Ep. 38: Silence! Or Not So Much

Aug 14, 2020

A common myth you hear about Scent Work is that instructors will demand absolute silence...as if this were some sort of military operation where there shall be NO noise and NO fun and NO joy!

In this episode, we work to bust this myth and explain the reasoning behind why instructors may ask for handlers to be quiet as the dog is actively searching early in their career, but the major issues of trying to bake in absolute silence into your training and how this can come back to bite you later.


  • 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 or behind scenes look at what your instructor or trial official may be going through and much more. In this episode, I wanted to bust one of the common myths that you will hear about Scent Work, such as, you must be silent.

So before we dive into the podcast episode itself let me do a very quick introduction of myself. My name is Dianna Santos. I'm the owner and lead instructor for Civic University, Dog Sport University and Family Dog University. These are online dog training platforms, that are designed to provide high quality dog training instruction to as many people as possible. We are very fortunate to have a client basis worldwide. For Scent Work University in particular, we provide online courses, seminars, and webinars. They're all designed to help you throughout the entirety of your Scent Work training career. So that means whether or not you're just getting started, you're trying to develop some more advanced skills, or if you're getting ready for trial, we have somebody that can help you. So just a little more about me. Let's dive into the podcast episode itself.

So in this episode, I wanted to dispel one of the common myths that you hear about Scent Work. That there must be absolute silence when you are training. Particularly if you're taking a class with someone, that you are not allowed to speak, that there is no sound possible, be silent. And that's why Scent Work is awful, and that's why Scent Work is boring, and it's very militaristic and bad. So first, as with most myths, there is some truth to this, and I'll explain why.

When we are interacting with our dogs, we are an extraordinarily verbal species. As you can tell from this podcast episode, I haven't shut up yet. So humans are very verbal. Our dogs learn that there are certain sounds that we make that they should be keyed into, right? That they need to pay attention to. There's a lot of stuff that we say that, basically it can be ignored. It's just jibber jabber, it's like Charlie Brown's teacher. But they need to kind of keep it in the back of their mind, right? That there may be a sound in there that they really do need to keep. That they need to key into. That it does relate to them, that they need to be aware of it.

Why does any of that matter? Well, let's put this into a human context. Let's say that you're trying to work out a really complicated math problem. And math is not your strong suit. So you're already behind the eight ball a little bit. Someone has given you something, a task to do and said, I will pay you $10,000 if you figure this out. But you only have 30 seconds to figure it out. And while you're figuring out I'm going to be talking to you, nonstop. Now I may be being very nice to you while I'm talking to you. I may be encouraging you. I may be urging you to do it faster, but I'm going to be talking to you the entire time. I cannot tell you how many people would lose their mind.

Think of another example, let's say that you're driving, right? And you're not sure where you are. Your radio may have been on, you are listening to music you're jamming out to...how many times you turned the radio down or even off so you can figure out where you are? So you can really determine, "Okay, I need all of my mental capability to make sure I don't get lost."

Are you kind of seeing a trend here? This is the thought process behind the whole be quiet while your dog is working thing. Now, does that mean that there may be absolutely zero talking at any point, even when dogs know what they're doing? No, that's not true.

There's another facet to this. Okay? So at the very least we have your dog will have an easier time being able to concentrate when you are not chattering at them, right? Particularly in the beginning, when they're first trying to figure things out. There is another element to this. When people are nervous or when people are stressed out, they will talk more, typically speaking.

You see this a lot in dogs, obviously, but you also see it in parents with their kids, or you'll see it with teammates. Let's say, we'll take a sport, right? We'll take, I don't know, track. And we'll say that there's a relay or something. So there's a team, right? One of the little teammates they're running, running, running, running, but it's not for a competition or anything, it's just for fun. How many times will there be people on team going, "come on, come on, come on, you can do it. Hurry up. What are you doing? Hurry. Hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry!"

It's like, you may find that to yourself to be encouraging. But if that person is already putting a 110%, they're like, "You can scream all you like, I can not run any faster. I am putting in as much effort as I can!" But when you're standing there and you're waiting for them to get to you and you just need the baton so that you can go, you feel like you have to do something, right? You feel totally helpless. And if you could just do something to get them to go faster. So the only thing you have at that point is your voice, right?

"Santos, what does this have to do with anything?!"

Well, think about this in the context of Scent Work. When your dog is sorting out an odor puzzle, but they haven't figured it out yet, they are basically the runner on the track that has a baton right now. You are standing there going, "Oh my God, would you please give me the baton so I can do my part of calling alert!", let's say. So when that happens, that's when we start talking more. And that's when we start trying to take over the search for our dogs to try to "help them be successful". When that is probably in most cases, the exact opposite of what you should be doing.

Why does any of this matter? Like all of this is all semantics because the perception out there, is that if you have someone who is encouraging people to not chatter at their dogs when their dog is searching, particularly when they're first started to train. That, also means that there must be absolute silence for anyone who is in the class or in the room or in the building, there must be no one noise whatsoever. And it's just, it's not a fun thing it's a militaristic, this is awful, there must be absolute silence. And that's just simply not true. You want to be careful about what it is you're baking into your training.

So while I am one of those people who definitely encourage handlers, "Hey, when your dog is actually searching, just be quiet, because they also want you to be observing and learning subconsciously." This isn't just because we want you to be quiet, and it has nothing to do with it. I don't want you pestering your dog, but I also want you to be focusing on what you're seeing and you can't do that if you're so busy trying to help your dog.

So there is a reasoning behind it. It's not just because, "Oh, I'm trying to ruin your life." There's a thought process behind here. At the same token, it's not that I forbid these people from ever making any noise ever, just the opposite. For my teaching style, I urge people when they're first starting, just be quiet, allow the dog to search. And then when they find the hide, I want you to give that dog a ton of verbal praise, whatever's appropriate for your dog. I give very copious amounts of obnoxious praise because my dog likes it. There's a lot of dogs that don't. So you wouldn't do that, for that dog.

But I have found that just for dog training overall, verbal praise is not properly used. We are not leveraging that tool enough to the point where, in the times that I was still able to teach in person before my body completely broke. I would actually bake into all of my classes, party times, where people would use a bunch of verbal praise and jumping around and playing with their dogs, so that their dogs understood that those celebrations were good. And then once they figured that out, they really liked them. They liked being able to do that. And then there was something the entirety of the class could do. So even completely outside of some work, when I was doing little baby agility, which was just for confidence, it wasn't for a competition or anything. The dog would do an obstacle or something with the person, with their handler, and the entire class would share.

And the dog be like, "Yes, I am the best." But if they've never been exposed to that type of thing before, they would be like, "Why is everyone making all this noise?!" They didn't know that the noise was a good thing. Why does any of this matter? Because if you're taking this myth, that again is not true that you're supposed to be absolutely silent in Scent Work. And you take that to the nth degree, you're actually going to make your dog very, very nervous about there being noise. We don't want to inject nerves into Scent Work! That's the complete opposite of what the activity is all about.

So there is a reasoning behind when you're first starting to train, don't chatter at your dog. I want your dog to be able to focus on what they're doing. I don't want you trying to step in to take over from your dog and allowing them to do the search. I don't want you doing it for them. And I also want you to be able to spend your mental calories, not talking, not trying to help, but to just observe what your dog is actually doing. I want you to do learning as a handler. Then as you progress, I actually want you to be able to do some multitasking. I want you to be able to view what your dog is doing and audibly, enunciate, and explain and narrate, what is it you see? That's really hard. So what I mean by that is once your dog is familiar with the game, they're getting their verbal praise, when they find their hides and we get into the Nose Work or getting a jackpot when they find their hides, you're starting to practice saying alert, when they find hides, you're practicing to sing saying finish and all this other good stuff, you're doing great.

Now, I want you to actually narrate what your dog is doing, as they're searching. That's really hard, mouth open, mouth closed, feet in erratic, feet in straight line, feet have stopped, tail is up, tail is down, tail is wagging, tail is still, whatever. That's really, really, really difficult. And I want you to be able to say that, in a way that it makes sense, in a way that's fluid, while also still handling your dog and still running the search. I don't want you doing that in the very beginning when you don't even know what Scent Work is about. I want you to doing that a couple of months in, because it's important skill for you to have, and it also gets your dog again, more accustomed to there being noise, particularly from you. And that they don't have to key into you every time.

For those of you who have taken Michael McMahon's conquering competition stress, or some of his other webinars. He talks about the importance of not just having the dog key into certain words, such as alert. It should not be a cue to your dog. So actually going through the paces of even desensitizing your dog to the word alert is a good thing. Same thing with finish or anything else.

The whole point being is that, there is this myth that there must be absolute silence is not true. There's kernels of truth, like with any type of myth, but there's a reasoning why that would exist in those contexts like I discussed. But that it could be absolutely problematic for you, if you were going forward, and you did demand absolute silence at all times.

And this actually happened while I was still working with a United States, Canine Scent Sports. I was one of their staff members for a period of time. Very, very fortunate to be so. But I was doing seminars around the country, trying to get people to become officials. And one of the things that I heard at one of the seminars was, "So you allow spectators with the organization," I said yes, "Well, can you demand that they all be quiet?" Its like what do you mean? "Well, what happens if a dog was really sensitive?" I said, Uh. And again, the expectation was that, either the people have to be asked to leave, or that they have to be silent. And this is, to me, this is a bad way of thinking about this. When you have a sensitive dog, you absolutely have to be their advocate and you have to do what's going to help them be successful. That is absolutely 1000 billion percent true.

But at the same point, we should not be trying to, even in training, to exemplify the things in the dogs that are problematic, meaning that, I don't want to create a training plan that makes a sensitive dog more sensitive. I don't want to remove all noise from their life, because otherwise the dog loses their mind. First of all, that's not possible. And second of all, it's actually making things worse. You want to have the dog become comfortable with noise. That may take a long time. That probably will take some time and effort and some creativity, but you wouldn't want it to be the other way around.

So when you hear things like that, you just have to take a step back, like, okay, I think we're missing the point here. Even at trials, regardless of the venue that do allow for spectators, it's not that we want spectators sitting there and talking throughout the entirety of the search and telling people where hides are, that's not appropriate at all. But to think that you can't even have them even slightly cheer or clap or anything when the search is over, I think is silly.

Now there are absolutely dogs who would have, go through the entire search and if they had 10 people that they didn't know, suddenly start clapping, they're going to be like, "What's that?!" But that is something that you probably want to train for, is the whole thing that I'm trying to say. And if you don't think that your dog is going to be comfortable doing those things, then don't put them in those types of situations. But I don't think that we can expect organizations to then bend what their rules are so that it can accommodate that your dog doesn't like cheering. I don't know if that makes sense. It's that, that I want to set dogs to fail. Anyone who knows me, knows that is absolutely not true. But I don't want to promote training that is exemplifying the things that we're trying to get the dogs to improve from, if that makes any sense.

So my issue with this myth is that there is, well, there's a lot of problems with it. Again, it's not true, but it can spread out into a bunch of different things that are really problematic. And if people take it to the nth degree, that there must be absolutely no sounds when you were doing Scent Work, that you're missing the boat, that's not what Scent Work is about. So I'm hoping that I was able to kind of explain where the thought process may have been, where this myth came from. That it's not true, and that you shouldn't be doing that. But at the same point that there are absolutely reasons why we urge people, don't just chatter at your dog while they're searching, particularly in the beginning, when they're first figuring this stuff out, because you're inadvertently interrupting them at the very least. At the very worst you are taking over the search. And it also is increasing your own anxiety.

It's increased... It's kicking in your desire to quote unquote, help. We are very bad at time management at figuring out how long we've been doing anything. So for instance, this podcast has been going on for 15 minutes, almost 16. It probably felt like an hour for you, but it's only been about 16 minutes. When we are doing searches with our dogs, it can feel like an eternity when they're trying to find a certain hide, particularly when we know where it is, particularly early in our training. That's the exact time that we need to give our dogs as much time as they need. And I cannot tell you particularly now that I'm doing all my training online, when I'm reviewing videos, time and time again, dogs are finding searches, are finding hides in like 15 seconds, 30 seconds. You don't finish your period's amount of time. And the hand is like, Oh, I want to step in. And it's like, why? That is so fast, it's so fast. You don't have to just stand there and just breathe and allow them to work it out.

So the whole crux behind urging people, particularly in the beginning to not talk to their dogs while the dog is actively searching, is trying to get the handler to more readily accept that supportive role. Not leading the search themselves, not inadvertently interrupting the dog, cause it's not that they're being mean about it. They're not bad people, they're trying to help, but that help is actually the exact opposite of what the dog needs. So by encouraging people to be quiet and instead observe and learn and take in what the dog is actually telling you, and then respond when the dog is correct. It allows them to really take on that supportive role a little bit easier. And then you can start introducing all these other skills of being able to narrate what they're doing and so on and so forth, as we go forward.

It's not supposed to be some kind of materialistic, suck all the joy out of this. You can not speak at all. There will be no fun type of thing. That's not what this is. So I'm hoping that cleared that up, because that's been something I've heard for years, and I've had some people reach out to me like, "Oh, I heard this summer..." cause no, that's not what it's about. That's not what we're trying to do. So I hope that cleared things up a little bit.

Again, I want to thank NACSW for putting on their enhanced education weekend, because it has just filled me with all kinds of wonderful ideas to talk about in the podcast. The opportunity that they provide, their instructors for continued learning is actually very, very helpful and highly appreciated. So I just wanted to thank them one more time and you'll be getting a couple more episodes along this timeline. So you keep hearing me talk about that. But again, I'm hoping that this podcast episode help, again, just outline that you don't have to be silent in Scent Work. There's a reasoning why we may encourage as instructors that people not talk in the beginning of their training, but that you definitely don't want to train for your dog to only be able to function in complete silence, that doesn't help anybody. So I hope this was somewhat helpful. If not, if anything else just interesting and intriguing as always, I'm always open to hearing back from you guys. Always open to having discussions about this topics. So I hope you found this episode, helpful, happy training. We look forward to seeing you soon.

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