Ep. 6: Hosting a Scent Work Trial

Ep. 6 - Hosting a Scent Work Trial

Have you ever considered hosting a Scent Work trial, but wasn't sure what was involved? Perhaps you have some reservations or thought it may not be for you. In this episode, we speak to two Scent Work University instructors, Lori Coventry and Kristina Sveinson, to see what goes into hosting NACSW and SDDA Scent Work trials respectfully, as well as pitfalls to avoid and tips for success.

Learn more about Lori here and Kristina here.

Podcast Episode

Podcast Transcript

Welcome to the Scent Work University All About Scent Work Podcast. In this podcast, we'll be talking about all things Scent Work. We'll be giving you a behind-the-scenes look, as far as what your instructor or trial officials may be going through, we'll be giving you training tips, and we'll just be discussing everything that goes along with doing Scent Work with your dog, whether you're interested in competition or not.

In this episode, we're going to be speaking with Scent Work University Instructors Lori Coventry and Kristina Svenison, in order to discuss what it takes to host a successful Scent Work trial. All right, without further ado, let's dive in.

For our first interview, we're going to be speaking with Lori Coventry, an Instructor with Scent Work University and Dog Sport University.

Hi, my name is Lori Coventry, I own Do Over Dog Training in Buffalo, New York. I am also an Instructor for both Scent Work University and Dog Sport University. With Do Over Dog Training, we offer trials, seminars, coaching days, sniff and go's, teach classes for all levels of Scent Work. I am also an AKC Scent Work Judge, and a UKC Nose Work Certified Official. I'm available for seminars, coaching, consulting, video reviews, you name it. And also as part of our business, we do regular dog training, so we offer private lessons for manners and behavior, and have a couple seminars that we do related to that.

We asked Lori some of the most common questions that we received from individuals who were interested in hosting a Scent Work trial.

How many Scent Work trails have you hosted?

I have hosted six weekends of NACSW trails.

How many levels have you offered in a given day of trial?

With NACSW, it's usually one level per day, unless we do elements, and that would normally be two elements per day. And I've done regular trials and element trials.

How many officials did you need to hire?

So with NACSW, it's typical to have a CO, a Certifying Official, and then two judges for the day.

How many volunteers have you needed?

We could always need more, but typically, 15 to 20 good volunteers a day runs a great trial.

What is one hosting nightmare story you would like to share?

So a few years ago, we rented a fire hall for a trail, NW1-NW2. It was planned ahead of time, way in advance, had contract signed, everything was cool, and then you really don't talk to the trial site until before the trial. So I called a few days before the trial to confirm our walkthrough time with the CO, and when I was talking to the guy in charge, he said, "Hmm, I don't know if we can do that this weekend. We have our Fireman's Picnic, everyone will be here."

I think I started crying instantly. So I got a hold of, it was a student that helped set this up for me. She had contacts at the fire hall, so I got a hold of her, and she talked to the fire chief. He's like, "Don't worry, we can do this. We'll block the parking lot off, so that your people are separate from our people, and there's going to be some going in and out." They were cooking food and stuff inside, and for the competitors, I think it went okay. I don't think they really noticed that there were like 500 firemen there, but for me, it was very stressful.

It was just awful, and then just a whole bunch of other weird things happened that weekend. A dog that wasn't entered that weekend was in an RV got out, and got loose, and was running all over town, and half my volunteers left to try to find the dog. I think a dog's leash snapped in the parking lot during that trial. And there was just so many minor things there and there, that I'm sure the competitors had no idea was even happening, but that goes down in my history as, like I almost wasn't going to do trials after that trial. It was really bad.

What is one heartwarming hosting story you would like to share?

So I don't know. I'm sure if I really thought about it, I could of a good story. But things that jump to my mind are the Harry Award stories. Those are always just so wonderful to hear. People that truly enjoy the trial, and come up, and thank you. "This was great and I loved it." That just makes me so happy. And of course, just having volunteers that love to come, that love to watch, that love to learn, always things just, that's what makes me continue to want to have trials.

What is a tip you could offer to anyone interested in hosting a Scent Work trial?

Organization. You have to be organized. I have room full of totes that is all trial-related. I unpack after each trial, repack, kind of make a note of any supplies we were low on, so we'd have it for next time. And everything, at least at the start of the day, is very organized. Things might go downhill a little bit, as everybody's running, and grabbing this, and grabbing that. But even with emails and all of that, organization is key.

Also, there is a, I don't know if it's a program or what you want to call it, but it's Yet Another Mail Merge, Y-A-M-M. It's through Google or Gmail, and it's a great way to send all of those emails, those bulk emails you need to send out because you could do it all at once. It's a mail merge program. I'm sure there's others out there that are great, too. This one costs $25 a year, but if you're hosting several trials, it is so worth it.

What is a common pitfall you would urge people to avoid when hosting a Scent Work trial?

My biggest pitfall, the thing that I try to do too much myself. I try to do it all. You need volunteer coordinators, you need, it's great to have someone that could do hospitality for you. I tend to do all that myself. Recently, I've been putting my mother in charge, since she just retired. So she can run and grab food, and set everything up, and do all that so that I'm not doing it, or trying to find a volunteer to do it. So having someone for hospitality, as minor as that seems, is a huge time saver. And just putting good people in charge of different things so that you're not working so hard.

Any other information you want to provide? So I hope this wasn't supposed to be a one-answer question. I have a few things here.

I would say, if you're new to hosting NACSW trials, find several people you can train to be score room leads. It is a very important job and it is required that leads be approved by NACSW. You'll want to have several people trained so that the same people don't get stuck in the score room all the time, because everyone would like to watch some searches.

Or, on the other hand, you may have somebody all trained, and ready to roll, and maybe they can't do it the day of your trial, or maybe they got into your trial. You don't want them to have to pull out just so they can do score room. So try to get a few people trained.

If you have students who are willing to travel, offer to pay their travel expenses so they can gain score room experience at other trials. This is still something we're working on in our area. We just don't have enough score room leads for all levels, so it's a pretty stressful part of planning a trial.

Another tip, visit the parking lot as a host. I really try to make time to go out to the lot, say hello to the competitors. We have a lot of duty, so we can't stay out there all day, but make a few passes, say hello. Make sure everybody's doing okay, especially if it's really warm, or really cold, or whatever. I mean, just go out there visit, know who's coming to you trial. They're supporting you, so you should support them. I think that goes a long way.

And then my biggest pet peeve, but I'm trying to get over it is, and I think this is a complaint of a lot of trial hosts, is try not to let the emails get to you. Do your best to educate when people are asking questions that can easily be found in premium or the rule book. If they're asking for directions or hotel information, make sure you have that on your website, or in the premium, and then just direct them there. If the hotels are full, they can go to Google. They can try Airbnb. It's not your job to find a hotel for the competitors, that can be quite time consuming.

So I try to be polite, but I don't stop everything I'm doing to answer these kinds of questions. But I do try to answer them, I don't want to be rude. These people are, they're paying to come to your trial, so you have to be polite. But sometimes, if you just give them a little bit of time, they find the answers on their own, and they respond back to you that, "Okay, I'm good. No worries." So that's what I've been doing a little bit lately, is just holding off on answering those kinds of questions. Other things, you have to respond to right away if it's something more specific, or drops, or adds, or things like that, I try to be pretty quick about. The silly ones, I tend to wait a little bit.

So as we can see from listening to Lori, is that there are several things that we can do if we were interested in hosting specifically an NACSW trial, but also it applies to all Scent Work trials, in general. So that we could be more successful, so that we can enjoy the process ourselves.

So it's not quite so stressful, and it doesn't make it so that we don't want to host trials ever again. But also, to ensure that it's a successful event for both our competitors, our volunteers, our trial officials, and also for us.

So I want to shift gears a little bit, and I want to bring in our second instructor, Kristina, who has experience in working with the Canadian Scent Work organization, SDDA.

My name is Kristina Sveinson, and I am with the Little Nose That Knows in Alberta, Canada. I've discovered a passion for sport scent detection in 2014, when I was looking for something fun to do with my Chihuahua, Bolt. Bolt is a passionate puppy, and I am lucky to work with him. In addition to scent detection, he loves to do rally obedience and do really anything with me. He has achieved both his SDDA Started and Advanced titles, and was the first Chihuahua in Canada to achieve those titles. So that makes him special, too, of course.

My love for the sport began in 2014, when I attended the first SDDA trial in western Canada and I was hooked. I began taking as many seminars and courses that I could to become involved in the sport. I read the rule books passionately and really got involved with the sport of scent detection. And then I noticed that, we were looking for the same kind of outlet. And so I started teaching it.

In my day-to-day life, I have an interest in adult education, and I work in human resources for a large organization. So I have some familiarity with teaching, but no experience with training dogs. So that was my step outside of the box. I've trained a lot of my own dogs, but never others. And yet, it came super easy for me, and I have a really great relationship with my students.

Over the years, I have developed curriculum that seems to work for each individual. I work with a games curriculum, as well, and I offer trial prep lessons, as well as distance learning, so that I can work with students who can't come to the classroom on a day-to-day basis. I also work with reactive and rescue dogs to help them enjoy the sport, as well. And I'm an Ambassador for the SDDA, the Sporting Detection Dog Association. I believe in their mission statement, and I host scent detection trials for them, as you're about to hear more about.

I just want to keep the game fun for everyone involved. I love to see people smiling and laughing at my trails and at my classes. So that is what I strive for.

So as with Lori, we polled the same questions to Kristina, to see how there may be some differences in hosting an SDDA trail from an NACSW one.

How many Scent Work trials have you hosted?

I began as a host with the SDDA, which is the Sporting Detection Dog Association in Canada in 2015, where I hosted my first trial in September of that year.

I have since been a host or co-host for over 10 different trials. Most of which, being two-day weekends, with some three-day events thrown in there. And a total of over 21 single trial days.

How many levels have you offered in a given day of trial?

In SDDA, we typically offer all four levels in a trial day. When I started hosting in 2015, trials were happening only once a year. So I wanted to accommodate the demand and make sure I was offering all levels. One judge can host up to 75 runs in a day, so I would bring in two judges, for a total of 150 runs, and four SDDA levels, Started, Advanced, Excellent, and Elite.

I continue to offer trials that have all four levels, but I have done a couple now that are only a couple of levels. It's been a change, as we've moved to having more local judges, we can offer target trials that meet the need of certain small groups.

How many officials did you need to hire?

SDDA scent detection is unique, in the fact that you don't have to hire trial officials. You hire one judge, and that person serves as the SDDA representative on-site for the duration of the trial. And then you have the trial host, who is in charge of coordinating pretty much everything else. The host is approved by the SDDA, as having a venue available, and has coordinated with a judge, who is willing to attend the event, and agrees to the levels offered.

We hosts are working hard. We have to decide which search areas will be used for which levels, if there will be reused space, and how we will make sure that we add extra items so the judges can reuse the space fairly. And we are also coordinating competitors, and the score sheets, and the score room, and the ribbons, and prizes, and making sure those started competitors get that great first feeling when they come on-site, as well as pairing everybody with fair and fun judge to work with.

On average, how many dog and handler teams have come to your trials?

For a single judge trial, we usually see 25 to 30 handler and dog teams. If we have multiple judges, that number doubles. However, we also have many teams that are pursing one and two components, as opposed to trying for all three components in one run. So we see as many as 40 or even 50 teams under the two judges in a day of a weekend trial. Of course, that takes immense management on the part of the host, and timing on the part of the competitors, to make sure that they're running their excellent containers over on this end of the grounds. And then 15 minutes later, maybe they're running their advanced interior on the opposite end of the field. So that takes time to coordinate and a good experienced competitor, or else a competitor that's being well-mentored by us.

What is one hosting nightmare you would like to share?

In the summer of 2017, I hosted the worst trial of my career. I had many trials under my belt and this one shouldn't have been any different. But it started with score sheets arriving late, and many of them having to be photocopied because of a shortage, and it spiraled from there.

One of the judge's flights was delayed, to the point of almost missing a Friday event. We had a shadow judge and a new judge, as well as an experienced judge. The venue that we were using Friday was under new, well, temporary management, I should say. And they didn't want us there, so they closed the main building to us, where the only bathrooms were.

Thankfully, we moved to our other venue for the weekend. And this was a new venue to us, an 11-acre farm, nestled in the center of the city. We hadn't planned for the size of this venue properly, and so the distance between search areas took much more time than we were expecting, and therefore, our days were very long. We had an issue with an incorrect hide that was supposed to be on a vehicle. We had a level of elite that was run incorrectly and had to be reimbursed. And I spent basically, the whole weekend on edge, just waiting for the next thing to happen.

Every time somebody came up to me, I was sure that it was with more bad news. And I was close to tears many times. I thought my attendees would be so disappointed. And I did not feel the event was up to my usual standard. But at the end of it all, I kept getting kudos. People had little or no clue that there were any issues, they were happy still. It was after this event that I cried, knowing I had still given the competitors the experience that they came for, that they knew and they loved, even if my experience was far from my normal, and something I don't ever wish to repeat.

What is one heartwarming hosting story you would like to share?

Every trial seems to be special to me, and I racked my brain trying to decide which heartwarming story was the one. But in the end, I decided to go with what happened to me just a few weeks ago, in September of 2018, when I returned to my big venue, the 11-acre farm from my last story, where my worst trial had happened. So this year we came back, we put some new techniques in place. We hashed out our timelines, rigorously planned our searches back-to-back in adjacent areas, as opposed to from one end of the farm to the next.

And this time, we had a super trial. We finished on time every day. The site owners were able to leave at a decent hour to lock up after us. The competitors still had an excellent experience, despite it being a bit wet, rainy weekend. And my team, me and my volunteers, we had a blast, too. Everything just seemed to flow. And it just felt like a great big success. It was the first time that I felt like things had gone pretty good. Most trials, I can feel regrets, and this one, those weren't the first things that came to mind. And that's what makes this my heartwarming trial story.

What is a tip you could offer anyone interested in hosting a Scent Work trial?

I would say, ask a lot of questions. And better yet, allow yourself to have a mentor. If you apply to be a host in the organization of the SDDA, we have a Facebook group for people who are, or who are interested in being hosts, and even a general Facebook group, as well.

But ask. Say, "I'm looking for help, I want to host my first trial." Reach out to the community and you'd be surprised the overwhelming support you'll get back. If it wasn't for my mentor, I don't think I ever would have hosted. They gave me so many resources and kudos of encouragement, that made me go onto mentor others, as well.

To prepare to be a host though, I would say, volunteer at a trial first. And if you can get into more than one position, do that as well. It's different going from being a timer to being a gatekeeper, being a judge's assistant or working in the score room, but I think that experience of volunteering in all the positions helps you have a well-rounded view of what it takes to make a trial happen.

That and competing in the trial, and I think those are the components that a new host needs in order to be successful. Because at the end of the day, we're here for the competitors. We want to give them that experience, where they can just come, and work with their dog, and hopefully be successful. And it takes a lot of effort on our part to make that happen.

What is a common pitfall you would urge people to avoid when hosting a Scent Work trial?

Avoid picking a venue that is too small or too restrictive. It's easy to say, "Oh, I'll just use my training space." But it takes a lot of coordination in order to do that. And your first step is to coordinate with your judge, make sure that they're willing to use a smaller space, and reuse spaces for the different levels. Smaller venues can work, separating rooms with curtains, or fencing can work, but you have to be ready to coordinate a team of volunteers to make those switches. Coordinate with your judge, and plan, plan, plan. The bigger the venue, obviously, that you can have, the better. But I think that when we dream too big, that can be a pitfall, as well, which makes venue selection a really tough point.

The other thing I would say to hosts when it comes to venues, is look at the venue that you're selecting, and look closely at it. And then take tons of pictures and videos, so that you can relive the venue afterwards, and be successful in your planning. We take our venue for granted. We think that we can just make it be what we need it to be, but sometimes certain places just aren't right for a trial, and it's okay to admit that.

When you're using a smaller space, plan on bringing in lots of items so that when your judge has to reuse space, they're able to place hides on items that can be removed, and clearly marked as hot. This is critical, as you don't want a hot item to accidentally end up back in the search area.

I will say another pitfall that hosts really need to be cautious of, is filling your trial too full, and then having to juggle time. You can't make more hours in the day and you can't predict when contamination's going to happen, like someone eliminating in the search area, which takes time to clean. So if you fill your trial too full, and you haven't left yourself any extra time, you end up cutting into your judge's lunch break, or having a really long day, which is very exhausting on your whole team.

So think about what kind of limitations you might encounter, and especially as a first time judge, maybe plan to under-fill instead of going right to the limit.

Is there any other information you'd like to provide?

I just want to talk briefly about competitor etiquette. It's not that we have a whole lot of expectation as hosts on our competitors, but there are a few things you can do to help a trial run smoothly. Such as being on time for your check-in and walk through, being polite and courteous to the volunteers, the gate stewards, et cetera. For example, you need to try to remember that sometimes it's easier for a host to convey quickly to the gate stewards a change in the flow, than it is to try to track down every competitor in that level to tell them about a change. So don't be frustrated with those people, but listen to their direction.

Other basic competitor etiquette things you can do, would be to make sure that you are pottying your dog in the designated areas and cleaning up after your dog. Make sure that you're patient and courteous. Remember that it takes a lot of effort for hosts to put on the event. And while you might be ready to get your score sheets, and your ribbons, and just get out of there, there are things that the host has to do on their end before they can just wrap it up, and send you packing. And they are doing their utmost best to make it happen quickly and efficiently for you.

Lastly, just remember that everybody who's there is there for the same reason and wants to have a good time. So respect other peoples' space, respect their dogs' space, and remember that we are still all sharing a common space, particularly in the parking lot. So while you might want to hang out and talk with a buddy with your dog out, sometimes that might not be appropriate for the next dog. So try to be courteous of that, as well, and put your dog away after your run, before you're visiting with your friends.

I want to thank both Lori and Kristina for bringing up such wonderful information and tips on what it takes to really host a successful Scent Work trial. And again, this is regardless of the organization that you are going to be hosting for. But it's helpful to see how specifically for NACSW and for SDDA what has worked for both Lori and Kristina, some of the things that may have gone awry, and then also the things that they have suggested in order to ensure that everyone can be successful.

I hope you found this podcast helpful. Happy training and we look forward to seeing you soon.