Ep. 91: Find Mine: Handler Discrimination

Mar 18, 2023
When it comes to handler discrimination, it common for handlers to become frustrated and for dogs to be confused of what game they are supposed to be playing. Why does this happen? We discuss some of the common reasons in this podcast episode.

Interested in getting started in Handler Discrimination? Check out the online Handler Discrimination course we offer through Scent Work University.
    Dianna L. Santos


      Dianna L. Santos (00:00):
      Welcome to the All About Scent Work Podcast. In this podcast we talk about all things that work that can glue chain tips, a behind scenes circle butcher instructor or trial official may be going through and much more. In this episode, I'm gonna be talking about handler discrimination. Before we start diving into the podcast episode self, we do a very quick introduction on myself. My name is Dianna Santos. I'm the owner and lead instructor for Scent Work University, Dog Sport University 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 basis worldwide. For Scent Work University in particular, we provide online courses, seminars, webinars, and eBooks that are all centered around Scent Work. So regardless of where you are in your sniffing journey, we likely have a training solution for you session. Know a little bit more about me, let's step into the episode itself.

      So in this episode I wanted to talk about handler discrimination. And for those of you who may not know what handler discrimination is in the guise of set work, particularly with AKC Scent Work, this is where there is an article that is centered by the handler that the dog is fantastical find within the search area. So for AKC Scent Work, it depends on the level as far as what is exactly your dog is hunting for. So in the lower level it's going to be a either a scented glove or a scented sock. And then for the upper levels it'll be a scented cotton swab or a cotton ball. And basically what this means that you would be handling this article and then it's hidden within the search area for your dog to find. As you go up the levels, things obviously are becoming more complicated. There will be other distractors in the search area, but also there'll be other articles that are sent by either the judge and or the hide steward as well. So not only does your dog have to find something that you've sented, they also have to be able to distinguish it from other articles that may be placed within the search area that are also sented by other people. Having that really basic understanding of what handle discrimination is, I think is actually really important to ensure that we're training it in a way that's gonna make sense to our dogs. So for a lot of people when they're coming from quote unquote traditional Scent Work handling discrimination kind of thrown for a loop, we kind of have an idea with target odors, how to go about doing this, how to help the dog understand what it is you want them to hunt for, how to set up our training, how to practice all those good things.

      But when it comes to handling discrimination, particularly when this first came on the scene for AKC Scent Work in particular, people were really kind of confused, they didn't really know how to go about doing it and you saw a lot of confusion on behalf of the dogs because they just weren't certain what the rules of the game were. They weren't certain what it is they were being expected to do. So I just wanted to lay out some of the things that you may want to consider if you're interested in doing handle discrimination, which I actually think is a really great thing to do. The more things that we can help our dogs play as far as sniffy games, the better. Even if you had no intention of actually doing this at a trial, just playing this on your own is a great .

      I think it's actually kind of fun, but again, being mindful about what it is we're asking our dogs to actually hunt for is actually really important. So when we're talking about handler discrimination, again, I'm talking about this with the lens of looking at this sort of what AKC Scent Work is looking for. We basically have something that we are trying to scent with our own odor and then placing that into the space for the.to find. That sounds simple, and yet, particularly in the very beginning when AKC Scent Work first came on the scene, I was working as a trial staff member. I was working in the score room and just I was at a number of trials in the very beginning and you would see people do some crazy stuff, sending their articles cuz my goodness and the rules I have to say, don't really help because the rules of AKC Scent Work actually read handlers may utilize any method that they wish to scent.

      The article suggestions include rubbing the article on the handler's body or storing the article in dirty laundry. Now again, it's not that this is written poorly or anything like that, but this led to people thinking, oh, rub it on my body. I'm going to like stick it underneath my bra and do all kinds of stuff there. I'm gonna stick into other parts, I'm going to not shower for a day and I'm gonna wear this sock. I mean like craziness, absolute craziness. To try to ensure that this smelled like them, right? Apparently forgetting how brilliant our dogs are as far as our amazing sense of smell. But on top of this you have to hand this article to someone else, like a volunteer at the trial, I was like, no, again, they have gloves on and whatever else. So it doesn't matter.

      It's still gross, it's nasty. But on top of that, besides the hygienes part of it, I was watching some people at trials. There were two instances in particular that always stuck out in my head. One was someone was rubbing their article in their armpits because again, they wanted to really smell like them. And I'm sitting there going, Hmm, okay. And then I watched another person put actual lotion on cuz it was in the middle of the summer. So they're putting on suntan lotion as they should, and then they're sending their article really, really feverishly. I said, huh, so for both of those instances, I can almost guarantee you that those articles are not just sented by the person odor we have. Now a chemical profile is also introduced. I'm not a scientist, I'm not an expert as far as these things, but I think that we can all agree that placing an article into your armpit where you have deodorant on or placing an article in your hands after you just put lotion on, you're placing chemicals onto that, sent that article.

      You'd be saying, well this is actually really great news, maybe I could potentially cheat. Well, even if you wanted to cheat, which I I do not promote in any way, shape or form, this can absolutely backfire on you because chemical profiles are very, very complicated. And what your dog is actually perceiving as far as part of the actual odor profile may not be what you think on top of that, as you progress into the levels, particularly again thinking about AKC Scent Work, you are going to have distractor articles in the space. That means that you're a judge and or your hide steward, depending on what level you're talking about. Maybe they also were using a similar type of lotion or deodorant. So it's very possible that your dog goes like, oh, I'm supposed to find, you know, seaside breeze, whatever, pick whatever scent you want it to be.

      They don't know it's actually about you. So this is just one of the things that we're really tripping up teams because the dogs did not understand what it was they were supposed to be finding. And it was because we as handlers and trainers weren't thinking about what we were asking them to find. We were so, you know, obsessing about I have to scent this thing. We weren't being careful about how we were doing that . So I am of strongly of the opinion that you don't have to do anything crazy. You don't have to, you know, forego taking a shower, you don't need to, you know, wear your sock for a couple of days. All that other stuff is not necessary. I personally wouldn't even put my scented article inside dirty laundry. I don't think that helps. And the reason I know none of that is necessary is because in competition obedience, they do scented articles.

      They are dumbbells that literally before you run, it's just a like a couple of seconds , you literally run the dumbbell in your hands and that's it. And they put it out into the space. A dog goes out and they're like, yeah, this is ours. And they bring it back. That's it. Now can people try to claim that? Well, people cheat and they, I'm sure that maybe there is. I don't know why anyone would do that. But the point being is that your dog can do that and that's what we should be training for. Not trying to find and inject a bunch of other complicated odors in here that we honestly don't know what part of that profile the dog is actually being trained on. And on top of that, when you have distractor articles in the space, there's a really good chance that maybe they use a similar lotion.

      Maybe they use a similar deodorant, who knows, right? But if your dog knows this has nothing to do with chemicals, it has everything to do with mom or dad odor. It doesn't matter what the judge or the h steward is using , right? It makes it even clearer for them. Oh look, that smells like some other person in Sea Breeze. I don't know why they had that in here. Where's mom and dad's thing? That's what we're looking for. The other thing that is sometimes confusing when we're talking about handler discrimination from a training perspective is how to really distinguish, even besides the whole chemical profile, I want you to find mine. I don't want you to just find human odor. I want you to find my odor. So again, if we take this, remove ourselves from handle discrimination part a second, and we go back into traditional Scent Work, we introduce our dogs to hunting for birch, right?

      That means that we go through whatever imprinting process in order to help the dog understand, I want you to find birch and finding birch is valuable. We are not then going along and saying, okay, typically I want you to find Birch that I bought from this vendor, but I don't want you to find birch that I bought from that vendor. I'm sure you could it would be a very complicated and long process. But again, our dogs are brilliant. They would be able to figure it out. But that's not needed, that's not required. That's what we're doing. But then if we look back at handler discrimination, I want you to find an article that's sented by a person, right? But really specifically what I want you to find, it's an article that's sented by me, not any other person on the planet, just me. My thing, the thing that's scented like me and what people were falling into is that they weren't doing that really clarifying piece in their training.

      They weren't offering other articles in the space that either were completely and totally clean that weren't even had a hint of odor from anyone other than when they were like made or they didn't have articles that were scented by other people. So there was no proofing ability, there was no opportunity for the dog to say, okay, I came into the space and there is a cotton swab over there that doesn't really have any odor. I think it just came out of the package. There's a cotton swab over there that smells like Jo Schmo, but there's a cotton swab over here that smells like Mom, oh, I need to go let them know about that one. That one I know gives me cookies. We need to make certain that we're being clear in how we set this up, but that also means that it has to be those really crystal clear kinds of pictures.

      It can't be, well I'm assuming that this is a clean article, but I actually handled it with my bare hands. I like held onto it and kissed it and hugged it and that I put it somewhere , but that's clean. I didn't really scent that. Like I'm, I'm being ridiculously like obnoxious with my analogy . But basically if we aren't careful with how we're handling these things, we may assume that it's clean, but it isn't really. So then you get into this whole wishy washy territory or the dog is like, well that kind of smells like you, but it doesn't smell as much like you. What is it that you wanted me to find ? I don't understand. So it's really with handler discrimination, I think the issue is that it requires us interestingly enough to really stop and to think what is it that I want my dog to find and how can I make this clear for them?

      It requires even more clarity I think, than even the target owners because we have to be even more careful because we are touching everything. So for myself, what I do is I have, first of all, I will wear plastic gloves when I'm gonna be setting up my search area and I have a pair of tongs. So I handling my tongs with gloves on and then I will have all my quote unquote clean articles are quite literally out of the bag or the package that I but them from. I reach in with the tongs, I grab it and then I place it within the search area. I will then close up my bag and put it that way. I have another bag of articles that are sent by somebody else. They have actually handled them in their hands. They're not rubbing them like in another regions of their body.

      They're just regular scented articles. But I'm still not going to interact with these casually. I have my gloves on, I'm using my tongs. I have different tongs for scented articles than I do for clean articles. Again, I'm more paranoid about this than most, but I'm trying to provide clarity. Oh, hide those articles and all of those are basically out of reach for the dog in the beginning, right? And then my actual scented article, every time before I do a run, I'm resenting it. I'm just running it over in my hands a few times. I'm making certain, I didn't just put lotion on, I didn't just handle something. I was not just, you know, like creating birch oil or something. Scent cotton swabs like for something else. My hands are nice and clean and they do not have a lot of odor on them from other chemicals, but I'm resenting my actual article or articles I'm using for training.

      And I will then place these in the search area with my bare hands and those are gonna be more accessible to the dog. So it's not that the other articles aren't there they are, they're just not as easy of an answer for the dog to get to. And then we make that more complicated over time. But the important pieces are recognizing the care that's being taken in presenting those articles within the space of ensuring the dog understands this thing that smells like me. That's what's gonna get you cookies or playing with a toy or whatever. These other things, they don't pay at all. They're just here. You don't even need to pay attention to them. This thing pays so much. I think having that approach really helps as far as providing clarity. And then you're able to up the ante. You can add in other distractors, your non-food distractors, your food distractors, all the other good jazz.

      And the dog is like, sure, I can do this all day. , right? It makes so much sense, but it only makes sense if we kind of pump the brakes for a second and think about what exactly is it that I'm doing? What is it exactly the doc has to hunt for? And then obviously you can have other organizations like NASDA where you have other like sent articles, like you can have like keys, you can have other stuff and then you can really, like the sky is a limit, right? You could be as creative as you like. Go find this thing that I, scented tracking is another really wonderful example. The point being is that it's not that our dogs can't do this. They absolutely positively can. It's based off of real life dogs who are doing real life things, finding, you know, people and other things that people may have dropped or purposefully put down somewhere.

      Of course our dogs can do this, but I think within the realm of cent work, particularly when people have a lot of experience working with target owners, having that clarity, particularly with, again, in the way that the AKC Scent Work program is designed is I can provide a lot of confusion in the beginning and it was a lot of pain points. A lot of people are like, I don't wanna do this . The other thing to consider for myself anyway, I find this approach to really help is I do try to delineate for my dog what it is that we're playing. I do view these as far as we're hunting for target odors, we're hunting maybe for primary, we're hunting for sent articles. They're all different, right? It still falls under the umbrella of set work. But I try to separate those at least by days.

      But I'm training, it's not okay, we're gonna do sent articles, then we're gonna do target odor and then we're gonna do toy. To me anyway. I think that that can provide more confusion for the dog. It's not that they can't do it, it's not that they wouldn't be able to do it at a trial, but for training purposes, for me, particularly in the beginning when we're first getting started, if the dog has experience doing traditional Scent Work with target odors, I prefer to do handle discrimination on completely separate days than when we're doing any kind of other types of Scent Work. Just to really make it clear, this is a new game. We're gonna have a different queue, maybe I'm even gonna have different equipment. Whatever I can do to delineate this is different. We're not looking for target odors here, we're not looking for toys, we're not looking for food, we're looking for this new thing and trying to make it as clear as possible for the dog.

      It does seem to help. So I hope this made sense. I just wanted to put this episode together because again, I do think that people get frustrated with handle discrimination, which is sad because it's really kind of a fun class, even if you never wanted to do it at trial. It's just a fun thing to do with your dog . And then you know, if you're doing it on your own, you can have them find any kind of random thing that you wanna send. Again, this doesn't mean you don't need to take a shower or needs to like be stuck in weird parts of your body or anything . That's not necessary. But it's a fun thing to do if we take the time to just really mull over what is it that the dog thinks that they're supposed to be hunting for, and how clear were we with our training to make sure they understood what it is that we wanted them to hunt for.

      But if you were interested in getting involved in inhaler discrimination, again, particularly for AKC Scent Work, and you are like, I think I want to give this a try, maybe I want a trial. We do offer the handler discrimination course through Scent Work University. It is a course that I put together. We walk you through how to get ready for novice and then how you may be able to progress from there. So I'll make certain there's a link for that for the actual replay page for this podcast episode in case you wanna check that out. But as always, you always, we wanna hear from you, have you tried handler discrimination before, either with AKC Scent Work or with another organization? Did you still have any questions about handler discrimination even after this podcast episode? Let me know and we'll definitely be happy to answer those either in another episode or maybe you can do a blog post.

      Maybe you can do a webinar about it. That'd be great. I would love to reach out to some of our instructors and get some of their insights as far as tips and trucks and things like that. I'm also looking forward to having more round table discussions with our instructors. They're such talented people, and there's so many wonderful things to talk about. We are also working on getting some more outside speakers as well. I want you guys to be hearing from us many different professionals as possible. Yeah, I can't believe it's already March of 2023. We have so many good sniffy things coming down the pike, busy, busy, busy. So I really do appreciate everyone who has been a part of the podcast so far and we look forward to sharing even more sniffy fun with you in the future. Thanks so much. Happy training. We look forward to seeing you soon.

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