Ep. 98: Instructors - Clients Cannot Live Inside Bubbles

Aug 19, 2023

As Scent Work Instructors, given our learning, background and expertise, we oftentimes have a fairly solid grasp for how a sniffy journey may go, common pitfalls teams may fall into and ways to avoid those pitfalls. Our goal is to guide our clients to have the smoothest and most successful journey possible. However, some learning can only be obtained by doing.

In this episode, Dianna discusses how challenging it can be for instructors to thread this needle. While we want to guide our clients along their journey, we must simultaenously recognize it may be necessary for our client to experience something firsthand to truly absorb the information or obtain the requisite skills. Essentially, while instructors may have the best of intentions, placing clients into bubbles is oftentimes not the best option and could actually hinder their progression and growth.

Learn more about our Instructor Mentorship Program here.

Speaker: Dianna L. Santos


Speaker 1 (00:00):
Welcome to the All About Scent Work Podcast. In this podcast we talk about all things Scent Work, that include training tips, a behind scenes look of what your instructor or trial official is going through and much more. In this episode, I wanted to focus on talking to my fellow colleagues about how we cannot place our clients in do bubbles and they still have to learn. So before we start diving into the 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. This is an online dog training platform that focuses on all things at work. So regardless of where you are in your sniffing journey, whether you're just getting started looking to develop some more advanced skills, you're interested in trialing or if you're already trialing at the upper levels, we likely have a training solution for you. So I should know a little bit more about me. Let's step into the episode itself.

So in this episode I wanted to have a discussion about how it is that we as instructors may want to rethink how it is we're approaching our clients. And again, just to start off with, these are just my opinions. These are things that I've observed. This is things that I have myself gone through. I'm not some sage on hi. I'm not the sole authority on these things, but I think it would be helpful for us to at least think about these things and how it may be able to better improve how we are approaching our programs and our clients. What are you talking about Santos lady? As instructors typically speaking, we view our clients as a human and dog pair that we are guiding them through their journey in whatever type of dog training they may be doing. We're obviously talking specifically about Scent Work, and there's a lot of things that go into that.

We're trying to ensure that the dog has the understanding for the game. They have the skills that are necessary to be successful, that we are meeting their needs, we're helping their handler understand what their needs are. We may be trying to play translator between the dog and the handler. We're trying to help the handler develop the skills that they need, being able to read their dog leash, handling skills, understanding odor, designing search areas, covering search areas, the list goes on. That's really what we're trying to do. But in that process, we're taking on these two individuals as a unit and we are taking them under our wing. We're taking them under our care to try to ensure that they can have a positive journey. Doesn't mean that everything is going to go beautifully. It's not going to be unicorns and rainbows. We're trying to minimize any kind of fallout.

If we know from experience that hey, there's a ledge up ahead, let's not jump off that ledge. Let's go this way instead so that we can avoid all of that. And I do think that is part of our job as instructors is to have that knowledge base, to be able to guide our client around this very curvy and sometimes very messy path that they may be on to reach whatever goals that they have. And then it has to be goals that we have partnered with them to help reach, meaning that it should be what the client wants. We may be able to give our professional opinion as far as, well, maybe we can break that down to smaller pieces or dig in deeper of like, okay, but why is that your goal? And things of that nature. But at the end of the day, it's the client's goal, and if we don't think that we can or we want to help them achieve that goal, then we may be able to have them work with another colleague who can, but regardless, we are there to partner with them.

We're there to help them along their journey. But this is the part I wanted to talk about in this episode is that in that journey, there's a lot of learning that has to occur on both ends of the leash and learning involves making mistakes. Learning involves stumbling sometimes or simply having to have different experiences to obtain different perspectives. And we as instructors cannot, and I would opine, should not try to shield our clients from those things because we may actually be hindering their ability to really develop a strong understanding of the why's. And sometimes the why is almost more important than how behind a certain piece of knowledge, it's like, will you please stop being so abstract?

So let's say you have a client who's brand new to Scent Work, right? They've never done it before. They've never done dog sports before. They don't even know what a dog sport is, but they've stumbled upon that work and they want to do the sniffy thing, whatever that is, and you are working with them and their dog are doing well, right? They're learning all these different things. They're able to really visualize and see what's happening with the dog and be like, wow, that's really cool and my dog is doing these things and you're doing this in a group training class. So they're now part of this nice little mini community that you've built inside the class itself. They're copatriots, they're fellow classmates. They're doing well too. Everyone's doing great. We're having fun. We're chitchatting. It's all good and fantastic. Some of the people inside this class, their dog is new, but they are not.

Maybe they have another dog. Maybe this is dog number four, whatever. They have plans on competing and they already have under their own handler belt lots of experience. So they're talking about, oh yes, I earned this title and yes, we did this at this trial and yada, yada, yada, and now your brand new client is like, oh, that sounds interesting. That sounds like fun. So they start asking questions about competition with their brand new dog that has just started. Maybe it's like we three, and you're sitting there as an instructor going like, okay, it's great that you're interested. This is really wonderful, love that you're so interested, but we are right at the start line. That person has done this many, many times over already. You're just starting, so we're going to have to do X, Y, or Z to build up all these skills, yada, yada, yada.

Where I think things start getting messy as instructors is we then want to wrap this person up in a little bubble or around a blanket or something. We don't want them to fall into the pitfall of rushing ahead, of thinking of not understanding everything that goes into this, entering into their first trial too soon, not comprehending everything that they need flying through and suddenly, wow, I got a title in my novice or whatever else, and then they're languishing in the other levels. We are trying desperately to prevent all those things because we know it's preventable if we just spend the time to really solidify these things, these skills and so on and so forth, and I am one of those people who advocates for that a lot. Yes, we should be pumping the brakes. We should be building the skills before we're doing all of this stuff.

But I think where even myself have floundered on this is conflating that with the natural progression that someone in that situation would go into and how I may be able to shape that in a way that would be more conducive to them being successful. What I mean is for that brand new client to listen to their classmate talk about trialing in this really super excited way, they had a lot of success. They can't wait to do it with their new dog and to not walk away with, huh, that sounds interesting and fun. I want to try that. Of course they are right, and there's nothing wrong with them thinking that there's nothing wrong with your other client being excited for wanting to do the thing that they really like doing with their new dog. That's understandable. That makes sense. We shouldn't be shielding our clients from having those experiences as far as having that emotion or that thought.

We then need to educate them as far as, okay, these are some of the choices that we can make. These are the things I suggest, and this is Y, right? The Y really does matter. We can do X, Y, or Z to better prepare you, so on and on. But if as we're going along this brand new client is going into paths that we know is not going to be the best path, it's not the most efficient, there's going to be some pitfalls and things, there's going to be things that happened that we would really prefer didn't happen. If it's not going to break the handler or the dog and there's no way that they would be able to appreciate what we're trying to give them as advice. They very well may have to go through those things. Here, I'll take this out as somewhere to try to help to make more sense.

I don't have any children, but little tiny baby humans need to learn how to walk, and when they start coddling around, they fall a lot and eventually they figure out how to balance this giant head onto this little body and then move and not fall. If you try to prevent them from doing those things, because you obviously don't want them to get hurt, right? You're doing it from the goodness of your heart. You're hovering over them like, oh my God. Then you're hindering their development, right? I'm not saying here, let's have this toddler walk through broken glass, but there is a point where you see this parents have kind of this anxiety thing of they're trying so hard, they want to jump in, but they know they got to let the little thing do it, otherwise they're not going to figure it out. That's where I think instructors really struggle is, I know where you're going and I would really prefer that you didn't, but there's important learning in that process and you can't supplement that learning by simply talking about it.

Unfortunately, some of these things have to be experienced, and I'll put another example for dog training. You can talk about what it's like to have a reactive dog or a sensitive dog or an environmentally sensitive dog until you're blue in the face. If a client has never had one, it goes in one year and right out the other, not because they're bad people, not by any stretch, they've never had that experience before. It doesn't compute. Once you have had one of those dogs, you are forever changed as a handler and as a dog owner and as a trainer, suddenly it's as though a new panel of opportunity has opened up as your brain that would never light up if you didn't have those experiences, and it would be wrong of us as instructors, I think, to try to prevent people from having those experiences of just trying to coddle them through and say, shut your eyes and shut your ears and just run through all this.

Well get to the other side. Don't experience it. It's just go, go, go. No, right? They're going to have to do some things. They're going to likely make some choices and whatnot that you're like, oh, would really love it if you didn't, but they're not. So this is the other thing I really wanted to talk about is they're not doing it to spite you. They're not doing it to drive you insane. They're doing it because it makes sense with the experience that they have so far, and this is why I encourage my colleagues to continue being a student as often and for as long as you can to remind yourself what it's like to be in that state, but also recognize that you likely have a very different perspective and set of experiences than this person does. Even if it's just by watching all of your clients watching tins or hundreds of thousands depending on how long you've been doing this.

Handlers and dogs do things. So when you're like, oh, yeah, you're going to do this, and then that's going to happen, and they go, I don't know about that, and you're like, why wouldn't you know about that? This is what I do for a living because it doesn't make sense to them. That's why they don't have that experience. They're not trying to be difficult. It just doesn't compute until they actually see it. So here, we'll put it back in Scent Work, you have a client who is coming to you and they do have some training experience, just not in Scent Work, maybe in other dog sports, other types of dog training, a very interactive type of partnership and relationship with their dog, and the dog loves them, they love their dog. Everything is copacetic, but it's very much a, we are with each other, that kind of thing, that dynamic, obviously not overly hopeful when we need the dog to be in the lead role for Scent Work, we need the dog to be focused on what's happening in the environment so they can find their hides.

They can't just be staring up at mom and dad. You can try to explain that in every which way possible. It feels wrong to the handler because their experience and their history tells them, I should be connected my dog, and this is how we connect with us looking at each other as an example, being fairly close to each other, heel position whatever the case may be, talking to them, communicating to them, so on and so forth. You, instructor person, are telling me to not do any of those things to basically abandon my dog, and I'm supposed to do something like reading them, which I don't know what to do. I don't know what that is. I don't know how I'm supposed to reward my dog if they're really far away from me. All of this feels gross. All of this feels alien. It feels wrong, and as an instructor, you're like, just listen to me.

I'm telling you it'll be fine. But I hope that you can see with this example that both of you are talking truthfully. You are saying things that are correct, but talking past each other, you have different experiences. For that client, they need to experience the difference themselves, and they're going to have to figure out what this new picture looks like and feels like and that it's not wrong, that it's not alien, that it's not strange that they're not abandoning their dog. They're not diminishing the relationship with their dog, that they can indeed reward when they need to and so on and so forth. The tricky thing for us as instructors is how do we help them experience those things in a way that's conducive that they don't give up? That's not such a stark contrast to what they're doing now that they just throw their hands in and go, this is no, I know I don't like this.

You got to break it up into tiny pieces. So you may very well have this team work in ways that would not be your preference in the beginning. The handler is right there next to the dog, where for me, for beginner people, handlers at the start line and dog is off, dog is off leash, finding hides fantastic, For that particular client that might throw that client into such a tizzy, almost anxiety. They're not going to be learning the things I want them to learn. They're going to be learning this doesn't feel good, this doesn't feel right. So I hope that makes sense that because I'm trying as an instructor to get them to recognize this new handling style of allowing the dog to be in the lead role where you don't need to be on top of them, we can have distance, all that stuff, which again is good for a Scent Work and they will need, we're trying to get you there.

It's my responsibility as an instructor to not try to shield this client from the experiences that they're going to have to learn the value of this on their own. I instead have to recognize who they are and where they are right now and say, okay, my preference is to do A, I'm not going to be able to do that with this client. I'm going to have to break this down into much smaller pieces and then allow them to see and experience on their own, when I'm right next to my dog, this happens. But when I give my dog a little bit more space, that happens. That felt better, that went better. Interesting. What happens if I gave them even a little bit more space and so on and so on. That I think is the art of instructing and why it's so hard, and particularly why it's so hard in a group class.

Because in a group class, everyone's trying to emulate everybody else. I'm pretty sure I've told this story before but I'll tell again, my first passion was horses, so I was learning how to ride as a child and we'd be riding around doing the things the instructor is telling us to do, and I wouldn't just listen to the instructions for me. I would listen to the instructions for everyone and I would do them. Drove my trainer insane. She's like, Santos, I didn't tell you to do these things. I told them to do these things. You were fine. Now you're not, would ya stop.

So I was basically a personification of the problem that our clients very well may copy what they see. They may not understand something that we explain, but they may understand it better by watching someone else do it. Maybe they understood what they meant. Let me just copy what they're doing, that kind of thing. So we have to recognize all that as instructors on top of trying to have this individualized training on top of, we can't try to shield them from the experiences that they're going to have to go through. We can try to ensure that they don't make unnecessary mistakes that could be really detrimental to them and their dogs, but if we do see them going towards something that we know this is a pitfall, this is going to delay us so and so and so on, we can try to minimize that. But I would also say we can just guide them through.

They don't need to languish there, if that makes sense. And that's the really hard part is if as an Instructor you see or you get frustrated when a client is asking questions or they're doing things that you're like, just stop doing that. Don't do, get away from your dog. I'm telling you, this is what you need do at the end of the day. Just do it now. But like I explained to this client, that's gross. Go away with that idea. I hope you can see that's a conflict point. To me, that is an opportunity for us as instructors to make some kind of adjustment on our end to help that client. Now, I'm sure there's plenty of colleagues saying that's all fine and dandy. There are some clients that just don't listen. There are problem clients, so on and so forth, and I completely agree there are, I can count on one hand, I think it doesn't even fill up my whole hand.

I think I've been, my whole career, I think I've had two, maybe three. I didn't think it's been that many truly problematic clients where it just fizzled out and they went off into the sunset and that was the end of that. Everyone else, it was they were trying their best. They didn't understand. They hadn't had the experiences yet that I had. All of that's on me. That's on me to help them. That's my job. And there are times when I don't do a good enough job, I try my best, but sometimes I'm not the best fit. And that's when we go, okay, we're going to bring somebody else in to help you too because I'm trying everything I can, but I can't seem to fill in these gaps. That's not the same. I think that too often as instructors and as trainers, because quite frankly, we're burnt out, we're exhausted.

We're going in way too many directions at once. But I think the more insidious thing is we have so much more experience because we've been doing this for a living for a period of time. We passed the point where they are a long time ago, so we understand. We can see the picture from 10,000 miles up. We have this wonderful perspective where we can see everything. We can see there's much clearer path. They're standing right on top of it. They don't have that perspective. It's the same thing for Scent Work, right? We as an instructor are standing way back at the gate for the search area. We can see everything that's going on. They're right on top of their dog, they can't. That's where I think it's so insidious is that our experience can almost undercut our ability to be empathetic, particularly if we're hearing the same questions over and over again.

This is something I hear from colleagues. I've heard it from the very beginning of my career. Oh my God, they're asking the same question again and I would just be kind of waiting for a second. Well, of course they are. Why wouldn't they? Those are the questions to be asking. They're new, but I answered the question last week. Then they clearly didn't understand, and it could be that they can't understand yet. They haven't had the experience yet. I hope this is making sense. It's not that instructors are bad and wrong and terrible people. I just want to put out there that if you're feeling frustrated as an instructor, first of all, that's a big red flag. Please reach out to a trusted colleague and let them know what you're feeling and whatever else, and pick their brain, see what they think. Because if you're frustrated like about, and it may not just be one client, it may be like all my clients.

That means that you're kind of at the end of your rope and that we don't want that. That's very bad. It's a very real thing of empathetic exhaustion and everything else. It's all tied into it. It's very hard making a living doing this. You're trying to do way too many things at once, pulled in a million directions. There's no end to the need. So sometimes some instructors will fall into, well, I need to offer another class and I need to take a more privates, and it's just more and more and more and more. And then there's no balance in your life speaking from experience, and all of a sudden you are burnt out that on top of they won't listen to me. I'm trying to tell them don't do these things, and they're just doing 'em anyway. It's like because what you're telling them doesn't make sense because of the experiences they have so far.

So I don't have a simple solution for anyone. You got to figure out as an Instructor yourself, unfortunately, what the best tact is to take, but at least recognizing why this may be happening, that it's not that your clients are being obstinate or are just determined to drive you crazy. That's not it. It's not that, oh, they're just so focused on those damn titles and whatever else, and they just won't pay attention to the things that matter, like the dog. That's probably not it either, right? And it's a real good way of making clients upset. And I'm sure there's plenty of things that I've said and done over my career because I am so much on the fence about competing that has rubbed people the wrong way, which isn't fair. It feels like I'm diminishing their accomplishments, which is never the intent. So perhaps just taking a breath and remembering that perspective of you are the instructor at the gate of the search area. You can see everything where the hide is. You know how odor works, you know how five other dogs in the class did. You can see the dog, you can see the handler, you can see everything else. You can see the vents in the ceiling, the doors opening and closing. You have the perfect vantage point. And there they are five feet behind their dog focused only on their dog. They're looking through like a peephole.

Of course, they're not going to see the pitfalls, of course, they're not going to understand all these different things. That's what you are there for, to help them open up those panels so they can see them, but they're the ones that have to open it, otherwise they won't see it, otherwise they won't understand it. They won't internalize it. It'll just be your words chirping in their ear in the back of their brain, and then they get choice paralysis because they're like, oh, the Santos lady said, instead of it being an actual skill that they themselves have, we can't do these things through proxy for our clients. It's impossible. And yes, there are times that I absolutely wish that I could do that. Oh, I so wish that I could do that search for you so that I could cope with that false alert as an example.

But they're the ones that have to do it. They have to learn how to take those experiences and then deal with them and how they can react to them, how they can still support their dog, all these different things. They have to learn how to play with their dogs. They have to learn how to deliver the treats, what types of treats and all this stuff they have to experience. So one final thing, I promise I'll wrap up. An easier way to see if this may be something that you're struggling with. If you're teaching any kind of group class, it doesn't have to be Scent Work, it could be anything. And your first inclination is you see someone doing something with their dog and your inclination is like, Hey, can I borrow your dog for a minute? And then you do it and they really don't even have a chance to try to replicate what you just did.

Then I'm thinking that this is kind of a problem for you. I did that very early on in my career. I would go around for the basic obedience classes, and I was just doing that for everyone's dogs. Like, oh, can I borrow your dog from a minute? Oh, can I borrow your dog from minute? It's like the clients not learning a damn thing. The dog is doing great with me. And then they go back to the person who doesn't have the skills. Why would they have not chance to practice? Like, oh, can I go back to the trainer lady? She's so clear. Of course I'm clear. It's my job.

And then I realized luckily on my own, just from having eyeballs in my head that the dogs were doing great with me and the people were struggling and they were, quite frankly, they were crestfallen. It was highlighting My dog will do so well with you and they won't do it with me. What a horrible position for me to put those people into, right? So I had to myself from doing that. Yes, I had to improve as an instructor to educate the client, to help the human client obtain some of the skills that I already had, and I had to break that up into tiny pieces, which is hard. And I'm very fortunate that I was able to figure that out earlier on. It definitely helped improve my instructing. But if you're finding yourself when you're working with any client, I did the same thing with private clients. Oh my goodness, private clients were even worse.

But if you find yourself falling into that trap, then you may want to reevaluate and say, okay, I have this wealth of knowledge, right? No one is perfect. Everyone should be continuing learning, but you are the person who's been devoting your life to this. You've been doing all this learning, practicing practical experience, so on and so forth. This person is working with you one-on-one in a group class, whatever, to help them and their dog. Your job is not just to simply take the dog and do it. Your job is to help them get the skills they need to be successful, recognizing where they are now and how you can get them to those stages. But they are the ones that have to do the learning, and that's hard.

Again, I wanted to put this out there because I have received several, which I love. I love that my colleagues are reaching out to me because they're like, I don't know what to do. And I wanted to put this out there that we should be talking more openly as instructors of ways that we can support each other. We can learn from each other that it's okay that you're not perfect because nobody is to again, network and to pick brains of fellow colleagues and so on and so forth. But that's really what this episode is about, is really trying to identify what is your role as an instructor? What are you trying to do? Why are you trying to do those things? Are you best serving your clients or does something need to change? And how can you better improve because we can all better improve.

I am nowhere near the instructor I was when I started. I am head and shoulders above where I started, and I have a long way to go because there are some people who are just, wow, they are incredible. They are incredible teachers. They are incredible people who are able to break things up into such small minute individualized steps when appropriate. They can identify issues faster, but still have that balance of allowing the client to go through the experience on their own. It's incredible, and I aspire to further improve to do that as well. I think I'm pretty good, but I definitely am not perfect. I don't think anyone is, but there are definitely several colleagues and I'm like, wow, you are pretty darn spectacular, man. So I hope this helped.

I am going to be doing more of these talks where again, trying to talk directly to my fellow colleagues if there is a particular topic you would like for me to talk about, even just about my own journey, because really that's what this is, right? Again, I'm not some guru on these things. I'm happy to do so. If you have any questions or anything, always feel free to contact me. We are going to be starting a new program through Scent Work University where for myself, I'll be partnering with any fellow instructors who are interested, offering a mentorship program where you can decide from a various number of support, things that you can ask for, where we could have Zoom one-on-one consultations as an example, where you can say, Hey, I'm running into this, that, and the other thing. What do you think? Or maybe we could work together on a particular client where maybe I could look over your training plan or your curriculum.

We can brainstorm over those things. Maybe you're running out of ideas. You're like, oh my God, I've had this class for five years and they love me and I love them, but I have no idea what to do for searching anymore. I'm running a blank. I'll be happy to work with you to try to come up with some new ideas. It'll be open to anyone. It doesn't matter what the school of thought is. Obviously I'm CNWI, I follow the K9 Nose Work Training Method. That is my preference, but it'll be open to anyone really, particularly for anyone who's new, anyone who is feeling burnt out, anyone who's running out of those ideas. If you really are interested, like I have competition people who are really, really, really interested in competition, we're going to have ways for you to connect with some of our other instructors who are active trial officials.

They're active competitors. They are extremely experienced, and I think that they would be better points of reference to talk to. Am I experienced those things? Yes. Have I done those things? Yes, but I'm not in it as much right now and it's just not a focus of mine. So I think that it would be more helpful to connect you with those instructors who would. So keep an eye out for that. We'll be launching it very, very soon. And again, I want to ensure, because I know I am incredibly burnt out, I am spread way too thin. I am so imbalanced with my life. I basically want to make sure that no one else is doing the things that I'm doing right now because it's not helpful. And if I can share my insights to just help fellow colleagues, I'm happy to do so. So look forward for that. But as always, if you guys have any questions or comments, you're always more than welcome to let us know. We'll be posting this episode up on our website as well as our social media, and if there are other topics that you're interested in, please let me know. We're going to be inviting some other outside speakers. You don't just have to listen to me pontificate because who wants to do that?

And also, we are going to be continuing our Spotlight series. So if you do happen to know of an individual or a business who's giving back to the Scent Work community, please let me know. I would love to talk to them. Alright guys, you listen to me blabber on long enough, go give your pups a nice little cookie for me. Pat yourself on the back of all my fellow colleagues for helping other dog and handler teams play the wonderful game of Scent Work. You are amazing. Happy training. We look forward to seeing you soon.

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