Ep. 34: Time for Empathy

Jun 6, 2020

The state of the world at the time of this podcast is tumultuous, painful and filled with heartbreak. So we are taking the time to challenge everyone in the Scent Work-training community, and the dog training, owning and loving community as a whole, to be better. Leverage your amazing ability to empathize and strive to better understand an alien species, meaning your dog, and apply those very same skills to your fellow human beings.

Now is the time for introspection. For self-improvement. To sit with this discomfort, to learn from it and try to propel our species forward in the right direction.

We hope that you give this episode a listen. All of us in this community have a skill set that can greatly help the populace as a whole if we choose to apply it, share it and practice it ourselves. If we all do our part, things can get better. Bit by bit.

Stay safe. Hang in there. Enjoy your dogs.


  • Dianna L. Santos


Welcome to All About Scent Work Podcast. In this podcast, we talk about all things scent work that can include training tips, behind the scenes look at what your instructor or trial official may be going through and much more.

In this episode, we're going to be talking about the state of the world and how all of us within the scent work community, as well as just the dog training and loving community as a whole, will be able to help if we so choose.

Before we start diving into the podcast episode itself, let me just do a very quick introduction on 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. We're very fortunate to have a client bases worldwide.

For Scent Work University in particular, we provide online courses, seminars, and webinars that are all focused on providing scent work training, regardless of where you are within your scent work training career, whether you're first starting, developing some more advanced skills or getting ready for trial. Since you now know a little bit more about me, let's dive into the podcast episode itself.

For today's podcast, we are going to be talking about the state of the world as it were, which is a very tumultuous, heartbreaking, and depressing state. As of the recording of this webinar, we are still in the midst of the COVID pandemic. States are starting to open up within the United States, businesses are starting to reopen, but we are just coming off the heels of the murder of George Floyd and the visceral response to that, which is completely justifiable and the very painful reality that we, as a society, particularly here in the United States, are very far from our ideals that we project to want to have.

What does any of that have to do with scent work? Well, what we have to recognize in the dog training community, as well as the scent work training community, is that we are, in theory, able to be in a very special position to have the experience of showing empathy and understanding with another species, meaning our dogs. Therefore, if we ever find ourselves in a position where we are presented with another situation from another person who may have a different life experience than we do, there should be no problem for us to be able to tap into that ability to show empathy, to be able to try to relate, to try to listen and to understand. If there are those in our community that choose not to do those things, you need to take a good, long, hard look at yourself because you have shown that you're able to do it with a dog, you should be able to do it with your fellow human being.

I wanted to put this podcast out there to really challenge everyone in the dog training community, the scent work training community in particular, try to really see how you can take all of those approaches that you use in order to develop this really loving and wonderful relationship with your dog and in celebrating their amazing abilities, as far as our dog is concerned or any other dog sport that may be participating in, or just being your companion, all of those are great and then try to really sit back and say, "Okay, how can I then do that to other people? How can I cultivate deeper relationships and understandings with just other people who are around and be very uncomfortable for a lot of people in our community?" Because typically speaking, we're not very fond of our fellow human. We prefer dogs. That's why we like dogs. But I'm challenging everyone to step a little bit outside of your comfort zone and to try to see how you may be able to do that.

You may be wondering, "Why is that my responsibility?" Because you can only control you and there's a lot of yous. If all of us take the individual responsibility of trying to have a better understanding for people, regardless of what they look like, regardless of what their background is, regardless where their standing is in society and we view them as actual living human beings and we try to understand them and empathize with them to really hear what they're saying when they speak and to not project any assumptions that we may have, things will get better because you cannot demonize someone that you empathize with. You cannot demonize a dog when you understand that they may be struggling with something.

Let's put this in a separate context. If you were working in a search and you knew that your dog was sensitive working on slippery floors, would you be angry with your dog that they were struggling? Would you be dragging them into the search area and jamming their face up into the hides, saying "You will find this because I told you to?" Of course, you wouldn't. If you did, the rest of the community would be like, "What are you doing? That's wholly inappropriate." Yet, for some reason, it's very difficult for us to apply that same logic to fellow people and there's very basic reasons for this. We fear the other, and it is a very longstanding practice in all societies throughout history to create others. We need to get away from that, notice I said we, and we need to just stop being so afraid. We have to stop fearing each other.

I have been on this earth for 39 years. I have never been threatened by someone and I've never had my life in my hands at any point. I doubt that it ever will happen. In all reality, I don't go through day by day fearing everyone and in that case, I don't go day by day wondering what people are going to do to me. I don't go day by day wondering what demons are going to come out. I don't hold preconceived notions about whole groups of people who may want to do me harm because I know they probably don't. They're just trying to live their lives. I'm trying to live my life. They're trying to live their life.

So I'm hoping that we can tap into, as a community, our skillset of being able to see a situation, to identify certain things that we can then latch onto, moments that we would be able to have a better understanding or try to have a better understanding the understanding that we need to listen in order to truly comprehend what's going on and to empathize. Because if you don't do any of that when you're working with dogs, you're missing a big piece.

Those of us who have done those things have seen a great improvement in the ability to work with our dogs. Now it's time for us to start applying those skills to people. For those of us like myself, who are instructors, who are business owners, trainers or people who have a platform, I urge you to step out on a limb and try to apply these things in broad contexts, with broad brushes and help spread these skills because they're not easy, but they're completely possible and they can make a really big difference.

I'm not claiming it's going to fix everything, but it will be one hell of a start and we all need to do our part because what's happening right now and what's been happening for a very long time, for hundreds of years, this problem is not new, we have to stop ignoring it. We have to just say, "Okay, well, maybe it doesn't affect me directly. I can just put my head into what my life issues are and I can just ignore it." Because the problem is, is that it does affect everyone. It affects the whole of society so this needs to be addressed and I think that this may be a particular way that our community would be able to assist. I could be completely wrong. I don't think I am, but it would be a great thing to try at least, to at least have a little bit of effect in the positive direction.

The other thing that I wanted to point out was that now is the time for us to really examine our community as a whole and to ensure that we are... and opening the doors and saying, "If you love dogs regardless of who you are, we welcome you with open arms. We will work with you and we will support you and we will help you get as addicted as we are." You can go to competitions or you can just do it at home, whatever, because it is a better life for the dogs. It's not like dogs are only owned by certain types of people. All types of people own dogs. So if we were be able to, as a community, be more open and not be so shocked when we see people who may not look like us, or may not have our background, or may not have our skillset as far as they haven't been steeped in animal behavior and dog training for years and years and years and now they stumble upon scent work, we as a community need to be more open because it does a huge disservice to the dogs when we're not.

So, again, a preachy kind of podcast, it may come across as. It's more of a plea and I'll just end it with this very personal note. I go through life personally feeling a lot, meaning that I experience things that happen in the world very deeply, which is not overly healthy. So this is a very trying time. This has been a trying time for years, but particularly now, and I wanted to put this out there, both from obviously our podcast standpoint, but from a personal one, to just do my extraordinarily small, little, tiny droplet in a pond sort of thing part of I really, really, really hope that we can all try to do better because, personally, it's really hard and it's heartbreaking. And I mean that wholeheartedly, like it sucks the life out of me to see the level of just awfulness. But then every now and again, in between all of the soul- crushing, horrible things, there are these glimmers of people trying and they may not be getting to the end-result the way that we would all hope, but at least they're trying.

Those are the moments that, again, to bring it back to dogs, reminds me to when I can see a dog who is struggling with something, but they are trying. The most important part to me with that as an instructor is when the handler knows the dog is trying and the two of them are trying together. The dog is trying to do the exercise and the handler is trying to be understanding and supportive without stepping too much over the dog and without taking over too much of the search. But at the same point, they are trying to keep their own ego in check in order to ensure their dog would be successful. Those moments of try, that's what honestly keeps me going because, otherwise, it is definitely you just throw your hands up and just be like, "Forget it. I can't take it anymore." But every day I will see some kind of example of people trying.

So from a personal standpoint, if there's anyone else who suffers the way that I do with carrying far too much, I get it. Please don't just wall yourself off. That doesn't help, either. You will find ways of finding out what's going on. Hiding your head in the sand is not going to help. Talk it through with people that you love, people that you trust and try to find those instances of trying. That does take the edge off a little bit.

But to anyone who thinks that this is just not a big deal, or that this doesn't apply to them, or that it's being blown out of proportion or anything, I wholeheartedly disagree with you. Just know that this is a big deal and we should all be outraged at some level. This should all touch people in some way, and we should all want to be better.

So find a way that you can. There's all kinds of different ways that you can, whether it be just sitting and listening, sitting and learning, analyzing how you may go through life, analyzing how you may actually have preconceived notions that result in you being fearful of other people, which then is very easy to turn into rage. How is it that you may just assume that everything is great when it's not? How is it that you be able to take maybe your skillset where none of that applies, but you do have a very good knack for showing empathy, particularly with the dogs? How can you do that with people? And then how are you able to help others get through this very, very, very trying life?

Again, we have the joy of sharing our lives with dogs and they can be a fantastic release for us and we are very, very fortunate to share our lives with them. Not everyone has that or not everyone who even has a dog has really tapped into just how much our dogs can help. So, again, I think if there's just some effort, some opportunity to be a little introspective to ask, "What is it that I can do?" We all can do something. I'm not saying that everyone who's listening is in a position to change policy. That's not what I mean. I mean, on an individual level, we all have ways that we can be better. If all of us together, individually are better then the roots of the problem will start to die because the problem... Policies obviously make a big difference truly, but it's the populace that needs to change, too.

I know a lot of you really like this podcast and are probably, like, "When can we talk about scent work again? I don't like this." We'll get back to it soon enough, but I think it's important for all of us to take this time to sit with this discomfort, to really think about it, see how we can improve. For our own community, for the group of us who have this experience with dogs, try to leverage the skills that you have mastered and leverage them for good. You're able to empathize with an alien species. That's pretty amazing. That's like a superpower. So try to use that towards your fellowman and woman, regardless of who they are and see what happens. I think it will help even a small bit and that's all we can ask for.

I hope everyone is staying safe from the slew of things that are going on. Try to keep your chins up, play with your dogs and take some time to really sit in this, think about it and see how you can grow. All right, everyone. Happy training. We look forward to seeing you soon.

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