Scent Work 6-1 Preparing For ORT

To compete in NACSW you need to first pass your Odor Recognition Test (ORT). In Performance Scent Dogs (PSD), there is a Target Odor Test (TOT) using 12 chairs with odor on one of them. PSD does accept odor tests from other venues to be eligible for trialing. In AKC, there is no odor test required for trialing. The AKC Novice container class is equivalent to the NACSW ORT test.  For the AKC novice containter class, 10 identical cardboard boxes are used

The NACSW ORT test schedule is located at New ones are showing up all the time. Make sure to read the rules thoroughly.

The AKC Scent Work rule books is located at

The PSD website is: This venue started on the east coast and is starting to spread south and west!

Since the same white boxes are used for many venue container search classes, including the NACSW NW1 container element, you will spend a lot of time working on these types of boxes. They are also used and can be one of the hot boxes in NACSW NW2 and NW3 container searches.

The objective of these lessons are to 1) work on your leash/handling skills while the dog is searching vented boxes and 2) progress to the point that your dog can find the odor in a closed box. It will likely take you longer than 1 week to get your box completely closed, but you should be able to get it almost closed if you work a little every day.

In both lessons, you should “cook” the box to increase odor in and around the box – also referred to as aging. At this point you could start taping 3 qtips to the inside lid of the box.  It’s much easier for the dog to source the odor. If you tape tips to lid then don’t open the box to reward inside since you don’t want your dog to touch the exposed qtips/oil. (TIP: For box squishers, using the sturdier bottom as the top works great!).

qtips taped in box

You can either age the box in a room where the dog can not get to, or ideally let it age in the search environment as long as your dog does not have access to it until you are ready to train.

When I age the box, I will close it completely for at least 30 minutes, and then vent it for the first steps in these lessons. When you start to search completely closed boxes it’s more important to add age – at least an hour if not more. Locating a completely closed box is hard! So we want to progress slowly and build on the dog’s successes. At a NACSW test/trial the container is likely to be aged for a few hours.


  • Harness and 10’ leash
  • Tin with qtips
  • 1 hot box
  • 5-11 cold cardboard boxes
  • Treats

Lesson 1:

Primary objective: To practice your leash handling while the odor box is easy to locate (vented). Put your dog’s harness and 10′ leash on when running some of your searches. Video your sessions and review your handling. The best tip is to use the length of your leash and to not move up so close that you are right in your dog’s space. Compare to how you handle when your dog is not on leash. We tend to stay out of their way when off leash – it should look the same whether on or off leash.  Take a step or two back when they are getting into source/at source and wait for them to “call” you in before you walk in.

So often we start moving in as they get close and then we are on top of them. Our dogs remember that we hover or are close by before feeding in training. This can cause a situation where when trialing if you crowd your dog, your dog may false alert due to a combination of picking up some odor nearby and feeling you close by.

  1. Start training with your dog on a harness all of the time and on leash some of the time.
  2. You might want to add 1 or 2 more qtips to your tin for more odor.
  3. Start with 6 vented boxes, one of them should be the hot box, and add more cold boxes as you progress. KNOW where the HOT box is.
  4. Add more boxes while the hot box is vented (and you can open the cold boxes too so they look similar) to the point that you are up to 10-12 boxes total.
  5. When your dog finds the box, continue to reward at the box. If you are using a hot tin inside the box, you can open the box and let them get right to the tin for more reinforcement directly at odor.
  6. Do 2 or 3 of these searches in each session and then end. There is no reason to over train at this point.
  7. In addition to using all cardboard boxes, feel free to revisit the other games for variety with fun/easy searches.

Here’s Asha’s 3rd run with 6 boxes. I started with a 2″ gap between top and bottom of box for the first run, then closed it a bit for the 2nd. In this run, the gap is about 1/2″.

Also, since this is a small space, I elected not to use the harness and leash.


Lesson 2:

Primary objective: To begin closing the ORT box a little more until it’s just about closed all the way. If you do not have regulation ORT boxes, you will need to have extra hot boxes that have less holes/venting as you progress. I think a regular brown box that folds the 4 flaps on the top is fine as when it’s closed there is not a lot of venting/openings.

  1. Once your dog is successfully searching 10-12 boxes with a vented hot box, start to close the amount of venting on your box and work at your dog’s pace for getting the box completely closed. For some dogs, leaving some venting (a few holes on top of box) will be a smart choice for building confidence with successful finds.
  2. When the box is completely closed, tape the qtips to the inside top lid and age it for at least an hour – either in a different room, or in the search area if your dog cannot access the area.
  3. Go back to less boxes (6-8), and make sure they are 4′ apart or more. We want to minimize any pooling/catching odor on cold boxes nearby.
  4. When your dog finds the box, continue to reward on top of box or feed as close as you can next to the side.
  5. You may also want to go in more immediately at this point and not wait for duration, but look for some delay/hesitation at source.
  6. False alerts may creep back, so be prepared to go in and admire if they are really “talking” to you at the cold box.
  7. NO proofing initially until they are having successes. 

Here’s a video showing Drac’s progression from vented to closed boxes. I have qtips taped to the inside top lid. I am also running him on a collar since he does not like having a harness on him (work in progress).  Note: In training, some people will drop their leash. This is not ok in a trial.

This is Judd working on closed boxes for the first time!

NOTE: This is a big change for the dog and can be very challenging. They will not find it as fast as the vented boxes. They may seem more confused, false alert, etc. The hope is that our incremental approach and history of value for odor will allow them to be successful.

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