Ep. 15: Odor is Odor is Odor

May 25, 2019

It may sound obvious, but odor is everywhere, NOT just within the realm of Scent Work. So, why aren't we leveraging this fact? Particularly if you are struggling on something in formal Scent Work? Wouldn't it make sense to present a non-formal Scent Work odor picture for your dog to work out, where they would need to hone the very same skills you would also need in Scent Work? That is what we talk about in this podcast episode!


  • Dianna L. Santos


Welcome to the All About Scent Work Podcast. In this podcast, we talk about all things scent work. This can include training tips, a behind the scenes look at what your trial official or instructor may be going through, and much more. In this episode, we're going to be talking about odor, in that we really need to start thinking outside of the box, as far as scent work is concerned. In that we should be able to see all types of different ways that we can help our dogs develop the skills they need scent work, maybe outside of formal scent work training.

Before we start diving into the episode itself, let me do just 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. These are online dog training platforms that are designed to provide high-quality instruction to as many people as possible, quite literally worldwide. We provide online courses, webinars, and seminars so that you will be able to access all of these resources from the comfort of your own home.

For Scent Work University in particular, we provide online scent work courses that can help you get started in scent work, and also develop those skills that you may need in order to compete in scent work, if that was something that you were interested in. We also provide sport courses that are specific to each competition venue, so you can be successful in that venue. In addition to our online course, we also provide webinars, where we take a little bit of a deeper dive into very specific topics. So now you know a little bit more about me. Let's dive into the episode itself.

When I was putting together this episode, the whole reason why it came to be was I just finished up doing a webinar for Scent Work University called Maintaining Your Criteria Versus Snazzy Searches. The whole premise behind that webinar is trying to really highlight the ebb and flow of wanting to progress in your training, while still maintaining the criteria that you may have set for those skills, and that you've set for yourself and your dog.

One thing that came out of that webinar that I thought would be interesting to talk about in this podcast was that there are ways that we can work on particular skills with our dogs that may be actually outside of formal scent work training, and this is actually a topic that I'm developing for one of the seminars that we're going to be doing at Scent Work University. But I wanted to talk about it in a very broad sense, in a podcast, just to get people to thinking about it.

So, what I mean by this is that we have to recognize that odor is not something that only happens or occurs when we are doing formal scent work training. Meaning that there is odor everywhere all the time, and your dog is always figuring out different odor, and figuring out how that may interact with the environment, and how they may be able to use their wonderful sense of smell to figure out where something was; whether it be a critter, whether it be a bug, whether it be a dropped piece of food, whether it be something else that they want, or something that they're interested in.

So, wouldn't it be wonderful, particularly if you were held up on something, if there was something that was stumping you in your scent work training; wouldn't it be great if you could take a step back, take off your scent work hat, and work on those very same things in a lower stress environment where you're not trying to find target odors? You may be saying, "I have no idea what you're talking about. It just doesn't make any sense." So let me try to flesh this out a little bit more.

For my own personal dog, when we very first started in scent work, five years ago now, I realized right out of the gate that he had one strength and one weakness that was really super clear. His strength was elevated hides, he did great with elevated hides. His weakness was ground hides. He had a hard time trying to figure those out. And we worked on it, within the context of scent work for a while, and we actually were improving but not... I couldn't really say that it was consistent, across the broad. Meaning that if it was a really super complicated search or if maybe he was a little bit more tired or maybe I was stressed, that he wasn't as strong on those hides, as he was with elevated hides.

So it's not as though we didn't improve at all, we did, he did, but I wasn't seeing the type of progression that I really wanted to. The one thing that had happened, which was great with our training, is that when he did find it, he wasn't attacking it anymore. You know, he wasn't trying to retrieve the ground hide for me. He wasn't digging at it, or pouncing on it, or anything like, which was great. With this is my mind trying to figure out, "Okay. Well, how else can I try to repackage this, within scent work, so that we can work on this one particular skill but I don't turn this into a drill? I don't turn this into something that we both dread like, 'Oh, we're working on this again.'"

Because you don't want that to happen. That's just going to suckle the enjoyment and all of the fun out of the activity. My dog is one thing, if nothing else, he is very joyful and I don't want to take that away from him. So on a whim, I completely, outside of the context of scent work, I just put little pieces of his kibble in different parts of the house, trying to mimic where I may put a hide. Now again, I really want to stress that this is not scent work. I don't have his equipment on. I'm not giving his cue. There's no odors out, but I'm still placing these kibbles in locations that I may have put a hide. So, as an example, one was a ground corner hide. So it was on the floor in a corner where one of the door jams actually hits the wall. There's this really cool little corner that presents a lot of different air flow issues.

So I was interested to see, "Well, how is he going to work that out? It kind of blends in because of the color of the kibble, and there wasn't very good lighting, and all this other stuff." So I was just curious. This was more of a, "Let's just see what happens," kind of thing. I release him to find his kibbles. Again, this is a very unformal thing. He basically was just in a wait and then I said, "Okay." Again, this is not scent work. I really want to stress this, this is not formal scent work. But this activity that he did was fascinating to watch because all of the skills that he had developed doing scent work, he was now doing to find his kibbles. Which again, isn't rocket science, it makes sense. But to actually see it in action, made a really big impression upon me, particularly with this ground corner hide.

He picked it up at another door jam leading into that hall way, and he followed that odor all the way along that wall, just as you would expect if this was a corner hide at a trial, and then he got his kibble, and he went on his way. Ground hides were hard for him. Corner hides were, "Eh," they were okay. But, if it was a ground corner hide, he would really struggle. I was just like, "Wow. Look at you." I then thought, "Well, maybe this is just because it's food." I'm, at this point, just trying to make up excuses why I'm seeing what I'm seeing.

What happens if I put out a toy? Again, being thoughtful of where it is that I'm putting it. Same thing, whether or not it was a corner toy placement, obviously these are in different corners of the house, whether or not it was a inaccessible toy, maybe a slightly inaccessible, maybe inside of a closet with the door slightly ajar, maybe something that is covered so there's something on top of the toy, maybe an elevated toy, maybe a toy that he has to work to get to, so it's underneath a table with a bunch of chairs around it. You're seeing him do all the same exact things that you would normally see if, instead of a toy, that was a Birch hide.

But here's the kicker, when I went back a couple of days later, to just doing our normal scent work practice routine, you know, just throw out a couple of hides, had some things I wanted to see how we were doing because we were going to get back into regular practicing again. He was a rockstar with his ground hides and his corner hides. I mean, they were the best that they had been, ever. This dog, who likes to fly into spaces, and likes to stir all the odor up, and it makes it really stressful for people who are watching who don't know what he does because they're like, "Ah, he's never going to find anything." Was being thoughtful, and methodical, was following the odor, and was finding his hides. He wasn't destroying them. He wasn't pouncing on them. He wasn't struggling. I was amazed. It was just such an amazing thing. It was like this breakthrough moment. I have to say, since we've being do that, his corner hides and his ground hides are really great.

Now, something else that I've talked about in the webinar, was that his ground hide game is really good, but because I wasn't focusing anywhere near as much on his elevation hides because all of those were his strength, well that's where the ebb and flow of training comes into play and the ebb and flow of working on different skills, so now his elevated high game has kind of dropped a little bit. So now we need to work.

What I wanted to really bring up in this podcast is that it may be be something that you want to consider, particularly if you are struggling on something. Try to give your dog opportunities to work out the very same things that they would in a formal scent work setting, but take all the formality out of it, take the target odors out of it, and then see how they do. The key here, it has to look nothing like scent work. What I mean by that is he had no equipment on. I didn't have treat pouch. I didn't have anything. Particularly for the treats and particularly for the toys, unless there was one I really wanted to watch, I'd be doing something else. I was doing dishes, I was checking my emails, whatever the case may be. He went around, he found them all. I knew where they were. We didn't go and check to make sure he found them all, and he did. Perfect.

I mean, it was just such a completely different thing. Particularly for people who are going up the levels, particularly for competition, just think of all the stress that is being compounded on both you and your dog as you progress. I'm not saying that it's bad to go up the levels, that's not my point. But if you're struggling on something, think of all the history that you've built up trying to get to whatever goal it may be. If there have been particular skills that your dog may be lacking, or they may be a weak point, or they just may not be going all that well. If you've been doing that for any period of time, those things don't happen in a vacuum. Both you and your dog now have an association of trying to work on that and it potentially not going well. Now, just imagine trying to work on that very same thing, but in a completely different context where there is no pressure, there are no expectations, you're basically starting nice and fresh but you get the benefit of your dog figuring out how the odor works in that situation. How much better can that be? You have none of the downfall, and you have all of the benefit.

So again, I really wanted to talk about this really briefly in a podcast, just to get people thinking about this. And it's not to say it will work for everyone. It's not to say that everyone would be eager to do this. But I am in the process of developing a seminar where we will talk about this in a lot of detail, I'll be giving a lot of case studies that I do with my dog, I'm going to be working with some other clients to see if they'll be interested in doing it as well. I'm pretty excited about it because I think that if we can wrap our heads around the fact that odor is everywhere and our dogs are constantly learning, that we may be able to take some of pressure off of them and us.

It's not to say that formal scent work is bad, it's not. But, if you've been struggling, and spinning your wheels, and you're watching the joy diminish from both you and your dog because now there's this entire jaded history behind certain things because you're trying to get a particular goal and it just keeps evading you, for whatever reason. If it's based off of skills on the dog side, maybe doing something like what I'm talking about, of outside the formal realm of scent work, just concentrating on odor skills alone; that may actually help you.

So just to wrap this up. This isn't going to be a very long episode at all, as far as my episodes. My podcasts are usually very long. Try to think about different ways that you could do this with your dog. The three ways I've done it with my guy is I've done kibbles, or other types of treats. Again, not the types of things that I use for scent work, for his rewards. So, again, kibbles. I mean, he's very food-motivated, so I don't have to try very hard but you may want to try something that may be a little bit more high value than that.

I've done toys, I've done a variety of different toys. The other thing that he really loves are plastic bottles. So the one thing with the toys and the bottles that I've done is I'll play with him with the item first, so it does have a fair amount of scent on it, meaning his spit and drool. Also, now that we've been doing this for a little bit, I'm mindful of what I'm doing with body. Meaning that, if I'm going to be placing that item in the bedroom and he's waiting in the kitchen, I'll go and I'll place them item. I then walk into all the other rooms multiple times. We will then maybe go outside for minute, and then I'll come in, and I'll say, "Okay. Where is it?" Because I don't want him just following my trail because that's something else that I noticed in doing this is that he will actually do that, which is another good thing for you to know.

If that you're noticing that your dog is just following your trail, of all the odor you believe behind as a human being, as a living creature, going from point A to point B, and you're not taking that into account when you're doing your formal scent work practice, that may be be a reason why your dog may not do so well when someone else is setting the hides, whether it be at class, whether it be when you're practicing with your friends, or whether you're at trial.

I just wanted to throw this podcast episode together. I know we haven't posted one in a while. A lot of things have been going, as far as the site and lots of really exciting developments. It's been really busy. So it's all for good reasons. But I think that this is a good way for us to kick off another season of the podcast, as it were, and just get everyone thinking, "What are the ways that we can still work within the realm of scent work, but we can make it so that it's really focusing on building skills, and potentially separating it from any stress or any other negative emotions that may be attached to scent work itself? If you've been struggling on something for a while."

So, just something to think about. Happy training. We look forward to seeing you soon.

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