You have successfully completed your first AKC Scent Work Trial entry form, and entered your first trial. You have also carefully read through all of the rules :) Before you know it trial weekend is almost here and you need a refresher on what to do and not do. Check out the list below for a quick reminder on what to expect at your first trial. 


Leashes and Collars

  • Dogs must wear a properly fitted collar or harness. Martingale collars are OK

  • Tags are allowed

  • No special training tools, such as electronic collars, prong collars, head halters, or no-pull harnesses will be permitted. No-pull harnesses are fine on trial grounds, just not during the search.

  • Dogs must enter and exit the search area with the leash attached to the collar or harness, including when waiting in the search area before and after their search. The leash should be made of plain, pliable material.

Briefing/Walk thru
"Judges shall conduct a short handler’s briefing prior to the start of each class. The handler’s briefing shall take place in view of the search area"

  • This will give you an chance to check out your search area and ask the judge any questions you may have. 

  • At this time you will find out if a search will have the option of being run off-leash.

Parking Lot Steward

  • There should be someone stationed near the entrance to the search area letting people know which number dog is on deck (ready for their turn). Be aware of the running order and where you fit in - don't make the steward have to hunt you down to let you know its your turn. 



Warm-Up Area

"The club shall designate a warm-up area. One labelled container per target odor being used in the trial on that day will be placed in the warm-up area."

  • White boxes are usually used in the warm up area. Make sure you know where this area is and plan to time to warm up your dog (if you desire) before the Steward calls your number. 

Start Line

"For each search area there shall be a start line that the dog and handler must cross"

  • The hide will never be in the start line boundary markers (cones, flags etc)

  • Make sure you know where the start line is, and you cross it. 

  • Also be sure to not let your dog cross the start line until you are ready, as this will start your time. 

Touching the Dog

" Handlers are allowed to touch the dog at any time during the search for direction or praise"

  • No explanation needed. 

Disruption of the Search Area

"Handlers are not allowed to touch objects in the search area without express permission from the judge"

  • I would also recommend not letting your leash drag through the search area. This could possibly also get you a fault, depending on the circumstances. 

Contamination of the Search Area

"Dropping food while rewarding a dog is considered a contamination of the search area, regardless of whether the food is dropped on, near, or away from the hide. Contamination of the search area is punishable by a fault or an NQ, depending on the judge’s assessment of the severity of the contamination"

  • I may give a ton of treats in training, but in a trial I just one per find. I want to reduce the chance of dropping a treat as much as I can. 

  • Just bring a few treats into the search area with you (vs a whole bag). If you do accidentally drop them, just having one or two will reduce the chance of severely contamination the search area.

30 Second Warning

Some judges will have their timer give a 30 second warning. What this means is that if you are drawing close to the end of the allotted time for your search, the timer will verbalize "30 seconds" or something to that effect. So what do you do if you hear this? In Novice, nothing different. You can't make your dog search any faster and are already doing your best to find the hide. 

In an Excellent or higher class however you don't always know the number of hides. If you are still searching and trying to find one more, this warning will give you the opportunity to say "Finish" and end your search before you run out of time. 

If you do run out of time, your timer will say "Time" or something to that effect. At this point your turn is over. and you unfortunately will not qualify.  The judge may or may not show you where the hide is. At this point if shown the location some people will take the dog over to the hide and reward. I definitely do not recommend this. I don't want my dog to think I will show them where the hide if they have trouble. I never want my dog to realize I know where the hide is. Just make note of the location and conditions in your head and make a plan to train for a similar scenario on your own or at class.  If you want to "end on a reward" take your dog back to the warm-up boxes, let them have a successful find and reward that. 

When You Find the Hide

  • Call “alert”clearly and confidentially enough that the judge knows that you know exactly where the hide is.

If there is doubt, you may get asked "Where?"

"If the dog is near the source of the scent, but it is not clear to the judge that the dog has communicated the exact location to the handler, the judge should ask “where?” The handler must then indicate the source of the scent by pointing or gesturing"


  • If you do get asked where, simply point to the location of the hide. (At this point you can't ask your dog to show you where it is. Once you call ALERT the search is over"

  • Reward your dog, clip on your leash and you are done with that search. 

Calling “Alert” on the Incorrect Location  

  • Unfortunately if this happens, your turn will be over. See the section just above around "If you run out of time" for what to do next.

Leaving the Search Area 

  • As you leave the search area your friends and instructor will be anxious to find out how you did. Common etiquette is to simply give a thumbs up or down to let them know. Do not discuss your search until after the class awards when all dogs are complete. It's easy to inadvertently impact other competitors searches positively or negatively if they overhear you discussing your search, even if you don't mention the hide itself. "He found it in 3 seconds" - would let someone know its very near the start line.  "That was impossible to find" might discourage someone before they even have their turn."

Most of all keep the day in perspective and don't take things too seriously. Some things might not go perfectly, but remind yourself this is sport we do for fun!

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