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Tails From Trials: Odor Recognition Test

Sport: K-9 Nosework

Event: Odor Recognition Test

Dog: Halo

Location: Tigard, Oregon

Hosting: Nose Work Detectives & Calvin Presbyterian Church

Result: PASS!!!

The Odor Recognition Test is the preliminary qualification event for the sport of K-9 Nosework. It's presented as a simple container search -- of twelve boxes, one of them contains the odor. (The handler doesn't know which box contains odor.) Each dog searches individually. You have three minutes to call "Alert!"

Halo and I were entered in the test for Sweet Birch, which is the scent used in the first level of competition. You have the option of testing for all three scents (birch, anise and clove) on the same day and many handlers do exactly that -- mostly to just "get it over with" and qualify to work up through all the Nosework 1-3 levels. I was glad that I'd only trained for and entered for the birch, though. Not only is Halo really, really young to be competing, but it was her first day in a competitive environment (the "show scene" can be confusing to dogs at first) so this was a good way to get her feet wet and let her have a good time and experience competition without exhausting her.

We were definitely ready for the actual scent detection and alerting. She's been doing it since she was three months old. Potential problems for us included: 1) Distractions, 2) "Shutting down" in the scent room (where the dog gets nervous and gives up, or 3) Handler error (hey, I get nervous too!) I had a plan for all of those variables, and I'm glad I did, because she did start off the search very distracted.

At this test, when it was your turn to find odor, you were escorted into a large meeting room in the church. I was surprised that it was a very large room with several sofas and tables and large windows. There were multiple other people in the room -- the actual judge, the Certifying Official, and some other people...volunteers? Not sure what their function was. Halo must have assumed that we were just here to meet all the nice people, because she immediately oriented to them. At the start line, I'd tried to orient her towards the boxes -- but unfortunately, they looked nothing like our practice boxes. Our practice boxes are large and flat, and in my small kitchen they're only spaced out a few inches apart. These boxes were squat and small and there were a couple of feet between each box. Just from the visual, there's no way Halo would've known to go sniff at them.

All I could do was use the leash to get her to stick around the area, and walk her back and forth past them. She didn't even give them a glance for the first couple of passes, but suddenly a whiff of scent must've drifted out and "caught" her (scent travels in a cone-shape, and dogs will find or walk into that cone shape and then follow the cone down to the source.) Halo's got true, legitimate odor obedience -- odor obedience is when they always, always go to odor no matter what, no matter the distraction. So she followed it in, and though she wasn't doing her normal alert of lying down with her chin as close to source as possible, it was obviously the right box, so I called it! The judges let you know if you're correct. I was so happy when they asserted that it was the right box. Halo's expression was still a little confused ("How on earth did BIRCH get in here???") but she seemed ultimately pleased with herself, even if she wasn't sure exactly what happened. You are allowed three minutes to call alert; our time was 1:43. Not a great time (in training she's found it in as little as 7 seconds) but not too bad!

That was it; right afterwards we were free to leave. You don't get awards or ribbons in the Odor Recognition Test; it's strictly a pass-fail event. I was so excited that Halo had done so well in her very first event! Now we can start training on interiors, exteriors, and vehicles!

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