At some point in your Scent Work training journey, you will set a super challenging hide for your dog, oftentimes inadvertently. You then have to choose...what do you do? Do you just allow them the time and space to solve the problem, no matter how long that may take? Do you put them up, make an adjustment to the hide and let them immediately run it again? Or, do you put them up, essentially leaving the hide behind and unfound, so that you can tackle that specific problem in a completely different training session later?
In this episode, we talk about these three options, the need to make split-second decisions and also owning up who are as a handler and trainer, not to mention how fluid all of this can truly be.
Welcome to the All About Scent Work podcast. In this podcast, we talk about all things Scent Work, that includes training tips, a behind the scenes look at what your instructor or trial official might be going through and much more. In this episode, we're going to be talking about setting up a hide that our dog has been struggling to find. Do we allow them to just work it out or do we put them up and make an adjustment? Before we start diving into the podcast episode itself, let me do a very quick introduction of myself. My name is Dianna Santos, I'm the owner and lead instructor for Scent Work University. We provide online dog training courses, seminars and webinars that are all focused around Scent Work, regardless of where you may be within your training journey.
This past week, we just offered a brand new webinar that you may be interested in, called The Scent Work Way of Life, where we talk about a variety of different ways outside of Scent Work, that we could build skills that will be actually helpful to Scent Work. I strongly urge you guys to check that out as it will actually relate to what we're talking about in this podcast episode today. Without further ado, let's dive into the podcast episode itself.
In this episode, I wanted to tackle a rather challenging topic of knowing what we're supposed to do as handlers and trainers when we set up a hide that our dog may be struggling with. Are we supposed to just let them work it out or are we supposed to put them up and make some kind of adjustment, or put them up and just leave it and then basically present them with the problem maybe with some adjustments later? The reason I wanted to tackle this is that it's a common question that people will ask, and as instructors and trainers we will give different answers of course, depending on the situation.
That's a big thing that I really want to impart in this episode, is that there may not be a one size fits all answer. It probably is extraordinarily contextual to the situation at hand, not just the dog and not just the handler. Meaning that you may be working with your dog and in one situation just waiting them out is the perfectly correct thing to do. And then in another situation, putting them up, making an adjustment to the hide and then running them again may be appropriate. And another one, were you're just putting them up, being like, "Okay well, you didn't get that one, that's okay." And then just maybe offering it in a different context or having some adjustments the very next time that you do a Scent Work training session, that may be appropriate as well.
Because it is so fluid and there isn't a definitive, "Well do this, do that," it's very hard for people who are training on their own to know, "Well, which thing do I do?" We can contextually kind of understand these things, but then you're in the moment going, "Oh no, they're really having a hard time. What do I do? And am I going to, 'break' my dog, depending on what I do?" For myself personally, again not being some kind of Scent Work guru, I'm not the end all and be all as far as Scent Work is concerned. And with all of these things, again I think a lot of it has to do with preference, knowing the dog, knowing the situation, and also just opinion, honestly. But in my opinion, my preference is to prefer for the dog to be able to work it out on their own as long as it's apparent that they can.
I know that it's not a very concrete thing, but if they are within odor and they are actively trying to figure it out, there's no diminishing in how they appear, meaning that their body behavior isn't showing like, "God, this sucks," or that they're giving up or anything like that, or they're stressing out. If none of those things are happening, but they're just trying to work out the puzzle, my preference is to just wait, however long that takes. That can be very painful as the person, because time then seems to go at a snail's pace and you're just crawling through and you're like, every millisecond is ripping your heart out. I get that, but that's my preference anyway. That would be the thing that I prefer to do unless the situation warrants me to do something different.
Again, this all depends on what is being presented to me at the moment and at the time, how that particular training session was already going, what may have also happened during the day when we weren't doing Scent Work. As an example, let's say that we had a really busy and active day, maybe there was construction at the house and there was all this other stuff that went on. And I was stressed out because of whatever, and I was like, "Okay, we're going to do some Scent Work, because we got to fit it in and we haven't done it in a while and it's going to be nice and quick and no problems."
Well in my haste I set up a hide that is not as easy as I thought it would have been. In those, again milliseconds of trying to make a decision, I have to remember all that other stuff that happened during the day. Then I have to assess, "Okay, am I asking my dog to do something that's already more challenging than I was expecting it to be, but on top of everything else they had to deal with today?" The entirety of the picture really does matter. If they were having a [inaudible 00:05:11] day and there was no issues, there was no problems and they weren't overly aroused or stressed or concerned, then whatever, that's fine. But if that's not the case, then I have to take that into consideration as to whether or not I'm stacking that on top of complexity of the problem that I was already posing, that I didn't mean to be as complex.
In that case, would it be better to put the dog up, make an adjustment to the hide and then run them again? Or to just say, "Okay, we're just going to forget this one," and then just go onto another session. The assessment needs to be, could I be causing more damage later on by really forcing this issue? I know that people are like, "Okay, so great, I listened to the first two seconds of her talking and she said, wait them out, but now she's saying something completely different. You're not helping me with this query." I am equally as confused. And that's just it, is that I can't give you a concrete answer. That's part of the reason why I wanted to do this episode, is to really highlight that you should be able to have all these options at your disposal and you have to pick the right one for the situation, and that's really hard.
I am, by default, the type of person that wants to be able to do things so that there's clarity to it, I guess is a way of putting it. Basically if I'm interacting with someone, I don't want there to be conflict if I can avoid it, right? Because I just don't want to deal with it. It's like, look I don't want to deal with people as it is. Let's keep this as conflict low as possible because otherwise I'll just go do my own thing. In order to do that, I just want people to tell me, what is it that you want, right? Just tell me, and then if I can do that, then great. And if I can't, then forget it, then I'll just do my own thing. But having to make very quick decisions in the moment on a number of variables is stressful, because I just want to know what to do, when to do it. And that's just my default, that's just how I'm wired.
I completely understand that what I'm suggesting as far as [inaudible 00:07:13] is concerned, is not easy. It's also really, really difficult because the reason why there are all these different options is that one is more likely than not better than the others in a given situation, which ergo means that if you pick the "wrong one", that you could have a negative result, and no one wants a negative result. We're all doing training because we're trying to get better. We're trying to have our dogs have a good time, and all this other stuff. We don't want to pick the wrong thing and then they go, "Great, well now I just create a problem for myself." Even if it's small, "Well, I just did that." Right? I understand that this is very hard and it is something that I struggle with myself, where I will set up a hide and I'll see it clear as day like, "Okay, that did not go the way that I was intending." I wasn't thinking, I wasn't planning and I was like, "Oh no, here we have an issue."
And now I have to pick from, am I letting him work it out? Am I putting him up and making an adjustment? Or am I just putting him up and leaving it for another session where obviously I'll probably make some kind of change? And in those, again, milliseconds of going, "Okay, those are my three options. Which one do I pick?" All that's happening at the very same time that he is still giving me information, meaning my dog is still working the space and providing me with feedback about where he is, where he's at. I've been very, very fortunate with my current puppy that, even when I do find myself like, "Okay, oh my God, we have to do Scent Work, because whatever." And I'm not thoughtful, and I place a hide somewhere and I was like, "Really?"
He is really pretty tenacious. He will stick with that problem and he'll do it, and he's not asking a lot of questions, he'll just work it out. He may stop and get a water break or whatever, but he goes back to work on his own and he shows no signs of deflating or low in drive, or he's getting frustrated or anything else, he just does it. I am extraordinarily lucky in that regard. Now it could be that if you wanted to say that this is something that was built or cultivated by me, I don't think so. I think maybe a little bit, but I think a lot of it's just who he is. But even so, in those moments where I recognize, "Okay, he got really close to the hide like 10 times, so he knows there's odor there, he just needs to figure out exactly where it is." In my mind, he should've found this already if I had placed this better, so now I need to decide what I'm going to do.
In those situations, it's very, very hard to have those three options pop up and then go "But which one do I pick?" Right? I don't want to take away his opportunity to actually work it out, because he's so proud of himself when he does. Because I also make a really big deal about it, because clearly this was hard. We don't want to make it "easier" for him unnecessarily, because that doesn't help you either. And now you're completely confused, you're like, "Would you just tell me what to do?" But that's really why I wanted to talk about this in the podcast, is that it's very hard to nail down exactly when you should do certain things. It really depends on the situation, it depends on what your dog is telling you.
It also depends on what your gut tells you. That is something that I learned with my prior boy, Valor, who was brilliant. He was a fantastic Scent Work dog, he was so talented. But if I was doing a training session, again more often than not, was when I was trying to do a million and 10 things at once, so I wasn't being overly thoughtful with my hide placement, which is why I harp upon the importance about it to all of my students and anyone who will listen. There's no need for you to make the same mistakes that I do.
That if I placed a hide that was really challenging for him, where essentially the odor is going out of the area that he could work in, so let's say it would be on a fence, it'd would be blowing next door, he has no way of getting to it basically. He'd get tiny little whiffs of it and then it would go away again. In those situations I would actually feel physically ill, there would just be a pit in my stomach, there's no way that he's going to be able to get this. The conditions are just telling me he's not going to be able to get this.
In that sense, I needed to trust my gut and then make one of the alternate decisions of okay, either I'm going to put him up and make an adjustment or I'm just going to put him up. More often than not, I would put him up and make an adjustment. I think I did one time and the time that we were together, that I put him up and we just didn't find the hide. That one just doesn't feel as good to me. I don't think that there's any lack of value in it. I think that it absolutely is more valuable to do that than to have the dog continue to struggle, right? Or to just make it easier when they're present. I don't think that that's very helpful. I don't think that you want your dog to learn that, "Okay well, the problem was hard, I give a half-ass effort and then my person will make it easier and then I get it, great."
We don't want them to learn that, that's not the point. But for me personally, taking them out and not letting them have the opportunity to find a hide, that is just something that on a personal level, I just don't like the feeling of it. I understand the veracity of it. I understand the value of it. I think that is absolutely a good thing to do. I've had clients do it with great success. For a personal thing for me, it is my own personal mental way of being like, "I really wanted them to get a hide." That's just where I'm at. All of this to say that you have to know what your options are, but you also have to practice being able to choose the "right option" in that moment quickly, and then act upon it and then be confident enough to follow through. Or know, like for myself, that the third option of leaving the hide there and just not doing it at all, I know for me personally, I'm probably very unlikely to use that even if it was the best choice.
Which is a detriment, it's not a good thing, but I just know that personally, that is never going to be my default. It's just the way that I'm wired, it's just not. I'm probably going to lean towards the other two, of just letting them work it out for however long it takes as long as they're not falling apart. And then taking them out, and making an adjustment out of sight. They're going back to their staging area for a second, but they're coming back in to search again with some kind of adjustment that was made. That is something that I just have to recognize personally as a handler, that that is my reality. And that there may actually be times where that third option that I personally just don't like the feeling of, that would've been the better thing to do, but I'm not doing it because I don't like the way it feels. I may actually be hindering myself in that situation as I'm not picking the right one, if that makes any sense?
But I'm okay with that because again, for me personally, I'm not looking to be the top notch Scent Work person on the planet. I don't need my dog to be the top ranked whatever, it's just not that important to me. Even if it takes me longer because I'm not picking the most efficient and best "path", then so be it, right? If I choose option one or two but three would've been better, and that means that now I need to do some training in order to fix some things, okay. I'm okay with that choice personally. There are lots of people who are not, and there's nothing wrong with it. There really isn't. Everyone's journey is completely different, and as long as you're aware of the choices that you're making and why you're making them, and you're comfortable in why you're making them, I think that that's fine.
But the biggest thing that I know for myself that I am still working on and will continue to work on, is being able to make those choices quickly, instead of just being stuck in this loop, as you're watching them work, of, "Oh God, which one is going to be right? Which one is right? Which one is right?" And now a whole minute has gone by, like would you just pick? You have to do something, you're defaulting to the choice of just letting them work it out because you're not doing anything, but you haven't actually actively made the choice. I think once you recognize what your options are, you need to then work on the skills of being able to pull on that option quicker. And that's hard. That's very hard, particularly when you are assigning that to, if I make the "wrong" choice, then I could be making more work for myself, or there could be a "bad" result.
I'm using a lot of quote, unquotes because it's not true, there are better and less ideal choices, but I don't think that unless you're doing something that's damaging to your dog, you're probably not going to make some catastrophic choice, right? I'm going to try to wrap this episode up and it's very theoretical and way up there and super rambly. But just trying to get people to think about, if you were to set a hide and your dog was struggling to find it, you need to be able to realize which option would be best for you and your dog in that situation and that hide, given all kinds of different factors. How were they the rest of the day? Were there other stressors? How are they feeling? Are they a little sicky? Are they feeling fantastic and awesome and wonderful, their day was great and now they're just trying to work out this challenging hide?
You need to consider all those things and then, "Am I just going to give them the opportunity to work it out for however long it is? Am I going to pull them and make an adjustment to the search and have them run again? Or am I going to pull them and just leave that hide for another session where I may make some adjustments?" Here's the other complicating part, is that you may make a choice, so let's say that you're like, "Oh yeah, I'm going to let them just work it out." And if you're 10 minutes in, and then you start seeing some other things that are giving you signals that maybe that's not going to work out the best for you, you have to make another choice. That's even more difficult because you've made a choice, you've made a commitment. We're going to work it out, right? Well, things change, it's a fluid thing. You may actually have to go back and make a different choice.
It doesn't mean that your first choice was wrong. It could've been perfectly fine and they might've gotten really super close. And that may actually be super beneficial for your dog to put in that much time and effort to try to work something out. And they didn't quit, they didn't give up. They didn't do any of the "icky" things that we're so worried about, but they still didn't get the hide. Now you need to figure out, now that you start seeing they're getting tired, they're starting to check out, whatever else. Now you need to do something. In that situation, more likely than not, probably choosing to pull them and to have them do a completely different recovery search, maybe that will be better. I don't know if I could personally do that. I think that as long as they were still able to do some kind of search.
If I had another hide somewhere else that they could just take and be like, oh bang, bang, and then we could do a big play session, I probably will be okay with that. But as far as just leaving them, not having any hides at all, I don't think I could do that, personally. Not to say that there's not value in it, there very well could be, but I just don't know if I could do that. We have to recognize that all these things are important and we have to think through, again taking into account our own personality as handlers and trainers, and just be honest about it. There's no reason to sugar coat it or to make it something that it's not.
Someone else that you're working with, whether it be your trainer, your instructor, or your friends, whomever, they may be able to make split-second decisions, good for them. That's a great skill. You want to be able to basically achieve that skill as well, that's appropriate for you, meaning that they may make split second decisions that are always leaning towards one option other than another, that doesn't make your decisions bad, right?
We just have to recognize who we are as individuals, own it, see what kinds of things we need to improve upon, because there's always ways that we can improve. Recognize where we may have deficiencies or just personality qualities that are going to cause us to do one thing or another, again own that and go from there. It's all about being mindful, it's all about being honest, it's all about being open and not trying to pretend that we're something that we're not. Because Scent Work as an activity will expose that so quickly. Dog training will expose it so quickly, so you might as well just own up to it and then just go from there.
I hope that this very rambly podcast at the very least got everyone thinking, of trying to take some of these general pieces of advice that we may hear very commonly in Scent Work of, "Well, when you have a challenging hide, do X," right? But that automatically leads people to say, "Well, I don't know exactly when to do those things." Those are fantastic questions to be asking and we need to be talking about this stuff more as a community so that people understand why you may be choosing one thing over another. And that your choices very well may be completely different from someone else's choices, there's nothing wrong with that.
And that your choices for a given situation, even with the same exact dog, may be completely different from one day to the next, one session to the next, one hide to the next. That is expected, and that is okay. It doesn't make the make you wrong, it doesn't make you flip-floppedy, it's just the nature of the beast. But we need to have a better understanding of these things and also understanding the interplay that our own personality plays into all of this.
I'm hoping that the podcast at least gets you thinking about all those things. I don't know if it did. But I want to hear from you guys, was it helpful at all? Was it just super rambly? Do you agree with any of the points? Do you not know what any of the points were? Definitely let us know, we'll have a post on our Facebook page for Scent Work University about the podcast episode itself. We always want to hear from you guys. All right, thanks so much for listening. Happy training and I look forward to seeing you soon.