A question I regularly get from students and colleagues is, "Why did you get involved in Scent Work?".
My first Doberman, who also happened to be dog-aggressive. Not dog-reactive, dog-aggressive. As in, if he could kill every single dog he ever met, that would be cool.
I was working with a wonderful trainer in developing a behavior modification program for him. Limiting his exposure to areas that were heavily dog-laden until we could improve his threshold levels. Solidifying his ability to trust in me to keep him safe. Improving impulse control and attentiveness toward me. After months of hard work, there was significant progress. His stress levels were down, and his Look At That Game was quite impressive if I do say so myself.
However, the enrichment in his life was fairly limited. No walks. No hikes. Mostly working at home or at the training center when no one else was there.
Then I heard about Scent Work. Only one dog would work in the space at a time. It would focus on an innate instinct, giving the dog mental and physical stimulation. It would also get the dog's head down, one of the most relaxing postures for a dog to be in, and keep them in a "thinking" brain.
Basically, it sounded like a perfect fit.
So, I signed up for a class with an instructor who was familiar with Zeus, and knew the severity of his aggression. He was staged inside a crate that was covered by a sheet, and surrounded by two x-pens. As we progressed through the class to begin working in other parts of the building, we were staged in what was called, "Zeus' Closet"; a storage closet that could house his crate and I could close the door over if other dogs walked by.
The change in Zeus was practically immediate. He loved playing the game at home. His eyes would sparkle when we would get ready for class. He napped more and just seemed more at-ease. I was hooked.
Once we were solid on all three odors, we decided to try out an ORT. Since I had a sneaking suspicion this would be the only time we would ever compete, I entered in all three odors. I was struck by how inviting the NACSW trial hosts, officials and fellow competitors were of him, and the several other reactive dogs that were there. No glares. No judgement. No looking down upon us. Instead, everyone was welcoming, patient and most importantly, understanding.
I was even more impressed with my "little man". He didn't explode once. Not even a grumble. He was tired by the end of the day, but he succeeded in passing all three ORTs. I did, however, notice an uptick in his reactivity following the trial. That cemented for me that we had dodged a bullet at this trial, and competing was not in the cards for us.
At that point, I was cementing my own Scent Work training career, and saw firsthand the benefits this activity granted to my fearful, shy, reserved and reactive clients. Scent Work became a crucial element of the my training program. And I have never looked back.
Scent Work has been pivotal in the path my professional dog training career has taken over the years. And I owe it all to my handsome little man.
How did you get involved in Scent Work? What benefits did you see it award you and your dogs?
Author: Dianna L. Santos, KPA-CTP, CPDT-KA, CNWI
Dianna has been training dogs professionally since 2011. She has done everything from teaching group training classes and private lessons, to specializing in working with fearful, reactive and aggressive dogs, to being a trial official and competition organization staff member.
Following a serious neck and back injury, Dianna was forced to retire from in-person dog training. But she was not ready to give up her passion! So, she created Pet Dog U, Dog Sport University and Scent Work University to provide outstanding online dog training to as many dog handlers, owners and trainers possible…regardless of where they live! Dianna is incredibly grateful to the amazingly talented group of instructors who have joined PDU, DSU and SWU and she looks forward to the continued growth of PDU, DSU and SWU and increased learning opportunities all of these online dog training platforms can provide.
In June 2021, Dianna and her business partner, Sean McMurray launched Cyber Scent Work, Inc., an organization that operates in the gray space between training and trialing in Scent Work. With Cyber Scent Work, Inc., handlers have the opportunity to earn Qs, titles and ribbons while also receiving helpful training advice regardless of whether they qualify or not! Be sure to check out Cyber Scent Work, Inc., you will be happy you did!