It’s getting to be trial season and Odor Recognition Tests (ORT’s) and trials are starting to open for entry!  Teams across the country are asking themselves….  “Should I enter?” and “Should I just do Birch?”  These are my thoughts and I’m sure there are a TON of other opinions on the topic.

With both Judd and Why, I entered them soon after they were working 12 boxes on each odor…  Both were very far from NW1 ready when I entered them in the ORTs.  Now I don’t have to worry about whether or not there is an ORT close by before a trial….  what a relief.  Judd actually passed all three ORT’s within 6 weeks of starting Nosework and he passed with flying colors….  (I start dogs on Odor Only….  dogs who start this way frequently are ready for their ORT’s within 2 to 4 months after starting the sport).  I recently started my Standard Poodle in Nosework and I’m planning on October for his ORT’s.  Is this too soon?  What a controversial topic….

Black dog doing nosework

The answer is….  can your dog find odor within 3:00 in a novel location with 12 boxes….  or do you think it’s a possibility?  If the answer is YES, then enter.  You have nothing but your time and $30 to lose….  on the flip side you have the opportunity to be exposed to a trial like atmosphere without too much pressure…  and…  the judge will allow you to reward a the correct box even if you get a “No”.  So in reality, it will be a positive experience if you go in seeking the experience.

If your dog understands all three odors then by all means, enter all three as long as your dog can handle being crated in the car all day (this is a skill they will have to develop for Nosework).  Getting all three out of the way initially reduces anxiety later!

So what is an ORT like?

Well there are 12 boxes, and you get 3:00 to call alert.  That is plenty of time for even some of the most environmental dogs to relax into their job.  Yes, it’s timed…  but it’s just Pass/Fail and times are not published.  You will need to crate out of your car and you will not be allowed to spectate.  There will be a Gate Steward to help you know when you are “On Deck”.  There will be warmup boxes before going in….  When you come in, a Judge’s Steward will remind you that you have 3:00 once you pass the start line and to BREATHE….  Passing an ORT isn’t going to solve World Hunger!

Why’s Anise ORT video screen shot

(the picture above is a screen shot from Why’s Anise ORT video)

So what is the best way to prepare?

1.) Know your Odor…. and practice on ORT boxes

This may seem obvious but it’s incredibly important.  Those white boxes have to have VALUE…  and so does odor.  When your dog sees white boxes, he should know contextually that white boxes mean searching.  That is half your battle right there!

2.) Start mild generalization

Take 3 or 4 ORT boxes on the road…  Stop in parking lots, parks, your friend’s garage…  anywhere NEW and DIFFERENT.  Get your dog used to paying attention to ORT boxes away from home.

3.) Increase your generalization

Parks and parking lots are perfect for this…  Build up to 6 boxes, in two rows just as you will see in the ORT…. then when you have success, work up to 12 boxes!  Make sure you set up a start line with cones or another marker.  This will solidify the picture for YOU and will help you with your start line routine.

4.) Develop a Start Line routine

What settles your dog?  Start Line routines are often neglected in training but are SO IMPORTANT.  My suggestion is to start the dog on one side or the other.  If you have a dog who has done obedience, try starting them on the right rather than the left.  Wait until your dog is oriented ahead of you and looking at the boxes…  release and cue to search.  You want your dog trotting ahead of you.

5.) Do Mock ORT’s…  enlist help!

Enlist a significant other or a friend to help you…  set up 12 boxes and ask for a “Blind” search…  meaning you don’t know where the hide is.  Remember to Breathe, watch your dog’s body language.  Are you getting extra sniffing on one box?  Did you see a head snap towards a box?  If you move will your dog stay at the box?  Once you are successful…  odds are you will pass your ORT!

Do’s and Don’ts for an ORT


… read the rules!  Go to the NACSW website and learn about parking lot etiquette

… reward your dog…  but NEXT to the box, not on it!  And PRAISE!!!

… give your dog room to work!  You don’t want to crowd your dog

… breathe and realize that you can always try next time 🙂

… thank the judge when you are done!


… let dogs congregate…  this isn’t the dog park and in Nosework, dogs are required to be given space…  especially dogs wearing red bandanas

… drop food or your leash…  this is a No No!  It can contaminate the search area for the next dog!

… touch the boxes…  boxes are NOT to be touched!

… be rude to the volunteers….  this should go without saying, but recognize that these folks are taking time out of their day to be there for you!

The important thing is to generalize to prepare, go have fun, AND LEARN…..  you may just pass and be on your way to Nosework competition.

Good luck to all teams!