Ep. 13: Cataloging...An Issue or Not?

Jan 30, 2019

Ah yes, cataloging. One of the most common complaints handlers have. "UGH! My dog is not telling me about the hides when they find them, they catalog first!". In this episode, we discuss what cataloging is, what it means when your dog is cataloging, why they may be cataloging in the first place and whether cataloging is really an issue, or a training hill you should die on.


  • Dianna L. Santos


Welcome to the All About Scent Work Podcast. In this podcast, we talk about all things Scent Work, whether it be training tips, a behind-the-scenes look as far as what your trial official or instructor may be going through and much more. In this episode, we're going to be talking about cataloging and trying to determine whether or not that's an issue or not. Before we start diving into the podcast itself, let me just do a very quick introduction of myself.

My name is Dianna Santos, I am the Owner and Lead Instructor for Scent Work University, Dog Sport University, and Family Dog University. At Scent Work University, what we do is we provide online dog training focusing on all things Scent Work. So, this can be whether or not you're first getting started in Scent Work, whether or not you're trying to hone some skills, or if you're preparing for trial. We also offer webinars as well as our blog. I've been a professional trainer since 2011. I've focused with working with both reactive, fearful, and aggressive dogs. I'm also an approved Scent Work trial official for both AKC Scent Work and USCSS. And I've also worked with a competition organization as a staff member. So, now that you know a little bit more about me, let's dive into the podcast.

So, one of the most common things that I have found as far as a complaint from dog handlers is when their dog will catalog and what I hope to do in this podcast episode is to talk about what cataloging actually is, why it's so stressful to handlers and whether or not it is an issue to begin with. So, you may be asking, "I have no idea what cataloging is. Please enlighten me dear podcast teacher lady."

So, cataloging is when a dog will go into a search area. It doesn't matter what kind. And let's say there are multiple hides in that search area, let's say two or three. And the dog will go in and they will actually find those hides, but they don't communicate it to the handler in anyway, whether or not the dog has been trained a formal alert behavior or not, it's almost as though the dog is going in and saying, "Let me find these first and then I'll tell you about it later."

From a handler's perspective, particularly when you're competing, this is nerve wracking, because when you go into this space and your dog is moving around and doing all types of stuff, in your mind, all you're thinking about is time. And they haven't committed to anything yet, they haven't told you about anything yet, they haven't even shown any natural tells of, "Yes, that is definitively a hide. That is not just me figuring out where odor may be going or odor may have been or where odor may be trapped or anything like that."

They have not communicated any kind of decision point to you whatsoever, formal behavior alert, behavior or not. So, as a handler, it's super stressful, because you're sitting there at a trial waiting for that communication from your dog, again whether or not you have a formal alert behavior such as a sit, a pause, a down, a bark, stand on their head and spit nickles, or you're just reading their natural tells. You're not getting any of that, because your dog is trying to get this information first.

So, from a handler perspective, cataloging, you would think is a huge problem. Because from a handler's standpoint, you think this is actually going to take more time. The dog could have just told you when they first found the hide instead of having to find all of them and then tell you about it. I have to tell you, though, that that perception, I think, from my experience is actually incorrect. Now, here's the interesting thing: for the dogs that I've seen either in-person when I was officiating or when I was working in scoring and I knew of the dogs who cataloged, because they were either students or colleagues or whatnot.

Or in going to seminars and watching lots of videos of other dogs work, the interesting thing about dogs who catalog is that typically speaking, in a very general term, they're faster than dogs who don't catalog. I'm gonna say that one more time. The interesting thing about cataloging, for dogs who catalog, is they actually turn out to be faster as far as their overall search times than dogs who don't catalog.

Now, there hasn't to my knowledge and there very well may have been, I just don't know about it, a formal scientific study about this, a A&B comparison test or anything like that, dog who catalogs, dog who doesn't, and then making certain that you have different categories of dogs who don't catalog. But I think when people are viewing this in the lens of what is faster, what is not, obviously search times will tell you all the information that you need to know.

But every dog has their own searching style, so what I'm going to guess and this is an absolute guess, I have no empirical knowledge or data to back this up. But what I'm gonna guess is that a cataloger is going to be a lot more efficient, to the point, and will be faster of an overall time than a dog who runs into the search area, stirs all the odor up and is zing zanging and ping ponging all over the place. That would be my guess and that's what I'm assuming that we're seeing as far as the differential, as far as search times is concerned.

Now, why would that be? Because again, when we think about this from a million miles up, of course it would be faster if my dog just told me about the hides as they found them. Why would it be faster for my dog to tell me about them afterwards? Because you have to think about how it is that the dog is actually going about this and there are a couple of different parts to a cataloger. But the most consistent thing that I've noticed is that the dogs who tend to catalog are dogs who want to be right.

So, when your dog catalogs, they're making 100,000 percent certain they actually know where the hide is before they tell you about it at all, before they make that final decision point. That's important, because they're not just throwing behaviors at you, they're not just guessing. They are making absolutely positively certain that as far as they know, that's where that hide is and then they tell you about it.

That's really important, because I could have a dog go into a space and they could be throwing behaviors at me left, right, and center, but if that's not where the hide is, that doesn't help me. Sure, they did that three seconds into the run, but it's nowhere near the hide. It's on the other side of the search area. That doesn't help me. I want a dog who works efficiently and I think that this is where just as handlers, we need to be a little bit more, I don't know if honest is the right word, but we just need to be more open in how it is that we're viewing our dogs and what it is we're actually asking them to do.

And what it is that we need them to do, particularly when we're talking about competing. So, again, this is a very common complaint that I have from handlers across, again, the entire country. When I used to work on the East Coast of the United States, now I work on the West Coast of the United States, from the very, very beginning of when I first started doing Scent Work, even when I would go to seminars and work shops, one of the most common things that people complain about, "My dog catalogs, my dog doesn't tell me about the hides right away. It drives me crazy. I hate it." Would be a common thing that people would say.

And from very early on, it always puzzled me, because I understood having been taught and having seen it that the crux of it is that the dog wants to be right. But isn't the most stressful, heart wrenching sort of, "I wanna vomit right now" thing to happen when you're competing is getting a no? So, if you have a dog who's showing you, because they've made an actual decision point, "I know where this hide is," that should make you happy. That should make you feel better not worse particularly, again, when you compare against the dog who's just kinda flinging themselves all over the search area.

Sure, that other dog is probably gonna find some hides, but depending on the type of odor problems that you're posing, they may actually miss some, because they're just flinging around too much. If they had just slowed down and were a little bit more focused, they may actually find more. So, what does all this mean? To me personally, I think it underlines something that as handlers, we have to be mindful of is our dogs are who they are.

They're never going to change who they are. And what I mean by that is your beagle is not going to magically going to become a malinois. And your malinois is not magically going to become a beagle. There are definitely differences from breed to breed. There's differences within the breed. There's differences even within a litter. There's differences individual wise. There's preferences, there's all kinds of things that go into the individual dog, so while you may be watching videos online, maybe things on YouTube, maybe you even went to volunteer at a trial, maybe you're doing something in person, you're working with friends, you're at a group dog training class, whatever.

You see other dogs search, you go, "Oh, I wish my dog would do that." What part of that search are you actually hoping that your dog would do? To do it competently? Okay. To do it where they find it joyful? I'm all for that. To do it where they are excited to play? Hey, those are all great things for me. But if you're saying that you want your dog to "look like another dog," because you think they're "fast", I don't think that that's first of all, achievable, and second of all, I don't think that that's fair to your dog particularly if you have a cataloger.

In my opinion, having a cataloging dog is not a bad thing. It's not a detriment. It's a good thing. Your dog is trying to make certain that they're right. That's great. One of the things I try to tell students or people who are working with me is please don't try to change who your dog is. It's a battle you're not going to win. It's who your dog is. So, for instance, for myself, we'll put this in human terms. I am ... I was born in New York, whenever I get upset, we're talking really, really, really upset, that New York accent comes out. That's how you can tell. If you can hear the New York accent where you're like, "Wow, she sounds like she's from the Bronx even though she's not," then maybe you should give her some space.

That is a hard, baked-in thing that's been there the whole time of my life. Could I work on that piece so that that involuntary change in how I speak depending on how I feel emotionally, could I work on that? I guess. Is it worth it? No. It would take an awful lot of work and I can tell you that it would just revert back to that if I was upset enough. And it's also a really good tell for people around me. It's like dogs, why would you punish a growl? Growls are good, growls are information. Don't punish me when I'm talking New York, then maybe you should just back up a little bit.

But the reason I bring this up is your dog is a cataloger for Scent Work, that's who they are. Don't try to change that. Work within it. Find ways of maximizing on it. Find ways of manipulating your search areas, manipulating your exercises, manipulating your practice sessions, changing how it is that you approach this. Maybe changing your perception of how this all affects your searching. Actually have some real, raw data tying your searches.

If you have multiple dogs in your household and one of them catalogs and others don't, compare them as far as times are concerned and then try to figure out if you do think that your cataloger is slow, are they "slow", because they don't understand the odor problem, which is more often the case than not, or is it because they're cataloging? Which I just don't think is true. When I've seen people who I think they're conflating two different things.

They're conflating the fact their dog catalogs and conflating the fact that their dog may not know how to work out a particular problem. When the dog actually was working out odor problems that they understood, they were very fast. They would go through let's say an interior space that's all perimeter hides. We'll say there's four hides. They go around the entire perimeter, they smell them all out. If you watch that video really super closely, you can see tiny, tiny, tiny tells.

Okay, there's a hide there, there's a hide there, there's a hide there, there's a hide there. They then go back to where the handler is and then they go, "Here's my alert, here's my alert, here's my alert, here's my alert," and then they're done. I mean, you can't ask for anything faster than that. That's brilliant. So, what I'm hoping that we can do as handlers is to understand what it is that we're trying to work on in any given moment. Recognize who your dog is as a hunter and then try to figure out whether or not that is a problem.

More often than not, it's not. It's just who they are. And then you have to figure out, do you want to maximize in certain parts of that thing that they present as? Do you want to maybe fine tune it? Do you wanna improve it? Do you wanna finesse it a little bit? But know that that's who they are. That's probably always going to rear its ugly head at some point and it may not be an ugly head as all. As far as catalog is concerned, in my opinion, it's a very beautiful, wonderful head.

I think it's a fabulous head. So, again, this is a very, very common thing that people complain about. Particularly when we're talking about competition, but even for people who I've worked with who weren't gonna be competing, but they would be in class and they're like, "Oh, they're doing that cataloging thing again." It's like and the problem is what? Your dog was the only dog who found all the hides in their run. All the other dogs missed one.

Be like, we have to understand what it is that we're asking our dogs to do. What is the end result? What is the goal that you're looking for? And just be really specific about that and then try to figure out how can I get there? Again for competition, if your goal is I want my dog to find all the hides, I think that's a perfectly fine goal, then obviously you would want to break down each of the different odor puzzles that could possibly be posed and ensure that your dog could do those individually.

A lot of this is just gonna take time and practice. There are people who, when they're working with their dogs, if they were to have someone else handle the dog, that person would have no idea what that dog was telling them. That's not what Scent Work is about, though. Scent Work isn't about you being able to hand your dog off to Joe Schmoe A and have them go do well. Scent Work is about you doing well with your dog. So, if you have that kind of connection with your dog where they may not have to stand on their head and spit nickels, but you know when they've made that final decision point, that's all that matters.

That's it. That's all you need. You just need to call alert correctly. That's it. So, again, I think a lot of this stuff is people conflating what it is that Scent Work is really about, particularly when we're talking about competition. But also keeping up with the Jones', trying to figure out, "Okay, what's the fast track? How do I get to excellence quicker?" Which again, in my opinion is not the right way of going about it. I think the journey is a lot more important.

And if you take your time, you can figure out the things that you really enjoy about the journey and things that you may not enjoy about the journey. And then you can make better choices as far as what it is you wanna do, not only as far as competition, but the types of games you may wanna play. If you just wanna play at home or maybe you wanna do it on field trips. Maybe that's the time that you jump in the car and go to new places with your dog is when you're gonna go play Scent Work.

But you've found that you don't wanna practice in this place, this place, and that place. That's okay. So, how does all of this wrap up, Miss Podcast Teacher Lady with cataloging? Should I be doing anything if my dog catalogs? And I would say yes. One, you should try to tell if that's exactly what your dog is doing and the way to tell that is if ... perimeter searches are the easiest as far as interior searches. You can do it with a container set up as well. But if you have a number of hides, usually you have to have at least three to really see if that's what the dog is doing.

But have three hides in a perimeter search again, interior or container, and just wait to reward them until they've made a decision point. Again, I'm not asking for a formal alert behavior, I'm just asking for you to actually tell, "Okay, my dog has actually found it. They didn't stumble on it." And if they do, that final decision thing pretty quickly, then they're probably not a cataloger. But if they have to go through that entire perimeter and then go back and make decision points, they very well may be a cataloger.

In that case, what I would strongly urge you to do, I strongly urge everyone to do this, but particularly if you have a cataloger, video tape your practice sessions. You want to be able to see what your dog looks like. What's the difference between them cataloging and when they've actually made the decision? And also, see if there's a difference about the types of searches that they're doing that in. So, what I mean is do they only catalog in certain search elements? Do they only catalog with certain odor problems? Do they only catalog with a certain number of hides?

Because that's absolutely possible. My dog can do a number of different things. He doesn't really have a set pattern. There are times when he will catalog. More often than not, it's when my stress level is a little bit higher or it's a very busy search area. One of the things that he's very consistent with or I should say more consistent with is he will do what's called triangulating and we're gonna do a different podcast episode specifically about that.

But there are other times he'll come up and he'll just find hides right away. So, I need to know and be comfortable with what all that looks like so that I can actually read the communication that he's giving me. So, video tape, video tape, video tape and actually watch back. Watch back each individual run individually. Watch them multiple times, watch it full speed, half speed, and really break down each thing that you're watching. Watch how the dog works the entire space one time you watch a video.

Then, watch how they're working each individual hide then another time you watch the video. Watch individual parts of their body. What are they doing? What's their feet doing? Are their mouths open, are their mouths closed? Are their tails wagging, are their tails still? Are their ears up, are their ears down? What's their eyes doing? What are their whiskers doing depending on how close you can get in. What are they doing with their bodies?

What are they telling us with how they're working out this space? When did they get to that hide? Were they working that hide from a different part of the search area, they made a bee line to it? Were they struggling with that hide initially and then they worked their way back in? How does all this work? That's what you're trying to figure out by trying to watch these videos.

And this is particularly important if you have a cataloger, because then as they are in the process of cataloging, you can determine how many hides they've actually found and which ones they may still be working out, which is important. And then, when they start giving you those final decision points that you can call alert and everything is good. So, I would suggest that cataloging is not a bad thing at all. I would suggest that cataloging is just a way that the dog is attempting to ensure that they're correct, which I would assume a lot of handlers would really appreciate particularly if you're trying to compete.

Because if your dog is trying to be correct, you're not gonna be saying, "Oh, my dog lied or oh my dog was wrong." No, because your dog was trying their best to be right and then there are some people who will be astute and say, "Well, wait a second. If my dog is worried about being right, could that be that my dog is nervous? Could that be that my dog is concerned about being wrong?" And I would say, "You're very astute and yes, that's correct."

And I happen to see it with dogs who are students of mine. There is that one pattern of these are dogs who definitely are concerned about being wrong. They don't want to make a mistake. And that doesn't mean that anything bad has ever happened to them, that's just their personality. I personally hate making mistakes. It makes me really, super uncomfortable. It makes that little, weird, uncomfortable feeling in my chest and I feel as though my stomach is up in my throat and like my blood pressure drops. It's not fun. I don't like making mistakes. They make me very, very uncomfortable.

So, I'd much rather do what I need to do to make sure I do it right the first time. And I think that's probably what dogs go through as well. Maybe not all the same physiological symptoms, but they don't want to be wrong. They don't want to make the mistake. Instead, they want to get it right. Why would you be upset with that? That's a good thing. You want them to be right, that's the whole point. So, I hope that we can somewhat shift the way that we look at cataloging and maybe don't spend as much time trying to change it.

Because, quite honestly, I haven't seen it be that successful. I don't think that it's a hill you need to die on. There's so many other things that you could be working on. Just get your dog really solid on working out those different odor puzzles, make sure that your handling is where it needs to be. Do they catalog more when you're using the leash? Could it just be that your leash handling skills need some work?

I know mine do. There's always different things that you could be working on. When we really sit down and think about it, there's always stuff we could be working on in all of our training, even with Scent Work. So, I don't think that spending a lot of your time and energy trying to change a dog from cataloging to not cataloging is a good and efficient use of your time and energy. I would say embrace it and find how you can use it to your advantage, because again, from the dogs that I've seen both whether they be students in practice sessions or the dogs I've seen in person at trial or what I was scoring or when I was at work shops.

They're actually faster, because they go in, they figure out where the hides are, then they tell their person and they're done. There's not all this flinging around and it may look more exciting, but the times don't lie. The catalogers tend to be a little bit faster, so just something to think about. And that doesn't mean that if your dog doesn't catalog, that means that somehow your dog is worse than the dog who does catalog. No, that's not what I'm trying to say at all.

What I'm hoping, really, is that everyone can recognize the individual hunter that their dog is, really embrace that individuality and figure out how you can make that dog the best hunter they, individually, can be. And they may look completely different than another dog that you know of when they're doing Scent Work. And that's completely okay. No two dogs are gonna work a space exactly the same. No two dogs are gonna work out every single problem exactly the same.

It's just not gonna happen. And nor should they. And nor should we expect that of them. What I'm hoping to do in this rambling podcast episode is to at least get people thinking about recognizing who their dogs are as hunters. If their dog is a cataloger that it actually isn't a bad thing, it may actually be a good thing. And how they may be able to approach their training a little bit differently, that instead of trying to turn their dog into a different type of dog or into a stereotypical view of what they think a certain dog would be like as far as hunting is concerned, that maybe they could just work on individual skills instead.

Both on the dog side and on the handler side, because you're a very important part of this team as well. So, I hope you guys found this podcast episode a little bit helpful as far as diving into what cataloging is, why people complain about it and that it may not actually be such a bad thing after all and that if your dog does catalog, you know you don't have to walk around with a big, red scarlet letter on yourself or anything like that. Embrace your dog's catalogingness and find ways of basically taking your training to the next level as far as improving their ability to work out different odor puzzles.

And also just being able to improve how you read your dog. That would be the best thing that you can do. So, it wouldn't matter, so you'd be like, "Oh, yeah. So, they're working this space. They're cataloging, I think from what I can see from the very subtle cues that they're giving. They found maybe four hides. I know there are five in here, so I'll have to keep a really close eye on for that other one, but I know that they actually didn't work that one corner, so once they tell me about these four hides, maybe we need to work over in that corner together."

That's what Scent Work's all about. It's not supposed to be a "you can turn your brain off, you just stand in the corner, the dog stands on their head and spits nickels and you go yeah, okay, alert." It's supposed to be an active communication between you and your dog during that entire time where the rest of the world just kind of fades away and then you just hear a voice off and yonder, "Yes," that wonderful, glorious, "Yes."

So, I hope that this podcast achieved some of those things as far as a better understanding of what cataloging is and that it may not actually be that big of a deal as far as something that you should be upset about or trying to change in your dog. It'd probably be better to just embrace it and then build some of the other skills.

So, thanks so much for listening. I hope you found this podcast helpful.

Happy training and we look forward to seeing you soon.

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