Ep. 46: Scent Work is For All Dogs Period

Mar 2, 2021

Strap in, our speaker is worked up.

Every single dog on the planet should be doing Scent Work. Full stop. This should NOT be some exclusive club that is only open to top tier of dog and handler teams. People should not be rushing out to get dogs with professional detection dog breeding or background to do this activity. Every. Single. Dog. Can. Do. Scent. Work.

As a community, we need to be more mindful about how we discuss this activity, the training options or approaches available and how we frame what the activity, and sport is. Because we can take this wonderful gift that we are FINALLY giving to our dogs, which celebrates them being a dog, and ruin it.

We hope you give this episode a listen. It is blunt. There is raw emotion in it. But we owe it to our dogs to keep this activity fun and something that celebrates them being dogs...not just another way we as handlers can stroke our ego.


  • Dianna L. Santos


Welcome to the All About Scent Work Podcast. In this podcast, we talk about all things Scent Work that include training tips, a behind the scenes look at what your instructor or trial official may be going through, and much more. In this episode, I wanted to really highlight the fact that you do not need a detection dog in order to do Scent Work. Before we start diving into the 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, and Pet Dog U. 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 basis worldwide. For Scent Work University, in particular, we provide online courses, seminars, webinars, and eBooks that are all designed to help you achieve your Scent Work training goals. Whether you are just getting started in Scent Work, you're looking to build some more advanced skills, you want to have more advanced fun with your dog, or if you're interested in competing, we have a training solution for you. Since you know a little bit more about me, let's open to the podcast episode itself.

This is not a new topic that we're going to be talking about today. I have pontificated about this before, but I do think that it's important that we highlight this very important thing, that Scent Work is truly as an activity meant for all dogs. You do not need to run out and find a litter that was bred specifically for professional detection work in order to do Scent Work. The reason being is that Scent Work is not professional detection work. Scent Work is a game, no matter how high in competing you want to go, or you do go, it is still a game. You can earn the highest title available with any organization and out in the real world, if we needed to deploy you and your dog to go find someone that was trapped in a rubble pile, that title is meaningless.

I'm not trying to take away anyone's accomplishments, but what I'm seeing again, because this happens in cycles, is that people are putting an awful lot of weight in what professional detection dog teams do in order to fulfill a need that quite honestly is life and death more often than not, or extraordinarily serious. That is not what we're doing. We are playing a game. I don't think that you should be cavalier about your game. I don't think that anyone who takes training and practicing whatever else seriously are wrong. I think that's fine. I think having goals that are realistic and working towards those are good. But once again, we're heading into this territory where people are muddling the two and you're almost by default saying, "Well, you do these things with your dog to get to this goal." Whatever the case may be, "Regardless of how old they are, regardless of what their background is, and if they can't do that well, then they're just not good enough." And that's not okay.

That's not what this activity was born from.

This activity was born from the opportunity to give all dogs an opportunity to be a dog and to really help highlight their amazing sense of smell, their ability to work out these incredible odor puzzles, regardless of what it is they're hunting for. Meaning that I can have a hot dog, I can have a toy, I can have a Birch hide, or I can have a scented glove. It's all the same thing. But the fact that your dog can go into a space and find it, is amazing. And the fact that you're able to identify that as a handler and really truly own it and say, "Wow, my dog is really super smart." And then it offers all these wonderful benefits for your dog. It helps improve the relationship that you have with them. That's the stuff that matters. And every single dog on the planet should be participating in that.

It doesn't mean that every single dog on the planet can go be a TSA dog? Of course not, it's just not true. Just like every single person on the planet couldn't be a TSA officer or couldn't do some of these really specific things. Personally, I'm not nurse material as an example. Couldn't do it. Wouldn't last a minute, but that doesn't mean that I shouldn't have empathy towards my fellow human beings or life as a whole. I wouldn't make a good nurse.

The point being is that again, the conversation sadly is going back into this direction where we're trying to put dogs that quite frankly don't have the breeding, they don't have the genetics, they don't have the background, they don't have the structure into situations they are bound to fail.

The way they're actually made to deal with some of these really intense, fast truncated training protocols that are designed for teams to go out into the real world and do really hard work. Even with the knowledge that the dogs that typically go into those places have been specifically bred and selected. And there's a very high failure rate. I am very perturbed in case it wasn't obvious. That we are now having this conversation once again, that a dog that a family adopts from a shelter or gets from a breeder that is not breeding specifically for detection dogs, gets this dog and now you're supposed to put them through these really strenuous training protocols and they're supposed to be completely fine. It's not true. And then when the dog flounders or doesn't rise to the occasion, "Well, there's something wrong with the dog."

No, we're not comparing apples to apples, we're comparing apples to airplanes. This is not the same thing at all. And we're losing sight of what this activity is all about. Look, I get it, people want their titles. I understand, but the titles aren't going anywhere. There are more titles being added all the time. You will have your opportunity to earn a title, right? And, if you and your dog find out in your journey that titling or competing doesn't work for you - that's-okay. You are no lesser than the team who goes around the entire country or wherever getting every single title under the sun. They are no better than you, you are no worse than them or vice versa. You're the same.

I'm worked up over this because again, where I started with my career was working with dogs who quite frankly I think represent a larger percentage of the population of the dogs out there, dogs who have behavioral issues.

These are the dogs who are going to go into a space and say, "Oh my goodness, there's a shiny floor. Oh my goodness someone is wearing a weird hat. Oh my goodness there was a very loud noise somewhere or whatever," or, "Okay. I love searching, but now you want me to search when there's a bunch of other dogs around? Why? Those dogs, I may be worried about them."

Now in a professional context, none of that should matter. Right? It can't matter, there's a bomb out there that I can't go out like, "Well, I'm really worried about this, sorry, I'm not going to find that bomb, it doesn't going to work." You need them to perform, but once again, when we're talking about our companion dogs that are doing Scent Work as an activity, whether or not it's for fun or for the sport of it, it is still a game. This is not life or death. Do we want when we're doing competition for our dog to go out and find the hide? Yes.

If your dog determined that it was a life or death situation, I would sincerely hope that they would choose life and that they would say, "You know what? Sorry, I cannot go get that hide because I might die." And that's a good choice to make, right? You also should be advocating for your dog in the same way. Like whether or not it's a training situation or a trialing situation, if someone set up a search and you looked around and maybe there was garbage or broken glass or chemicals you weren't sure what they were of or rec traps available, who knows? I will sincerely hope you wouldn't run your dog in that search. Professional teams don't have that luxury. They just don't. So again, I know this isn't something new. I know I've talked about this before, but these things happen in cycles unfortunately.

And we're going back into the cycle of, "Well, every single dog needs to be trained like a professional dog." And that's just not true. It's not true at all. But I also want to highlight how amazing it is that Scent Work is open to all dogs and that everyone can make Scent Work work for them and their dog. You can't always do that with every activity, right? So let's take something like agility, for instance. Agility, I think is an amazing activity, a lot of dogs love it, a lot of people love it. Sometimes the people love it more than the dogs do. It's a very addictive fun game to play. But if you have a dog in a wheelchair, agility is really hard, you may be able to get some hoop jumps where they're not really jumping, they're just rolling through. They're not going to be able to weave poles for the most part. It would be wholly unsafe to ask them to do that.

So really your options don't exist. Right? So then the assumption is like, Okay, well, if your dog is in a wheelchair, they just can't do agility of any kind, right? That's not true with Scent Work, that dog can do Scent Work, they can even do it to the point where they're competing. That's true. But you can also make adjustments that maybe you weren't interested in competition, you can do this game at home with your dog, or on the road. And you could make it safe for them, you can make it so that they enjoy it. And they have the time of their life. And the wheelchair is not a hindrance at all. This is just one small example.

On the behavioral side, for dogs who are really super sensitive Scent Work can be the gateway to them broadening their horizons across the board. I've seen it over and over and over again. A dog doing Scent Work may then build up enough confidence where they can do other things and you can make as many adjustments as you need to in order to ensure that they feel safe and they're still playing the game, and you are getting all the benefits from that game. Does that mean that every single dog in the planet is going to have the behavioral makeup in order to be successful at a really busy and bustling Scent Work trial? No, they're not. And we need to stop this perpetual lie that somehow that's the requirement. It's not. Dogs who compete, that's great. It doesn't mean that if your dog cannot compete, that they're somehow defective or that they're bad or that you're a bad, is not true?

Trialing is not a requirement, it is a option. You can choose to trial. You can also choose to stop the trial. You can do some trialing sometimes and then stop and then go back and then you stop again. I know because that's what I do. It also is true that if you're trailing, you do not have to go to the highest levels of competition. At some point, I am going to have a very randy podcasts on one of my podcast platforms where I talk about the way that sports across the board, but for dogs sports in particular, at the highest levels, I think are problematic. And I hopefully will bring in some colleagues we can all vent about it together. I know for myself personally, I am definitely more in the camp of, trials can come or go. I really honestly do not care. It's not the center of my universe, I don't find any personal worth in trialing. Meaning that if I don't get a title, it's not as though I'm now a lesser person, and I don't think that anyone should have that opinion.

I think that's a dangerous opinion to have, it puts way too much pressure on yourself, it puts way too much pressure on your dog. And before you know it, they passed away and you don't have anything to show for it. It's just like, Ugh, it's awful. But that doesn't mean that people who do like to trial are inherently bad, they're not. As long as they're balanced in how they approach it. My concern is that the desire to trial and do well and not only cue, but to also play so getting high end trial to fourth place, right? And then also being able to do it, the absolute upper most tier of these trialing competitions for as many different organizations as you possibly can.

We are now basically getting into a situation where people also want to be able to do that yesterday. They don't want to wait. They want it done right now because they want to show the world how good they and their dogs are. It just diminishes everything. It's very rushed, there's no desire to enjoy the process. There's no mindfulness as far as why you're doing something or how you're doing something or whether or not your dog enjoys it at all. It's just a very formal leg, "Well, this seems the fastest way for me to get there and to show the world just how great we are, we're going to do that." Okay. But why? I just don't understand it. And again, this is where we start, "Well, this is what the professional teams do." I don't care what they do. You can absolutely learn about it and probably learn some really great little tips and tidbits. I think that's true, but understand it's not the same thing. It's just not. You're not training as often as they are, they train for hours a day, multiple times a week, it's their life.

And then those teams, they're not out there all that long, meaning that a dog may burn out in a couple of years. Do you want your dog to burn out in a couple of years? I highly doubt it. You're going to be living with them. Right? And that is their sole job, that's all they do. Your dog is likely, if you're really that gung-ho about competing, they're probably doing other dog sports too. So you're trying to jam in super high intense professional detection dog level training from Scent Work. And then also, maybe you're trying to do agility and obedience, and park [inaudible 00:15:05] and trival and all sorts of, Oh, and by the way, your dog also has to be able to be perfectly behaved inside of a human house 24/7, where you can even follow your own rules of... And we do this stuff all the time, right? I'm going to eat well this week. And then you get like five minutes later and you're already like shoving chocolate in your face. I know because I do it every day.

The point being is that we're trying... As a community we keep going into this territory of just putting so much pressure on our dogs and also putting a lot of pressure on ourselves unnecessarily. And quite honestly, it bastardizes the entire activity, that's not what this is about. I do not want, nor will I stand for any dog being ostracized from doing Scent Work merely because they cannot do a search that quite honestly 99.9% of dogs would never be able to do. That's not okay. That makes me really angry if it wasn't obvious. So, I just want everyone to just pump the brakes a little bit. Does this mean that I despise professional detection dog trainers or those that are involved in the sport world? Of course not. I think they're a wonderful resource. I think a lot of them are extraordinarily experienced. A lot of them are very impressed by civilian teams and they say it time and time and time again.

But I do think hat there is absolutely a difference between a dog who's coming from a breeding program that has been designed over generations to do a very specific thing, and to quite honestly have a lot of traits that no companion dog should have such as having no self preservation, being able to jump on top of your refrigerator, who wants to live like that? Nobody does. And the dog that you're finding at the shelter or from a regular breeder. We just have to be honest, those are not the same animals, they're just not. Sure they're both dogs, but they're not designed the same, even just structurally. They're not the same. So, again I hope in case it wasn't obvious, this makes me very upset. Because, I would be heartbroken if any of my clients over the years had heard some of this talk and thought, "Well, I guess we can't do Scent Work because my dog's not good enough." I would fly into a fury and be like, "Who told you that?" And I will sit them down and set them straight. Because, it's just not true.

Scent Work is for every single dog period. If they have a functioning nose, they should be doing this activity. I do not care what type of behavioral stuff they have. I don't care what kind of physical stuff they have. They should be doing Scent Work. Whether or not they compete is a whole other question. And that should not predicate whether or not they do this activity. In addition to that, I don't think that you as a handler should have to have 10 years of training under your belt to do this game. Because guess what? If I make that a requirement, that means that a whole lot of people aren't going to be playing the game with their dog. Because Sally Sue and Billy Bob who are just out in the world and they don't even know what dog sports are. They're not going to have 10 years of training under their belt.

So again, I just think that as a community, we have to be more thoughtful about how we talk about these things. About the types of things that we're promoting, about the types of things that we're trying to have this still very new activity be. And understand that we can take this really wonderful gift that as a species we are finally giving to our dogs to be able to live in a human world in a better way. And we can completely ruin it, if we tie too much of our human ego into it. Let the dog be a dog. Do not tell me that Scent Work for a dog hunting for food or toys or human scent or whatever is not Scent Work, it is.

Don't tell me that the only dogs that can do Scent Work are the dogs who do it the fastest and are mostly professional detection dogs, that's not true. Don't tell me that the only dogs... The people who could do Scent Work are those who're going to compete, that is false. So we need to understand those three things. And then I won't have to have these ranty little pockets anymore. And again, this is just... Sadly it's a cycle over and over and over again. In the years that I've been involved and again, it's not like I started when this whole thing started, I didn't. There are people who have been involved way longer than I have, but over and over again, we keep seeing this pop up and keep seeing this move towards, "Well, this is a very inclusive club, and well you're not good enough." And I'm like, "No, that's not what this is." And you can have it where you're very open, you have a very large broad net and you then say... And you're cultivating a proper approach to this.

If you need to take your time, enjoy the process, understand what it is that we're trying to promote, why we're trying to promote it. It's not merely about your dog, poking their nose onto a tin or whatever. It's about them being a dog and really, truly examining that brilliance that you and I cannot do. I don't care how good you are. If I put a blindfold on you, you're not going to be able to find the damn thing. You're just not going to be able to, you could try, but you're not you're going to fail miserably. I can take any dog and I can hide some food. And if I can make sure that they feel safe in that environment, they will eventually find it. You wouldn't, that's what this is all about. Whether or not we can then take that and then have it so that they're finding something that they don't inherently find valuable, okay, that's going to take training and everything else. But the hunt is the key. That's what being a dog is all about. And we have to stop trying to take that away from them.

All the other stuff doesn't matter. It really doesn't. And we try to create these competition things. So that quite honestly, all the competition thing is so that we can try to show each other that one of us is better. People may not like to hear but that's what it is. And for the dogs we're trying, "Well, I'm trying to show them my dog is meeting some requirement or standard or whatever." And that's fine I guess, particularly if you're using it for a breeding program, right? You're trying to show that your dog meets a certain standard so that they're doing what you're breeding them to do, great. Guess what the majority of dogs out in the world are spayed or neutered. That's a discussion for another day, but again, Sally Sue and Billy Bob probably aren't breeding their dogs and understand what they do, that's how this is.

Companion dogs for competitions is all about, is my dog better than someone else? I personally prefer separate competitions because really you're just competing against the test. The placement is when you start getting into whether or not my dog is better than yours, but the cue is whether or not you pass the test. And I think that's really where it should stay and understanding that sometimes those tests they're just too hard for some dogs, and they will always be too hard for some dogs. And it would be unfair to ask those dogs to take those tests and they don't need to. And they can play the game at home, at friends houses, with a trainer on field trips, whatever, and whenever they want and it's completely fine. So, yes, in case it wasn't obvious this makes me very upset. Because, I don't think that it's... I don't think anyone is overtly trying to do this. Just the opposite. I think that it's just a slippery slope type of thing, where it just a snowball and is really ugly thing.

And I know having worked with clients over the years with dogs who have a lot of issues. These people are already under an avalanche of stress and strain and they're emotionally drained and everything else. And they get this a little glimmer of hope that, "Okay, I adopted or got this dog thinking I was going to play fetcher, go for a walk. And we can't even do that." I've been working and doing all this stuff, and now I have this little tiny activity where there's a semblance of normalcy and I can see that my dog is happier and I'm happier and things are getting better. But now I'm hearing that we may not be good enough still. That we are still being put out with a spotlight on us that there's something wrong with us, that we are not up to snuff. And that kills me. They don't need any more of this type of thing done to them. Right? Scent Work is activity for all dogs, particularly those dogs who don't have any other options and whether or not they compete is completely moot.

I've had a lot of clients that chose not to compete. Where we actually, maybe did mock things or whatever else, the dogs actually did well, but they were like, "I don't want to deal with the stress. I don't want to deal with paying someone to judge me. That doesn't sound like fun." And you know what? I tend to be in that camp more often than not as well. It's just the way it is. So maybe it's that I'm attracting people who are like-minded, I wouldn't be surprised. The point being is that as a community, we have to be careful about how it is we're framing these things. Scent Work should be something that all dogs do, regardless of what your end goal is.

I do think that we should be promoting people, being more thoughtful about the process, regardless of the school of thought that you have as far as training, you may like, "My training Process...," Well, basically, I follow the NACSW K9 Nose Work training method, you may prefer, starting on odor. You may prefer operant training. It doesn't matter, right? There's lots of different ways to get to the same goal. But we should also be promoting that, you don't need to do this in a day. You shouldn't be doing it in a day. The process is the good part. Pumping the brakes is good. The titles aren't going anywhere, and if you never get a title, that's okay, too. Right? So again, this is just something that has me all riled up in case it wasn't obvious. So, I want to hear what you guys have to think. Is this something that I am just overly sensitive to and that you don't foresee it being a problem? Or you're not seeing the same things I am. It's completely possible.

What are your thoughts? We want to hear from you. So we'll be posting this podcast up on our Scent Work University Facebook page, easiest place to place your comments is there. And if there are other things you would like us to talk about, maybe not in such a manner, you can always let me know. We are looking forward to having some more speakers come in. Again we talk about all kinds of things in the podcast, training tips, behind the scenes lags, all kinds of things. So it's not always just me pontificating from my little high horse. But this was something that have been bothering me all day, and I was like, "I need to do this," so I did. Let me know what you guys think. As always, I really appreciate you guys giving us a listen. Happy training and we look forward to seeing you soon.

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