The Need for Balance

This post is more for myself than anything else. I need to be mindful that I need to find and maintain balance. This is never more important than when I walk up to the line with my dog. He is brilliant in Scent Work. Truly, he is really good. However, he is oftentimes handicapped by a handler who is focused on other things while we are running. This is an example of imbalance.

For instance, I will be preoccupied with other tasks I am trying to do at the very same trial I am competing in. Or, the mind will conjure up insecurities that plague me as I am about to begin. All of my years of learning and training will disappear in an instant, and suddenly I am second-guessing myself, worst still, second-guessing my dog. It is a nightmare.

Sound familiar? The good news is, you have the power to wake from this nightmare. It entails finding balance.

For me, balance starts a week before the trial itself. Practicing. Training. Cementing good routines and habits for ME, not my dog. He is awesome, I am the one who needs to work at this.

The night before the trial. Sleep. This is difficult for me, but it is a must. Being well-rested is important and will prevent the meeting of exhaustion and stress which will inevitably lead to failure.

The morning of the trial. Eat. Again, something I oftentimes will skip. Fuel the healthy parts of the brain so as to keep it from slipping into unhelpful territory.

At the trial itself. Arrive in time to breathe, check-in, breathe, set-up, breathe, settle in and breathe again. Evaluate where you are in your head space. For me, I will ask if I am focused on HOW I am going to have fun with my dog? Or, am I stressing about the job I need to do, or what people may think or how I should never be allowed to do Scent Work again if I do not do well? Again, breathe. Recognize the nonsensical thinking. See it for what it is. And then let it go. Don’t beat yourself up for thinking it, that is not going to help. Breathe. Pet the dog. Smile at his wiggling bum and remember, truly remember, why you are doing this. For him. To have fun with him. To maximize the time you have with him.

Now, what if all of that fails? What if life decides to throw in everything under the sun to sabotage you? What if everything you touch seems to turn to dust and goes wrong? What if, what if, what if…

If things are that much out of balance, if things are that much in disarray, pull the dog. If you cannot get back into that healthy head space, if you are going to be a hindrance to your dog, if you could set back your training, and more importantly your relationship with your dog, pull the dog. Give them a chew, forgive yourself and see how you can adjust things next time. It is not fair to expect 110% from the dog when you are incapable of giving even 1%. It happens. Own it and do the right thing: pull the dog.

Truly evaluate your own strengths and weaknesses. Identify the triggers that throw you off-balance. Remove them as best as you can. Do what you must to be the teammate your dog deserves. If that means taking a break from competition altogether, even for a few months, then so be it. If that means limiting what you will be doing or are responsible for in the weeks, days or day-of the trial, then do what you have to do.

I will be honest, I struggle with balance everyday, and it will likely be a lifetime struggle. But my boy is worth it and deserves nothing less.

How do you maintain balance? What steps do you take to ensure you are being the best teammate for your dog?

The Importance of Context

“Now we’re getting ready for trial, we cannot play the Find It Game anymore…I don’t want them going after treats!”

“We’re trying to get our (enter title name)! No more hunting for critters for you!”

“I need my dog to be on-point…no more (enter other activity). It is Scent Work or nothing!”

These statements make me sad. Like really, REALLY sad. Your dog’s quality of life is the foremost thing that should be on your mind. Why would you want to limit their joy?

“If they do (enter activity) they will be confused and will not do well at the Scent Work trial!”

Ahhh, now I see, there is a misunderstanding on how this all works. It is called context.

Let me give you a personal example with my boy. We do Scent Work…a lot. It is one of his favorite activities. Notice, however, I said “one of”. He does many things and plays many games. Each one ignites a separate part of his personality, pulls upon different strengths, plays to different desires and yes, each works to increases his joy. The look on his little Doberface when he is hunting in Scent Work is entirely different than when he is playing Barn Hunt. There is joy in both activities, but the joy is different.

Getting back to why you should care at all what my dog does, I play the “snorkel in the yard for your meal” game at least once, maybe twice a week, on a regular basis with him. What is this strange game you may ask? Well, it is a highly scientific approach of having him wait on the stoop as I quite literally toss either his kibbles or freeze-dried raw bits around the fenced-in backyard, and then release him to gobble up the same.

“((sucking breath out of the room))…YOU CAN’T DO THAT! What will happen when there are food distractors at a trial?!”

Nothing.

“WHAT?!”

Context is important here. When we are playing the snorkeling game, this is how is looks:

  • he is “naked” – no collar, no harness, no leash, no long line, nada.
  • he is not set-up in his staging area (ie. crate, other room, etc.).
  • I’m oftentimes in pajamas, wearing socks with slippers – not conducive to moving quickly or competently.
  • I’m not wearing my treat pouch nor do I have his high-value Scent Work treats on me.
  • there are no cones, flags, containers, chairs in weird positions…the yard is just, the yard.
  • …oh, did I mention there is no odor?

Compare this to what a Scent Work practice OR trial situation would look like:

  • he is wearing some sort of collar, to be switched over to his Scent Work-specific collar when we are actually working.
  • he will be on-leash or on a long line when he is actually hunting more often than not. Even when run off-leash, I am still holding the leash and/or long line to be used when he is done.
  • he is staged inside his crate at a trial, another room or area when practicing at home.
  • I’m oftentimes dressed where I could go out in public and not scare anyone, including socks and shoes so I can keep up with him and not fall flat on my face.
  • I’m wearing my treat pouch and have his high-value Scent Work treats on me.
  • the area is staged with cones, flags, containers, etc…basically, it looks like a search area.
  • and….there is odor.

To my dog, these two things look COMPLETELY different. There is little to no chance in the middle of a Scent Work trial he will suddenly think, “Oh wait, maybe we are playing the snorkeling game…LET’S FIND ALL THE TREATS!”.

Does this mean that doing a million different sports and activities with your dog couldn’t possibly cause confusion? Of course not. But that is where context plays such a big role. Use different cues, verbal and environmental. Utilize warm-ups. Go to the warm-up boxes before you enter your search at a trial. Use warm-up boxes during your practice sessions too. Use practice and training sessions leading up to a trial to focus the attention on THAT activity, over others.

“I don’t know…” 

Okay, then look at it this way.

Everything your dog does is interconnected, nothing happens in a vacuum. So, if your dog finds joy in doing Activity A and you remove that activity entirely from their routine, then you are removing that amount of joy from their life. This also means you are stripping them of opportunities to obtain fulfillment, mental and physical exercise, building their confidence, learning how to learn and deal with potential frustration without falling apart…just to name a few possibilities. All of these things are SUPER important to the overall well-being of your dog.

Before you start taking activities away that your dog truly loves, see how you can adjust the context, if you even need to, to ensure they are successful. Your dog will thank you for it.

 

ACK! Hay in a Trial Search Area!!!

“Oh my god…there is hay in the search area! My dog does BARN HUNT…we are going to have to scratch, he can never search in there and be successful!”

This is pretty close to a real conversation I heard a competitor have at a recent Scent Work trial. The fact there were three or so bales of hay in one part of a search area was sending them into an utter tailspin. And I was honestly puzzled…

“But…but…but…dogs who do Barn Hunt SEE hay or straw and immediately think they will be hunting for rats…they will never be able to find some stupid essential oil odor!”

Do you really have so little faith in your pup?

“WHAT?!”

Let’s break down this concern:

The dog has a training and reinforcement history doing Scent Work, where they are rewarded for hunting for a novel odor, such as Birch, Anise and Clove in a variety of search elements, such as interiors, exteriors, vehicles or containers.

The same dog also has a training and reinforcement history doing Barn Hunt, where they are rewarded by hunting for real live rats hidden safely inside PVC tubes throughout a hay or straw maze.

…I’m not seeing the problem here.

“HOW CAN YOU NOT?! There is HAY in the search area! The dog will be confused! They will be searching for rats, not odor!”

Why?

Simply because there are a few bales present? The last time I checked, there are a TON of bales of hay or straw used in Barn Hunt trials, and they are set-up in a course. Not just a few bales piled up in one corner with other stuff in the space.

Also, the bigger elephant in the room is this fact…there should not be any essential odors hidden inside your Barn Hunt course…likewise, there should not, hopefully, be the tremendous amount of rat “leakage” odor commonly present in a Barn Hunt course in your Scent Work search area.

So, why does this not concern me? The dog is seeing two completely different pictures. And dogs are incredibly contextual, which is why we go through all the trouble of using different collars, equipment, routines and cue words depending on what game we are playing at any given time.

“…I’m not convinced…”

Okay, then there is a really easy way to address that. Train for it. Make certain your dog only does Barn Hunt practice in Barn Hunt-competition appropriate rings, where there will NEVER be any essential oils used. Use different equipment for Barn Hunt. Use a different cue word. Follow a Barn Hunt-specific routine.

Then for your Scent Work training, start bringing in non-rat leakage laden hay or straw bales into your search areas. Don’t go crazy. One or two will suffice. Ensure you are following your Scent Work routine: equipment used, warm-up routine (hitting on warm-up boxes for instance), cue used, etc.

You will be surprised at how your dog will be able to distinguish between the two activities.

“I guess…but they think hunting for rats is so much better than hunting for Birch…”

This is a fair statement. A living and breathing creature can more easily illicit a prey drive response than a novel odor that we have to build value in. However, it is the very fact that we build value in Birch, Anise and Clove that we can control the dog’s excitement in it. Review how you reward your dog when they find their hide. How can you get them to love it as much as when they find the correct rat tube? Be creative and lean on your training to help you.

Our dogs are incredibly intelligent little beings, they can figure all of this out, and be amazing in both activities, but we have to give them the chance to.

So breathe. Put a plan in place. And enjoy both games that truly allow your dog to be just that: a dog.

What are some other ways you can help your dog understand the difference between the Barn Hunt and Scent Work game? Are there other ways you may be psyching yourself out when it comes to what you think your dog cannot do in regard to Scent Work? Are you looking for tips on how to proof them to only focus on odor when doing Scent Work? Check out our Only Odor Proofing Course and walk away with a better idea on how you can adjust your practice sessions to set both yourself and your dog up for success.  

Happy Training!

Accepting the Dog You Have

“UGH! My dog is so slow!”

“I hate it that my dog will not tell me where the hides are right away!”

“Why can’t they just work those stupid interior searches, that is all we need to get our title!”

Expectations and reality can be two completely different things. When it comes to Scent Work, they can be light years away from one another. If there is one thing all handlers should strive for, in my opinion, it is this: accept the dog you have in regard to the type of hunter they are.

“Oh, so I just shouldn’t bother to try to make them better then?!”

Now, I didn’t say that.

Let’s tackle the first complaint: my dog is too slow. Okay, how are you coming up with that assessment? Too slow for what? Are they actually finding the hides?

“Santos, you know exactly what I mean! We are no where near the placements at trial, they just plod around not working, wasting time!” 

Alright, do you know why?

“Yes! They are (enter stubborn, stupid, lazy, etc., etc.)!”

I doubt it.

In my time of being an instructor and trainer, one of the things I have noticed is the disconnect handlers have with observing their dogs as a whole. A better way of putting it is this: these handlers only see one part of the picture that is their dog. Instead, you need to see the ENTIRE masterpiece that is your dog, not just one little detail.

For instance, your dogs’ age, health, breed, personality, baseline confidence, training history and overall learning style are just the tip of the iceberg of the various factors that are at play at any given time. Each will play a role into whether your dog can, or cannot, be “speedy” in their search.

With that in mind, take a step back and assess YOUR dog. How old are they? What breed or mix are they? What is their personality? What is their baseline confidence? What is their training history when it comes to Scent Work (be honest now)? What is their overall learning style?

“I don’t know how to answer most of those questions! This is a waste of time!”

There you have it. It CAN be challenging for us to really tell WHO our dogs are. But, this is still a crucial part of any training puzzle. How can you reach a goal if you do not know WHO your learner REALLY is?

Let me give you an example. Sighthounds. As a grossly generalized observation, the Sighthounds I have had as students are what I call “true to odor”, in that they will follow, precisely, where the odor trail is going. Whereas other dogs may cut across it, zig zag through it or deduce, generally speaking, where it is going, especially in the beginning of their training, Sighthound breeds will follow this trail to the letter. And frustrate the daylights out of their handlers who are comparing them to their non-Sighthound classmates. An interesting nugget? In the training classes I have held, these Sighthounds were rarely wrong. Sure, it may take them a few more seconds to get to source, but they were able to get to source where other “faster” dogs may have been tripped up by a tricky odor problem.

To try to get these types of dogs to change how they are hardwired so they will suddenly work like a completely different breed of dog, that is not only unfair, it is entirely unrealistic.

Alright, well, my complaint is a solid one. My dog will not tell me where the hides are right away! It drives me crazy at trial!”

Ah yes, the age old problem of a dog who catalogs while searching. The dog that will go into the space, work the entire search area, deduce where the hides are and THEN tell their handler. Frustrating for the handler? Absolutely! A problem within itself? Not in the least.

“WHAT?!”

Let me explain.

Dogs who catalog may be doing so for any number of reasons, but oftentimes, from what I have seen, it is a strong desire to be RIGHT and a worry of being WRONG. Read that again: the dog wants desperately to be RIGHT when they TELL you about the hide. Isn’t that a good thing?

“But the time…the precious time at trial!”

Sure, let’s tackle that part. While it can FEEL as though an eternity has passed as your dog is in the process of cataloging the search area, it really isn’t that long. They are actively working, determining where all the hides are. Now, juxtapose that with a dog who is frantically ping ponging around the search area. Sure, they may tell their person about a hide or two, but they are also potentially stirring up a ton more odor, making things harder for themselves AND harder for the handler to keep track of where they have BEEN and where they still need to GO. Now, go back to the cataloger. They have done all the work for you. They then go up to each individual hide, give you a glorious alert for each, and bang, bang, bang, you’ve got your Q. In the end, your cataloger may very well be FASTER than the frantic and frenzied dog.

“Whatever…those other complaints are not my problem. My problem is my dog will not do interior searches! They must, they simply must!” 

Time for some real-talk.

The titles are not going anywhere. The ribbons will still be there. There are trials aplenty.

Take.

Your.

Time.

Enjoy the journey and marvel at your dog improving their confidence to work in a space that is challenging for them AND MANY OTHER DOGS! Slippery floors are scary. They are hard to navigate. Shiny floors may appear as a bottomless pit to the dog. You are asking them to risk life and paw to go find some measly Birch…give your dog a break!

One of the things I try to stress to my students, ad nauseam, is this: your dog must feel safe in order to do any task. If they do not feel safe, they will not be able to work. It is really that simple.

“Great…now you made me feel terrible…now what I am supposed to do?”

I’m not trying to make you feel bad, but I am happy to hear that you want to put together a game plan. Increase your dog’s overall confidence. Do exercises OUTSIDE the realm of Scent Work to help them realize that shiny or slippery floors are not so scary. Go slowly. Break your training up into tiny pieces. Progress step-by-step. Do honest assessments. Notice when you are backsliding, determine why and make necessary adjustments. And most importantly, do not trial until your dog is ready. Remember: trialing is a test, not a substitute for training. You may walk in with the best of intentions, but what if you ONLY need that one Interior Q to get your title…are you certain you will not put undue pressure on your dog? Recognize that your dog may simply not be ready yet, and revel in the opportunity YOU have to PLAY the GAME with them at home, for as long as it takes, creating memories that will last a lifetime.

“Um…but what if we do that and my dog is still not where they need to trial?…I’m afraid they cannot trial…”

And we have arrived at the hardest part of this conversation. Are there dogs who simply cannot trial? Yes. No amount of training, prepping or adjustments will change that. It can be for variety of reasons. Your job, as your dog’s advocate, is to recognize who THEY are and if trialing will help or hurt their overall training progress, confidence, relationship with you and quality of life.

I speak from experience. I had one of those dogs. My first Doberboy, Zeus, was homicidal toward other dogs. No, I do not mean reactive. I mean a true murderer of other dogs if given the chance. Full outright, thankfully rare, aggression. Did he love Scent Work? Absolutely! Did he do great in class? With a TON of careful management and, sometimes pure dumb luck, yes! Was he a candidate to trial? Absolutely, positively not. Does that mean I didn’t try? Nope. Cannot say I am that perfect.

Zeus earned his ORT in all three odors. No incidents. Passed all three searches with flying colors. People who didn’t know him were quite impressed. And I went home knowing full well we dodged a major bullet. That was his last we ever trialed in anything. The risk was too high. Worst still, I set him back majorly in his behavior modification program that took us years to get to, and months of hard work to win back. By going to that ORT trial, I was setting my dog up to FAIL and FAIL miserably. All so I could say we got an ORT.  No, what I needed to do was accept who my dog was, completely and totally, and resign myself to always doing what was best for HIM, even if my ego wanted to do something else.

“Jeez Santos, this got dark…”

Reality is not always unicorn and rainbows, but you can make the best of it. Recognize WHO your dog is. WHAT they need. HOW they hunt. Accept those truths and then figure out what you can do as their teammate to mold those realities into strengths. Zeus may never have been able to trial, but he was a sniffing fiend. He LOVED playing the game at home, and helped me appreciate watching a dog truly work, without the strings attached of ribbons and titles for me. Those are lessons I will never forget.

So, what is the moral of the story? Accept who your dog is and make a plan from there. You will both be far happier as a result.

What type of hunter is your dog? Who are they in regard to Scent Work and how they learn? Not sure or looking to hone your eye? You may want to check out our Reading Your Dog course to develop some of your skills to become a better teammate for your amazing little (or big) dog. 

Happy Training! 

Going for Q’s or Placements…What’s Better?

Months of training and preparing under your belt, you are ready to begin competing. You review the requirements for the level you are entering, ensuring you and your dog are truly ready. 

The day is finally here. The morning of, you practice the routine you came up with to help keep you composed, present and level-headed. After all, you need to be a good teammate for your dog. It pays off. You tackle each search as a team, acing each search and hearing the glorious, “Yes” reply to each of your “Alert” calls. You celebrated with your dog after each search, knowing how incredibly fortunate you are to have them as your partner. You are excited, relieved and just plain happy! Safely tucking them in their crate to chew a special treat you bought them, you head up to the gathering where they will hand out the human rewards.

Your name is included with those fellow competitors who also successfully completed their searches. Proud of your teamwork, you trot up to receive your Q ribbons, a proud smile on your lips. The future is looking mighty bright and promising  for your future Scent Work competition journey. Officially bitten by the trialing bug, you cannot wait to see when you can enter your next trial! 

Practically floating, you notice the trial host suddenly seems to shift gears as they note the REAL excitement is yet to come: the placements. Being your first trial, you are intrigued. They call out names and search times for the fastest four teams in each individual search, some of which are mind-numbingly fast! Under 30 seconds, under 20 seconds, under 10 seconds …under 5 seconds even! These competitors receive beautiful ribbons…far prettier than your mere Q ribbons, which begin to lose their luster…

The trial officially ends with awarding the High in Trial award for the best team of the day. You are awe-struck by the truly gorgeous reward they hand out. This ribbon is huge! A glorious representation of a glorious accomplishment. You tuck your Q ribbons in your coat pocket. 

Everyone hoots and cheers for this competitor. They are indeed the best of the day.  

Heading back to the car, a seed borrows it’s way into the far reaches of your mind: you want to be part of that “elite crowd”. You want to earn the big beautiful ribbons. You want to earn a High in Trial.

So, is there anything inherently wrong with that? Absolutely not.

“Then it is settled, High in Trial placements are indeed far superior to qualifying runs!”

Now, I didn’t say that either.

There is no set rule for this. As with all things dog training-related, it has to be individualized for what will work best for you and your dog. And, the wrong choice can go terribly badly for both of you.

Let me give you a personal example. My personal approach to trialing in any dog sport is to test my training and teamwork against the standard of that particular competition venue at that particular level. Another way of putting it is this: can we pass the test? That is my focus: the requirement set by the level of competition for the sport we are competing in. I am not interested in truly “competing” with other people for placements. No, my approach is to compete against myself and my own training. Should we happen to place, awesome, what a great surprise! But the Q is all that matters to me. This means when my name is called for qualifying runs, I excitedly “WOOHOO!” the whole time I am trotting up to collect my prize, and loudly “WOOHOO” all the way back to my spot in the crowd. Do people look perplexed that I am so excited over a simple Q ribbon? Yup. Does that matter one iota to me? Nope.

“Ooookkkaaayyyy…so, people who do like placements are…wrong?”

No. That approach simply works for them.

“For the love of…Santos…what is the point?!”

The point is there is no better. Trialing is an individual journey. It will change from person-to-person and even dog-to-dog. There may be a dog who has been struggling for months to brave slippery floors, and suddenly conquers their fears and kills that interior search. No ribbon can properly capture the feeling of watching your dog be brave, trust that you will keep them safe and put in an incredible effort to work that space. You may have another dog who is awesomely talented and you want to showcase their skills. Two different dogs, two different goals, two different approaches.

My rule of thumb is this: if the handler and dog are having fun and enjoying themselves, then all is well. If they are stressed out, shutdown, frustrated or grumpy, well, that is a sign something is amiss.

Since all of this is a journey, it may change and shift over time. And that is okay.

What are your thoughts? How do you approach competing in Scent Work with your dog?

More Trialing Opportunities!…and How That’s a Problem

Are you all ready for some real talk? Strap in, because here we go!

For those Scent Work enthusiasts who have been involved in the sport for a while, particularly those who were there when it first began, one of the longest standing complaints included: a lack of trialing opportunities, painfully long waitlists and an overall inability to play with your dog. Now, there is a long and involved list of reasons why this was the case, but the fact remained, from coast-to-coast in the United States more people wanted to play…and they wanted to play now!

Fast forward to 2018, and there are now upwards of eight, count them, eight trialing organizations in the United States alone! Especially with AKC now offering Scent Work trials, there seems to be Scent Work trials offered every weekend in every corner of the country. Great news, right?

… Right?

Here’s the rub. Let’s say that you plan to trial with your dog every weekend for a month. You are still going to travel to some of these trials, so that means leaving at least a day early, trialing over the weekend, maybe staying at the hotel overnight on Sunday to hit the road bright and early on Monday. Oh, and you work or have a life Tuesday through Thursday.

So, when exactly are you actually training your dog?

“Oh, well my dog is great. We are all done with training.” 

Yeah, about that…

We need to recognize that every single time we trial, we are lessening our training criteria. Let me give you one example: the importance of source. For me, I reward my dog as close to source as possible in training. At trial, I may only have a rough idea of where the hide is, especially if it is inaccessible. That means I could, potentially, be rewarding my dog away from source. Let’s say I repeat this consistently over a period of time. Perhaps my dog now thinks they only need to tell me where odor is, not where it is coming from

“No, no, no,” you say, “MY dog has far superior training than that. That is not a problem.”

Okay. Maybe that is true. What about this then…what happens when you call a false alert? I mean, what does that really do to YOU? What kind of hit to your confidence does that dreaded, “No” do? Meaning not only the confidence you have in yourself, the confidence you have in your dog? If that confidence deteriorates over time…what else do you really have? The dog, after all, is the one with the nose. You are depending on them to tell you where the hide is! But if you begin to second-guess them all the time, where does that leave you as a team?

Now, compound that with a month of 2-day weekend trials where you are entered in 5 classes in each…the likelihood of you calling at least 1 false alert per trial is pretty high. So, at the bare minimum, that is 10 false alert calls in one month…10 deductions from your bank of confidence and successes you had previously built up during your training. Can you see where I am going with this?

Still, I can hear some of you saying, “I cannot believe she wants less trials!”, and that could not be further from the truth. I am delighted there are more trialing opportunities. I am elated more people can play with and create memories with their dogs. I am also incredibly concerned those very same people are not doing the amount of training that is required to prepare their dog, themselves and to ensure both can be successful now and going forward into the future.

Let me give a personal example, albeit not specifically for Scent Work, but similar enough. Competing with my dog in Barn Hunt. He loves it, is a natural and it helped that I taught Barn Hunt classes. This meant lots of practice time, a long history of making the game fun; good stuff all around. Then, I got hurt. No more instructing. No more practicing. Yet, a desire to compete remained. Suddenly our good runs morphed into something ugly and not good at all! I was calling “RAT” no where near a tube. I was not properly reading my dog. My failures began to compound, my self-confidence was in free-fall and I was falling apart as a handler. At the end of the day, I was failing my dog, and miserably. Not only that, all of this was happening in the level that can be the hardest one for teams: Senior.

This situation got so ridiculous that he had not stepped foot in a Barn Hunt practice ring for 6-months, yet I thought it would be a brilliant idea to enter him into a trial…during a cross-country trip…to trial in a strange location…on the complete opposite coast of the country…with widely different weather…all with the thought, “Oh, what the heck? We did our foundation training ages ago, he will be fine.” Well, turned out my dog was up to the task, but I wasn’t. I convinced him of a empty tube, and that was the end of the that. I have since bit the bullet and committed to actually training and practicing before we enter our next trial. This is more for me than for my dog, but it is crucial nonetheless.

“Okay Santos, so what is the point?” 

Well, mainly, a plea to make certain you are training and practicing more than you are trialing. Remember that you will need those practice sessions to stay fresh and to keep all the moving parts of your performance as a team moving smoothly. It can also help you identify issues that may pop up before you enter a trial.

More trialing opportunities are wonderful. But we need to recognize that trialing is for testing our training…not a substitute for it.

Did you find this thought-provoking? Want to hear similar discussions? Stayed tuned then for our new podcast series that will start soon, “Lessons from an Imperfect Trainer”.

Teaching Scent Work…Anyone Can Do THAT!…Right?

Perhaps you are an instructor who has been training dogs and teaching classes for a few years. You likely have heard about Scent Work and may have even played the game with your own dog. The benefits of Scent Work are plainly obvious, so why shouldn’t YOU offer it to YOUR students? It cannot be that hard…right?

I will be the first to admit teaching and training Scent Work is far from brain surgery…but the same can be said for all dog training. If one really sits down and breaks down what it is they want to teach the dog, they can come up with a plan.

Scent Work, however, does offer it’s own unique challenges for instructors. Many of which are overlooked by instructors taking the plunge for the first time.

For instance, why are you offering this in the first place? That is not meant to sound snarky. Rather, it is an honest question because it will affect who comes into your class. Those students will arrive based on how you pitch and promote the course…but what if their expectations and desires are not at all in-line with what you will, and can, offer them? What will you do then?

The giant elephant in the room of course is the odor itself. Which odors will you use? When will you the odor? And how? Why are you doing it that way? What if things go left?

“Wait, things can go LEFT?! This is just Scent Work…what can possibly go left?!” 

Trust me, things can go badly quickly on a number of fronts.

Then we get to the safety factor…reactive dogs are welcomed with open arms in the sport of Scent Work, which could very well be the reason your class fills in the first place. Do you have a background in working with “reactive” dogs? Can you properly ascertain what that really means when someone fills out your registration form? In other words, when the dog walks in the door, can you tell if they are reserved and simply need some space, or if they are over-the-top and YOU need to keep a safe radius to prevent having a “dog-dome-meets-your-nose” situation? Or does “reactive” really mean the dog would like to eat other people and dogs? And if it is latter, what on earth are you going to do to deal with that?!

These are just a few of the considerations instructors oftentimes overlook when they take on teaching Scent Work. And that doesn’t even touch upon the competitive element to the sport…

Now, all THAT being said, Scent Work is an outstanding activity that I quite honestly believe ALL dogs should participate in (I refer you to my first blog post, Scent Work Is the Best). So the more dogs playing Scent Work the better. But as instructors, we need to take steps to ensure we are meeting the needs of the dogs and their handlers.

If you are not running for the hills, consider checking out the Teaching Scent Work Webinar where we go over in detail some of these considerations, and provide links for programs that can help you obtain the knowledge and background necessary to be a great Scent Work instructor.

Happy Training!