Ep. 114: Our Misleading Dialogue

Jun 21, 2024

When it comes to training or trialing in Scent Work, we oftentimes have a running dialogue in our mind that may be less than accurate. Some common examples include:

"My dog is distracted!"

"My dog lies!"

"My dog is so lazy!"

"My leash handling is awful!"

"I cannot read my dog!"

"My memory is terrible, I cannot remember where we have been or what hides I have called!"

These declarative statements become a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts, but they are oftentimes missing the mark or are simply not true. By coloring and skewing our perspective, we prevent ourselves from identifying the real cause of a given issue and devising an appropriate solution.

In this episode, we discuss how easy it can be to fall into these misleading types of dialogues and conversations with ourselves. Being mindful of this pitfall, we can catch ourselves and instead choose to observe what is really going on and come up potential solutions.


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 includes training tips, a behind scenes look at what your instructor or trial official may be going through and much more. In this episode, I want to talk about the dialogue that we have in our head about our dogs and ourselves. 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 dog training platform where we provide online courses, seminars, webinars, and eBooks, a regularly updated blog, the All About Scent Work Podcast, which you're listening to now, monthly livestreams, free training tips, and much more. Everything that we put out through Scent Work University is focusing on Scent Work, and regardless of where you are in your sniffing journey, you're just getting started, you're trying to develop some more advanced skills, you're interested in trialing or you're already competing, we likely have a training solution for you. So now that you know a little bit more about me, let's dive into the episode itself.

So in this episode, I want to talk about the conversations that we have or the running dialogue that we have in our mind about ourselves or our dogs when we're doing Scent Work, when we're either training or trialing or both. And this idea was sparked off because I very recently just did a webinar and when I was putting together the materials, it crossed my mind that there's going to be a lot of people who would be interested in that webinar because they think that their dog is one thing, when in actuality there's a lot of other possibilities of what may be going on. The tendency that we have to jump to conclusions and to put labels onto things for both ourselves and our dogs is very high. So that got me thinking that maybe we need to think about these things and try to figure out how we can avoid that pitfall if at all possible, or at least recognize what's happening and then take a step back to see, okay, well that was my gut reaction.

What's really going on here? Right? So lemme give you some examples. A common one that I've heard throughout my career is my dog is distracted, and the longer that I'm involved in Scent Work, the less I actually see that the dog is distracted in the sense that people think it's more so that there's other things going on that potentially the dog is struggling, potentially the dog is frustrated, potentially the dog is otherwise trying to communicate to their person. The dog is tired, the dog is hot, the dog is worried, the dog is concerned. There's a lot of other things. None of those are the dog is distracted because, and this is why I wanted to do this episode, is that the way that we talk about these things or we have the running dialogue in our mind matters. Because typically when I've had clients tell me, or if I've been in a conversation with someone or whatever, and they say, the dog is distracted.

It's how they're framing it. The dog is choosing to do something else. The dog is opting out, but it's not. They can't do it because they're worried or it's impossible for them to do it because they're confused or et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. It's that, gosh darn dog, I went to that trial, I paid a lot of money. They spent a lot of time training and practicing, and they got so distracted they couldn't find their hide. The saying can be exactly true in class. I've seen that as well, but my point being is that there's a lot of emotion behind that. The dog is distracted, but then if you actually evaluate what potentially is going on, the dog wasn't distracted to begin with and there was a lot of other stuff going on that we could actionably work on. So that doesn't happen again or it improves over time or whatever the case may be.

Basically, it's this providing of information and it shouldn't be eliciting the kind of really vitriol kind of filled stupid dog. And that's what I wanted to talk about in this episode is that there's lots of instances of that where whether it's spoken out loud or there's just conversations that we're having in our mind, but it's directed both towards the dog and to ourselves. I'm very well versed in having negative self speak. I am a pro, but it pains me when I see other people go through it. So what I wanted to talk about is how we may be able to identify when that's happening and maybe cut through the fog a little bit to get down to what may actually be going on. So I'm just going to give a couple of examples. Isn't exhausted by any stretch, but just again to get you thinking, are you having this kind of negative self-talk or these kinds of dialogues or instantaneous ways of describing things that may not actually be accurate?

They may be emotionally packed, but they may not be what's actually going on, if that makes sense. So I hope that the distracted thing kind of made a little bit more sense of what I'm talking about, that there's a possibility for all these other things that could potentially be going on that have nothing to do with the dog being distracted at all, and if we were to just try to address it from the lens of no, they're distracted, therefore we must do blah, blah, blah, we're probably not going to make it better because actually there was this other problem that was causing what we were seeing, and I want to give complete props to Michele Ellertson of The Dog's PACE. She has done a bunch of webinars, presentations for us through Scent Work University, which I'm incredibly thankful for. She's very, very, very, very, very, very good.

If you guys ever have an opportunity to work with her directly or to go through any of her webinars, she does virtual consultations do so she's very good. But one of the things, the terms that she's used recently in one of her presentations for us is this concept of white noise. In the context of a search, we would like our dogs to come into a space and find the hud. That's kind of the whole point. If they're doing anything other than that, such as they look at the handler, they sniff the ground in displacement, sniffing, they stop and they scratch. They do a full body shake, they sit and look at you, et cetera, et cetera. Those are examples of what Michelle was using the term white noise. They are little pieces of information on a behavior side that is extra. It's what we're looking for.

We just want the dog to find the hide. But when the dog is doing those things, it's important for us to recognize it for what it is. It's not the dog being a bad dog, it's the dog communicating. Again, another way that Michelle likes to describe this, which I think is brilliant, is that behavior is not bad. Behavior is just information. Even the behaviors that maybe we would not like. Hey, I would like you to go find your hide, not be sniffing the ground and displacement sniffing. Sure, we can all agree. I would much prefer for my dog to just go find the hide, but if they are offering displacement, sniffing as an example, that shouldn't be looked through the lens of my dog is distracted, or, oh, my dog just won't do it or whatever, it's more so that's a piece of really crucial information that's the dog communicating to us.

There's something up that they are self-soothing for. What is that thing, and then how can we address that in training? If we're able to more precisely identify what is actually going on as opposed to getting stuck in this dialogue in our head, I think we'd be more effective. I think that it would first of all take out a lot of emotion because if we're wasting time telling, for instance, that dog, you're just so darn distracted. I'm spending all this time in class and all this money, would you just go search when an actually, I was like, I'm absolutely abjectly terrified right now. I don't think that anyone, if they understood that truly would still be upset with their dog. They would want to figure out, well, how do I make it so my dog isn't terrified? And more often than not, the solutions have nothing to do with odor and they have nothing to do with Scent Work.

It's all about doing other stuff, building up the dog's confidence, acclimation exposure sessions, yada, yada, yada. A bunch of other stuff that has nothing to do with Scent Work, which is another reason why people get so frustrated is we become solely laser focused. It's all about the hide when it's not really right. The hide is this tiny little part of the whole thing that is the experience of your dog's life. And we want to mistakenly try to carve out Scent Work and then put it off on the side and say, okay, we're doing this now, and the dog's like, but that's not how I experience living. Neither is it for you person. Let me give you an example. You want to do well in sun work. You are taking classes with an instructor in person. You're practicing with your friends and you are competing. You're also training on your own.

You're attending every workshop you possibly can. You're taking webinars, you're reading books, you're reading blogs, you're listening to podcasts, you're doing everything. However, no matter how invested you are in Scent Work, I would consider myself pretty darn invested in Scent Work. My whole business is centered around Scent Work. You still have other things in life that have nothing to do with Scent Work and more so have nothing to do with your dog. You sleep, you eat, you probably have a job or some way of making income. You probably have family or friends or other kinds of obligations, and then there's just life that you have no control over, but just kind of happens to you like, Hey, my roof is going to have a leak today. Or Hey, there's going to be a flood. Or Hey, the highway that I take to get everywhere is going to be closed.

That kind of stuff. Why does any of this matter? Because I think we forget what the effect of all that other stuff has when we're also doing some work. So as an example, this is all make believe, but we're going to say our make-believe person who's just really super invested in Scent, Work, oh, they're doing all the things, but they also have their job that is also really stressful. Maybe things are a little tenuous. Maybe there are layoffs on the horizon, which seems to be the thing for all jobs as of late. Just the threat of it, your horizon costs that everyone is dealing with. You then have interpersonal fun times at work. Those are always fun. Then we take it out of work. Then you have home life. Maybe you're living with people, maybe you're not. It doesn't matter. This make-believe person's going to have a family, and those family members are not little robots.

They have personalities and desires and wants and needs that gosh darn it, are not always in line with our mapley person. So there's going to be conflict there too. Then there's all the things about getting older. Every single passing moment you're like, oh, that hurts more walking, getting upsetting, bending, whatever. The point being is that our make-believe person on a good day has a lot of stuff that's kind of building up on top of their back, all that stuff. They're carrying around with them from moment to moment to moment, including when they're doing all the sniffy things. So there may very well be times when they are trying to tackle a search and their brain is back at the job thinking about that thing that their manager or their coworker or whomever said to them that really irked them, but they didn't have the response ready in the moment, and they're kicking themselves because, oh, I want to tell that person was so bad, but whatever, just as an example.

But here they are in the middle of a search, their brain is still thinking about something that happened eight hours ago and they miss what their dog is telling them, and now they have their instructor saying, it's Alert. It's yes, feed your dog or whatever. And they're like, oh, fine. So nothing seems to be gelling in that instance. The dialogue in the person's mind is, this is hard or this is confusing, or I'm never going to be good. I'm never going to get this. I can't read my dog. Of course, you can't read your dog in this moment. You are not reading them. Your brain isn't focused on this at all. It's focused back at the office. I can't expect you to read your dog when you're not even here. Really. Is this kind of making sense? We seem to forget when we're doing Scent Work.

All these other things matter and they matter to us and our dogs. So if we are super, super stressed because we are alive, that probably means our dogs are pretty stressed too. They feel what we're going through. And that's not to make anyone feel bad, it's just reality. But that can compound what they're potentially going through as a little four-legged, furry creature going through life, having their own opinions and emotions about things. But none of that has helped by having these false conversations with ourselves, these emotional knee jerk reactions of I can't read my dog. In that example, you were not reading your dog, you weren't even trying to read your dog. Your brain was doing something else. That's where taking a breath and just recognizing, you know what? I'm not really here today talking with your instructor and saying, is there a way that we can just do known hides and we can focus on the dog and maybe I can video and I can do some things and practice on my own when my brain is actually in my head because these things happen.

I know for myself as an instructor, I wouldn't have a problem with that at all. I want to set the dog and the handler up for success. And the fact that I've recognized that so many clients and myself included have kind of been bogged down by these false pieces of dialogue. I can't leash handle, I can't read my dog, I can't remember anything. My memory is trash, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. It just goes on and on and on. When really that's probably not true. It's probably something else. And then it's manifesting in this way that like, ah, see, but there's my proof. I fell flat on my face. I have two left feet. Well, you don't paying attention. Why weren't you paying attention? Because your brain is multitasking. Why is your brain multitasking? You have a lot on your plate. Why do you have a lot on your plate?

Because life, is there any way that you can kind of make things easier for yourself when you're focusing on this activity that's supposed to be a good time for you and your dog? So what I'm hoping that just talking about these things a little bit more openly can do is that we can all just kind of take a step back and say, okay, if I'm leaping into something, particularly when something doesn't go the way that I was hoping, because typically when it happens, you're doing a search. It doesn't go the way that you had hoped either on your end dog's end or both. You're probably going to have a knee jerk reaction because you're human. Can you then take a breath or maybe a couple of them and then really start to evaluate, well, what's really going on? What happened? And can you look for those pieces of information that are helpful from the dog side?

What were they communicating and how were they communicating it? Don't just slap labels on things. I don't think that's helpful. Describe what happened. We went to the search. My dog was not going into the search area. They were lagging behind. I had to keep telling them to, come on, come on, come on, let's go. We paid for this lesson. Let's go find the things. And they were sniffing the ground and they started scratching, and they looked at me and they did a full body shake. Then they started to search a little bit, and then they stopped again. Those are pieces of information to me that sounds like a dog that's doing displacement behaviors. Okay, why are they doing displacement behaviors? They were reluctant to come into the space. Had they been there before? Is there something else that may have happened when you were coming up to the search and you may actually remember, you know what?

When I was getting my dog out of my car, another dog happened to yell at us. Okay, that's good information to have. Now you can work with your instructor to figure out how can I help develop a recovery protocol for my dog? Stressful thing happened. I would like to get them back. So where they feel confident enough to do their searches, how can we work on that? Has nothing to do with odor, has nothing to do with ending extraordinarily important. Something that you could use probably in daily life if you really needed to. But if we just said, oh, the dog is just distracted. Oh, the dog is just so lazy. No, they're not. Does that make sense? But those dialogue things that I'm talking about that are not helpful and they're also not really accurate, they also apply to us. And then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I'm very good at that myself.

I'm a pro, sadly can be. And this is where it gets a little insidious. It can be reinforcing to kind of have a negative outlook on yourself and your dog and your team. Like, oh, we're so bad. And see, of course we didn't do well. Of course we didn't do well. Why would we? It's like, well, there are ways that you can, right? There are ways that you can improve, but we have to be focusing on the right things. And that doesn't mean it's all going to be easy by any stretch, but from my perspective, I would much rather put in time and effort working on something that was accurately a addressing what was going on. Even if that was going to take me a while, it was going to take me a lot of effort. It was going to take a lot of adjustments.

It was going to be like two steps forward, one step back kind of thing. Just the nature of it. I would personally much rather do that knowing that we're still going to be making forward progression and we're probably going to get to a pretty good spot at the end of the day. Then digging my heels in and spinning my wheels, throwing everything at the wall because I wasn't reading the situation correctly. I had that knee jerk reaction of dog is blah, blah, blah. I am yada yada. That just wasn't true. Does that make sense? It makes sense to me. I can see it all of the time with the way the people may post on social media or the conversations they may have, how they talk about themselves and their dogs, and it's sad. At the end of the day. It's understandable, but it's not accurate.

And if we want to get to the resolution, the other part of it, do you want to solve it? Because that's an honest question you should ask yourself. There may be times when you don't. So the point being is that these types of dialogues, these type of conversations that we have to ourselves where we are slapping labels onto our dogs or onto ourselves, may very well not be accurate, and it may be hindering us from actually doing what we like to do, which is to improve or to do better, or to reach a certain goal.

So I hope this kind of maybe helped at least getting you thinking, but how you may be thinking about your dog, yourself and your team, and how we may be able to look at it a little bit differently where we can kind of peel away the layers of the onion to see what's actually going on. But as always, we'd love to hear from you. We'd be posting this episode up on our social media to be able to ask any questions or make any comments you have there. We are going to be posting more episodes talking with other people. You're like, Santos, please. We need to listen to other people. I know I'm working on it. I promise we're going to be having some more interviews with them as well. So stay tuned for that. We are continuing our spotlight series, so if you know of a individual or a business is giving back to the Scent Work community, please let me know. We want to make certain that we are spreading some light, some positivity that the world desperately needs. We're also going to be doing some other series, the podcast. Stay tuned for that. But yeah, lots of really fun sniffy goodness in the works. But thank you as always for listening. We really do appreciate it. Happy training. We look forward to seeing you soon.

1 comment

  • Linda harrington June 21, 2024 at 6:44 pm

    I needed this. Thank you

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