Ep. 99: Run On All Cylinders...Or Maybe Not

Aug 19, 2023

Are you going a million miles a minute when it comes to Scent Work? Doing all the training, learning, trialing possible, essentially all the things all the time? Or, do you feel as though MUST do all the things all the time to be a "good" Scent Work handler, instructor, trainer or trial official?

In this episode, we discuss the potential issues of doing too much for too long, lacking balance in your life and how it is NOT necessary to meet some arbitrary metric when it comes to playing Scent Work.


Dianna L. Santos


Speaker 1 (00:00):
Welcome to the All About Scent Work Podcast. In this podcast, we talk about all things that work, that include training, tips, a behind scenes look of what your Instructor or trial official may be going through and much more. In this episode, I wanted to talk about the concept of pushing forward, putting everything into something and how that may not be a good tact for all of us to take. 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 for Scent Work University. This is an online dog training platform that's designed to help you achieve your Scent Work training goals. So regardless of where you are in your sniffy journey, if you're just getting started, you're looking to develop some more advanced skills. You're interested in trialing or you're already competing even at the upper levels, we likely have a training solution for you. So I just know a little bit more about me. Let's dive into the episode itself.

So in this episode, I wanted to talk about the concept of pushing ahead, giving it your all going all cylinders, and how that may not be something that we all can do, at least not all the time. Now, we're going to try to keep this in the context of Scent Work, but to start off with, I wanted to give a background as far as why I am talking about this. There have been lots and lots and lots of posts probably over the last, I would say at the end of the pandemic when people were coming out of lockdown where people were very motivated to do everything, to get caught up and to live life to the fullest. They had really felt that a lot of their life and their time had been stolen away from them by this global catastrophe, and they were very motivated to go off and do all the things, and that included things with their dogs as well as Scent.

Work, I'm going to be training all the time. I'm going to be getting back to those trials we couldn't go to, and I'm going to go practice with my friends and I'm going to take every class and webinar that's possible and so on and so forth. And I think that that's a great thing to be motivated to want to do it all, but being someone personally who is spread way too thin and doing way too many things and quite literally experiencing all the bad things that happen as a result of that, I look at some of these conversations that people are having on social media and elsewhere, and I get very concerned because there's definitely a personality thing. There's a whole Type A personality type of thing, but I get concerned, particularly when we're talking about working with our dogs, particularly with Scent Work of doing too much and what that can do to diminish the joy of the game, the quality of the game can start really eating away at the relationship.

All kinds of really icky, yucky, gross things can happen. And even if it doesn't have any kind of ill effect on the dog, it can have a lot of ill effect on the person. So I'll try to help this make a little bit more sense. Let's say that you have a person who is again, really super motivated. They want to do everything under the sun. So they've signed up for a whole bunch of classes in person and virtual, whole bunch of webinars, every learning possibility possible. They're also volunteering at trials or entering at trials. They're practicing with friends. This is just Scent Work. We're not talking about how they feed themselves like with a job, no family requirements or responsibilities, sleeping, showering, eating, who needs those things, right? Their schedule is just jam packed with just Scent Work stuff. And at some point, something is going to have to give, it's either going to give on the dog side of it or it's going to give on the handler side because at some point something's not going to work out well. A search won't go well.

You get a false alert at a trial. Something doesn't make sense when you're taking a class. Maybe you're doing a practice session with your friends and all your friends' dogs are rocking it and your dog is just off that day. Those things compound when you're doing too much and it compounds just for you. We're taking the dog out of it completely because it compounds for them too. But just talking about the handler side of it, that starts chewing away at the back of your brain and then you can start seeing all kinds of really negative things happen as a result. Typically speaking in Scent Work, when there's any kind of stress or uncertainty, anxiety, nerves, that's all things that cause a handler to now interject themselves more into a search because, this is my opinion, they're trying to inject some control. They're trying to be like, okay, something happened that was gross.

Let me see if I can fix this. When we can't fix odor, oftentimes there's nothing we can do. There's nothing to be done. It may just be that Mother Nature threw our dog's a loop. It could be that they just needed a second. Maybe we did happen to rush in our training. Maybe our dogs just aren't feeling well that day. Maybe wear off our game. There's so many possibilities. But from a handler perspective, if we have all this other stuff going on in the background, we're anxious, we're stressed, we're overwhelmed, we're nervous, we're frustrated, maybe we're envious, all these different things that then causes us to do things as a handler, that doesn't help the search. How we're designing our searches, the kinds of training decisions that we make, whether we're training or not, the kinds of decisions that we make if we are trialing, which classes are we entering, how often are we trialing?

All this kind of stuff is directly affected by and informed by our emotional state. If the baseline is we must do all the things all the time. Otherwise we are failures, right? Otherwise, we are not good Scent Work handlers, you've got to work to earn it. All that stuff. Well, what happens if you just can't? What happens if there's not enough gas in your tank? I mentioned before that all these things, all these activities, lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of people in the Scent Work community are doing, which is a little bit of everything. You look at their schedule and you're like, when do you sleep? When are you going to work? When are you eating? When are you catching up with family or friends? When are you doing other things that have nothing at all to do with Scent Work that have nothing to do with your dog?

When is your dog sleeping? All these different kinds of things, because that balance, that's what balance really means, having a more balanced approach to your life. And when that's out of whack, it will come back to bite you at some point. Let's say that you had that expectation, right, to be a Scent Work handler to be a good Scent Work handler. And I don't mean good as in successful. I mean good as in some kind of metric that apparently the community has against you, which we'll talk about in a minute. You have to do all the things otherwise you are not "good" or you're not good enough. Let's say you've been trying to do that and you've been doing it your absolute best, but then life happens. Maybe you get sick, maybe you just get a cold, right? Nothing major, but you're going at 120 miles an hour and now you trip a little bit.

When you're going 120 miles an hour and you trip a little bit, you're going to fall on your face and break your face. If you were only going 10 miles an hour, no big deal. But when we're going so hard, so fast, we're spread way so thin. Those little blips can really derail us a lot, but life, at least in my experience, doesn't typically work that way. It's not really that kind. It's not just a cold, right? You've got a cold, there's other kind of big life stressors going on. Maybe you're having trouble at work, maybe you lose your job, maybe your job just ceases to exist. Oh, hey, thanks so much for coming in today. We've closed the business, whatever there could be interpersonal things going on, family, friends, auxiliary people that you don't even know. There can be things with you personally, all kinds of self-worth and what's my purpose in life?

All these different kinds of things, right? And that's just scratching the surface. Every single one of those things are major. And when you're already doing so much with just Scent Work, how on earth are you going to have what's needed to face those things head on to be able to cope with them, shoulder them, get through to the other side? I don't know how you can do that. And again, I'm speaking from experience where I am so overburdened at the moment and have been for years. There is no way I can add anything else. It's just impossible. And I know it's impossible, and I know that if I were to have some of those blips, it's going to be bad. It's not going to be good at all. But I'm aware of it and I'm doing my best to try to lighten the load a little bit and not be in this horrendous position.

I've put myself into, but basically that means for me, there's no way that I would be able to go to every seminar that I can train for hours on end every day, that I can make really big lofty goals daily, quite literally. Did I shower today? Awesome! Did I eat something that was somewhat nutrition? Amazing! Did I get outside this week more than just my backyard to spend time with my little guy? Wow, right. It's really that bad for me. I wanted to do this episode because I'm seeing a lot of these kinds of posts and conversations about Scent Work that I think maybe it's just the perspective that I have right now, and maybe I'm totally off the mark, but I fear that people are taking in these what's supposed to be motivational and almost bordering on you will do this if you want to be good again, that good of you are a good handler in the eyes of the community, otherwise you're lazy, otherwise you're not trying hard enough otherwise you're failing your dog, like all this other stuff.

My concern is that people are taking that literally and they're taking it to the nth degree, and then if they are a normal human being and not some kind of cyborg that have lives that need to do things, and even within Scent Work, there's only so much we can do that, then they all of a sudden feel very small or they feel as though they're not doing enough. And that's so sad. So I'm hoping that by talking about these things, we can try to be clearer with what we mean. So I'm going to discuss what I think the intentions are with these kinds of conversations. I could be completely wrong, but I'm guessing this is what the real positive, I guess, aspiration is, even if I personally am seeing it like, oh, that's coming across kind of gross. But my guess is the goal is to lay out that we as handlers and trainers and all of us are trainers if we're doing training with our dogs, that this does indeed take some effort.

It takes some thought, it takes some attention to do this activity well with our dogs, and in order to ensure that they can have the best experience possible in the activity of Scent Work, that effort and attention is required if we just kind of half ass it could actually make it so the activity is not enjoyable for our dogs because we could inadvertently be setting up searches that they simply can't solve because we haven't thought through enough. Or if we're trying to put all of the onus on the dog, but we're not putting any kind of effort onto us as far as, let's say, improving our leash handling skills. If we were competing, our dog can be amazing, but then we could actually be hindering their ability to do well because we're fumbling with the leash, that kind of thing. I think that's what these posts are trying to highlight is that we as handlers and trainers do need to do a fair amount of learning that there are skills that we will need in order to do well in every facet of Scent Work, designing our searches, setting our searches, running our searches, and that does take time and repetition and effort, and that learning from others is very, very helpful.

Whether that be with an in-person class or a seminar or a workshop, working with friends, watching videos and doing online learning. All of that's very helpful and I think it's absolutely true that you will and should do those things in order to be the best handler and trainer that you can be. And also to better help your dog to figure out, okay, what kind of searches can I do? And also to set expectations to ensure that both of you are better prepared if you are interested in trialing that you're doing the trialing at a time and in a way that both of you are set up to succeed. I think all of that is accurate.

Where I think it gets a little dicey is unless the way that it's framed, maybe it's just the way that I'm taking it in, but unless you are doing all of these things, this learning, this training, this practicing, this shadowing this, all of this stuff, unless you're doing it 24/7 at the highest level possible all the time, then you will never amount to much. You will not reach those highest summits and so on and so forth. I just don't think that's true. And I also personally don't think that approach is really healthy or helpful. And again, this is where I'm sure there's going to be lots of people who disagree with me, and that's okay. I view all of this, competition included, it's just a game, and it's not to diminish it at all, but it's to put it in its place. Even the highest levels of competition, they are indeed impressive. They are impressive feats of a game, and it's supposed to be a demonstration of the skills and most importantly, the bond between the dog and the handler.

But I don't want anyone to lose sight of what this is. If all of the competition organizations disappear tomorrow for whatever reason, you can still play Scent Work and you would be fine. You could do exactly what you're doing right now to prepare for trial, and you could make up your own little awards and things, and that would be fine. My concern is that we're moving into this weird space where unless you are working this crazy full-time schedule with whatever job you have and life responsibilities and everything else, and then you rush home, you grab your dog, you take your dog, you go and train, and you're doing it in all kinds of weather and all the time. And unless you're doing that at every opportunity, well, I guess you're not really serious about this. I guess you're not really that great at it. You and your dog are on a lower tier than other teams.

That bothers me a whole lot. Anything that tries to delineate dog and handler teams from other ones I get really upset about. And again, maybe I'm just taking this all the wrong way. That's absolutely possible. But I've heard from clients who are taking it the same way that I am, and that bothers me. And then I have to try to explain to them, no, that's not the case. You guys are doing fine. I had someone who contacted me recently who it was such a sad email who basically was explaining that I guess Scent Work isn't for us because I don't have enough time. And I reached back out. I'm like, I'm so sorry to hear that. Please let me know what you mean. We'll flesh this out because as far as I'm concerned, everyone can play Scent Work. You make Scent Work what it is for you and your dog.

And basically it turned into this kind of thing of, well, we compete every now and again, and we were having fun, but I was kind of thinking of maybe shooting towards an NW3. I guess we're not going to be able to do it because we don't do it as much as other people. I said, well, you don't have to. If you are spending the time, whatever time you have thoughtfully and carefully working on skills and you're having a good time with your dog, that's a win. That's totally fine. Again, these titles and things aren't going anywhere. There's not a deadline. So I think, I hope that we were able to come to a meeting of the minds with this client, but that's basically what I'm really worried about is putting everyone into these weird little camps where we're all doing the same thing. We're all playing this game, and it's not diminishing anything from anyone.

If they say, Hey, I've got three hours a week that I can devote to this, that's fantastic. I mean, how many people who own dogs right now out in the big wide world way outside of Scent Work, the billions of dogs that are out there, would we kill to have their owner just even look at their dog? Not to mention, say, I'm going to devote three extra hours a week doing this completely optional recreational activity that the dog will love. Oh my God, that'd be such a gift, right? And yet, for this client in particular, they're like, well, I guess that's not enough. What do you mean? That's plenty? That's great. Don't worry about it. You don't have to do, well, I thought maybe I needed to do three hours a day. Why? Where'd you get that from? What I'm hoping with this episode is people can kind of stop and think.

There is no right or wrong answer to these things. If you have the time and the balance to in 110% into Scent Work, and that's not causing issues in other parts of your life, all the more power to you, I tip my hat to you. That's amazing. And if you and your dog are finding that enjoyable, that's fantastic. I mean that sincerely. But not everyone can do that. And that's okay too. I really want everyone to make this so it works for them and not turn this into some sort of, well, I don't meet this mold, therefore I cannot do it. It's not true. And again, it makes me very sad because I know that I don't meet the mold right now of going 125 miles an hour with just Scent Work. I literally can't. So does that mean that now I'm no longer in good standing in the community, that I should hand in my instructor card and I should just close the business and I should go rot in my bed? The answer is no.

I'm still doing plenty with my little guy. He's got some really great skills on him. He's having so much fun playing the game when we do, I'm in absolutely no rush, mainly because I can't be, because can't add anything else right now. Otherwise, my brain will explode or my heart will burst down my chest, whichever one comes first. But I hope that this at least gets people thinking that first and foremost, Scent Work should be this wonderful gift of an activity that we are doing with our dogs. It's completely optional. It's absolutely recreational. You can be passionate about it, which I am. You can love every aspect of it, including the social aspect. That's a big one. Doing this with friends, going to trials and being with your friends, going to class, meeting up with people in your virtual groups like your Facebook groups and stuff like that, talking with your Instructor, all of that's really important to people, and that's a good thing.

That's not a bad thing. You can do all those things in whatever saturation level that works for you, and it can change. You can be full steamboat ahead, and then maybe something happens in life and then you have to scale back a little bit. That's okay, nothing bad is going to happen. You can then go back or maybe you find a new level of participation, that's okay too. I hope this makes a semblance of sense? Again, I get very worried when I see these posts and conversations and things where again, I think at the core of it, I'm guessing that the intention is we want to make certain that people aren't just throwing their dogs under the bus by not putting the effort in that's required to be a good support system to the dog, to allow the dog to have the skills they need to be successful.

Particularly if you're interested in competition. I think that's a fair statement. I don't think it's a fair statement to then put the expectation of, well, you should be putting in the same amount of effort that maybe is put in for a professional detection dog to get them ready to be deployed for a life and death situation. That's not what we're doing. We're playing a game and it's recreational and optional. And if you're trying to juggle so many things in your life and you start noticing a bunch of the balls that you're juggling are falling, maybe you need to remove some of those balls. And the recreational optional one is when you may want to put down for a minute so you can handle everything else. So you can still be there to take care of your dog, to maybe still play the game occasionally and everything else, and not ruin it, not burden it with all this other baggage and fallout that can happen of attaching anxiety, frustration, and envy all other stuff to it.

That would be so sad. Again, a little bit of a different episode than Noodle. This is something that has been percolating in me for a while and and himed and hawed about talking about it because I know that I personally am in a very unique and weird position of, again, living a ridiculous life at the moment. I'm working seven days a week, 18 hours a day. I barely go outside. I don't leave my front door. It is absurd. No one should be living like this, and maybe that makes me more sensitive to these kinds of things the most. But the fact that I have been getting contacted by clients over the last probably month and a half or so with these kinds of concerns, with these kinds of conversations happening out in the community, it just rubs me the wrong way. So at least get the conversation started, maybe provide more clarity with how we talk about these things.

Maybe evaluate what are we doing with our own lives? Do we have any kind of balance? I don't, all I do is work and it's not good. I don't promote this for anyone. So if you happen to notice that, wow, my life is kind of topsy-turvy, how can you add a little bit more balance? I don't purport to know how because I'm not doing it, but maybe you can come up with a solution that works best for you. And again, my main goal with everything that I do is to keep Scent Work an activity that everyone can and does do with their dogs in whatever flavor they want to do it. That's what I care about. And the reason being is that Scent Work is such a gift. It can improve the relationship between the dog and the handler. It can allow the handler to see the dog for who they really are.

It gives the dog this amazing ability to be a dog, to be celebrated for being a dog its fantastic. And then all these other human things that we add onto the game can sometimes make that not so fantastic if we aren't careful. So that's really all my goal ever is with everything that I do, is how can we keep this game great? And I get concerned when I see these kinds of conversations and movements and memes that can be taken 25 different ways. But I always, with my brain, I always go, how can this be taken the wrong way? How can this go badly? And again, when I'm contacted by clients going like, I guess I can't do this anymore. That's like a big red flag to me that something is up. So as always, I would love to hear from all of you, what are your thoughts?

How do you approach all of this? How do you approach having Scent Work in your day-to-day life or in your weekly life or in your monthly life? Is this something that you just, we do quickly with our dog and then we do everything else with our life? Is Scent Work the biggest thing in your life? What type of approaches are you taking? Have you found yourself going, I think I'm doing a little bit too much, and maybe it's not too much of Scent Work. Maybe it's too much of something else. Who knows? I'd love to hear from you. We'll be posting this episode up on our website and our social media so you'll be able to post any comments or questions that you have there. We'll be talking to some more outside speakers. You guys don't just have to listen to me pontificate about things and you're like, thank God.

After this episode, we are also going to be continuing our Spotlight series. We'll be talking with other individuals or businesses that are giving back to the Scent Work community. I love doing this series. So if there's a certain individual or business you'd like for me to reach out and speak to, please let me know. I would love to talk with them. We also have in the work some other series I'm really excited about. Can't wait to tell you about them, but they are under development and just lots of really fun things happening with the podcast. So thank you guys so very much for listening. Please go give your puppies a cookie for me. Pat yourselves on the back for playing Scent Work. Happy training. We look forward to seeing you soon.

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