Ep. 87: Exteriors: Exciting or Excruciating

Jan 28, 2023

Did you used to get so excited to tackle an exterior search, but now you dread them, thinking of all the ways it will go wrong, how your dog will become distracted or how the environment will "win"? Learn why this happens in this episode and how you may reinvigorate your love this challenging search element.

In this podcast episode, Dianna discusses why this happens and how we, as handlers and trainers, may adjust our outlook to reinvigorate our love and appreciation for this challenging search element.

You may be interested in checking out these resources focused solely on tackling exterior searches:

We have also been incredibly fortunate to host a slew of highly talented instructors as of late, be certain to check them all out:


  • Dianna L. Santos


    Dianna L. Santos (00:00):
    Welcome to the All About Scent Work Podcast. In this podcast we talk about all things Scent Work that includes training tips, a behind scenes look at what your Scent Work instructor or trial official may be going through and much more. In this episode, I wanted to talk about exterior searches. So before we start diving 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 of Scent Work University, Dog Sport University and Pet Dog U. These are online dog training platforms. They're designed to help you achieve your dog training goals, and we're very fortunate to have a client base worldwide. For Scent Work University in particular, we provide online courses, seminars, webinars, and eBooks that are all created in order to help you along your sniffing journey. It's whether you're just getting started in Scent Work, looking to develop some more advanced skills. If you're interested in trialing or you're already trialing, but trying to finesse some of the skills for your either yourself or your dog, we likely have a training solution for you. So now that you know a little bit more about me, let's dive into the podcast episode itself.

    So in this episode I wanted to talk about exterior searches and how people can get themselves really worked up over them, but they can actually be something that's really fun for both yourself and your dog. They shouldn't be scary and we should be looking at them as though they're this really wonderful opportunity for both ourselves and our dogs. So exterior searches are interesting when you are following a team through their sniffy journey from very first starting in Scent Work worth, they'd never done it before to now they're doing it a little bit longer to maybe now they're interested in competition, that when they first start doing exterior searches, they can be really super exciting to where they're almost the allure to maybe you're going to jump into doing exterior searches maybe a little bit sooner than you should or would be potentially the best idea for your dog or for your team, right?

    Because exteriors can absolutely be very distracting. , there's a lot of things going on in an exterior space, but there is definitely a draw to do exterior searches sooner rather than later. So you typically have all of this excitement, oh, they're so sexy. Oh, they're so fun . But then it shifts from all of that excitement, all of that jazz and that enthusiasm to dread to concern to now of a sudden it's me and my dog versus the exterior space. Dun, dun, dun, . So what I wanted to talk about in this episode is how we may be able to shift the way that we think about exterior search is and how we can really appreciate what our dogs may do when they are tackling a search that is an exterior space. What we can do as handlers and remember what it is that was so exciting about it in the beginning, recognize what may not have been such a great approach.

    Maybe we were rushing and what could potentially be holding us back if we are concerned about something. So the big piece with exterior searches is that again, you now have this whole environment that you have to deal with. But at the core of it, when we're talking about cent work, it's always our responsibility when we're doing training to manipulate the environment, whatever it is that we're asking our dogs to search, that's our job to design that environment so the dog can have the learning opportunity that we're trying to pose for the training, right? So sometimes we'll be working on the dog, hopefully sometimes we'll be working on ourselves as handlers, , and sometimes we're working as the team as a whole. In my opinion, I think that should really be delineated where again, sometimes we're working on the dog and then other times we're working on the handler and there are gonna be times you're working on the team.

    But I like to really separate the two more often than not, if I can. That all means that we have to be really mindful and thoughtful about what's going on in any given moment. So if we take this approach of I want to tackle an exterior search, but I need to manipulate it in order to ensure that the dog has the opportunity to do the learning that I'm hoping that they can do, I need to figure out, well where exactly am I going to be searching? And even if I have a location in mind, how am I going to be divvying up that location ? How am I gonna be staging or not staging my search area? What type of hides am I gonna be setting? Where are they gonna be set in the space? What are the goals with the search and how can I make the focus finding the hide as opposed to being really sucked into the environment as a whole?

    Those are kind of the questions that we should be asking ourselves when we're designing our exterior searches. And it's not to make exterior searches boring or bland or oh, this just seems so formal. . It should make it really exciting cuz it should open up a world of opportunity to you even in your backyard, even in your front yard, even in a courtyard that maybe you're living in an apartment building. It doesn't matter. You suddenly should have all of these things available to you. If you can look at it through this different lens of what are the opportunities here, how can I design this to ensure that my dog is indeed successful? They can find their hide, the hide is the focus and then incrementally make it a little bit more complicated, right? Or maybe now the dog really does have decision points of choosing.

    You know what? There's actually some really interesting things in this environment. There may be noises or movement, other smells or things, but I need to find my hide, right? But we probably shouldn't jump to that type of really exciting, distracting choice point. We have to work our way up to that incrementally. And what I've seen in my career is people typically when they think of exteriors, they immediately think what I would consider like a upper level novel, field trip, location, , you know, a public park or a dog friendly business or something like that. Something that's like really super exciting, potentially really novel, lots of things to grab your dog's attention. And then they put a hide out there and that may be like a very early type of exterior search and maybe the dog finds the hide, but they may have been really invested in the environment first, and then the dog maybe stumbles upon the hide and then they get rewarded.

    Well, we just rewarded that , we're building that into our training. That's kind of a issue. So what I've been trying to encourage clients to think about when we're talking about exterior searches is that I still want you to be excited about them. They are really, really fun. But you can leverage things that are within your control for quite some time to build a ton of skills for both your dog and yourself and the team as a whole, just inside of a backyard and then just inside of a front yard and then just at a family member's or a friend's house just at the training center that maybe you take other classes with. And then you can start venturing to other places as well, which is also very, very important, which we're gonna talk about in a second. But knowing that you don't have to go to like Times Square, New York City in order to do a real exterior search.

    You could potentially work up to that if you wanted to, but I don't think that you should be starting there if you can avoid it. If you live in Times Square, then you know, even I would say you still have options, . But the point being is I think that a lot of people shoot themselves with a foot early on in their training because they're so excited to do exteriors that they set up exterior searches that are way too difficult and then they start noticing problems. So then the handler starts attaching all of that negative experience, all that emotional learning of my dog either isn't fine in the hide, maybe they're marking, maybe they're getting really distracted by something, whatever the case may be, and they attach that subconsciously to what's happening. So as an example, let's say that your dog has a tendency to mark, right? You just started doing exterior searches and all of a sudden every single vertical space your dog is peeing on .

    Well again, we are learning as well, whenever we're doing training or any kind of interaction with our dog. So you're gonna have a subconscious association made that you see vertical space, oh my goodness, my dog is gonna mark on that. So you're probably gonna be doing things as a handler again, even subconsciously to try to prevent your dog from even checking out that vertical space. Well, there's an issue with that. , vertical spaces hold a lot of odor information. If you have a hide in your exterior space, there's likely going to be important odor information that your dog needs in order to find their hide. So now we're actually making their lives harder cuz we're not letting them sniff the vertical space, the tree, the post, so on and so forth because we're worried that they're going to pee, which makes the dog frustrated because they can't work the odor plume the way they need to.

    The more frustrated the dog gets, the more likely they're they are to mark, then they mark and they'll be like, ah, see . And it's just this really messy cycle. So all of this angst and the way that it compounds onto itself is really avoidable. If we just take a giant step back and just think what really is an exterior search, right? Just let's define it. It's a search done outside . That's all it is. But it is probably one of the more difficult types of searches because you are quite literally put out against the environment and this is where you need to really engage your training chops so that you can look at a space and say, what are the factors that I have to contend with? And in my opinion, not stand there and be like, who am I up against? It's more of what colors are on my palette that I'm going to paint my picture with.

    That is my training picture for my dog. That's why for me, I find it really exciting because it's not as though there are challenges, there are opportunities, there are things that I can play with for different types of searches and setups for my dog. So right now I have my new little terrier, Ozzy, who is a blast , he's so much fun and we are right now doing exterior searches, hunting for primary, he's hunting for food and we've just been playing around with it and he's awesome , he's so good. And because he self-rewarding, I don't have to worry about any kind of issues where, well did he get close enough? You know, all of that stuff. It's really easy. He finds the treat, he eats the treat, it doesn't get any easier. He finds a toy, he gets the toy, we play with the toy.

    It's so simple. , there's nothing as far as getting in the way of, well was that close enough? Does that count? What do I do? Like I don't have to do any of that, but I can pick actual locations where I would put quote unquote real hides or odor hides later in our training. And I can see what he does in finding his primary, be it food and or toys cuz he does both. And I can see the type of hunter that he is. What direction in the space does he like to go? What effect does the sun and the shade have? Where is the airflow going typically in these different areas of our yard, because I'm just searching in our backyard, what effect does my body movement have? How independent is he as he searching? Is he looking to me? Is he asking me any questions?

    When we first started, he did. Now he doesn't just off to the races and finding his stuff and he's really, really good at it. But the point being is that I can still leverage a bunch of things in our yard where right now I'm not staging at all. I'm just using things the way that they are. Different landscaping planters, patio furniture, just the way it normally looks. I'm barely moving anything. But in picking where it is, I want my hide to be, is it gonna be elevated? Is it in the sun, is it in the shade? Is it easily accessible or does he really have to work to get to it? Which way is the wind going? Could there be potentially pooling? How long am I gonna have it set out before he is released to go search? Am I gonna have a plane type of hide?

    And what do I mean by that's a plane hide, not the one in the sky , but if you were to split up your search area as if you were to cut it up in horizontal, different planes, basically there's the plane of on the ground, that would be where your hide is. Then there's at head height and below for the dog and then there's at head height and above for the dog. So those are are three different planes that potentially your hides could exist in. So I've actually set up searches already, again using food and toys where there is for one of our fences, there are is a brick on the ground. Hide is on top of the brick. There is a little divot in the fence that's head height for him. A hide is there and right above it there's a hide above his head.

    So we have three planes, three treats, all right on top of each other. essentially. And to watch him work that out is [inaudible]. It's so, so good. The point being is that all of this is possible. Working in my backyard, I don't have to go anywhere yet. Doesn't mean that I shouldn't. I absolutely have that on my agenda to ensure that once we've played with a bunch of other different odor puzzles and things, again using primer, using toys that then I can start taking that on the road, which is going to be the front yard , that's how far we're gonna go. It's going to be on the other side of the house where he doesn't have any access to it all now. So it's a real novel area. He, he can't get there at all. Even just during the day it's all cornered off for him.

    So that's gonna be a really interesting place that he's going to be like, wow, I can't wait to check this out. Not for searching, but because he's like, I'm never allowed over here . So I know in that situation, the environment is gonna be really super interesting for him. So I would have really super simple, straightforward searches as far as hide placements in that space to start, do I have his brain, is he actually going to be searching or is he just gonna be like, oh, Disneyland . But I'm hoping that this really messy kind of explanation is pointing out that exterior searches absolutely can be a ton of fun. They don't have to be overly complicated. And if we can appreciate just all the possibilities that are available to us, they become even more exciting and it can actually help us kind of pump the brakes so we can break up the different types of exteriors as far as locations that we can go to.

    But at the very same time, it can open up possibilities as far as where we go. You develop what I call Scent Work eyes or Scent Work vision where even if you're just doing errands, suddenly you'll be like, Ooh, that's a fun place to do a search. , oh, I could set up some sciences over there. You're like that kind of thing. Stonewall suddenly like, oh, look at all the channeling possibilities. Like there's all kinds of things that are just so exciting and that's a good thing, right? You can scope things out ahead of time and be like, okay, first of all, is a dog allowed here? Secondly, is it safe? And thirdly, how could I break this up? How many different sessions could I do here? How many different types of searches could I do? How could I manipulate the environment to ensure that we do have progression, that we don't stagnate, that we don't go backwards , that we have as successful of a search here as possible.

    And particularly if you're interested in competition, those field trip searches are so incredibly important. You need to make certain that your dog does have the capability of searching in your backyard, in the front yard, at the friend's house, at the family's house, at the training center, at the dog friendly business at the park and so on. That is very, very important. You cannot search too many places. The more that you search the better. And that also includes different kinds of conditions. I live in southern California, we just finished a very rare , super long butt spell. And that was a fantastic learning opportunity because again, we don't have a lot of that here. So you need to go out and search in the rain. Or even if you don't wanna search in the rain, please search right after the rain. Make sure the dog understands what it looks like and what it smell, the odor picture, what all that looks like as opposed to when it's really super dry, you wanna do it early in the morning, middle of the day, late at night when it's dry, when it's wet, when it's warm, when it's cold , that's what I mean is that there's so many different variables, which is why I think exteriors are so exciting.

    And I think that's why people find 'em exciting at first, but then they kind of rush ahead and they let the environment control everything. Instead of working with what the environment can give you, they kind of like hand everything over to the environment and then they have this really adversarial relationship with it where they start making these associations like every single time I see a tree or a post, we're not gonna do well cuz my dog is gonna mark as an example. Oh my goodness, I think that that's a barn that we have to search or searching the outside of it. There is going to be horse cookies. , right? My dog is gonna get distracted. Oh no, there's a pond nearby, there's gonna be geese. That's it. We're not gonna be able to do well. Like all those kinds of thoughts that you may have again are based probably in some kind of experience that you had.

    But that to me is a sign that okay, something happened, right? That's a lot of opportunity for us to break that down to tiny pieces to build up the confidence that you have in your dog, firstly in yourself and in your team Again. So that how, how can I put this? It's almost as though it's an invitation to like, great, you found a whole, that means we get to do a whole bunch of training . It's an excuse almost to really lean into how can I find opportunities to fill in these holes? How can I locate areas that are close to me? Maybe I traveled to a trial that had a pond near it. Fine, great. How can I replicate that in lower level locations such as even my backyard with maybe a kiddie pool, right? I can make my own controlled pond and set up searches and then incrementally make it more challenging until maybe we go to another place that has a pond with maybe some ducks and geese.

    And my dog has already done a bunch of practicing with me. We do a really super simple, straightforward search to allow for success. We're always balancing the heart of the environment initially, the easier the search, at least in the beginning. And then we work incrementally from there. And sure enough, my dog is totally fine doing searches where there's ponds now, great . That's what I mean about exterior searches. That's why I find them so exciting is just the breadth of possibility and the opportunity for me to look at a space and be like, how can I use this space? What is this space gonna offer me? As opposed to, oh, what is this space gonna throw at me ? And that's a really interesting dynamic for me personally, cuz I am not an optimist at all. , I'm very much a pessimist. So for me to look at it this way is actually kind of strange for my personality type.

    But I do find it very exciting when I'm doing exterior searches. So I'm hoping that if you do tackle exteriors or you have an experience with exteriors that maybe is 50/50 or potentially you're doing competitions at the upper level, you're like, oh, I don't know what's is gonna throw at us next time. But this at least gives you an idea of how you may be able to look at it a little bit differently and reignite that it excitement, that initial excitement that you may have had when you very first started in Scent Work. I think if we all can just recapture that initial excitement, it will help us so much , cuz that's why we play the game with the dogs to begin with is because it was fun and it was exciting. Our dogs also absolutely love the game, which is why we should be doing it.

    So if you are interested in learning a little bit more about what all of this using of the environment is really looks like or how you may be able to apply that to your dog. I recently just did a webinar called the Conquering the Environment and Scent Work webinar where I talk about some of these things a little bit more detail and lay out some exercises you may want to try if you are already doing searches with your dog and you're looking for a little bit more guidance as far as maybe field trip searches as an example. We do offer through Scent Work University the exteriors and field trips with either primary or birch courses, which are six week courses. But again, we literally like walk you through how you may be able to do this and break them up between very controlled environment like your backyard or your front yard to a entry level novel location like a friend's house or a training center to an upper level novel location like a dog-friendly business or a park or something of the like.

    I may be able to go along a little bit more incremental progression to ensure that you and your dog are successful. So I'll make certain that there are links for all of those inside the podcast listing that will be listed on our website as well as our social media in case you guys wanted to check those things out. I also just wanted to point out that we have been so incredibly fortunate to have some really outstanding speakers come to Scent Work University for this past month in January. We're just about to wrap it up. They have put on some amazing webinars, truly . We had Dana is in come in and talk about the second part for her, all about the box, a detailed looking container's webinar. We had Michele Elertson come in to talk about the threshold hides, how we may be able to tackle those with a very detailed training plan.

    Ugh, so good. And then Judith Guthrie has just been hitting it outta the park. She had two different webinars she's put on for us so far. She did the fearless open areas with confidence webinar, which again, so, so good. And her latest webinar was odor Concentrations. That is something that truly anyone and everyone who is doing stunt work should take . I'm not overstating this. If you're a handler, if you're a trainer, if you are an instructor, if you are a trial official, she breaks down all the various things about what is sourced, what is sourcing, odor molecules, odor thresholds, convergence. It is so, so good. You definitely want to check it out. So I will have links for those webinars as well for the podcast where we post our podcast on our website, but we have a whole bunch more coming up. Again, we are incredibly fortunate to have such talented people share their expertise with our clients and we're adding more .

    When I say the 2023 is gonna be crazy, I'm not, I'm not kidding, . But with that being said, if there is a topic that you all are interested in, maybe there's something that you and your dog are struggling with, maybe there's something that just has piqued your interest. Maybe you just have questions about something, please contact me. I do mean this sincerely. I read every single email and I respond to every single one that if you have a suggestion, I want to know because then I will circle back with our instructors and we will make it a thing one way or another. Either it'll be a podcasts episode, at the very least, it'll be a blog post or it'll be one of these online dog training solutions so that we are providing you all with what you need. Right now. Our webinar catalog is over a hundred webinar replays that you can choose from.

    We have, I think over 50 different courses. We have a whole bunch of seminars and we're just gonna keep adding to it because there's always something that we can always learn. And that's the goal with Scent Work University is provide people what they need when they are interested in training in Scent Work. Again, whether you just wanna play for fun, which I am all for, or if you're interested in trialing or you're currently trialing. Again, we have things for you if you're interested, but I definitely want to hear from all of you. Any suggestions that you have questions, please contact me. The easiest way of contacting me is dianna@onlinedogu.com. Or you always can just post comments where we post the podcast episode up on our social media and I'll be happy to get back to you. But the more that we can hear from everyone as far as what they're looking for, the more that we'll create. And I am thrilled, they're just in the last, I would say about week and a half, I've received four different requests and we're working on all of them. I'm so excited. So please keep them coming. But I hope you guys found this podcast episode helpful. If you have any questions, you can always feel free to reach out. Thank you so much for listening. I hope you enjoyed it. Happy training. We look forward to seeing you soon.

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