ORT (Odour Recognition Test)

At April 2020 – I will be updated this again when and if the rules change.

What is an ACSW ORT?

Odour Recognition Tests (ORT’s) are held to make sure dogs know what odour is before the team enters a trial. They are also a good way to see if your dog is suited to a trial environment. It is a short simple test to see if your dog can recognise the target odour. There are twelve boxes in a pattern, usually in two lines. One of the boxes has the target odour in it and teams either pass by identifying it and calling ‘alert’ or miss it by calling the wrong one or they can time out by not finding it within the allocated period of time. There are no points or faults. The Australian Canine Scent Work (ACSW) tests for three different odours: Birch, Anise and Clove.

How do I enter?

The first thing you need to do is to register yourself as a handler. This has a yearly fee of $30 (plus $10 initial admin fee) and goes to pay for administration and expenses, including your trail booklet and yearly updated membership card. See the following link for how to become a member http://acsw.com.au/become-a-member/. The trail booklet and your membership card will need to be brought with you on the day of the ORT.

You then need to register your dog with the ACSW: http://acsw.com.au/register-a-dog/. The fee is $25 and this is a lifetime registration.

What to expect on the day?

Before ORT day, you should be in communication with the ORT host. They will provide you with information outlining where and when the ORT will be held, when you should arrive and any other information important to the venue.

It is important to note that ACSW trials accommodate reactive dogs. This means that people without reactive dogs still have to keep their dogs out of the line of sight of any other dog, as much as possible. Officials, volunteers, dog owners and the trial host themselves will not hesitate to ask you to put your dog away or move them away from other dogs if not compliant.

When you arrive at the ORT the first thing to do is sign in, remembering to take your booklet and membership card with you. Your membership card will be returned to you and the ORT officials will hold on to your booklet until you finish your ORT run. You will then be notified where you are in the running order. All entrants will then be guided through a walk through and the ORT will start shortly after.  The ORT itself will have the Certifying Official (CO), the judge, judge’s assistant (scribe), timer, an ACSW videographer, possibly a professional videographer, a cold box person and a hot box person. At this point communication with other people will be limited as people finishing their ORT will not be able to talk about their run.

Warm up boxes?

Warm up boxes are usually made available in the waiting area before you enter the ORT. It is a personal choice if you decide to run the warm up boxes or not, and people have opinions in both directions. It is best to talk to your instructor and make a plan ahead of time that suits you and your dog.

I personally like running the ORT boxes. I find it helps get my dog focused and my head in the game. It also gives me a chance to have a bit of fun with my dog and is a good reinforcement opportunity before we start.

A few things to remember

  • Take a few slow deep breaths before you start.
  • Take your time: You have three minutes. That is a long time to identify one odour box.
  • Time starts when your dogs nose crosses the start line.
  • Remember your game plan. Of course, your dog may have other ideas but when you get stuck go back to your game plan.
  • Change direction. If you find you have gone up and down the rows a few times don’t forget to change direction.
  • Don’t be afraid to reset your dog and/or yourself.
  • Attempt to not let your dog crush any of the boxes. There is no penalty for crushing boxes.
  • There is no formal response behaviour required from the dog, only for the handler to recognise a change in behaviour of their dog.
  • Don’t forget to call ‘alert’.
  • You should rewards your dog to the side of the box. This is so you don’t unintentionally drop food on the odour box or dog slobber and contaminate the area.
  • Try not to drop any food.

Here is a video of Melanie and Indi – These two are a great team. Melanie gives Indi the time she needs to sort out where the odour is coming from and which is the correct box. She keeps moving and while many teams might have been tempted to call that first box, Melanie knows her dog.


Why do teams miss?

I have seen hundreds of teams run in odour recognition tests and have also had the privilege of videoing ORT’s too. It is fascinating to see how easy it is to miss what could be considered a relatively simple test. Many teams call it too early, not giving their dog enough time to get as close to the source as possible. Some teams miss searching the last boxes in the row correctly.  Some dogs were busy tracking the last dog and pay too much attention to the incorrect box. Some dogs were stuck in an odour pool and the handler does not yet have the experience to help them solve the puzzle. Some dogs were affected by something in the environment they were not happy with and some teams just weren’t ready yet.

Exercises to practice at home – how to get a solid ORT dog

  • Practice in many different environments, including inside, where it is deathly quiet and outside on the lawn next to cars going past. This is something you build up over time and it’s also helpful to go back and forth between these environments periodically.
  • Have someone sitting in the search area, progress to more than one person, then people opening doors, dropping things, a dog barking etc.
  • Practice on different surfaces.
  • Practice with different wind directions, drafts and wind tunnels.
  • Practice with strong and weak odour.
  • Practice with odour being out for fifteen minutes and with odour being out for a few hours and of course all levels in between.

Don’t just rely on your instructor to provide training opportunities. Training for an ORT should be fun for you and for your dog and be a good excuse to mix up your training environment.

Ranger at his first ORT

Rule changes are coming in July 2020 and Jan 2021 and while they won’t affect the individual running of each ORT. Titles will be awarded on the completion of all three ORT’s.

Written by Lesia Burford, CNWI

April 2020