The System

k9abcgames system v0.4.
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Author: Stefan Elvstad

The Game We Call K9 ABC Games™

Purpose of the Games

K9 ABC Games™ were created to provide dog/handler teams with a relaxed yet realistic search challenge designed to further the teams' skills. We emphasize that the games are just that - games. Although performed in a trial like setting, it is not the purpose of the games to have the competitive nature of trials. Hence, although ribbons may be awarded for each earned leg and title, placements are not calculated. We believe that a relaxed environment not only makes the games more enjoyable, it also helps build the confidence we all know is essential to successful searches, be they in trials, games, practice sessions or in professional searches.

K9 ABC Games™ are both a skill builder and a skills assessment tool. The skill building goal is accomplished by providing a realistic search environment with multiple hides where stressless searches are performed. The guidelines for the games do allow handlers to observe other teams searching, and searches may also be videotaped for post search review. A host may also arrange for a still photographer to capture individual dog’s searches.

The judge provides detailed feedback from his/her observations to help identify areas to focus on in practice sessions. In order to further support teams assessing their skills and skills development over time, the K9 ABC Games™ system maintains detailed records of every search performed in terms of which hides and odors were found or not found, false alerts, and faults, To that end, handlers can access their statistics at any time on the web based system for a breakdown of success rate by odor, odor combination, category (aka element), false alert distribution by category, as well as legs and titles earned.

Another principle with the games is that of trust. Although a competitive spirit is human nature, we encourage handlers to not see the games as competitive trials. There is no purpose in a handler seeking competitive advantage though learning hide locations. We encourage searching for BLIND hides, to help develop the skills necessary for other events. A handler that purposely seeks such information simply loses the benefits gained through searching unknown hide locations.

Also unique to K9 ABC Games™ is that the judge can provide a struggling team hints to help them be successful. While these hints renders the search non-qualifying, they do help the team have a positive experience. The non-qualifying aspect of such searches is a non-issue, as they will only be offered if the team is struggling to the point that it is clear that the search will be non-qualifying anyway. A team may also choose to enter the games "FEO" (For Enjoyment Only) to declare from the outset that the judge may lower the threshold for helping the team be successful.

How K9 ABC Games™ are played

K9 ABC Games™ searches are performed in a contiguous and continuous manner. By this we mean that each team perform one search. The search area includes containers, vehicles, interior and exterior hides, all searched in one continuous search. There is no separation of the search area by element, and the team may use its allotted search time in whatever manner they prefer. It is not uncommon to find containers outside, nor is it uncommon to find vehicles inside a building. With this arrangement, two purposes are achieved:

False alerts does not disqualify the search - the team should continue the search, and may still earn legs towards a level title. However, the judge will attribute the false alert to a category; the category that a hide in that location would have represented (interior, exterior, vehicle or container). The leg for that category will not be earned in this search, but the false alert has no impact on the other categories in the search.

Qualifications and Conditions for Participation

K9 ABC Games™ is open to all dog/handler teams. No pretesting of skills such as odor test or titles are required. Dogs of all breeds and ages are welcome. There are, however, certain expectations and requirements. Handlers are expected to exhibit good sportsmanship and be respectful of the game, game officials, other handlers, venue hosts and all dogs at the event. With respect to dog etiquette, handlers must recognize that K9 ABC Games™ are open to dogs with reactivity issues and must fully respect the need for space and non-confrontational behavior by such dogs whether their own or others. A dog wearing a red scarf is a signal to others that the dog needs space. This signal must be respected.

Dogs must not wear restrictive devices such as choke collars, prong collars, head halters, front clip harnesses, or other similar items during searches. Harsh or punitive language or actions by handlers is considered unsportsmanlike conduct and as such is grounds for dismissal.

K9 ABC Games™ are held at locations where we are guests. It is imperative that handlers clean up after their dogs, and avoid letting their dogs urinate on man made items. Failure to respect our invitation to be in someone’s area of business may result in notification to the handler in the form of a warning. If the handler persists, then it may be grounds for dismissal.


K9 ABC Games™ are played at three different levels, named Single Odor, Double Odor and Triple Odor. There is no requirement that teams start at the single odor level - teams may choose to enter at whatever level they feel is most appropriate for their skills, goals or other reason. A handler may opt to keep the team at a given level as long as he or she wishes. There also is no requirement for the teams to pass an odor test before entering a game at any level. It is assumed that handlers use their best judgment as to what level to enter. Each level is described below

Single Odor

Single Odor is the least complicated level of the games. Though designed for teams new to the sport, it may also be for experienced teams that want to gain a confidence boost by performing a search that is less demanding than the higher levels. As the name implies, all hides use a single odor, the "starter" odor typically used locally. (See discussion about odors below). At the Single Odor level, there will be four (4) hides, one in each category. The team is given a total search time of six (6) minutes.

Double Odor (sometimes referred to as "Dual Odor") is the intermediate level of the games. At this level there are six (6) hides. There is at least one hide in each category. That leaves two hides that may be in any category. Teams are not briefed on which categories have more than one hide. Also, at this level teams need to declare that they have finished their search or the timer will not stop the clock until the full allotted search time of eight (8) minutes have passed. A team that does not declare “finish” though finds all hides will still gain the appropriate titles.

Triple Odor is the most challenging level of the games. At this level there are seven (7) - ten (10) hides. There is at least one hide in each category. Teams are not briefed on how many hides there are, and as in the Double Odor level, they don't know how many hides in each category. Teams must declare that they are finished to stop the clock before the full allotted search time of ten (10) minutes have passed. At this level, there may be deliberate distractions placed within the search area. Handlers who have competed at national championship level trials have expressed that the triple odor level is at a similar level as such trials.

Legs and Titles

Despite the fact that K9 ABC Games™ are non-competitive, it still is appropriate to recognize the achievements and progress of teams participating in the games. Note that we refer to teams, as opposed to just handlers or dogs. A team consists of a particular handler and a particular dog. Should a dog be handled by different handlers, the dog is a member of more than one team. The same goes for handlers. Legs and titles (and all other aspects such as individual finds etc) are all tracked by team. Each search comprises four categories, and a team qualifies for a leg in a category where they have found all the hides in that category, and also have not called a false alert attributed to that category. Once a team has earned a category leg, it is permanent and will be counted in any future games when determining whether a level title has been earned. For example, if a team earned the interior, vehicle and container legs in (a) previous trial(s), their level title is earned as soon as they earn an exterior leg. Ribbons for each leg and Rosettes for titles are given at the end of searches for the level.

There is a basic title for each level; SOG - Single Odor Game, DOG - Double Odor Game, TOG - Triple Odor Game. When a team has earned their third title at a given level, they earn the Advanced title. Similarly their sixth basic title is instead termed Master, and their tenth is named Superior in Single and Double Odor levels. In the Triple Odor level, the tenth basic title is called K9 ABC Games™ Champion.

Odors and Odor Combinations

K9 ABC Games™ use up to three odors, depending on level, in every event. In order to maintain compatibility with training and trialing in different regions, the odor set is made up of the odors used by different organizations. At this time, there are two sets:

  1. Birch, Anise, Clove
    • Single Odor level; All hides are Birch.
    • Double Odor level; hides are Birch, or Anise, or a combination of the two.
    • Triple Odor level; Each hide is any of the three odors, singly or in any combination
  2. Wintergreen, Pine, Red Thyme
    • Single Odor level; All hides are Wintergreen.
    • Double Odor level; Hides are Wintergreen, or Pine, or a combination of the two.
    • Triple Odor level; Each hide is any of the three odors, singly or in any combination
The choice of odor sets is made by the event host. It is always one set or the other - the two sets are never intermixed. Unless otherwise stated in the premium, the Birch/Anise/Clove odor set is used.


K9 ABC Games™ always include four categories of hides. Other organizations often use the term element for what K9 ABC Games™ terms category. The reason for the difference is that K9 ABC Games™ mix all categories into a single continuous and contiguous search and thus the games consist of one search with hides in four categories, as opposed to a trial divided up in elements of the trial. In all other respects, the categories in K9 ABC Games™ are defined similarly as the elements of scent work trials. The categories are:

FEO - For Enjoyment Only

In dog sports, FEO is a common term for entries that are not judged in a show. Originally referred to as For Exhibition Only, in K9 ABC Games™, we emphasize Education and Enjoyment and are just lucky that the same abbreviation still works for our purposes. A handler working multiple dogs at the same level will have all searches except the first one designated FEO. The only difference between an FEO search and a Regular search is that the former will not earn qualifying legs. Contrary to other dog sports, K9 ABC Games™ FEO searches are still judged in order to provide educational feedback. Finds, false alerts and faults are still recorded and included in the statistics for the team. In addition, a team that desires the judge's guidance during the search can declare the search to be classified FEO. As mentioned above, if the judge determines that the team is struggling and will not otherwise earn any legs in the search, the judge may guide the handler, rendering the search FEO.