News :: Reactive Dogs at ORTs & Trials

As part of our commitment to making NACSW events fun, fair and safe for all competitors, we are working to better educate the entire K9 Nose Work community on the intended use of red bandanas at NACSW ORTs and trials, as well as making our rules regarding reactivity at official events as clear as possible. The red bandanas at NACSW events were always - and still are - meant for dogs who need a bit more space from other dogs.

The activity of K9 Nose Work is something that almost all dogs can enjoy and we have found that the activity has helped many dogs with sensitivities improve tremendously - sometimes to the point where they can safely navigate a trial environment. However, the sport of K9 Nose Work will not be something that is appropriate for all dogs as the ORT and trial environment are real life environments. We can't control these environments as much as class environments can be controlled and surprises do frequently happen. Our primary goal is to keep your dog comfortable and safe - no dog enjoys being put in a situation where they feel it necessary to react - and for some dogs, this may mean that the trial environment is not right for them. Please read below for clarification. Questions or concerns can be sent to



Have you caught the K9 Nose Work fever? Are you interested entering your dog in an NACSW Odor Recognition Test (ORT) or NACSW trial? As with any activity there are many things to consider before you pursue competition with your dog. K9 Nose Work classes are open to many dogs that can’t participate in other activities because we only have one dog at a time working in the search area. This also holds true of ORTs and trials. However, a competition type setting can be much more stressful and less controlled than a class setting. Your dog might thoroughly enjoy the routine, structure and safety of class but not be as comfortable in strange environments with unknown people. K9 Nose Work began as a fun activity for dogs and handlers. We hope that you will always keep the fun of K9 Nose Work as your top priority when considering competition.


Considerations for dogs and handler teams

Though we try to keep our competitions fun and relaxed, there are rules to follow and practices in place that may not appeal to all teams.

· The trial will likely last all day. Will you and your dog be happy waiting in your vehicle for your turn?

· We have trials in all types of weather. There may be times of year that you or your dog would not enjoy doing Nose Work all day.

· At times there will be longer walks to search areas. We do our best to help teams of all fitness levels but you may find that you or your dog does not have the endurance for this type of activity.

· This is a competition setting even though you are only testing against yourself. Do you enjoy this type of activity? Does your dog enjoy being around you under this type of stress?

· The question to answer is not, “Can my dog compete?” but “Will I, and especially my dog, enjoy the day and the added stress of a competition setting?”


If you have decided that your dog can enjoy the competition setting but he does not behave well around other dogs, he would be a “red bandana” dog. This means he would wear a red bandana to let others know that he might need a bit more space or time. 

The following are some guidelines of what NACSW ORT and trial environments do and don’t provide with respect to dogs that have concerns about dogs, people and the environment.


Dogs who are concerned about other dogs:

What we do give you…

  • Search areas without other dogs purposefully in the area.
  • Reasonable assurance that people will do their best to follow the rules and maintain at least 8 feet of distance between dogs.
  • No stand for exam, group down stay, or intentional off leash dogs.
  • Culture and rules that have dogs contained when not going potty or getting ready for their turn.

What we don’t give you…

  • Guarantee of no accidents or surprises – you and your dog need to be able to safely navigate any of these surprises including dogs directly approaching your dog.
  • Approval to have a dangerous dog at an event.


Dogs who are concerned with people

Dogs must be comfortable in proximity to people of varying ages, genders, and sizes who may move in unpredictable ways.  For most interior searches your dog must be able to enter the room with a volunteer opening/closing the door for you.  People may pop out around corners, and judge’s stewards and gate stewards will approach you to guide you to your next area and/or give instructions.

What we do give you…

  • We ask our volunteers to show respect and not interact with your dog without permission.
  • We ask our volunteers to give you a little bit of extra space if requested (stepping back a step or two).

What we don’t give you…

  • We don’t clear areas, hallways; ask spectators or volunteers to leave search areas or to step back away from the search area. 
  • Any guarantees that our volunteers or spectators or other people at the trial location will not attempt to approach/interact with your dog.
  • While you can share with a volunteer that certain body language/behaviors such as staring may add social pressure to a dog, we can’t guarantee that a volunteer, official, spectator, or other person on trial grounds will not exhibit this behavior.
  • We don’t condone dogs displaying aggression (for example: lunging, barking, growling, etc.) towards humans at any time.


Dogs who have environmental sensitivities

What we do give you…

  • Understanding if you need a bit of time to help your dog recover from a scary event.

What we don’t give you…

  • Accommodations to avoid certain environments, situations, etc.
  • We can’t give you an alternate path to a search area, or additional time to acclimate to an area, etc.


If you are not sure that you and your dog would be happy in the competition environment volunteering at an NACSW™ ORT or NACSW™ trial is an excellent way to get an idea of what you would encounter. You will not only learn much about the mechanics of competition but also Nose Work. You can locate events using the ORT Calendar and/or Trial Calendar menus.

Thank you for taking the time to read these guidelines and to consider what is best for your dog. Together, we can continue to make K9 Nose Work and NACSW events all about the dogs and keep it fun, fair, and safe for all dogs and people involved.

Happy Sniffing,

The NACSW team


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The National Association of
Canine Scent Work® (NACSW)
sets the standards governing
the sport of K9 Nose Work™.


NACSW is the only official
sanctioning and organizing
body for K9 Nose Work
titles and ORTs.