Rookie’s Nosework Level 3 Journey

On Sunday Rookie and I spent the day in Hayward, California competing at our 3rd Nosework level 3 trial. His first attempt at an NW3 trial was a year ago yesterday where we had a great day and he came in 3rd place overall, although he did not title. His second attempt was last February where he came in last place at the trial- it was one of our worst search days to date and neither one of us was having any fun due to the heat and very long day. I decided then our plan going forward and how we would prepare for trials going forward. The weather is so unpredictable around here- I would’ve thought that a February trial would be perfect cool sniffing weather but it was warm and I wasn’t prepared at all. Going forward I decided if a trial was over an hour away I would stay the night closer to the location so he could rest longer before a long day at a trial, he would be confined in his crate in the van ALL day- not crated outside the vehicle at all so that he would be forced to rest and not distracted, and I would up the aunty with better rewards. Between those trial preparation modifications and my experience at 2 previous level 3 trials now, we finally pulled it off on Sunday and got our Level 3 title! Here’s how we did it! I hope this blog will help remind me for future trials of what we did right and wrong so we can hopefully do it again!

Steak cooked in bacon fat- it was gross on my hands but didn't crumble!

Steak cooked in bacon fat- it was gross on my hands but didn’t crumble!


3 classrooms to search (3 minutes each):

1-     Rookie finds the first two hides fairly quickly, one on the leg of a desk a few feet high and one I’m blanking on. 30 seconds is called so we go back to check last corner that we skimmed over quickly before. He runs up to a desk and 10 seconds is called… he alerts on desk drawer so fast and I kind of think he’s faking me out but I don’t have time to waste so call alert with 6 seconds to spare and he was right! I lagged calling finished after though so I was so scared that I didn’t call it in time- but I did;) I couldn’t believe we got one in the last 10 seconds… talk about nerve wracking!

2-     Room 2 we enter and Rookie runs around sniffing with all his might- he’s taking in deep deep breathes through his mouth over and over. He focuses on one area of the room especially but can’t pin point anything so we work the whole room. 30 and then 10 seconds is called so I called Clear! Thankfully it was really clear and I didn’t call a false alert at some point!

3-     Last room he finds 2 hides fairly fast again- first on top of a desk leg in the middle of the room and then in a yellow box about 4 foot from the door. We search until the 10 second call at which point Rookie starts to show interest in the white board pen holder area and he almost talks me into it but it seemed like one of his unsure let’s see if I can fool mom into thinking it’s here tricks, not a clear and distinct alert, so I called finished.


About 25 containers (2.5 minutes), mostly luggage and bags with a few boxes. We make a plan and head down the first “row.” The last container in the row in the back corner was a tall suitcase. He skims past it and I ask him to come back and search around the whole thing at which point he alerts to the top of the luggage and we get it. We search through the rest of the bags and he shows mild interest on a couple other bags but no alerts. He zooms by each piece very quickly so I hold him back and make him walk around each piece completely which felt sloppy and slow but it was thorough and worked well in the end. I didn’t believe there could only be one hide but at the 10 second warning I called finished, nervous we might have missed some hides… but we didn’t. Distractors were some crackers, a dog toy and biscottis. Good boy doesn’t care about toys or sweets thank dog!


We enter exteriors straight after containers. It’s a very small search area that is all concrete and we have 3.5 minutes which makes me thing there are 3 hides. The light breeze helps move the odor around just enough. He finds a high hide about 4 feet high in a door hinge first and then works his way over to the next door and finds it in the door jam down low. We work the rest of the area and he keeps acting like there might be one more but I’m hesitant because it seems like the door jam hide is just blowing everywhere and that’s what he’s smelling so we call finished at the 10 second warning.


4 cars/trucks with 2.5 minutes total. Once checking the cones like he always does and finally focusing on the vehicles, he nails the first one quick on a truck (in the middle crack between the front of the truck and the bed). The second one he gets quickly after in the wheel well of a car. I make him search around all the vehicles this time since I made the mistake of calling finished too early at the last trial and forgetting to search one whole side of a vehicle. I had a planned route for searching the cars but he pulled me off that path to go to the odor and I’m glad I let him… we altered our path and made a note of where to come back and search after.

As we waited for results to be posted I was so scared we’d missed some hides- not because I didn’t trust him but because it seemed like so little hides; 3, 0, 2, 1, 2, 2. I was happy I at least took my time this time around and wasn’t going for speed… I made him work hard until the end of each search time and he worked happily- being rewarded handsomely at the end of each search with steak I cooked in bacon fat. I kept his energy up with a lot of food and high energy talking reinforcement and also a lot of down time in the van alone. He was really ready to search each time I came to get him out- it was a happy site to see!

When the results were posted I saw we found all the hides and I was beyond excited! I was very nervous about that first room though and not calling finished in time. But as they handed out title ribbons we got ours- I don’t think I could be any more proud of Rookie at that moment! One of the judges came up to me after to complement our great team work and my good handling with him- it made the whole last 4 months of practice worth it! And while we didn’t get any placements like we have in the past, we got the best thing of all- our NW3 title! We also got a pronounced in the interiors and containers which means the judge thought we had an exceptional search. Rookie joins the ranks of the very few tiny dogs who have ever gotten a NW3 title- possibly the smallest dog yet!

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11 Responses to Rookie’s Nosework Level 3 Journey

  1. Colleen Griffith says:

    Congratulations! You two did an awesome job and were an absolute joy to watch! It was clear you both were having a great time searching. 🙂

  2. Judy Bowman says:

    Thanks for the details! I’m already nervous about the NW3 clear room and we won’t even do NW2 until February, who knows how long it will be before we face NW3! What’s next for you and the pocket rocket?

    • OnTheGoMutts says:

      Actually Judy clearing a room is very simple…. we didn’t believe so when we started either when all the trainers told us it was. We don’t even practice it anymore. I can normally tell by Rookie’s deep breathing when it’s clear- it’s like he’s having to try try to hard to catch odor… you and Spikie won’t have a problem I swear!
      Next… keep trying for NW3 trials while we’re still having fun- in the winter months only though 😉 It would be great to qualify for Nationals someday… not sure we’d go but would be cool to qualify!

  3. Kara says:

    Where did my comment go?!

  4. Kara says:

    Omg, I posted this morning. Stupid thing!
    I said
    Great job to the both of you! I’m very excited for you. I really enjoyed this post and all the details of nose work. It seems intense doing searches and not knowing if you found all the scents until after when results are posted. That seems very challenging! I enjoyed learning a bit more about it!
    Go team Rookie, go!

    • OnTheGoMutts says:

      that’s annoying! Thanks Kara… glad you learned more- it’s extremely stressful but we went into it with a great attitude this time to reduce stress… we both were having fun and it’s not like we’re searching for bombs or anything so why be so stressed!

  5. Marsha Kingsley says:

    Love reading the play by play! Congrats!!

  6. Jeff McMahon says:

    Hi Maura! Congrats on the NW3 for you & Rookie! If you’re at all interested in guest-posting on the K9 Nose Work blog about handling a small dog through all three levels of competition nose work, it would be a topic many people want to read about. Just send me an email if you’re interested in the idea.

    You’ve got a great blog here. Thanks for sharing with us all.


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