Top 5 Nosework Trial Reminders

May 27, 2023

After a recent Nosework Elite trial, I was reflecting on a few things I wish I had reviewed prior to the trial. It’s been a busy few weeks of trialing for me and many of my friends. Some who thought they weren’t doing well, were finding all the hides! Others were in the same majority of teams not finding hides. It got me thinking there are a few things we should remind ourselves before we walk into a search.

Moxie before a search! Look how happy she is!

#1 Don’t Panic! Don’t panic if your dog is not picking up odor or finding hides right away. It could mean there isn’t any accessible odor. It could mean there aren’t any hides. It could mean there is a challenging converging odor puzzle. It could mean they just won’t find any that are there. And that’s ok. They can only find what they can find. No one is going to judge you and and likely you are in good company results wise.

#2 Be patient. Give your dog time to settle into the search area. Don’t rush them to find hides. Odor often shows up later if it wasn’t there before.

#3 Don’t over handle. Realize that odor may not be available where you think (or hope) it would be. Odor will drop/move out away from structures and objects. Letting your dog cast out will allow them to find threads of odor. Your dog may be lucky to bump into odor, but they will mostly pick it up further away and work it back to source. If we are over handling, we are interrupting our dog from working odor and not adequately observing our dogs.

#4 Keep pace with your dog. When we trial, we are nervous and when we are nervous we talk more and move faster. Our minds are going a million miles a minute trying to process everything and cover “all the areas”.  We can easily push our dog off of odor if we are motoring behind them or pulling them somewhere else. This is where our keen observation skills will come in handy! Did you see a change in their pace/stride? Did they glance to the side or up? Check your speed and slow up to support what your dog may be picking up. If they stop, let them stop to take it all in. We can’t hurry odor :)!

#5 Be positive and party at the end of each search! No matter how the search goes, be proud of your dog for giving it their best try! (And be proud of you too!).





  1. maureen gordon

    Good advice.

  2. Peggy

    So true!
    Very good blog!

  3. Pat

    Thanks for the reminders. Looking at the virtual walk through can be intimidating as the areas can look very large and congested. Sometimes it is just the camera angles that make the search areas look extra hard.

  4. Cindy Pond

    Thank you! Your ability to self-review and then open-share with your students is really impressive and very helpful to those of us just starting out on the nosework journey. So, cultivating a zen-quietness with our dogs and letting them find the way, in their own time, sounds essential. But, wow, the power of a timer and “pressure to produce” at a trial sure is powerful. Gotta check the expectations at the start cones, right?

    • Julie Symons

      Cindy – I couldn’t have said it better! NW is harder than it seems. There are time pressures and expectations in a sport where we have to rely more on our dog than most other sports! It’s why it’s so captivating as well!

  5. Doreen Barren

    If there is one thing I have learned from classes I’ve taken it’s how unpredictable scent “cones” can be especially elevated ones. I do get worried more about my girl working hard in a scent pool. It is so difficult to stay calm and let them work but your reminders are spot on.
    Going to a C-WAGS trial this morning to try to qualify at a level we have had a hard time in before. Mostly it has to do with search time limits. I will try to be super positive and celebrate the outcome no mater what.
    Hoping to do our NW2 later this year.

  6. Mary Swierkos

    Great advice !!! I need to review all these points before a Trial. Running 3 dogs each with a different search style means I need to take a breath & remember which dog is in front of me! Thanks

    • Pamela Cassel

      I know a lot of people underestimate NW. The more my dog does I learn a bit each time. My dog is blind and it’s so different then before.

  7. Patty Sontag

    Can we share this with our students, with credit to you, of course?

    • Julie Symons

      Yes, of course!

  8. Laurie Meyers

    Julie, your suggestions are sot on!! Thanks for writing this. Everyone can benefit from this. I too recently had an Elite trial that was extremely challenging. My girl is very sensitive and I know if I’m disappointed it travels right down the leash. It was our lowest scoring Elite trial (and we were not alone!!!) but my girl never knew I felt anything but Happy and fed her cookies all the way back to the car!!! Think of it, detection dogs (whom we are paying homage to) don’t have a time limit and odor does what odor does ♥️🐾♥️