Ep. 25 Why Humility Matters

Nov 30, 2019

Humility. Something everyone from instructors, trainers, trial officials and dog owners should be practicing. Otherwise, you're limiting your own potential! If you close yourself off from learning, you will stifle your own development that will eventually backfire on both yourself and your dog.

In this podcast episode, we discuss the importance of practicing humility in all things dog-training, but especially Scent Work. Hopefully, this will elicit some critical thinking and discussions at the very least.


  • Dianna L. Santos


Welcome to the All About Scent Work Podcast. In this podcast, we talk about all things scent work. That 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, I want to talk about the importance of being humble and why we should probably practice a little bit more humility in everything that we do. Before we start diving into the podcast episode itself, let me just do a very quick introduction of myself.

My name is Dianna Santos. I'm the owner and lead instructor for Scent Work University, Dog Sport University, Family Dog University, and Canine Fitness University. These are all online dog training platforms. They are designed to provide high-quality dog training instruction to as many people as possible, and we're very fortunate to have a client basis, quite literally, worldwide. For Scent Work University, in particular, we focus on all things scent work. So we can walk you through the very beginning starts of your journey, all the way to developing some more advanced skills, to even getting you ready for trial. We provide online courses, webinars, a regularly-updated blog, and podcast episodes of which you're listening to today. So now that you know a little bit more about me, let's dive into the podcast episode itself.

In this episode, I wanted to talk about, again, the importance of humility. And the reason why this came about was because of a conversation that I had with someone. For those of you who may have listened to our podcast episodes recently, you may know that I have a new puppy. He is officially five and a half months old, I believe, as of today. He's doing great. He's a wonderful puppy. We're very fortunate to have him. But this conversation started all because they were just trying to, I think, make small talk and they were asking what it was I was doing with him. I said, "Oh, you know, we're doing a bunch of little training things and we're getting ready for confirmation. That's something I've never done before so we're taking classes. We were doing agility for a little bit, but the class we were trying to join into, he wasn't ready. He was way behind. So we're going to be waiting a little bit and we'll join the next session. There's plenty of time for that. He's doing barn hunt, which he really likes, and I'm also doing scent work."

They kind of looked at me for a second. They said, "Well, so you're doing scent work on your own, right?" I said, "No, no, we're taking a class." They stopped and they said, "Well, why?" And I said, "Well, what do you mean?" They said, "Well, why are you taking a class?" I said, "Well, why would I?" They're like, "Oh, is it with one of the founders of NASCW or something?" I said, "No." They said, "Oh, is it like with a really well-known trainer or a trial official?" I said, "No." They said, "Oh, is it like one of those professional detection dog people that I hear about?" I said, "No." And they're like, "Well, then why would you take this class?" I said, "Why wouldn't I?" They're like, "Well, don't you teach your own classes? I mean, you don't want your clients to find out that you're taking a class." I said, "Why?" "Well, because why would they want to take a class with you if you're also taking classes? Doesn't that show that you don't know what you're doing?"

I just kind of stopped and looked at them and said, "Really?" So I tried to explain to them my thought process, which is it's always good to train with other people, and that you can always learn, and the experience itself of doing a class of having to go into a new place to see new exercises is great for him. Also, having to wait his turn in the car is a really important skill for him to learn. Then, for me, it's also good because it's someone else setting up the exercises, which is really, really important. We just had to agree to disagree.

They thought that I was basically, "No, you shouldn't tell anyone that you're doing this. No one's to want to work with you anymore." I said, "That doesn't seem right. I sincerely hope that's not true. That doesn't seem correct in any way, shape, or form." So I thought about it for a little bit and I'm like, "I got to talk about this because I sincerely hope this isn't like a wide-held belief that your instructors or trial officials shouldn't be working with anyone else because then that's just proof they don't know what they're doing." That's not true, and that's not the right way of looking at it.

I think it's important for all of us to recognize that regardless of how experienced someone may be, regardless of how many titles they may have, regardless of how many years they may be doing something, they are not the sole expert on that subject. There is always someone who has more information and more knowledge than they do. There is someone who's probably "better" than they are, more accomplished, but they may also just have a different experience where they are bringing different tools to the table and they have other means of knowledge to share with you. Meaning that there's always someone that you can learn from and the moment that you stop learning, you're really shooting yourself in the foot. That is extraordinarily problematic when you're a teacher because your whole role as a teacher and a trainer, and I think that trainers and instructors are indeed teachers, is to share knowledge.

And if you're only sharing the little bit of knowledge that you have... Again, it may be vast but in the span of the entirety of the world for your lifetime, is very small. If you're limiting it to only that and you cut off all of your own learning, you are doing a huge disservice to your clients. I know there may be some of you saying, "Well, this doesn't, again, apply to me. I'm not a trainer. I'm not a trial official. What difference does it make?" Well, being humble and open yourself up to learning from others is extraordinarily important for everyone. It's not just applying to professionals and instructors, or trainers, or trial officials. It applies to everybody, particularly when you are working with someone.

So, as an example, let's say that you are working with an instructor that you think is the bee's knees. You think they are the absolute best and so do they. They think they're the gift to the world. They are the best at everything. They only want to celebrate what they know, meaning that they feel that they are the sole authority on everything. In my opinion, that is a huge problem because you are limiting what your potential learning is by working with someone like that because you are going to close off your learning, the ability for you to taking information from anything else. "Well, they're not that person. Well, they can't know."

First of all, that's not true. Second of all, it's shooting yourself in the foot. So let me just give you an example. Let's say that you are working with someone, you just have your own personal dog, but you've been working with this person for a while. Again, this is just a make-believe person, just an example. Again, they think they're the best and everyone who works with them thinks they're the best and yada, yada. They are getting really great results. They got good results with your dog. They get good results with their classmates. But then you get this new dog in the class that no matter what this person does, they can't seem to make any headway using the tools that they know, using the tools that they feel are the proven way of doing things.

Instead of trying to do different things to help that dog, the person either blames the dog or blames the handler that they are not doing what they've told them to do and that's why they're failing. This happens and it's very, very, very unfortunate. To me, it's almost unethical because it's not the handler's fault, and it's not the dog's fault that they are not fitting into a nice, pretty, little, square peg. They're not a pretty, little, square, peg fitting into a nice, little, pretty, square hole. It is an instructor's job to have as many tools in their toolbox as possible so that they're able to help the wide swath of dogs and handlers that they may come across. If they don't have the tools available to help a particular team, they need to be humble enough to either ask for help from a colleague who would or referring that person on to someone who can help them.

When you get into a situation where there is no humility and there's no ability of doing that, then everyone loses. So again, this is something that's so important for people on my side of the aisle to be worried about. For professionals and things like that, we always need to stay humble. But it's also really important for the clients. You also should be looking for that quality in anyone that you work with. But you should also stay humble. Don't think simply because you did so great with your first dog that everything is going to go swimmingly with your second. Every single dog is different, and dogs are really good at keeping us humble. The second you think you know everything, they throw you a curveball and you're like, "Oh, I've got some more learning to do." But that's part of the journey that's supposed to be the fun part.

If you're stuck in this mentality that you know everything and if you ask for help, you're somehow admitting defeat, or you're lesser than, or I don't even know, you're going to cause problems for yourself. So I wanted to talk about this because again, I know that this is going on in our industry, not just in scent work, across the board, and it's not helpful. I'm not saying that you have to latch on to absolutely everything that you hear from anyone. Of course, not. There may be someone who says, "Oh look, I achieved blah, blah blah." And they have nothing of value to share with you. Take everything that you hear with a grain of salt, take what you think would be helpful and leave behind the rest.

Even if there's someone who, for all intents and purposes, is just shoveling a bunch of poop your direction, there may be some kernels of brilliance in there that you can use. Even something as small as their overall demeanor when they're dealing with a particular type of dog or even something just so what seems commonsensical, but it's a good thing to remind yourself of that they are not little furry people. They are indeed a different species, and we shouldn't be trying to treat them like furry people. I mean, there's always something that you can glean from anybody else, but I'm not asking you to just get rid of your critical thinking. I'm simply saying that the more that we build up camps and we idolize people, the worst things get because no one, I don't care how good they are, is perfect. No one is. I certainly am not. I'm nowhere near it, and I know that. That's why I'm very happy and willing to work with pretty much anybody to see what I can learn from.

The very beginning of my instructing career, I was extraordinarily fortunate to work at a training facility that offered a wide variety of different instructors. They all fell within the overall construct or the overall category of "positive reinforcement training," but they all taught differently and they all had different approaches. Even just the words they use to explain the same exact exercise, the way that they interacted with the clients, the way they interacted with the dogs, all of that matters because that is someone's tact. That is someone's approach. And you could see how if you could just pick and choose little pieces from each of them, you could create this awesome instructor by combining them all. There would be some things that would do great and there were other things would just fall flat, and that's just the way that instructing works.

You would also see that certain types of learners would do really well with certain instructors and others would not. All that's really helpful. It's really important, and it's helped shape the way that I look at all of this stuff. The more people I can work with, the better because I'm always going to learn something, and it very well may be what not to do. That's still valuable information. Now I don't have to go down that rabbit hole. I can say, "Yep, that's not for me. Thanks for letting me know." And then I can go on my way and I can do something else. So to wrap this up, we'll try to keep this episode a little bit on the shorter side.

I think personally, it's extraordinarily important to stay humble across the board. Don't ever feel too comfortable that you know everything because you don't because you're not a dog. So there's no way that you can know. Stay humble with how it is that you're working with other people that there may be someone who has a completely different experience and they can still offer you a lot of value. But you have to be open to hearing it and if you're not humble enough, then you're not going to hear anything that they're saying. Be careful with who you work with. If you have someone who comes up to you and says, "You must kiss the ground I walk upon," if that was one of my clients who had that person come up to that, I'd be like, "Run the other way. You don't need that in your life and it's not helpful." It really isn't.

That doesn't mean that that person offers no value. Of course, not. I'm sure that they do have something that you can learn from. The idolization stuff just really bugs me and it always has. it's bugging me from the time I was a kid. I don't get it. It doesn't make any sense to me. I think it just causes a lot of issues. At the end of the day, regardless of what anyone accomplishes, they're just people. I hope that we all can get away from the cult mentality of stuff where it's, "Oh my God..." That's not necessary. It really isn't. When I've had, particularly younger kids early on in my career when I was doing basic obedience stuff and stuff like that, they're like, "You're the best." And they've never worked with anyone before. I was like, "You know, be really careful about that. I'm good. But there are other people who are really great. See that instructor over there? They're really awesome and they taught me."

They'd be like, "Wow, really?" I was like, "Yeah." Because I wanted to instill in these kids that it's not necessary to put someone in a golden light. It doesn't help. It actually hurts because then you blind yourself to things that maybe you don't agree with, maybe you just even have questions about. Being a critical thinker without being a jerk... There's no need to be mean about anything. But being a critical thinker as a good thing, it's not a bad thing. Having discussions, okay, "Well, I saw that you did that. That was interesting. But why did you do that?"

So even the very beginning of this podcast where I talk about the conversation, I don't think it's necessarily wrong for this person to ask me why I'm training my puppy in a scent work class and why I'm not doing it myself. What really struck me was the fact that they didn't want to accept my answer. I didn't mind having the discussion, but the fact that they were just so convinced that that was a stupid thing to do and it was career suicide or something, I was like, "Ah, I disagree. I'm so sorry. But we're looking at this from two completely different vantage points. We're just not going to agree on this."

So a very rambly kind of podcast as usual. But again, the whole point being is that I think that the whole concept of being humble when you are working with animals overall, but particularly with dogs, it's so important to have that and to realize that you're always going to be learning that everyone that you're working with is still continuing to learn. And when you see professionals working with other professionals and really openly and honestly really truly learning, not just showing up and being like, "I'm here to greet you with my presence," but they are actually there, taking in the information, asking questions, seeing how they can implement what that person may be offering, that is impressive. That is what you should be looking for if you are a consumer, if you are a dog owner, working with professionals. Look for people like that. There's a lot of them.

I'm very happy to say there is a lot of people who are just passionate about dog training, and the passion part is the continuum of learning and they're very open to learning from a lot of different people. I would garner to think that a lot of that learning is also learning what not to do because that can also be really helpful. But look for that. If you're evaluating what you're doing and you're like, "Well, you know, the people that I surround myself with aren't really open to learning from anyone else. They only want to put anyone else down, and they always want me to talk about how great they are." I would say you may want to look at working with somebody else or at least broadening your horizons. Maybe you can still work with that person and maybe you can work with some other people too.

I'm not trying to take away business from anyone, but again, the idea that someone could be done with their learning as far as dogs are concerned, and particularly scent work where in all reality, we know so little because we are not the dogs and a lot of it is guesswork, it's just unbelievable when you really stop to think about it. It's such a silly concept. They should always be continuing their learning and if they're not, then I would just ask them. Be like, "Oh, so have you been to any seminars or workshops lately? Are you training with anyone? Are you involved in any discussion groups? Why not? Do you think you're done? Do you think you know everything?" If they point to, "Well, I've accomplished this, that, and the other," I don't care. I really don't.

But again, that's my own personal opinion. I could be completely wrong, but I think that it is much more beneficial for everyone to just continue their learning. For my fellow colleagues, please continue taking classes with other people. It could be for any of a variety of reasons, but one of the best reason for me personally, other than the great experience it gives my dog, is that it keeps me humble as far as realizing what it's like to be a student again. Oh wait a minute, I have to go get my dog. Oh wait a minute, do I have my treats? Oh wait, where's my leash? All this stuff. And then you can say, "Oh, I can remember what it's like to try to remember all this stuff. I have to listen to this person give me instructions while handling my dog and I also have to do stuff." That's hard, and it's important to stay empathetic towards our clients. Otherwise, you can get really frustrated and you can get burned out.

But I think the best way of staying in touch with that is by staying a student yourself and just remembering like, "Okay, remember last week when all my students were looking at me like I had three heads? I think this is why because I'm in that state right now." Again, just trying to ensure that you're providing the best quality instruction as possible by reaching all of your clients, providing as much information as possible, and then just realizing that they're just people, and their dogs are just dogs, and this is all just a game, and what can you do to help them have fun at that game? To me, staying humble is a really important part of that equation. Again, I could be completely wrong and maybe this will ignite a whole interesting conversation. But in my opinion, I think it's really invaluable to stay a little bit humble.

All right, well I hope at least this got everyone thinking. As always, we're always open to discussions on anything that we talk about in our podcasts. If there are any other topics you want us to chat about, please do not hesitate to let us know. We are going to be scheduling some additional speakers so you won't just listen to me ranting on about stuff. But thanks so much, as always, for listening. Happy training. We look forward to seeing you soon.

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