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Step 1: Novice Odor Search Division Basics

Updated: Jan 27, 2022

Before you begin, I can't stress enough that you should find an experienced trainer and take classes. We were lucky enough to have an excellent trainer that we highly recommend. If you take classes, you will learn so much. I also recommend attending a fun match before you ever compete. It really introduces you to the environment and gives you a feel for what goes on. If you really want to get familiar with all the moving parts, you can even volunteer at a trial! You would be surprised at how much clubs appreciate volunteers and just how much you can learn by having the opportunity to watch teams work together.

Golden retriever with harness on
Winnie about to search outside on a fall day

Prior to getting into the searching, there are some key things you are going to want to know. For example, what does your dog need to find and what environment will they need to find it in?

A couple of terms:

  • Odor - An odor in this case is what particular scent is hidden. For Novice Odor Search Division, it is birch (Betula lenta). As you get more advanced, your dog will need to find multiple types of oil.

  • Element - The type of environment your dog will be searching in.


  • Handler Discrimination Division

    • This is where dogs need to detect the handler's scent instead of an odor. This is separate and will be discussed in a future blog.

  • Odor Search Division

    • Your dog will need to search for particular odors. What odors, how many hides, etc. will depend on the class.


In AKC Scent Work, which is where we participate, you will see the following classes:

  • Novice

  • Advanced

  • Excellent

  • Master

  • Detective

Novice Elements

There are four distinct elements for Novice Scent Work in AKC. They are:

  1. Interiors - your dog searches in an interior environment, like a room or a bathroom for example. Your dog will need to indicate where in that interior the hide is located.

  2. Containers - your dog has to search for a hide among various containers. Your dog needs to let you know which container the hide is located in.

  3. Exteriors - your dog searches in an exterior environment, like an area in a back yard. Your dog will need to let you know where in the exterior environment the hide is.

  4. Buried - your dog will search through several containers that have play sand inside of them and have grates over the top. One of them contains a hide and your dog will need to tell you which.

For novice there will only be one birch hide per element. Your dog is required to find it within the given time limit (2 minutes). You get a warning when you are 30 seconds from timing out.

As usual, I highly recommend reading the AKC Regulations for Scent Work as listed in the references below, because things do change.



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