Ep. 89: Spotlight: Barbara Deg and Scentsitive Soul Program

Feb 10, 2023
In this podcast episode, Dianna has the privilege of speaking with Barbara Deg of Front N'Scenter Animal Behavior & Consulting regarding her new Scentsitive Soul Program designed to help dogs with big feelings by leveraging the power of Scent Work.

Learn more about Barbara and her program:


  • Dianna L. Santos
  • Barbara Deg


    Dianna L. Santos (00:00):
    Welcome to the All About Scent Work Podcast. In this podcast, we talk about all things that Scent Work, that includes training tips, a behind scenes look at what our Scent Work instructors or trial officials may be going through and much more. In this episode, I have the privilege of speaking with Barbara Deg regarding her Sensitive Souls program. So before we start diving into the podcast episode self, let me do a very quick introduction of myself. My name is Dianna Sanos. I'm the Owner and Lead Instructor for Scent Work University, Dog Sport University and Pet Dog U. These are online dog training platforms. They're designed to provide you high quality dog training instruction and we're very fortunate to have a clientbase worldwide. For Scent Work University in particular, we provide online courses, seminars, webinars, and eBooks that are all focused about helping you along your sniffing journey. So whether you're just getting started in Scent Work, looking to develop some more advanced skills, you're interested in trialing or you're already trialing and you're trying to finesse some skills for the upper levels, we likely have a training solution to you. Now that you know a little bit more about me, let's get the podcast episode started.

    So again, for this episode, I had the very distinct privilege of talking with Barbara Deg regarding her new program, the Sensitive Soul Program. And I'm just going to let us dive right in cause it was a really great conversation, and I don't wanna take up any more time of you listening to me. I want you to hear all about this wonderful program that Barbara has put together. So let's take a listen.

    Dianna L. Santos (01:20):
    Thank you so very much for contacting me. I, it was so exciting to hear that you wanted to let everyone know about your program. It sounds very super exciting. So if you just wanna take a moment to just introduce yourself and tell everyone, all of our listeners, about yourself and about your very interesting program that helps dogs that are a little bit more sensitive. Does that work?

    Barbara Deg (01:38):
    Sure. Thanks for having me. I'm so excited to be here. My name is Barb Deg and I'm in Nova Scotia. So I'm way on the Atlantic side of Canada. I run Front N Center Animal Behavior and Consulting Services and I've been doing Scent Work and scent related stuff for about two 10 years I think. And I just started a pilot project in the fall, sent work for these sensitive souls and it was inspired by a few students who wanted to do scent work, couldn't really cope with group classes. And then I now have a sensitive dog myself.

    Dianna L. Santos (02:16):
    Perfect. And that is such an amazing thing, like when you reach out to me, I say, oh, this is perfect. I definitely wanna talk to you about this because I know just from my own experience, this network can be such a wonderful thing for all dogs, but particularly for dogs who are on what I call the behavioral spectrum, where maybe their, their owners are not, they don't have a lot of experience with that, but maybe they just went and they got a dog and they're like, my dog is doing X, Y, or Z, what is this? Right? And kind of show them Scent Work as part of their behavior program. It's not like it's gonna cure everything or it's not going fix everything. It's not, we're trying to cure, fix the dogs anyway. Right. But it absolutely can help. So could you just explain like how it is that this pilot program came about and what the goals were with it and what you're seeing with it so far?

    Barbara Deg (03:01):
    Sure. So it was inspired by one of my students, a little border calling named Greta and her owner. And I first met her when she was a puppy coming to the vet clinic that I was working for, looking for desperate help with her dog with a lot of big feelings. So with the vet team, they were able to help her. And her mom was probably the biggest advocate for her in, you know, that a dog could ever have. And she said, I wanna do something with my dog. And my dog has big feelings. I invited her to same class, her first five sessions, getting her to eat was just a really big deal. We couldn't even get her to eat, let alone sniff. And mom had done some foundation work before and just getting into the group class was a big deal. We finally got her eating and got in, getting her out and able to play.

    But the more I saw this, the more I saw a need for this. There's a lot of dogs with big feelings out there and their owners want to do something. They wanna feel included in the dog community and they don't. And even if I do welcome them into a group class, they feel like an outsider. And so I said, I've gotta do something for these for, for these dogs. They can't really cope in a group situation per se, but they need that, they need that support of a group session. So how can I make this happen? And the other thing is, part of their behavior therapy is these, these owners need to know body language. They need to know body language, which plays into this sense side of things. All of our sessions are recorded. So there's videos of absolutely every session that the dogs do. And so the owners become more aware of the dog's body language. It's like, oh my God, my dog held its breath there. Okay, so what are we doing there? And it becomes this really big community and, and these these owners go, I thought I was the only one and I want it to be included. And I couldn't do any group sports and my dog embarrasses me. And now I have a community.

    Dianna L. Santos (05:06):
    That is amazing. Well, very big kudos to you. That is awesome because I just hope that everyone listening understands that what you just said, that last piece is that the owner is also a really important part of the, of the equation, right? Because we need the owners to be such big advocates for the dogs. And if they are feeling as though they're ostracized or that there's always a spotlight on them that maybe isn't such a great thing, and they don't feel included, then they may just retract more and more and more and then the dog may worsen and then it, it just is really nasty cycle. So the fact that you create, yeah, so the fact that you created this opportunity for them to feel included and to also develop the skills that they need, that's not just going to apply within Scent Work, but it's also gonna apply in day-to-day life where they may say, oh look, they hold, they held their breath there. So what happened? What is happening? And how can I support them? That's amazing. That's awesome. Thank you so much for doing this. This is great. Oh,

    Barbara Deg (06:03):
    You're very welcome. I, I, I, uh, one of, one of my students actually, and one of the things that they really become aware of is body pressure. So last night I had a class with my level two. I never even thought we'd make it to a past the level one, and now we have a level two. Um, and she had her dog in a pressure situation searching, and I jo just saw the owner go, it's like, oh, my dog turned around and sat on me, sat and looked at me. She looked at the surroundings, backed up. She's like, oh, I, I put her, I put him in a pressure situation. He can't cope. If I'm pushing him into pressure, I need to give him space and then he can work this problem out. And it was just, I didn't have to say anything.

    Dianna L. Santos (06:44):
    That is awesome. Awesome, awesome. So could you talk a little bit more about how it is that you're designing the classes so that people can kind of wrap their brain around what the program is all about and how these particular teams are able to be successful?

    Barbara Deg (06:57):
    Sure. So one of the things, I put this out there. I asked people to apply to the program and I wanted, part of the application was what are the dog's triggers? So if they have a trigger to a big fluffy dog, um, and even though the dogs are not coming in contact with each other, I don't want to put them in that situation in the parking lot. So if their triggers a big fluffy dog, I'm not going to pair them in a group with a big fluffy dog. I have a maximum of three dogs in a program. There are no two dogs in the building at the same time. There are, and even crossing into the parking lot, there is lots of space separated by them. We videotape everything and the dogs come in one at a time. Probably the first week is, can your dog eat?

    I need your dog to eat before I can do anything else. And a lot of these dogs are coming in very pessimistic. They're going, it's like, yeah, their owners are going. It's like, oh, they'll eat, they're really food motivated. They walk in the building. It's like, no, not eating. Can't, can't do it. Can't eat. And then we use, we use, you know, space as a reinforcer. The dogs get to go back to the vehicle. Nothing bad happened. They weren't forced. They had their choice to eat or don't eat. It's, it's entirely their choice 100%. And then the next time they come in, it's like, ah, okay, the tail's up a little bit further. They're a little bit inquire. We might get them to eat a food from mum dad. And all we're doing is just doing a kibble, scramble, scramble out there. It's like, can you eat?

    And that's probably like the first week we rotate through that. I'm just getting the dogs to do a kibble scramble. Can they sniff all of it's recorded? So the the owners know is their dog pack manning? Are they just grabbing and snatching food? Are they only, are they able to sniff to find those pieces that went under somewhere? Are they scanning the environment? All of that is recorded and the owners are made aware of that. And then we watch that progress when the dogs are finally sniffing and eating, we go through, it's like, okay, well we throw scent there as just as a background, as a background. And then we, we target the odor or the odor and the, and the food. Okay, that's all in one spot. It just is incidental. It's nothing big. We tell the owner to, you know, jackpot when they, when they land and eat the food.

    And that's, you know, and incidentally we're able to lessen the amount of food that were out there. The dogs are searching and the owners go one day goes like, oh my goodness, my dog is searching. We play with arousal levels. So if the dogs are getting super high because they're having so much fun, we just throw it a kibble, scramble to bring the arousal down a little bit and bring the scanning down. If the dogs can cope, we'll bring in a decoy dog just to see how the dogs can do. If they sniff with, if they can still continue sniffing with obs stuffed dog not facing them in the back corner of the classroom, can they still search? Some of them can. Some of them can't. The ones that can we kind of evaluate because then the owners can take this on the road with them when they're out in the world. This is what my dog looks like. Can my dog even eat food off the ground if they see another dog? You know, we're not even talking, looking, staring. We're going, can, can your dog still do the task that it was doing without a dog in the room? And some can cope and some probably never will. But I will say these dogs and handlers, their search skills are on par or better than some of my sports teams

    Dianna L. Santos (10:21):
    And that's amazing. And I love the way that the progression is laid out that you're explaining. And also, again, the way that it's really trying to provide skills that are gonna be helpful everywhere. So in their day-to-day life, this is not just about the sport, this is not just about, oh, well maybe we could trial. It's more about how can we cope day-to-day and how can we get through and be successful from when we wake up to when we go to sleep. And that is, I think you should really pet yourself on the back for, because that is probably the most important part is that the, the ribbons and the titles, if that's even a possibility, yeah, sure, great. But if I can actually be successful where my dog is not, you know, feeling so stressed and the world is not so hard and me as a handler and I'm not like pulling my hair out or I'm depressed or whatever else, that's what's most important. And you're giving these teams those skills even, you know, with what it is that you're designing with your program, which is amazing. Kudos to you.

    Barbara Deg (11:16):
    Thank you

    Dianna L. Santos (11:17):
    That's awesome.

    Barbara Deg (11:19):
    And I'll say, one of the things I ask the handlers to kind of track is the followed afterwards. So after they've had this in, we explain good stress is still stress. So there may be some triggers stacking even the days after. And that's one of the things that, you know, I need to know. It's like, okay, they had a really good night here, but how did they cope tomorrow? Right? Or next day. And so the owners are very cognizant. It's like, okay, yeah, no, no. My dog reacted to was, oh wait, we had psych class and we had, it was a really intense night and we had fun. However, my dog's cup was empty. So I know I can't walk him in this area the day after psych class.

    Dianna L. Santos (11:57):
    Right? And that's amazing that, so all these skill sets that you're talking about for the handler are so incredibly important. And quite honestly, for anyone who's listening, this is important for all handlers. This is not just because, oh, you know, it's just these people with these dogs. No, this is all of us with all of our dogs need to understand these things that our dogs Absolutely. Even if your dog can naturally recover from stressors, right? Maybe more so than others, they still have the same effect where if you're having construction at your house, then you had a big party, then you went on a really super exciting seminar with your dog, and then you go to a trial and then sure enough, your dog doesn't seem to be doing as well as you thought that they would. It could be that your dog is a little fried .

    Right? So having exactly, having all of these things that you're talking about as far as skillsets for the handler are so incredibly important. And understanding that our dogs are just, they're these little furry creatures that are dealing with all of these things the same way that people can, as far as all the emotions and dealing with life and triggers and stressors and everything else. And that they're not just these little robots that can go up and do thing and thing and thing and just have it done. So you know perfectly well all the time. So that's incredible. I am just blown away. This is just such a fantastic thing that you put together, .

    Barbara Deg (13:10):
    Yeah, no, I absolutely love it. And I love my teams. They've become a real community. It's reached a point where I've actually had a couple veterinary behaviorists reach out to me. It's like, Hey, can you, can you do this for us? Can you design an online version of this? Can you do this? Because I need my patients to have those skills in the real world. And they need an outlet. They need a community just as much as your in-person clients need that community because these, the, they feel alone.

    Dianna L. Santos (13:40):
    So do you actually have a virtual program in works?

    Barbara Deg (13:43):
    It is in the works. The hope was to have it up and running already. But, um, my, my little lemon that I absolutely love of a dog, um, we had some medical issues. I had delayed the start of it. It was, it should be up and running in the next couple of weeks, but we had a little bit of delay due to medical, um, needs, but took priority,

    Dianna L. Santos (14:06):
    Poor puppy . It's, it's, but you know what, that's also, I think it helps put into perspective that, you know, was important. And of course our dogs are important and yes, we wanna be able to help the whole community, but you need to be taking care of you and your pup too. So . Exactly. I'm, I'm glad that you were like, you know, we'll just put a pause on this for a second. Let's make sure that you're okay.

    Barbara Deg (14:28):
    And I will say with this community of, you know, I call it the Sensitive Souls. Um, and it's s sc as in as in, um, sensitive Soul program. I mean, now that I have my own sensitive soul, they force me to practice what I preach. It's like, you know what? My dogs having big feelings about this. All right, I gotta make that phone call to the vet. I gotta, I, you know, this is a normal and I work in behavior modification and it's like, you know what? His behavior's not normal. I have to practice what I preach to all of my students, all of my clients. It's like, you know what I got, I got a dog with big feelings too. He might not be barky lunge, but he is still has big feelings about the world.

    Dianna L. Santos (15:08):
    And you know what, that's actually a really good point of there are absolutely people who li listening to this who be like, you know, I've never had a dog with big feelings or whatever else. My dogs have always been whatever. And that's totally great. Like good, but until you have one, it's, it's such a interesting experience that you can have as a person, as an owner, but it can provide so much empathy and it can also provide so much insight into what you may have witnessed other people with their dogs go through before. And it absolutely can help you grow as an owner and as a handler and as a trainer. So I really tip my hat to you and recognized and be like, okay, I need to now approach this a little bit differently. Like, it's one thing for me to say like, okay, I know what we need to do. I know what the protocols are. I know what the thing is that you need to, I know what the skills you need, but now I actually need to apply them myself. It is hard, it's very hard. But y I know for myself when I was dealing with, with my aggressive boy is that it does absolutely allow you to have that feeling of empathy of like, oh, I totally get this. Now I may have intellectually understood it, but now I really get it.

    Barbara Deg (16:22):
    Yeah. Once you're there. And so, and I think, I think some of my students, they appreciate it. Like when I said, you know what, here's a video of my dog that I took for my vet and yeah, that's normal behavior and I still love him and I grieve for the dog I wanted, however, I still love him and we will deal with this and we will continue on. And he plays scent games at home and he will never trial. And he was supposed to be a professional detection dog and he will never be a detection dog. And so we still, we still do the same stuff that I do with my students

    Dianna L. Santos (16:56):
    And I really do wanna commend you for recognizing what his needs are and then making those adjustments and being okay with it. That, and that there is absolutely, there can be that grieving period, particularly if you had big plans, like you had dreams and aspirations, then all of a sudden you're like, ugh, , what happened? Like for my boy, uh, my first Doberman, you know, we just, he was my first dog I was gonna have after a while, I wasn't a trainer yet and we just wanted to be able to like go for walks and hikes, but that was not a possibility cuz he would kill somebody . So he just needed to be on house arrest for the five years that we had him. But making that, that determination of what was right for him and us was really important. So I really commend you for also doing that with your boy saying like, yeah, he, no, he's really good with scent work and this is probably for my sensitive soul program.

    This is gonna help him and also help me in developing all these skills. But you know, trialing is probably not gonna be the best thing or in the cards for at least at this point. That's okay. And I think us talking about this more openly as a community, particularly among professionals, that for sure those kinds of decisions happen and that they're normal and that it's all right. It's also okay to be sad about it during that process. But that coming to terms with his okay too, it's not like there's a big failure or anything. It says though our clients are dealing with ones who deal with these things, we deal with them too. So I really do appreciate you sharing that.

    Barbara Deg (18:15):
    Thank you. Thank you. No, it's, it's, I love this program. I love my students and they are, they, they are fabulous and they, I love them for, for just being open to this crazy idea come, you know, and I will say their price point is higher than my group classes and they're here. No, we, we, we just want to, we want to play with our dogs. We want to be, we want to have a community of our own and we want, we want a piece of what we see. We actually chatted about the Cyber Scent Work scent work program last night. So they're all excited about possibly doing that in the future. Awesome.

    Dianna L. Santos (18:53):
    Excellent. And that's along the same lines of what you were talking about with, you know, trying to build up this community and promoting clients with dogs of big feelings. That's one of the reasons why I wanted to start it is that I felt that there was absolutely a pull for people with dogs who may not do as well in in-person trialing that to feel included, that they had to try it anyway. And I just don't think that that's putting people in the right frame of mind to make the best decisions for themselves and their dogs. That's one of the main reasons why we started Cyber Scent Work. So yay. We would hope love for them to come and play. They would like to, but I love the fact that you're taking it to the training piece of, again, I just really wanna stress this for anyone who's listening is the skills that you are providing, both the dogs and the handlers are so incredibly important. And yes, it's wonderful for the scenting piece, but the life skills are so essential. Oh, I'm just blown away. This is fantastic , right?

    Barbara Deg (19:47):
    And uh, I'll say, I'll say for example, I have a livestock guardian mix in one of my classes and was out in the vehicle and the dog barked at another bark and the handler was all worried him and was like, oh my God, it's going to freak the other dogs out and I'm so sorry it's barking. And it's like I said, you have a livestock guardian dog, they do that your dog is doing what is genetically supposed to do. There was nothing wrong with it. It is safe. The other dogs are safe. That is normal. And the look on her face is like, that's normal . It's 100% normal for the breed. And it was the first time she'd had somebody tell her that that was normal behavior.

    Dianna L. Santos (20:25):
    Yeah. And that's such a big gift, right? Because I, the amount of angst that you must feel if the dog just being who they are is wrong. I can't even imagine of, you know, feeling as though like every you breathe don't nose it might upset someone. Like it's like, oh god. Like no, it's fine. Right? . So it's, it's almost therapeutic for the handlers what you're doing.

    Barbara Deg (20:52):
    It is. It is. And reactions happen. I mean there's, there's occasional times when they get the decoy dog out and their dog reacts and the handlers hold their breath and it's like I said, and your dog recovered. Look at your dog is now sniffy. They're not living in that. They're not living in that explosion and explosions are going to happen because we don't live in a vacuum. And I look at how well your dog can recover. That's what I look at. I don't look at in the moment, did they have a moment of they were upset and had feelings? Did they recover? Look at your dogs now eating food and sniffing on the floor. So it is not the end of the world.

    Dianna L. Santos (21:29):
    Exactly. And also through those experiences, you are providing some new learning for the handler where they now have a new history that they can go back on. Because that's the other part that people forget is that whenever we're doing interactions with our dogs, training or otherwise, we are also learning and we're making those associations too. So if you have, you know, some of your clients where they have a dog that maybe does have a trigger of other dogs, then they can develop exorcist head themselves. Oh my god, there's a dog 500 feet away, this is gonna go badly. But now with what you're providing is a new set of learning where yes, we may have had this thing but they've recovered and now I know that they can, I know it's possible that the world is not going to end cuz this happened

    Barbara Deg (22:10):
    Right, exactly. It's not the end of the world. Your dog had some big feelings. They looked at another dog in passing, um, you know, they looked at a handler the wrong way. And I'm dealing with some dogs that have bite histories to humans and dogs and it's like, it's okay. They're allowed to have feelings. We have feelings and look at them now they're eating and recovering in week one. They couldn't eat in the building.

    Dianna L. Santos (22:34):
    Right, exactly. And it's all about safety and the fact that you are again, promoting this program in such a way where you're allowing the dogs to be in the space one at a time. You're using the decoy dog, you're not using a real dog. You're having the space in the parking lot is all about setting 'em up for success. Understanding that these are animals with big strong teeth that could possibly use them. There could be injuries if we're not careful. But also providing, uh, an outline and a layout for people to follow of how they can make better decisions to help their dogs be successful out in the real world. That space, again is such a huge thing of that distance is so important that yes, your dog may need a hundred feet in order to be able to think, but that's okay. At least you know that that's a tool, that's a skillset that you have,

    Barbara Deg (23:21):
    Right? Yeah. And, and the, the handlers are learning this skillset and the handlers are learning and they're looking forward to it. The first week everybody was nervous and the first week that I brought a decoy dog and everybody's holding their breath and then it was okay and then the smiles coming in and the tails up on the dog. So it's not just the, the dogs that are becoming more optimistic, it's the handlers who are becoming more optimistic as they enter the building. It's like, oh my goodness, look at how, how well that one, you know, was doing today. Oh that one sparked, you know, two seconds less than last week. Good job.

    Dianna L. Santos (23:55):
    Right? And also that's part of the community thing that you were talking about is right, they're all going through this in their three, you know, team class Yeah. Together. Yeah. So they're noticing the changes from week to week. They're cheering for one another in their own way and they're all going through this together that's so supportive. And again, like you said, it points out to them that they're not alone and that they are seeing this progress together. This isn't just a fluke and they're all doing it together and they're doing really well. That's amazing. It's so positive on so many different points. Oh, kudos

    Barbara Deg (24:26):
    I love the program. And, and it wouldn't be possible without the students because they went on this wild ride and it started because of one border colly.

    Dianna L. Santos (24:35):
    Well it's always great when we have the ability to see what's in front of us as professionals and say, Hmm, I think I could maybe make something to help this cuz this is not working the way this is. And these dogs, if we allow them to, they will give us those opportunities. So thank you so much. What's the name of the border collie

    Barbara Deg (24:54):

    Dianna L. Santos (24:55):
    Well thank you so much Greta. Greta, you've done a wonderful service for everyone because you allowed Barb to create this amazing program. Um, I will definitely be touching base with you and we're ready to get some more information as far as links and when your virtual program is up, I want to have all of that information so we can share it with our clients. Cause I think it's gonna be really, really helpful.

    Barbara Deg (25:12):
    Absolutely. I can't wait to share it. It's, it's taken on its life of its own and um, and I love it. It brings me so much joy.

    Dianna L. Santos (25:19):
    Well thank you so much for joining me today. I definitely look forward to touching base with you again maybe in like a couple of months and see how everything is going and I can't wait to hear when the virtual program launches.

    Barbara Deg (25:29):
    Absolutely can't wait to share it when it's when it's live.

    Dianna L. Santos (25:34):
    So as you can tell from this conversation, Barb has put a lot of thought into her Sensitive Souls program, really trying to set dogs and handlers up for success, teaching them really essential skills. So we're gonna provide information about her program in links inside of the podcast episode replay page as well as on our social media posts. I will also be touching base with Barb in a couple of months in order to see how the program is going. And once the virtual program is live, we'll also be doing an announcement on our social media as well as on our newsletter because I do think that this is something that people should definitely be looking into. Whether or not you have a dog with big feelings. Some of the skill sets that again, Barb is highlighting particularly on the handler side of things of really learning how to read dog body behavior and figure out what types of decisions and management approaches that we may want to take when we're doing training and interactions with our dogs I think would be really beneficial for everyone.

    So again, a huge thank you for Barb for having this conversation with me and for taking the initiative to try to help dogs that do have big feelings, her Sensitive Soul program. Sounds great. So I hope you all found this podcast episode helpful, but as always we want to hear from you so make certain that you do note any kind of comments or questions that you have. We'll be sharing this on our social media sites as well as our website. We are looking forward to having more outside speakers. So if you know of anyone who is giving back to the Scent Work community, it's your life for us to talk to. Please let me know , the more that we can spotlight those who are giving back to the community, the happier I am. But thanks so much for listening. Happy training. We look forward to seeing you soon.

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