Ep. 104: Issues with Success

Feb 17, 2024


Dianna L. Santos

As we are training and trialing in Scent Work, we will start accumulating successes. However, we should evaluate these successes objectively and honestly, otherwise we can start experiencing some issues.

In this episode, we discuss why this type of honest assessment is crucially important to ensure the future progression of ourselves and our dogs as we continue to play the sniffing game.


Welcome to the All About Scent Work Podcast. In this podcast we talk about all things Scent Work, that include training tips, a behind scenes of what your instructor or trial official may be going through and much more. In this episode, I wanted to talk about the issues that you may have with success. So before I start diving into the episode itself, let me do a very quick introduction of myself. My name is Dianna Santos. I'm the Owner and Lead Instructor of Scent Work University. This is an online dog train platform where you provide online courses, seminars, webinars, and eBooks also around helping you in your sniffing journey. So regardless of where you are, maybe you're just getting started, you're looking to develop some more advanced skills. You're interested in trialing or already competing even in the upper levels, we likely have a training solution for you. So should know a little bit more about me. Let's dive into the episode itself.

So in this episode I wanted to talk about this whole concept of how success that you may have in either training, trialing, or both can actually cause you some issues if you aren't careful. Oh, Santos lady, what are you talking about? Now? The same way that not doing something well can color your perception. Suddenly having success can also color your perception. So let me give you some examples. Let's say that you are tackling a search with your dog and you're doing so at a trial, so you don't know where the hides are, but we'll say that it's a lower level trial so you know how many hides are within the space and you recognize something in your dog that lets you know. I think that there may actually be odor in this corner, but they keep skipping the corner, right? So you move your body to try to draw your dog's attention so they actually get deeper into that corner and what do you know?

Sure enough, that works and they successfully find their hide? Great, you qualify in that run. Also cherry on top, that was what you needed for your title. Perfect. Where is the issue? The issue is that that can then color our perception on many levels. Level one, we were successful in that run. We qualified, we titled we are good. When in actuality are we really? Because your dog was showing you that there was some odor information, but they weren't getting into that corner on their own. You actually had to get them in there. And there's also that whole idea of well, whose responsibility is it between the dog and the handler of sourcing out these issues of working out these problems? And it's not that there's not teamwork, but could the argument be made, but maybe your dog is lacking the skill of being able to work deep into a corner on their own because a tendency of dogs is to cut those corners.

So is that really a success or it information that maybe we need to do some more training to help the dog understand on their own to get deeper into the corner. So that's issue possibility number one, issue. Possibility number two is that you have now just been reinforced for stepping in as a handler to provide body information, body cues to your dog and to basically take over the lead for that search. And you were very heavily reinforced, particularly if not only did you qualify, but this was the run that you needed to get that title right. That very well may mean that in the back of your mind you now have this skill, this possibility of using your body to direct the search may now turn into something that we kind of lean into more and we may step in sooner. We may provide more overt body cues.

We may really direct the search more than our dog even needs in the hope of having a similar type of success. So this is just a basic kind of example of where yes, objectively you did the search, you qualified and you titled that's a success, right? But if you look at it, there may actually be things in there that wouldn't really qualify as successes or at the very least they are information. And if we don't look at that information objectively and soberly and not with rose colored glasses, we could actually create some more issues for ourselves if we don't approach that situation correctly. Basically, if I were to just wave all those things off, no, it's totally fine and not spend the time to do more training, to not ensure that my dog knows how to work corners, to not recognize that I was actually stepping in, that I was directing the search that was taking over the search and that there may be a tendency that I do that more in the future.

To me that's a bunch of issues, but this gets even kind of worse because every single time that we have one of these events that occur that is going to color our opinion and our preferences for what we do going forward. So if you have multiple dogs now you're going to be taking all of that information and applying it across the board. So you may have done this trial, let's say with Fido, and now you're going to be doing a run with Rover, and Rover is already very in tune to you. They have had a very difficult time of being independent of taking the lead of trusting their nose. They want so much to be right, but your opinion is very important to them. So if you were to step in to try to present a corner as an example, rover may now be like, it's all you boss.

You just let me know and then hopefully we can find the hide together, which could be problematic, right? Also, it could be that you had success in this moment and you felt that it went well for your team. Again, you got that cue, you got that title. Maybe now you're going to be giving that advice to friends or maybe you're an instructor and how you're going to start implementing that in your program, but maybe that's not going to work for everybody. I hope that I'm making sense here that I think that it is incredibly important that we look at everything that occurs as objectively and realistically as we possibly can. I'm not asking people to tear apart everything that they do. I don't want everyone to be down in the dumps. Oh, I can't even revel in my cues. Is that what I'm saying? But I think it is important to really take a step back and evaluate what happened.

Why is this a success and is it really a success? And it very well could be, it could be a 100% success, but was it a one-off? Is there something in there that could potentially color what I do later? So lemme give you another example. Let's say that you are an instructor and you are personally working with your own dog who is very super confident. They are very driven. They are basically you can throw anything at them and they just don't care. They're very strong, just temperamentally, nothing really seems to shake them, right? They're extraordinarily forgiving about your handling. It's almost as if proofing is kind of baked in. They love doing what they do, they love playing the game and because of the relationship that you have with them, it just seems that everything clicks. Everything that you do just seems to kind of just gel.

It's amazing. There are going to be certain types of approaches and things that you do with your training, your exercises, your routines, that works very well for your team. So you start implementing those things inside your training with your clients. The issue is that what is successful for you and your dog very well may not be successful for anybody else or at least not in its totality. So lemme give you a personal example. When I was working with my boy valor, my doberman, he very much wanted everything to be a game. The more boisterous and loud and almost obnoxious the game was, the happier he was because it just didn't seem so serious. As soon as he got really serious, he was like, I'm not really into that. But if it was really slap stacky and kind of silly, he was all about it. So we're talking lots of boisterous verbal praise, ton of play, lots and lots and lots of treats just really over the top.

If I were to do that kind of celebration with every single one of my clients, which I promote that people do try to get out of their comfort zone of it's okay for you to be silly, right? I do think that could be helpful, but there are some dogs where that would actually be totally inappropriate where it would terrify them or it would just disgust them. There are some dogs. What are you doing? It is not reinforcing in any way, shape or form. They kind of turn their Nose up at it. It could also be off-putting to the handler that it becomes aversive to the dog because the handler is having such a terrible time doing it. You could also have dogs in the other part of the spectrum where they're already so high. If you're going to do this really big thing, it makes them higher, where now their brain kind of explodes and that's where you can get really almost not dangerous, but they're really borderline dangerous.

Redirecting, biting at the handler because they just can't, they lose it completely, completely inappropriate. But it worked for my guy. It was a success. I could use this in my training and my party routine after our searches and it made a huge positive change. It was wonderful for us. That doesn't mean that's going to work for every single team. The same is true if you have multiple dogs where you may find that you are doing something in Scent Work and it works, right? You do A, it results in B, which is success. Fantastic, right? I'm going to be doing a, but maybe that's only going to be working with that dog. So this is what I mean is that latching onto success in and of itself. I think it'd be problematic. And painting things with really broad brushes can definitely be problematic and espousing from on high, what everyone else should be doing is also really problematic.

And then people are left wondering, well what am I supposed to do? A lot of things that are problematic, but what am I supposed to do? In my opinion, and this is very hard to do, I struggle with this all the time, is evaluate what is in your toolbox. Be honest about your preferences, think about why those are your preferences. Think about why the order may be in a certain way of what it is that you do, what tool or approach you reach for first. Be honest about why and it could just simply be, it's easier for me. And that's again, that's not a bad answer. It's an honest answer. And then what are the results in using that? And I probably it works in some situations, right? Otherwise you wouldn't be doing it because yes, dogs do what works. Here's a hint. People do too.

Let me give you an example of this. If I were to walk into a room and alarms went off like crazy and I got splashed in the face with water and I had people screaming at me and throwing stuff at me, you can almost guarantee that I am not going to be walking into that room again. Single event learning. I am really good at that for aversions. Absolutely. I eat something, I have an upset stomach afterwards. You can pretty much bet that I'm not going to be eating that anytime soon. But that also works in the reverse. If I do something and it works, my brain says, okay, that's a successful route that I can take. And then I have to recognize that that's what's happening in the background that my brain identified, we did this and it worked. I drove this route. I didn't hit any traffic, I didn't have to deal with any pedestrians, I didn't get lost.

It worked. But then if I have different criteria of well, I have to get there quickly and not hit traffic and not run into pedestrians and not get lost, maybe that route is no longer going to work, but there may actually be a hesitation on my part and I've done this or, but I know that this works. I have a history with this and there's a chance that if I try this different route that the mepi thing says is going to be faster, that maybe it won't. So I'm going to stick with this route that I know works even though it may be a little bit longer. My lady, what does this have to do with Scent Work? The same is true when we're training or we're trialing, is that we have as handlers and trainers, a long history of things that have occurred in our training sessions and in every single trialing situation that we've been in that have been stacking up different, what worked and what didn't I'm trying to get across is that sometimes we may be perceiving things as successes as things that worked when they didn't really, because what we defined as worked wasn't really what we wanted it to be in the end.

Let me give you an example. Let's say that you are training a dog your own personal dog and you're setting out hides and they are successfully finding those hides success, right? It's right there in the description. Dog found hide. Ideally we'd be asking a lot more questions about that. How was the dog finding the hides? What did they do when they found the hides? Were they doing so independently? Were they asking any questions? Were they showing any kind of reservation? Did you have to help at all? Were there any cues that you were providing? What does it mean for those hides to have been found? And when the dog found the hide, were they then buzzing off to go find another one? Did they stay there? Did they show possession? Was there any decision point on them? Did they have any communication with you? The list goes on, but if we just say, I did this training exercise, my dog found the hides, therefore we are successful with that.

I'm moving on. I think that that can cause us some issues. The same is true in trialing of trying to say, I qualified, therefore I'm successful at this level and it contains all these skills that myself and the dog and the team must have. Therefore we're good. That is also probably not true. Additionally, it gets icky because then we can try to transfer those successes into different situations as far as, again, if we're working with another dog or if we're talking with friends or if we're instructing other teams, I was able to get three dogs through to the highest levels of every competition organization and we were just rock stars. Everything was amazing. So I'm going to show you everything that I've done, what made me successful, therefore guaranteed is going to make you successful. That is not true. I'm here to tell you that that is incorrect.

No one can transfer their journey with their dog to anyone else. It's impossible. Are there techniques? Are there approaches? Are there ways of explaining things? Are there exercises that can help? Absolutely. But to guarantee outright I achieved whatever it is, and I'm going to guarantee that you do as well. I just think that's faulty thinking and I think it's putting too much onus on particularly, it's so painful for people who have multiple dogs on dog, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. Hey dog 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, dog one knocked this out of the park, pick up the slack and let's go. And they're like, we're not dog one hate to tell you. But the same is true if you are in that instructor client relationship. But also if you're in that friend relationship, you are with classmates, you're with a friend who also likes Scent Work and you're saying, this really worked well for me. You're going to be to do it. It's going to be great. Well, it doesn't really work like that. So that's what I mean is because in this activity really it's the sport. There is this baked in dreaded response to supposed failure that there's almost this as a really strong opposite reaction to supposed success. And I think both of them are not overly helpful. Lemme try to break that down. I'm sure that doesn't make any sense.

If I do a search with my dog, let's say a trialing search, I'm at a trial, it's competition and we don't qualify. If the only metric was whether I qualified or not, we can say that that was a failure. I failed that search. But that's not really true because yes, we may not have passed the test, but was my dog happy in that space? Were they engaged? Were they hitting all these other criteria that I was interested in maybe finding the hides, maybe all the hides that were in that space. That was not part of my criteria. Maybe this was I'm doing this search and we've been working, let's say in interior spaces and interior spaces have been a little troublesome for my dog. They've been a little worried about it. As an example. I want to see if they can confidently working here and we're going to work as long as they want to, as long as they're showing that they're engaged.

If we time out, I don't care because I'm trying to build up this really positive experience. I'm transferring hopefully what we've been doing in training now I'm trying to do it in trialing experience. If we qualify, great. If we don't, I don't care if the dog was in that interior space, didn't show any signs of being concerned, was working their butt off and they timed out, I don't think that that's a failure. That's a huge success, right? That's amazing. The keel would've been a cherry on top. The success is what the dog did. We absolutely can get bogged down in framing things the wrong way. Whereas on the flip side of that same exact situation, we have a dog who's concerned about interior spaces, been working on it in training. Let's say the dog does qualify. They find their hides. You qualify in that search, but you're watching that video back and the dog is screaming at you in no one certain terms, I am uncomfortable here.

They're not engaged. You are basically leading the search. You had to show them every square inch of the search. Neither of you are having a good time, but they happen to find their hides. That's not a success. That cue does not represent what it is that you were working on in your training. So I hope that makes sense that we have to be very careful about what it is that we are taking in as a success. And that successes, if we don't define them carefully, can really cause some issues. Because if I'm already personally so invested in, I have to get this title to show that my dog and I have done well, we've put in all this time and money and effort training and practicing and classes and all this stuff, and maybe this interior thing has just popped up out of the blue, right?

I had no idea what happened. We were doing well and now we're not, but we qualified and then we got our title. That means that everything's good. That means that I'm a good dog owner. What happens that we kind of wrap this stuff up into our ego In the meantime, the dog has been left on the wayside and not on purpose. No one's doing any of this on purpose, but that's why I wanted to talk about this, that this can happen very quickly and is an insidious kind of thing. So then obviously you are reinforced by the cue and the title and your dog is just the opposite. I hope that that makes sense. Doesn't mean that every single cue and every single title is bad, of course not at all, but making certain that we are sure what actually is a success and that we're being honest about that success and that there may be bits and pieces of that success that are still information points for how we can improve. Here's another hint. You can always improve. No one is perfect. No dog is perfect. No human is perfect, no team is perfect. Everyone can do better all of the time. And it's not a bad thing. That should be a good exciting thing that there's always more to do.

Speed is not it. That's not whether it's speed of journey or speed within a given search. That's not the thing that you can easily transfer to somebody else, to some other team, to another dog, and it can really get you into a lot of trouble. My valor was very fast. There were lots of times when he was in the runnings for or was in the higher rankings or whatever, that was never part of my plan. It was never anything that I worked on or focused on because it's so fleeting. And if you look at some of the rundowns for trials, you'll see that there are people who get so disappointed. They come out and they're like, I really thought that we were going to be in the running for placements. And you're talking way after the trial day after something and you say, oh, well I'm sorry to hear that you're disappointed.
They're like, yeah, we searched and we had a seven second search. I'm like, geez. Wow, that's incredible. And then you had one through four was like 3, 4, 5 seconds. How could you be disappointed with a seven second search? That's what I mean is that if we don't paint what our successes are in a way that is helpful, it can cause problems. And the same way that particularly for my Instructor colleagues, if we are not careful with how we're painting our successes, we may be placing undue expectations or feelings, notions, those kinds of things onto our clients and that's not fair. So to try to wrap this up when we're doing anything with our dogs training or trialing both, you want to think through what is actually happening? What are my goals? What are my short-term goals? What are my long-term goals? And recognize that all that can change.

And flexibility in being fluid is really important that everything can change. At any point. Your opinions about something can change the health of you or your dog could change. That could change everything. It could be a success to wake up in the morning, right? So we want to be ready to do that, to be really flexible, to be able to shift as needed, but to evaluate what's happening. And you do that in a honest and realistic way, recognizing that simply because a training session goes off and the dog finds the hides as an example, video and review it, was it really hitting all the marks that you had for that search? And if it was great, pat yourself in the back, extra cookies for the puppy and you're great. But be careful that you're not applying that across the board is isn't applying everything really broad brushes.

It's not, Hey, I did this exercise, it worked really great. Now everyone must do this exercise. That's not the way that these things work. Every dog is an individual. Every handler is an individual. Every team, our individual units and what works for them, maybe in the beginning of their journey is going to change from the middle of their journey to the end of their journey. So we want to be really careful with how we're framing these things, how we talk about it, how we think about it, and how we're evaluating what's going on. But a lot of attention is typically given to, okay, well you have to evaluate your failures, which I think is true. I think that it's helpful to look at everything as if these are information points. It's an information gathering exercise. You need information to then come up with a plan so you're able to do things going forward.

But the same is true for the successes. It's not just simply, okay, we had a success moving on. What actually happened in this situation and is it what I wanted to happen? Or do I want something else to happen? Was I making assumptions? One final example to try not just make sense, if you set up an elevator hide, let's say, and your dog finds it great, you can't then say, my dog is acing every single elevated hide that's ever been there. That's just not true. Your dog did it once. In that situation, they found that elevated hide if we were to put them into a different surge area and have an elevated hide. And again, that's such a broad category of hides. Any hide off of the ground is an elevate hide. They may not be able to find it. They just may not have the skillset yet.

Instead, what I would suggest that people do is look at every training and trialing experience as let me make a list of a couple things that are goals that I'm going for. Why am I doing this? What am I looking for and what do I want to achieve? And those can absolutely be yes or nos, right? This happened, this didn't happen. And then you able to come up with a plan going forward from there. And if you are successful, that's great, but recognize that it may be successful for that dog in that situation. And you absolutely can play with whatever that may have been, that approach, that training, exercise, that technique, whatever, and then see, can I generalize that and how can I generalize it? And are there certain instances where it works better? Are there other instances it doesn't work as well? Was it really just a one-off?

All those things are possibilities, right? And don't be so beholden to it that you just offer it to everyone all the time because it may not be appropriate and it may not be what they need at that moment. So I hope this kind of sort of made sense. And I really just want to emphasize that I don't want anyone to feel as though, well now I have to second guess all of my cues. That's not what I'm trying to go for here. Oh, I have to second guess all my titles. That's also not true. But I do think that it is a good thing for us to do, to evaluate things along the way, evaluate our journey, and to take inventory of what's going on and really think through what are the metrics that I want for my dog's journey doing set work with me.

And if you're an instructor, what do I want the metrics to be for my students working in my program? And if you're a trial official, what do I want the metrics to be for myself when I'm setting searches? Obviously you'd be following the rules and the regulations for the organization, but just for you could get through the day, you can have the same kind of approach for just time management for your actual mental space. What am my metrics to see? Am I enjoying what I'm doing? We could do this with everything. That's basically what I'm shooting for is it can be so easy to assume that I was really successful doing whatever it was, and I'm just going to cut and copy and paste and put that in this other situation, particularly when we're talking about another dog. And even more so we're talking about another dog and handler and it just may not work.

And it actually could have been because what you thought were successes weren't really, or they weren't full successes across the board or they weren't the types of successes that you need now. So again, Valor was extraordinarily forgiving for me as a handler. I could get away with bloody murder, honestly and truly terrible handling, and he would cover my butt for it. That doesn't mean that as an Instructor that I should be promoting that. That doesn't mean that I should be continuing that kind of really not great handling with Ozzie, with my little terrrier that I have now. That wouldn't be fair. Those aren't successes. That would be setting him up for failure, recognizing that yes, valor was really great at what he did and we had lots of successes, but within those successes there were things that were metrics that just weren't fitting. And if I just copy and paste it, everything to a T and applied it to what I'm doing now, it wouldn't work. Or if I copy and paste it to a T to my students, to my clients, it also wouldn't work. And it could give people the wrong impression that, oh, well, you just do A, B, and C. Everything's great. And if it's not, well, there must be something wrong with you. And that's not true either.

So I hope this made a lick of sense. I think it's important for us to talk about. I'm not sure if it was really super clear, one of my more rambly ones, but you don't have to fret because we have a bunch of episodes that are coming up that I just have to finish editing. We had some really great conversations with some of our instructors that I want to share with you. I'm just trying to find a moment to edit them. But those of you released very, very soon so you can hear more clarity in different voices and not just me. We are also going to be doing some other interviews with more of our instructors and outside speakers. I do want to continue our Spotlight series. So if you know of someone who is within this network community that is giving back, again, it could be an individual or it could be a business, please let me know.

I would love to talk to them so that we're able to share what they are giving back to the community. Because the more positive things we can talk about the better. And we are also going to be continuing our Instructor focus series as well, because we got a lot of really good feedback from that episode. And there is a bunch of interest for our upcoming live webinars. We're talking about specifically for instructors, what they can do as far as assessing their programs, of finding the why as far as what they're doing. Things really drilling down into certain, whether it be exercises or the way that your program is designed. And this also maintaining the joy in what you do because burnout is a thing. So I do look forward to everyone joining us for those live webinars, but there has been a lot of interest to the instructor focused things.

So we'll be continuing that series as well. So lots of activity for our podcast, so definitely stay tuned for that. And if there's any other topics that you guys are interested, please let me know. I would love to again, make certain that we're offering what you guys are interested in. Oh, one final thing, just wanted to mention really quickly, for a network university, we just did our first live stream, which was very exciting, and we're going to be doing that so far. We're doing them monthly. We may be doing it twice a month. It may be more than that once I have time. But it was a really good live stream, the very first one, the second one is scheduled for March 2nd at 4:30 PM Pacific, 7:30 PM Eastern. They're completely free. And that live stream will be covering how we may be able to be more creative with our search designs. So it will just be a conversation basically, and just brainstorming kind of thing. So we hope that you guys can join us for that. It's just a fun little thing that we do. And we provide those through our Scent Work University Facebook page, as well as our Instagram page and our YouTube channel. And the recordings are posted there, as well as our Friends of Scent Work University Facebook group. So we'd love to see you there.

Alright guys, thanks so much. Happy Training. We look forward to seeing you soon.

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