Ep. 28: Idols Need Not Apply

Mar 4, 2020

When it comes to teaching Scent Work, a great deal of harm can occur when idolization enters the mix.

We direct this episode to our fellow professional instructors and trainers, urging them to remember that they do NOT need to be perfect, that doing so distances them from their clients, and to reject any attempts of idolization since this can cause serious harm to the human and canine client. A thought-provoking episode for certain, but all topics every professional instructor and trainer should take to heart. We hope you enjoy it and welcome any discussions that may come from it.


  • 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 wanted to address it to my fellow colleagues, professional trainers, and instructors who are out in the world teaching Scent Work. We don't have to be perfect and we probably shouldn't be. So 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 online dog training platforms that are designed to provide high quality dog training instruction to as many people as possible and we are very fortunate to have a client base that is quite literally worldwide.

We offer online courses, seminars, and webinars as well as a regularly updated blog and podcasts episodes like what you're listening to today. All that is focused on scent work so we can help you through the entirety of your scent work training journey, whether it be first starting out, developing some more advanced skills, or maybe getting ready for competition if that was something that you were interested in. So now that you know a little bit more about me, let's dive into the podcast episode itself. So the thing I wanted to talk about in the episode today was that I believe it would be a lot more beneficial for everyone on my side of the fence as far as the professionals out there, the other professional and trainers and instructors, that we make certain that we are allowing all of our clients to know that we are not infallible beings. We are people just like them.

That we indeed make mistakes. That our training is indeed a process. Things go wrong and that we have to figure out how we can fix them and that we may very well lean on our fellow colleagues or that we should be. You find yourself in a situation where something isn't working, you should ask for help. Right? What prompted me to talk about this is I recently received a review for one of my online courses from a client and the part that really struck me was the fact that she said, "I really appreciate that Dianna showed that things don't always go perfectly right," and this is one of my favorite reviews. Is that I make a point in my online training to show that even in videos that I put into courses that things are not perfect. That I may do a run showing you how something is set up and how I would like you to potentially run it.

If there were mistakes in there, I'm going to keep them in there and then talk about them. Whether it be my handling, whether it be that I wasn't paying attention to my dog, whether it be that the search just didn't go well, whether or not dog was actually over faced because I set the search up improperly. I didn't think everything through or they got tired. Whatever the case might be. There's a whole slew of things that can happen. By doing this, it allows my clients to realize number one, that I'm not perfect and I definitely want them to know that because I'm not. It's about setting expectations because if they think I'm perfect and I'm not, eventually they're going to figure that out and they're not going to be really happy when they figure out just how imperfect I really am. More important than that, it's a way of ensuring that I am not on some higher plane than my clients because when that happens, the line of communication is broken.

No longer am I here as a professional who is in the role of helping you. I am now this idol who is meant to be revered and I am totally absolutely against that. I can't help you if you're sitting there kissing my feet. First of all, my feet are gross. You don't want to be anywhere near them. I don't want to be near them. In all seriousness, it doesn't help for you to sit there and say, "Oh, you're the best thing since sliced bread." That doesn't help anybody. If we can instead have an equal conversation that, "Oh yes, I actually made that mistake too and this is how I solved it. This is how I learned from it. This is how I was able to deal with it." It's a way of connecting with clients. It's a way to show that I can empathize with what they may be going through. That what they're going through is not unique in that there's something wrong with them or their dogs.

There's not. There are processes to learning. Even for something like scent work where I think sometimes we take for granted how brilliant our dogs are, but forget how much learning has to be done on the human side. There is a lot to be caught up on, on the human side. There is a lot that has to be done on that side of the leash. It's not simply well I let my dog be brilliant and hopefully I catch up. You have to do a lot of things as a handler to ensure that you're not holding your dog back. You have to ensure that you're not interrupting their flow. You have to ensure that you are not interrupting the search. That you're not making their lives impossible because you're doing human things that do not help them in any way, shape, or form. You have to learn how to read them.

That in and of itself is very challenging. You have to learn how to balance all of that, as if that weren't enough, with your human emotions that what may feel like a million hours when your dog is working out a problem is actually only 10 seconds. That giving and relinquishing that control of you wanting to help is exactly what your dog needs in that moment. It's painful. It hurts to do, but that's exactly what you have to do. Then bit by bit you get more and more comfortable saying, "Okay, well I'll give you as much time as you need. I'm here to support you. I'm not abandoning you, but I'm not going to be in your face and trying to take this over or turn this into something where you work on it for a little bit and then I solve it for you." Then down the line, particularly if we're competing suddenly, I'm wondering why this isn't working on a trial.

The point being is that there is a lot of things for handlers to work on in scent work and when there is this disconnect between instructors and human students where the instructor is always being portrayed as the shining idol on some mountain who can never be approached and is just utterly and totally perfect in every single way. There is no way, in my opinion, that they can honestly help clients. I just don't think it's possible. I think about my own personality. If someone were to come to me and was already basically portraying that I am absolutely 1000% perfect, well now I'm going to be really defensive. If I have a question, I'm going to be really worried about it. Well, basically you're saying that I'm garbage, that I will never amount to what you are and that you have no idea what I may be going through.

The thing is that I'm not alone in that. I'm constantly finding myself trying to build clients up so that they are okay saying, I'm really struggling with this. That's what you pay me for. That's what you are here working with me for, to help you. I can't do that if you don't tell me what's going on. Yeah, it's great if everything is going fantastic. That's great. I will celebrate with you and I will find kernels of things that are going well to make sure that you don't think everything is doom and gloom because it probably isn't, but I don't want anyone to feel as though they can't tell me when things are going wrong or if things just don't seem to be making sense or if they're going in circles or whatever the case may be.

I want to know that my clients know that I'm approachable and that I understand and that I'm not judging them. I mean that's the big thing is how awful would it be to sign up for something, whether it be an in person, class, online, private lesson, whatever, and the whole time you're worried that this person is judging you the entire time going, you are just so pathetic. I mean that'd be awful and I don't think that those professionals who only put out the good stuff that they do, do that with that in mind.

I like to think that people aren't quite that callous and awful. We'll talk about why people do that in just a second, at least my guess. That's the side effect is that you actually cut off communication with your clients if they think that everything that you do is perfect and everything that they do is wrong. I hope that makes sense. That even if those two things really aren't true, if that's the perception, that's really problematic.

It also creates an issue where if everything that we're putting out there is edited down really super short to the point, the dog is just on fire, we're on fire, everything is great. It doesn't really hold true to the process. So if there are people who are coming upon these resources, particularly if we're sharing them on social media, whatever, and maybe they're not working with you one-on-one, maybe they're not in your class, maybe they're not in your program, whatever. They've just seen this. Someone has shared it or whatever.

We have to understand as professionals that they may then think that that's how it's supposed to work. Oh, I worked on this for two minutes and now my dog is going to a summit trial and winning high in trial. Of course not. Of course that's not how it works, but we have to remember as professionals that people particularly who are new, may not know that. We have to be very careful about how we talk about this stuff. I'm not saying that you have to brag. I don't think that anyone should brag, but I think prefacing that with my 10 years of experience, we have done blah, blah, blah. Even for instance for the videos I have in my online services, my online courses and webinars and whatnot the featured my late dog, I would always say like your dog may not look like him.

Understand that he is more experienced and that he had been doing this for a number of years. He's also a very active and driven dog. So if you're a dog doesn't look like him when they're doing the very same exercise, that's not bad. I'm simply trying to show you how to set the search area up, what I want you to do, and if your dog were to do something how you could react or what you could do in that situation. I make sure I talk through all kinds of modifications that people could do for different types of dogs. The same thing when I used to teach in person, I would try to make certain to pull out dogs if I thought they were going to be comfortable enough to do this, who wouldn't be able to do the exercise. I'm not doing that to embarrass the dog or embarrass the owner.

I'm doing that to educate them as well as the rest of the class how you could modify things and say, "Okay, we know that Fido here has a sensitivity about yada yada. The way the exercise is originally described, this is going to be too big of a jump for them. They are going to fail and we don't want to set our dog up to fail. We want to set them up to succeed. At least have a chance to succeed even if we're trying to stretch them a little bit. So these are the modifications that we can make and we're going to try to make these modifications now to see if this will work and if it doesn't, I want to then talk through with you how we can then recuperate and how we can address it again." Then of course you bring a dog out that you know can do it so that they can really see it.

Then making sure that the dog you knew was a little iffy, that they have a win. That there may be a skill that that dog has that no other dog in that class does, that they are just amazing at it. You let them come out and run that exercise and everyone's like, "Wow, they're really good at that." Yeah, they may struggle about other stuff, but they're really solid on that piece. So it's a juggling act. You have to, as an instructor, not diminish your clients canine or human, but at the same point not just pulling out the superstars. "Oh look at this Tasmanian devil who can find the hide in two seconds flat." That's great. I'm not saying that dog is bad, but if you have six other people in the class with dogs who aren't like that and they're watching and they think, perceive that you think that that dog is the ideal.

Then they look at their dogs, that's when you start getting yourself into a lot of trouble. So it's not just about how you conduct yourself as far as how you're portraying your own training. It's also how you are cultivating the ways that you are allowing your fellow clients to cultivate and display their training. So the other thing that personally I am fond of is talking down to myself quite a lot. Not a big fan of myself in case that wasn't obvious, but when I was trialing I would be more than happy to share, "Oh yeah, screwed this up and did this. My dog is brilliant, but I have a lot to improve upon and this is what didn't go so well and that not so much. My dog did really well with this. My dog did this and he handled this brilliantly."

I've had people ask me, "Well aren't you worried it's going to affect your business because you didn't get high in trial every single time and you didn't get six out of six searches or whatever?" My response was, "If that really affects my business, then those aren't the clients that need to work with me. It's not going to be a good fit. I am not that trainer." It hasn't affected my business at all in a negative, it's done just the opposite and this review proved it. Is that being honest, showing that I'm a human being who is far from perfect but that I do know my stuff. I am experienced and I can help them, but better still I can understand them. That speaks volumes, in my opinion and in my experience. I've dealt with people throughout the various careers that I've had. Horses, legal field, dog training. the people who absolutely drive me up the wall are the ones who are on those pedestals.

They either put themselves there or other people did and they stayed up there, but those people immediately turn me off because it's problematic on so many levels, so many levels. It just causes particular issues in our industry because there's already so much of a disconnect between our canine client and our human client. We need to make certain that we are not making things more complicated by causing or forcing or encouraging our human client to kiss our butt every two seconds. That shouldn't be part of the process. Your ego should not have anything to do with this. Again in my opinion, could I be wrong? Sure. I don't think I am, but I could be. What I wanted to wrap this quick little podcast up about or with is when you are an instructor, I completely and totally understand the stress of trying to be perfect.

I do. I have found myself multiple times in my career shying away from doing certain things because I was concerned I "wasn't good enough," and then caught myself and said, "What are you doing? This is a great learning opportunity. You could potentially ask your colleagues questions." If people are really just rotten to you, then you just don't deal with those people going forward like honestly. There is absolutely this perception that there is this intertwining of how it is that you do in all levels of what it is that you're doing, how you teach, how your dog deals with life 24/7, how you compete, so on and so forth. That all of that has got to be five stars across the board. It's simply not true. Anyone who tells you that that's their life is lying. They are a big fat liar.

Quite honestly they are hindering themselves. In my opinion, the more insidious part is that they are doing a huge disservice to their current clients and it's potentially dangerous to potential clients or people who will never be formal clients, but they're taking your information and running with it. So I would hate to find out that something that I posted somewhere or wrote about or whatever the case may be urged someone as in a pet owner, as in a dog owner, anywhere in the world because social media allows you to do that and they thought by the end of it that they and their dogs, one or the other or both, were somehow defective because they weren't able to achieve what I portrayed I was able to do in X amount of time. More often than not a very unrealistic amount of time. I would feel awful.

That to me is a dereliction of duty as a professional dog trainer and that also applies to scent work. Particularly when you are talking about training dogs to get them ready potentially for competition. We have to recognize, I think again, this is just a soapbox thing for me, but as professionals that not every dog is bred to do this. Meaning that they weren't specifically selected by their lines and everything else to do this activity. That being said, every dog should be doing this activity. There's a big difference between getting a dog who has a long line of professional breeding in their background, like professional detection dogs or whatever, and a dog who was adopted from a shelter and is afraid of its own shadow, but we're trying to do scent work with them to help build confidence. Those two dogs are different and to assume that the shy dog is somehow going to progress at the same rate as the dog who is basically destined to do this and to be a rock star at it bouncing off of countertops and stuff is wholly unfair.

It drives me nuts because this is an activity that is so beneficial to every single dog. It's particularly beneficial to dogs who have behavioral issues. I do not want those dogs to somehow be ostracized or their owners because they are not the Tasmanian devil or whatever. This is where I think that as professionals, we have to be careful about how we're talking about this. We have to be careful about the videos that we're posting, the videos that we're sharing. Even if you're sharing something that you think looks cool, but if it's portraying a professional dog, then say that. Let the whole public know the big difference. No, I don't want you practicing with your terrified shelter dog on a rubble pile. I don't. There's no need for you to do that.

Yes, I can be in just as much awe as you are. When Penn Vet is practicing with their professional detection dogs that they do that, with their professional training program. That is a seven day a week program. I can be in just as much awe as you. That is not what we're doing. So this is where as professionals, meaning professional instructors and trainers who are working with clients and training scent work the sport, we have to be careful because you could be setting up a whole lot of people for a whole lot of heartache or even worse. You could be setting up dogs to horrendously fail and that is just incontrovertibly terrible. That cannot happen. To wrap this up. I think that it is extraordinarily beneficial for all professional instructors and trainers to remind themselves you are a human being and that's okay. You're not a robot.

You're not a computer. You don't have to be perfect. It's better if you're not. It's better if you are relatable. It's better if you share the mistakes that you've made, you share your process, you share the fact that hopefully you're still learning. Hopefully you're still open to getting more information and if you found out better information that may be that you would shift things, whatever the case may be. That's all good. Then I'm saying you have to be as demeaning as I am to myself because it's probably not overly healthy but sharing, "Oh by the way we did this training session and I set the search area up and wouldn't you know mother nature threw me a curve ball and this is how we handled it."

Even if it went well at the end, the fact that you're pointing out that mother nature can just suddenly decide the wind was going that way when you set it up, had been going that way all day, and then I totally did a 180 because reasons. Again, just having ways to show your clients and or the people who are never going to be a client but are using your material to work with their own dog, that you are a real person and that you are not perfect and they don't have to be either. That doesn't mean that I don't think that people should strive for criteria or anything else. I think they should, but the idolization stuff has to stop. It's not necessary. It's hurtful. It's not beneficial in any way, shape, or form.

We need to allow for open communication with our clients or for people who are working on their own and they post a question. Help them out and be very careful with how you talk about things. Understand that there's a very large range of dogs out there. I've written about this before. I've talked about this before, but I don't think it's getting through. That this is not supposed to be an exclusive club. That scent work is supposed to be for every single dog. However, we need to be really careful with how we talk about how we do it and that we need to ensure we're not pushing dogs and people aside simply because they're not flashy. That's not what this is about. This is about improving dog's lives, improving the bond between dog and handler, and broadening their horizons. If that also includes competition and pretty ribbons, then fantastic.

If it doesn't, who cares? Honestly. So I'm hoping that at the very least this episode gets people thinking. I'm all about self-reflection. I'm very into introspection all the time and just assessing, you know where you are and you may be like, "Yeah, I'm totally good. I don't do any of this. You're on your soapbox for no reason." I hope that's true. I hope that 99.9% of people this doesn't apply to, but if there's a couple of things you're like, "Well, maybe I have that one or two clients who really, they go a little overboard with my praise that they just think I'm the sun in their sky." It doesn't hurt to bring that down a couple pegs. It honestly doesn't. Particularly for younger clients. Teenagers, children, or for someone who has really struggled and suddenly they've made a breakthrough, they're excited, and they're very appreciative.

If it starts going into that, you are just my sun and stars, I will hang on your every word and breath. You need to bring them back to reality a little bit because the other thing you have to consider is first of all, that's not real. It's extraordinarily dogmatic and it will eventually bite you in the butt. Eventually that will shift to you are now the worst person ever. You never knew anything and I hate you. It's just the natural progression of these kinds of things. So just avoid that altogether. That type of emotion doesn't need to be part of this. Just bring it back down to earth a little bit. I'm very excited that you're excited, but I'm just here to help you and the next time that you have an issue, let me know because I may be able to share with you some of the same issues that I've had.

That's all you got to say. Suddenly the veneer is gone. The little stars they had next to your head dim and go away. The crown is removed and you're a normal person again. Trust me, I've seen people get thrown off of these pedestals by riots. Obviously it didn't actually happen literally, but I've seen people fall from grace when they never thought they were going to. It's not pretty.

I don't wish it upon anybody. It's not something that you want to happen. So be realistic with your clients. Your clients will appreciate it. Being a client myself, I really appreciate working with humble people. People who are open to talking about things, explaining why they do something, opening to learning, and who are not obsessed with being perfect. It's so nice. It's so liberating because otherwise you're just afraid to do anything because you may upset the God and I'm not into that kind of thing. So again, we'll let that be the end of it. I do hope that this podcast at least got people thinking. As always, if you have any questions or if you want to discuss it, you can always feel free to contact me by email or any other way. I'd be happy to talk about with you. All right guys, thanks so much. Happy training. We look forward to seeing you soon.

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