Ep. 113: Meaning of Trial Results May Vary

Apr 26, 2024


Dianna L. Santos

Competing in Scent Work involves receiving qualifying or non-qualifying scores, earning titles or even placements...but what does all of this really mean?!

Does every Q earned mean our training is utterly perfect, unicorns and rainbows, whereas every NQ should be met with blowing up our training and starting over from scratch? If we do not earn a placement at a trial, do we have a ton of work ahead of us whereas earning a placement means all is well? If we do earn a title, does that mean that our dogs, ourselves as handlers and our team as a whole have all the requisite skills needed for this level and beyond?

In this podcast episode, we discuss the nuances involved with competition, how we may need to more closely evaluate our trial results and the potential pitfalls of incorrectly interpreting these results.


Welcome to the All About Scent Work podcast. In this podcast we talk about all things Scent Work that can including training tips, a behind scenes look of what your instructor or trial officials is going through and much more. In this episode, I want to talk about trial results. So before we 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 do training platform where we focus on providing online courses, seminars, webinars, and eBooks that are all centered around Scent Work. So regardless of where you are in your sniffing journey, maybe you're just getting started, you're looking to develop some more advanced skills, you're interested in competing or already competing even at the highest levels, we likely have a training solution for you just to know a little bit more about me. Let's dive into the episode itself.

So in this episode I want to talk about trial results. What do they mean? What should we take away from them? Are they important at the outset? I just want to make it clear that I think every single experience that we have at a trial can absolutely be a learning experience, and if we can view it in that light, that can take some of the sting away when things may not go the way that we were hoping, or we can make certain that we are looking at everything through a correct lens. So even if everything did go our way, we're not putting more emphasis on something than maybe we should. That does not mean at the outset that if you have done well at a trial, you're proud of your accomplishments that you shouldn't be, you should, and everyone should revel in the opportunity to have that moment to play with their dogs.

That's what matters most, right? It's making those memories, having those moments. But that's stuff being said. I think it is important for us to think about when we are trialing and we are receiving these results, how we can look at them so that we're able to get good information to figure out what we may need to do going forward and that we don't start going down a path that could maybe not serve us quite as well. What do I mean? In and of itself, a qualifying run or even obtaining a title by itself in a vacuum doesn't really mean much. And what I mean by that is there's lots of different ways that we can get there. Lemme try to give you an example to show you what I mean. Let's say that you're tackling a container search and you are going through and your dog is pushing every single container.

There are containers going every which way. They're not smashing the containers, but it's almost like they're playing hockey, right? There's just boxes going here, there and everywhere, but they find the correct container. You qualify in that search, but maybe you've earned a fault, right? Because now the boxes have been moved even though your dog wasn't being destructive per se, they've moved the boxes. We can walk away from that search and say, if I just look at whether I got a q'd or not, I qualified, everything is good. But if we look at it more from a more detailed view, I guess we can say, I did qualify. We found the hide, but there's all this box moving that maybe we don't need and it can be problematic the further up the levels that we go because maybe that's going to be wasting time as there are more hides in the space.

It could be making things a lot more complicated for my dog because now potentially they're going to move a box where it could, even if there's not a hide in that particular box, maybe now there's going to be odor getting stuck on that box. It could make things really complicated and unnecessarily. So if our dog was just able to tackle the search without moving the boxes in that situation, I'm hoping that we can say I did qualify. I may have even earned a title on that run, but that was not the best performance that we could possibly have had. It doesn't mean the performance was, oh, we are the worst. I can never compete again. I can't show my face in public. It's not that. But there's information, there's additional stuff going on, moving the boxes that shouldn't be there, but now I can address that in training and that's the information I'm taking away from this trial result that I qualified but with a fault.

And even if I didn't earn the fault, I know as I'm running through this, maybe boxes shouldn't be going everywhere. So that's I think the most simplistic example that we can give. Where if we just look, did I get a Q? Then everything is great. If I don't get a Q, then everything is bad. I don't think that's the right way of looking at it. I think it's more nuanced than that. So I want to give you another example that may be more difficult one to wrap your brain around. Let's say that you are tackling an exterior search, and this is at a mid to higher level search, so you're going to have the possibility of elevated hides and your dog is working this space. They potentially have already found a few hides and you know that there's another one out there and you are working, let's say an exterior search where it's something similar to a little courtyard.

You've got some vegetation, you've got some patio furniture kind of stuff, and there's a big umbrella or something within the space itself and your dog who's working, working clearly in odor, they're bracketing the odor cone. Beautiful. You are reading your dog, your dog is figuring this out, and they bracket, bracket and then they just stop and they look up and they look up to the tippity top of that umbrella and you call Alert and the judge says No, and you go, oh, that's odd because to me, my dog was very clearly telling me that it's up there and then during the debrief you figure out that indeed the hide was on that umbrella, but the judge, their "yes zone" was the dog was supposed to be closer to that umbrella as an example so that they would be giving a yes. You did not qualify in that search because you called a false Alert.

For all intents and purposes by the judge. Do we need to do anything in our training? In that situation, my answer would be no, your dog was correct. You correctly read your dog. The yes zone was just different. This is the part about Scent Work that can drive people batty, but it's just part of the sport. This is the subjective part, and it's not that the judges are bad. It's not that the trial officials are bad, they're not, but there's lots of different things that could be happening during the search itself. Environmental conditions can change all these sorts of things that for us to try to replicate that exactly in training is close to impossible. So we should, which is very difficult to do, but we should have an expectation going into a trial that, and this is what trust your dog or trust your training or both.

What those little phrases really mean is if you've done the training and the practicing, if you've honed your own eye, if you and your dog are on the same page, sometimes the odor god's giveth and sometimes they taketh away, you may very well run into that very type of situation. You're working a high elevated hide. Your dog clearly has figured out it's up there. They're not scaling the wall, they're not trying to climb the umbrella, but they're clearly saying it's up there. Where if let's say, completely out of Scent Work. If you were at home and you were outside and suddenly your dog was all scurrying around, they have what just hanging out for you to start out with, all of a sudden they start scurrying around whatever, and they just suddenly stop and look at a tree. What is everyone going to do?

They're going to look up into the tree and then lo and behold, there's a squirrel. They're like, oh, that my dog was trying to tell me about the squirrel. It's the same type of thing, but for a competition, we got to figure out yes zones when we're talking about trial officials and sometimes that is just beyond where our dogs provide that information. Basically as competitors, we then have to take that information and make sure we are not blowing up our training to try to match a moving goalpost. If our dog is providing us clear information for us, we're reading them that the hide is up there. There are times when the judge may say no and you say Thank you so much and you're okay with that. This is not easy to do. I understand, but this is why I want to talk about this in this podcast episode is it would be so easy for us to take that no and then go down a very bad path with our dog trying to undo good training, trying to undo good relationship with our dog, injecting all of this self-doubt and Oh, my dog wasn't giving enough when your dog gave plenty, right?

They're not going to sprout wings and fly to the top of the umbrella. Your dog may not be comfortable trying to climb up or put their paws up onto the umbrella. They may be worried about the umbrella moving, right? We may also not want them to do that. There's so many possibilities, but yes, you didn't earn a Q. So I hope that makes sense, that not earning a queue is not a one-to-one ratio, meaning you have to do more work. It may be just the opposite. Everything may have been perfect on your end. Also, everything may have been perfect on the trial official's end on the trial host's end and Mother Nature said, no one's going to get this hide today. That's another possibility. So that's what I'm trying to say is that we really have to try to be objective when we're looking through these trial results that we're not putting too much emphasis or the other way, not putting enough.

Because the same is also true, where let's say that I'm running a search and I do not qualify, and we're going to say, this is an exterior search and we don't qualify because my dog was so incredibly enamored by the kids playing soccer two fields down. My dog is not focused in any way, shape or form. My dog is like odor, what odor? But look at the balls, right? And come to find out when we stop to think about it, I've never done any training whatsoever in any type of field trip location. I've only ever practiced at home or I've only ever practiced at the training center. We've never done anything in these other types of situations where there's other things going on in that situation. That trial result is giving us a whole lot of information. I'm giving this example because it happened to me.

This is what happened with me at my Valor, is that I knew that I wasn't doing enough field trip searches in any way, shape or form. I was competing as a volunteer. I was a staff member. I knew we weren't ready to be doing this. It was quite literally, we're just going to do this, because we can. And sure enough, he was like, look at the balls. And I was like, there's no way we're going to get this. That was fine. And I took it and I still took it hard that like, oh, I'm such a failure as a trainer. We didn't prepare. He was fine. I was fine. We would just practice more and we would be fine. But the point being is that I wouldn't then, it would be incorrect to look at that non-qualifying run and say the trial official did something wrong.

The trial host didn't set it up correctly. It's unfair that they set this up where there was a soccer team playing within view of the search. That's not true. That is not the response that we should have. We should instead be introspective and say, okay, even if you have been doing field trip searches, you now have this wonderful piece of information that you may have not have known my dog loves soccer balls, who knew? Now I can practice with friends or my classmates, maybe I can ask my instructor, can we do some searches where other parts of the class or someone else, whoever, they're just kicking a ball back and forth and can we just have really super simple searches to let the dog know this playing this game way better than the soccer balls. I hope that makes sense that it's not a Q good and Q bad.

It's so much more involved than that, and we have to really think about how we're evaluating these results. Another thing that is possible is that we may very well qualify. We may even title, even though we weren't ready, and I've done this as well. Again, my Valor was incredible. He was amazing. He covered my butt more than I wish to admit. He was so talented. I was the one holding him back and we flew through AKC novice absolutely flew through it, and I knew that we were flying through it. So then we started doing the other levels and we were still doing fairly well. We flew through NW1 and then I knew there was no way we were ready for NW2, but I did it anyway knowing we haven't practiced, I haven't trained enough, nothing. And sure enough, we didn't pass. So simply earning a title, it matters how you earn that title.

It matters. What happened to actually go into earning that title, having a title and not having a title. Those aren't indicators of themselves either, because I can honestly look back at our NW1 run and say, you know what wasn't a whole lot there for me to be overly proud of. For me, for as a handler, I was a mess. I was not good with my handling. He was able to find hides in spite of me. And again, we hadn't done enough field trip searches. We had not done enough. We hadn't done enough, a lot of things, but basically, yeah, I got the NW1, but it wasn't something that I can say, you know what? We checked off all these boxes and that's why we had the title. We didn't. We really got by the skin of our teeth and it was all thanks to him, no thanks to me at all.

So there was no reason in any logical sense for me to say, oh, let's give NW2 a try, right? It was just dumb. It was not a smart thing to do. So what I'm trying to convey here is that when you're trying to assess where are you right now in your sniffy journey, what skills maybe do you need to work on as a handler? What skills does your dog need to work on? What type of skills does your team need to work on? You're not going to get all the information simply by the number of cues or titles that you have. You could get pretty darn far and still not have everything mesh. You can also have some struggles even though your team is doing amazing. And that's what I'm trying to get across is that we do, as we're describing trials, as tests, right?

We're testing our training, but they're not a standardized test. It's not as though they're being done inside some laboratory where everyone has the same test and we can all just make certain that we're testing literally these specific things. And if you pass the test, then you have those things. If you don't pass the test, then you don't. It's so much more complicated than that where you and your dog may very well have everything that you need. And also, it's a beautiful thing to watch you both work where everyone watching you is like oohing and eye, and they're like, wow, this is because you can feel it. It's almost magical and you feel like it's magic as you're on the other end of the leash, your dog is having a great time. You're both keyed in and you don't qualify because maybe something was going on with odor.

Also, also, we and our dogs are not robots. So we may train, we may practice, we may do all this learning and everything else, and then you were getting stuck in your head the night before and you didn't sleep well. You then got stuck in traffic, you got lost trying to get to the trial site. Your dog happened to take a wrong step and they cracked one of their toenails. They have an upset tummy, they get yelled at in the parking lot. Who knows? All of those things can happen or just one, and now suddenly you're kind of off kilter and maybe that's going to cost you a Q or a title or maybe a placement. Placements are a whole other thing. So let's just talk about this real quick. I have had over the years, several conversations with clients and colleagues about this, and it breaks my heart.

It really, really does. And here's why. I would check in on someone, let's say a client or a colleague who is competing, and the initial response would be disappointment. I'm like, oh, well that's so sad. I'm sorry that it didn't go well. And the reason why it was disappointment wasn't because it didn't go well. It's because they thought it went really, really well, but they didn't place. And I'd be like, wait a minute, what do you mean, hold the phone! And then we would get into the details, and I'll always remember this. One example was this person was tackling a container search and they felt it was a fantastic search and their dogs were just on. It was amazing. They felt as one, they were in sync, all this good stuff, and they had worked really hard on containers, which was another thing. So they go in, they do the containers, the dog finds it like lickety split.

They know that they found this hide in like five seconds or something. They are on cloud nine the whole day because they know that that search was amazing. Then they get to the end of the day for placements, they didn't even place. Not only did they not even place, they were nowhere near the top. They were like 14th or something, and they were just crestfallen and they were so disappointed and they felt the day was a failure. Even though they qualified in all their searches, they got their title, and again, this container search, they found it in five seconds. So digging into it, you find out that the placements were absurd, right? You had dogs finding this in almost two seconds, three seconds, 3.1 seconds, 3.2 seconds, 3.25 seconds, whatever. Ridiculously fast times where the first 25 competitors all found this within 10 seconds. 10 seconds.

How can we be upset about a dog finding a hide within 10 seconds? That's ridiculous. So this is what I really want to get across as far as these placement things are concerned is please, please, please make certain that you're looking at this and think about what your reaction is. Because I would argue, and maybe people will disagree with me, but I would argue in that situation, the person who got 14th with five fricking seconds have nothing to be concerned about. They have nothing to change. They shouldn't be trying to shave off more seconds, from where? I don't understand and they shouldn't be envious, or like, oh, those other people who got it in three seconds or whatever. It's amazing. We can just sit there and just marvel at what our dogs are doing and then also be really impressed that dogs were able to get it within three seconds.

That's incredible. I don't know, for me, if my brain works fast enough to be able to see my dog go and do something, process it and be able to say Alert in three seconds, I don't think so. My synapses don't work that well, but I hope that makes sense, that here's a situation where you should be over the moon, right? This should be amazing, but the placement information is somehow in opposition to that. So this is what I'm really trying to get across with this whole trial result thing. It is, it's not as clear cut as it may seem. You may need, and maybe even the next day, let your emotions happen and then think about the next day, what does this actually mean? And do I need to do anything with this? What can I learn from it? And the learning may very well be how you emotionally react to it.

Part of this too, we don't talk about it enough, and quite frankly, I think as instructors, I know for me, I'm not doing enough as an instructor yet. I'm trying to be better. I'm trying to think about how to do it, of helping clients understand how to emotionally internalize and deal with the emotions of competing because it's emotional. And I find this challenging because I am a nervous competitor and I have a lot of self-hatred. So for me to try to teach people how to do that is a little difficult. But I think it is an important thing for us to talk about and to think about that the Q or the title or the placement in and of itself probably isn't giving you the full picture. That's not taking away from your accomplishments. That's not the same. You can still have your accomplishment, but it may not have meant the sun and the moon.

It may have just meant we have these things that are working really well for us, but we still need to work on X, Y, or Z. So I hope all of that kind of sort of makes sense, but as always, I want to hear from you guys. What do you think? Is this something that you have encountered when you've been competing with your pups where it just didn't seem to connect with whatever the result was, or maybe the result was just totally on par, like, yes, this Q represented this amazing run and it was awesome. It just is one of my favorite experiences ever. Or do you struggle with, well, what does this actually mean? At the end of the day, what do I do with this? I qualified or I didn't qualify. I placed or I didn't place. I titled or I didn't title.

Let us know. We'd love to hear from you, so we'll be going this up on our website as well as our social media sites to be able to comment there. We are going to bring other people back in. You're like, please, Santos, we need other speakers other than you. No problem. They're coming back. So we'll be having those conversations very shortly. We're also going to be continuing our Spotlight series, so if you know of someone or an individual, whether an individual or a business is giving back to the network community, please let me know. I want to talk to them. The more positivity that we can share, the happier I am as a person and we are offering so many things through Scent Work University. It's insanely busy over there, so if you haven't checked it out already, definitely make certain that you're checking it out and if there's a certain topic that you're interested in for training, let me know.

Additionally, one final thing before I let you all go. We're also working to build up our Pet Dog U platform, so we got some really great topic requests from our clients. Thank you, thank you, thank you. If there is something that you are interested in as far as a general dog training topic, maybe you got a new puppy, you brought in a new dog from the shelter, you have a dog for a while, you're like, you know what? We've been working around this issue, but I really would like some help with it. Or you're interested in other dog sports, anything from agility to canine, parkour, rally, tri ball tricks, competition, obedience, whatever. Please let me know. Again, we're going to be building up that platform as well and we want to make certain that we're offering what you guys are interested in. Alright guys, thank you so very much for listening. Really do appreciate it. Thank you for all the support and thank you so much for playing the sticky game with your pups. You're amazing. Alright guys, happy training. We look forward to seeing you soon.

1 comment

  • Becky Fitzgerald April 27, 2024 at 6:11 am

    Loved this perspective! I try to keep a level head about competition in general and your observations confirm a lot of what I’ve felt. My dogs are opposites in that 1 is confident and the other environmentally sensitive so that influences how I look at “results”. At the end of the day it’s just a game we play and I want the memory of both of us having fun to be what I take away.

Leave a comment

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

Join Our Newsletter