Ep. 81: Being Tough v. Reality

Oct 28, 2022

We've all heard how important it is "rise to the occasion" or to "meet the challenge head-on" or "anything worthwhile requires hard work" and so on. Essentially, if you hope to achieve anything, you must be ready and willing to put in the time and effort required.

The same applies to Scent Work. Eyeing the upper levels of competition? Better be ready to toughen up and put that time in! Your dog must toughen up too. Scent Work trials notoriously throw curveballs at teams all the time. Want to succeed? Better train your dog to be ready to deal with whatever life wants to throw at them!

These concepts of "toughening up" to face the challenges of life have merit but are incomplete. They assume everyone is at a place right now where they CAN give more. This premise doesn't account for the fact that handlers, and dogs, may simply be incapable of "giving it their all", because they already are. There is simply nothing left in the tank. Even worse, pushing more could spell disaster for them individually and as a team.

In this episode, we discuss the importance of being realistic in assessing what is going on at both ends of the leash before embarking on a "we'll suck it up 'till we get what we want" adventure. How being more pragmatic and flexible may be the better path to take.


  • Dianna L. Santos


Dianna L. Santos (00:00):
Welcome to the All About Scent Work Podcast. In this podcast we talk about all things Scent Work that can include training tips, a behind scenes look at what your instructor or trial official may be going through and much more. In this episode, I wanted to talk about the dynamic of trying to prepare ourselves and our dogs for the fact that searches and just life overall can indeed be difficult, and we should rise to the occasion, but also recognizing that there is another side to that coin that we may actually just need to admit where our limitations are, at least temporarily, so that we aren't overwhelming our dogs or ourselves. So before I start diving into the podcast episode itself, let me do a very quick introduction on myself. My name is Dianna Santos. I am the Owner and Lead Instructor for Scent Work University, Dog Sport University and Pet Dog U. These are online dog training platforms and they're designed to help you achieve your dog training goals. We're extraordinarily fortunate that we have a client basis worldwide. For Scent Work University in particular, we provide online courses, seminars, webinars, eBooks that are all designed to help you regardless of where you are in your sniffing journey. So if you're just getting started in Scent Work, you're looking to develop more advanced skills, or if you're interested in trialing, we have a training solution for you. Now taht you know a little bit more about me, let's dive into the podcast episode itself.

So in this episode I wanted to talk about the importance of recognizing that we as handlers and trainers should be approaching how we are developing our dogs so that they can rise to the occasion when exercises or situations become difficult and challenging. We don't want them folding under the pressure, right, but I think that that's only part of the puzzle, that there absolutely are times when we just need to recognize, you know what, they're not gonna be able to deal with all of this right now. That's okay temporarily. We're just gonna put a pin in that and I'll give them an opportunity to be more successful later. So I'm just gonna explain where my headspace is about this. And this episode is really more about just to get people thinking and seeing whether or not any of this is applicable to what you may be experiencing with your own dog or even just with yourself as a handler or a trainer or as an instructor.

So right now, well it's longer than that, . Over the last several years I have worked myself into quite a ridiculous state where I'm working quite literally all of the time. I am recording this at one o'clock in the morning , and I'm going to then move off once I'm done with this, doing about 15 other things, I'll be working overnight and then I sleep for a couple of hours and I work again. And I do that seven days a week. That is not the schedule that anyone should have. I do not promote it. It's not smart. I don't have a dog right now, so I can just be workaholic lady and completely self-destruct in it, in that sense, and it doesn't matter. But the reason I bring that up is there has been some communication, there has been some conversations in the dog training world as of late that I, again, I don't think are bad and I think are an important thing for people to consider, that you shouldn't just want everything to be easy.

You're going to have to work for these things. If you are interested in competition, then you're going to have to put in the time and the effort. You're going to have to, you know, have a real good understanding of the rules and, and also other stuff. I think all that is true, but I've been taking in this information, these various conversations on social media and so on through the lens of if I try to add on anything else at all, I would probably just fall apart at this point. I mean it's to, I am working so ridiculously at ridiculous levels that I don't leave my house. I don't go outside . I mean like if I can shower and sleep a little bit and eat something that's somewhat nutritious, like to me check mark for that day, right? success. So if you were to tell me, okay, now you need to go and attend a multi-day in-person workshop, you need to shadow, you know, five different officials and you need to, you know, be a part of this certification program and all.

Like there is absolutely no way like with what time I, I don't have it and not even the time. I don't have right now I don't have the, the mental reserves, I don't have the emotional reserves, I don't have the physical reserves. The body is shot, the brain is shot, the emotions are shot. Like I just, I don't have anything left to give. So I'm not saying any of this for sympathy at all. I'm just trying to explain that I think that there are lots of people who hopefully aren't like at the precipice the way that I am , but are in the same kind of dynamic where they're, they're trying to balance family. They're trying to balance their, maybe their real job, right? Maybe they don't live and breathe dogs. Maybe they have another career that actually pays the bills. They have another life outside of dogs, then they have their actual dog.

Then they have all the things that they may have planned as far as what to do with that dog. They may have other life plans that they have. Then you just have life overall, the world at large and everything that's going on in it and so on and so forth. So just the person, there's an awful lot bombarding them and their life is probably very, very complicated. They may also not be working at full capacity emotionally, mentally, or physically, right? They just may not have everything together at that point in time to be like, okay, suck it up and we're gonna take this be like, ah, I can't , I've been sucking up and taking it for like a long time and I'm, I'm all out . That same thing applies for our dogs. And that can be, particularly if your dog is struggling with any kind of medical issue, if they're struggling with any kind of behavioral issue, if there is a lot of stress in your household that maybe you're moving, maybe you're changing jobs, maybe you got laid off or fired, maybe there's some other thing that's gone on.

Maybe a family member became very, very ill, who knows, life happens, right? But that affects the dog too. And then if at the very same time we're telling them, no, no, no, we had this whatever it was goal set on the calendar and it's coming up, you need to deal and you need to do this at a hundred percent. I just don't think that's realistic. Do I think that we should go to the other extreme and not cultivate any kind of ability to cope when situations are hard? Of course not, particularly when we're talking about our dogs. I think that that is setting them up for failure. I think that you can get some really nasty behaviors as a result of that. On both ends of the spectrum. I think it's important for us to be promoting that our dogs come into a situation that, or like a training situation as an example, a search that may be a little bit more complicated.

The environment may be a little bit more involved. There may be, you know, other stimuli. There could potentially be a trigger about all those different types of things and they should with obviously if they have the skills we've been working out in training, I would hope that we'd be promoting them to get on the other side of that to still be able to successfully do that search as an example. But what I'm trying to really emphasize is that while I think that's a fine goal and I think it's something that we should all be doing and striving for, there needs to be little asterisks all, all along the way. There needs to be considerations for what else that dog is contending with. They are just coming off of a cruciate surgery, right? Maybe they had an obstruction surgery, they're coming off of some really big major medical thing.

I would sincerely hope that you would be adjusting what your expectations are as far as what the dog's performance is supposed to look like. And that also applies for you. If your dog just went through a major surgery parti, like something like an obstruction surgery as an example where you know it was touch and go there for a minute, if they were gonna make it out, that affects you too. So if you needed to take a break from a few things, particularly if it's like dog training stuff, then do so like this is the part that I think is just missing from the conversation. That either you need to be tough and strong and you know, grab life by the horns or you're just like this mess. I don't think it's that simple. I think that you need to be able to develop in yourself and in your dogs the ability and the skills to cope with a variety of different stressors and stressful things and all the other stuff.

I think that's true, but there's a lot to be said for being realistic and that you can make things worse by pushing yourself and by proxy your dog into situations that neither of you are going to be successful in at all. Like there's not even a hope or a prayer. It's just gonna be a mess. So I wanted to put this out just to get people thinking about it because again, I, it's not that I think that the conversations that are being had are bad. I think that they're good. I think that it's a good thing for us to not want to keep our dogs like inside of a bubble, right? I think that it, there's a lot to be said of overly babying the dog or in not allowing them or promoting the idea that we want their lives to be more fulfilled or that we want them to, or we want to recognize where there may be a weakness or something.

And then we're trying to strengthen that. That could be behaviorally, that could be just day-to-day life. That can also exist in Scent Work, right? That you had, uh, you know, a dog who was worried about tackling interior searches with slippery floors and instead of just simply like throwing up your hands, be like, okay, that's it. That we can't possibly do this anymore. But instead you work towards building the dog's confidence that they could actually tackle an interior search with slippery floors with confidence and joy. My hat is off to you, but that very same dog that you may have put all that time and effort in and has succeeded if they right before a search got lunged at by another dog as an example, or maybe a car backfired as they were heading into the search or someone slams the door behind them or something.

There's lots of people who will argue it shouldn't matter, shake it off and do it. I would argue that that depends on the dog and there's a lot to be said that you can absolutely undo all the progress that you just made by forcing that dog to then perform at the same level that they did before all those other things happened. So I'm basically urging everyone to just be more flexible, to be nimble enough in the moment to recognize all the stuff that's happening. It's not to panic, it's not to just, again, throw your hands up, but maybe it's to adjust the expectation that, okay, this thing happened right before we're supposed to do the search. My dog has been successfully doing interior searches with slippery fours for however long, which is great, but we just had this thing happen. What am I doing as a handler that's going to help my dog? Am I breathing? Am I smiling? Am I providing them support? Am I adjusting what my expectations are? If you're doing this at a trial, for me personally, if we find hides, that's a bonus, right? I just wanna see if they can get in the space and work confidently. And if they can do that for a little bit and we time out, I don't care. I, that doesn't matter to me.

Did I listen to my dog? Did I take into account everything that was happening? Particularly the increased amount of stress that's at a trial. That's what I'm talking about. It's not then saying, okay, that's where we're gonna stay forever. Of course now I now have information that the backfiring car, the slamming door, the lunging dog, whatever we need to know work on that. Not that you should be having dogs lunging at your dog . That's not what I'm saying. The other things you can work into your training, but it's this flexibility thing that again, I think is just missing from the, the overly broad conversations that are being had that I, I know I'm saying this a lot, but I think are good, but I'm always trying to think very big picture and I'm concerned that people may take things extraordinarily literally and just say, okay, we just need to go really hardball with everything.

And that's not it. It's figuring out what's the reality now, how can it be better and what other contributing factors may require us to make some adjustments and customizations, even if we're trialing, that should always be applying in training. That should always be applying in day-to-day life. But it absolutely has to apply when you're trialing as well and knowing that affects both ends of the leash. That's not just your dog, that's you too. So as an example, let's say that you were getting ready to trial for a super high level trial class, you know, Detective for AKC or an Elite or Summit in NACSW and so on and so forth. You've been working towards this, you're very excited about it. And the day before you get into a a car accident, luckily you're not hurt, but your car is totaled.

So now you need to get a rental car. Dog was in the car. So it is just, it's just an inconvenience more than anything. However, the insurance company is giving you all kinds of issues for the rental car. So now you need to be out of pocket for that for right now. Like you know, you're probably gonna get reimbursed on the line, but what a pain in the butt , right? This was not your fault. It was just a thing. You're very fortunate that you didn't get hurt, but you liked this car. It was like your dog mobile, it was perfect. The crates were where you wanted all these things. The dog wasn't in the car, so that's not an issue. But now you have this thing you have to worry about. That was the day before your trial. Then as you're getting everything ready in this new rental car that again, you just had to pay money for , you're trying to get everything in and you can't get things to fit the way that you like.

So now you're kind of stressing and you're pushing and whatever else, and you pull something and like in your shoulder as you're trying to get everything into the car. So now you do hurt and again, you were probably sore from the car accident and you probably just probably didn't realize it, but now you're like, oh, . So we have a money stressor, we have a physical stressor. Then one of your other dogs, cuz you have two dogs or multiple dogs, gets sick that night and it's just a tummy thing. But now you need to have your family members or your friends or whomever is watching the dog now they have to take care of your dog while you're taking your trialing dog with you to the trial. You can't sleep all night because you're stressing about the car and your shoulder and your sick dog.

And you're also stressing obviously about the trial. You get lost on the way of the trial. inside this frontal car that you're not familiar with. Your dog didn't wanna get into their crate inside of the rental car because everything is kind of like jig, you know, jigsaw puzzles in there to begin with. They sound like they're getting car sick. Like as you're heading out, it's just one thing after another, after another, after another. You get there, you're stressed, you're tired, you're sore. I hope that in that moment you would be able to say to yourself, you know, if we can get through today and still be a team and be connected and have a good time, then we're okay. Right? It's not to say that it didn't take a ton of effort to get into this trial. Maybe you are wait listed forever and you finally got in. You desperately want this title. I get all of it, but I don't think it's fair to say to someone in that position, well this is the time when you need to put on your big girl or boy panties or drawers or whatever, , suck it up and deal with it.

The reason being is, first of all, I just don't think that's fair. Number two, this isn't life or death. This is trial. Let's just put that in perspective. And the other thing is that you're working with your dog. So all of this basically cloud of angst is gonna travel right down that leash. Putting more pressure on yourself means you're gonna put more pressure on your dog. It's almost guaranteed not to go well in that in that situation. So this is what I mean of I think that we need to find this balance and it's always gonna be different dependent on the person and the dog and the team as a whole. How much you push yourself when you're with dog A may be entirely different to how much you push yourself with dog B. And what you see other people do should not inform at all the decisions that you make.

It shouldn't have any influence over the decisions that you make. The things that I think would be appropriate for myself and my dogs would likely be very different from what other people would do. But I don't think that it is realistic or appropriate to ignore all these other realities. It again, just to bring this back on me right now, I don't have a dog. I haven't had a dog for a while now. I can't add a dog into my life again. You can't have this crazy work schedule that I have and have a dog. First of all, it wouldn't be fair, but I just wouldn't be able to like mentally deal with it. I wouldn't be able, I don't have anything left to give. So it would be so unfair. And then all the added pressure I put onto myself of being an instructor is now I gotta train all the time at all.

I gotta make sure I get those videos up and oh, I gotta make sure that I get ready to trial and oh, what about this one? Like it's just a nightmare. So instead of putting myself into that , that whirlpool of despair, I'm just going to wait until life is a little bit more advantageous to having a dog. Primarily having living somewhere where we could have a dog would be a good place to start. And adjusting and finding more balance with my work schedule and everything else, but recognizing that right now I just don't have what I need in order to give the dog what they would need and putting more pressure on myself is not the answer to that question. So I'm hoping that this episode, again, it's not a decree, it's not a you will do this . It's not some like, you know, sage advice.

It's more just to see, okay, well maybe you've heard these conversations as well in the community as far as you know, we need to make sure that we're promoting the idea that we need to take life by the horns and all this other stuff. Again, I'm recording this in October of 2022. The world has been pretty scary for a while, it's been a lot of really big like crazy things that have happened to everyone. So if you're feeling run down, if you are feeling like life is very hard if you are already struggling, I don't think that adding on more layers to that is the best idea. Finding a balance of where yourself and your dog would be able to meet what life has to throw at you in a way that you both can still enjoy whatever it is that you're doing. I think that's probably a better approach.

But let me see what you guys think. We'll be posting this episode up on our social media, so our Facebooks and our Instagrams up on our website. We always like to hear from you guys. Also, if you have any other ideas as far as topics that you would like for us to talk about in our podcast, please feel free to let me know. We always want to make sure that we're offering the conversation that you all are interested in. We are gonna be hosting some more round tables with our instructors. I'm trying to nail down some other outside speakers to have those as well.

And if you do have any suggestions as far as topics, we'll obviously see about creating episodes for those. But if it's an interesting topic where we don't already offer a training solution that addresses it, we will then turn around and create that for you. That's the whole point behind Scent Work University is to provide the things that everyone needs or wants. So definitely make sure that you let me know about those suggestions and just know that every suggestion that you make will give you a gift. , believe in positive reinforcement. If you have a suggestion, by all means, please feel free to contact me. I'll make sure that I look into it and we will have that come into fruition one way or another. All right guys, thanks so much for listening. Happy Training. We look forward to seeing you soon.

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