now be soaked and you haven’t even started searching yet! Having 2-3 extra pairs of socks you can change into will help increase your comfort level exponentially.

Hats – these can be helpful in an array of weather conditions to keep you cool, warm, shield you from the sun or elements. Be certain to practice wearing your hat in your training sessions ahead of time to help your dog see this is nothing to be concerned about.

Sunglasses – being able to clearly see your dog is crucially important when we are talking about tackling a Scent Work search. Sunglasses can help in a variety of conditions, including sunny days with a fresh blanket of blinding snow.

Gloves – frozen fingers make handling a leash or long line or treats difficulty to near impossible. Gloves can help mitigate this but it may take some trial and error to find a type of gloves that will protect your hands and still offer the needed amount of mobility.

Treat pouch – pockets can also work, but you want something that will be easy to access so you can reward your dog quickly once they find their treats.

Hand wipes - sometimes it is nice to clean your hands. Between handling your treats and leash and other supplies, they are bound to get dirty! Better to have a way to clean them readily on-hand as opposed to stressing about it.

Microfiber cloths - if you wear glasses, or will be bringing sunglasses, these are a MUST! There is nothing worst not being able to see what your dog is doing because there is a big smudge on your glasses!

Extra pairs of contacts - being overly prepared is better than not. Running a search after one of your contacts fell out is not fun!

Medications - anything you may need for the day, which may include pain medication, allergy medication and so on.

First aid kit for people - again, accidents happen.

Emergency contact information - this may have been provided on the premium, but it is a good idea to have this readily available should an emergency occur at the trial site.

Time passing supplies – the downtime at a trial can cause handlers to stress and get stuck in their own heads. With that in mind, bring a few time passing supplies with you that will help keep your anxiety and blood pressure down:

  • Books
  • Color books
  • Audio books
  • Podcasts
  • Mobile games

This list is far from exhaustive but is a good starting point. The main consideration is what you and your dog will need to be safe, comfortable and able to focus on the task at-hand.

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