Ep. 80: Frustration Threshold...Say What?!

Oct 21, 2022

Have you ever been in the middle of a search with your dog, and it seems as though their brain just...well, exploded? Maybe they started barking at you. Or perhaps they rushed off to grab a toy. Maybe they disengaged all together, seemingly giving up on the search. What you may be witnessing is the dog reaching what Dianna calls their "frustration threshold".

In this episode, Dianna explains how she defines this term and what it looked like with her own dog, both inside and outside the context of Scent Work.


Dianna L. Santos (00:00):
Welcome to the All About Scent Work Podcast. In this podcast we talk about all things Scent Work. This includes training tips, a behind scenes look at what your instructor or trial official may be going through and much more. In this episode, I'm gonna be talking about a term that I made up called Frustration Threshold, and what exactly that is when we're talking about Scent Work. Before we start diving into the podcast episode itself, let me do a very quick introduction of myself. My name is Dianna Santos. I'm the Owner and Lead Instructor for Scent Work University, Dog Sport University and Pet Dog U. These are online dog training platforms that are designed to help you achieve your dog training goals. So for Scent Work University in particular, we provide online courses, seminars, webinars, and eBooks that can help you regardless of where you are in your sniffing journey. So if you're just getting started, you're looking to develop some more advanced skills or getting ready for trial, we have a training solution for you. So I, to know a little bit more about me, let's jump into the podcast episode.

So in this episode I wanted to take a little bit of a deeper dive into a term that I made up, and I've used a little bit in my training recently and some of my webinar presentations called Frustration Threshold. And I'm sure that there are similar terms that are actually more formal , but I use this term to try to help people understand what their dog may be going through. So I wanted to do this episode to basically give it more of a definition of what I mean and how that may actually be what's going on with you and your dog, what you may be actually experiencing. For my purposes, what I mean when I'm talking about a dog reaching their frustration threshold, it basically means that they have encountered some sort of situation where they are trying to do typically a task. There is something that they were trying to do now that could have been something completely voluntary, had nothing to do with you, it had nothing to do with dog training, , it was just something they wanted to have done, or it could be in a dog training context as well.

And they weren't able to get to the end point when they wanted to. It was taking more effort than they wanted to put in. It was more difficult, it was more challenging. And quite frankly, they just get really frustrated and they kind of have a meltdown. This can involve barking, this can involve grabbing a toy and doing a death shake. This can involve suddenly zooming around. It can involve, you know, just completely disengaging and being like, forget this . But the reason I I started using this term is I would see it a lot in younger adolescent dogs, particularly male dogs. I've seen it in female dogs too. But I also had a dog that had this, my wonderful boy valor, who again was an amazing dog and I loved him very, very much. But when I first got him, I got him when he was a year and a half old.

So he's right in the age range that I'm talking about. And he had had a lot of really formal handler led training, lots of obedience. He, I think he had started in schutz and training. So a lot of you do this, I show you what to do and you do it kind of thing. And the way that I train is I like to do a lot of shaping. I like to do, uh, outside of stunt work, I do lots of stuff with clickers and shaping behaviors and letting the dog experiment and building behaviors from there. I find that stuff really interesting. I also think that it encourages the dog to experiment more, to be more engaged in the learning process. And they just seem to have a more solid understanding of what it is that they're doing because they were the ones that came up with it as an idea in the first place.

So instead of me trying to say, okay, this is what I want you to do, and it's like all human and garbled and weird, the dog actually volunteers something and then I'll reward that if it's close to what I was looking for. And then we just kind of finesse it from there. But when I first got him, that whole concept was so alien to him and he hated it , it was just, it blew his mind. And he was actually a fairly, he wasn't a soft dog, that's not the right term, but he was very concerned about being wrong because he did not want to be on the wrong side of his person. He wanted to get it right. And he was very worried that if he tried and he experimented that he would be wrong. So he would get mad . It's like, you're setting me up to, you know, be wrong, this, this stinks.

Just tell me what you want me to do. So we would do these shaping sessions again, nothing to do with network at all. I just got him and just simple stuff like, hey, can, there's a, a bed I put down or a mat, can you go like step on it, right? It's just there's something brand new that I put down, can you interact with it at all? And he would just be boring a hole in my head instead with his eyeballs, like, what do you want me to do ? I don't know if I'm allowed to go over towards the little matte thing. And it took him a while, but the way that it manifested in him is that he would bark at me and it was this very clear pitch of a bark, clearly frustrated if if it was English or human, it would've been just tell me what you want me to do.

And if that didn't work, then he would go and grab a toy and be like, oh, this is so frustrating . But over time, I think it took in the beginning, maybe like a couple weeks, he actually figured out that shaping wasn't that bad, right? And I started off really, really, really, really, really, really like small stuff. And then he became kind of like, wow, this is really cool. I can make you in my case, click by doing things. This is so odd. changing that dynamic was big for him. But then even once he understood that concept, then he hit his frustration threshold again. When he would throw me a behavior and I'd be like, great, that was a good first part. Let's see what else you can do. And he'd be like, you want me to do more? So then there would be the barking and then there would be the toy grabbing.

And you know, he'd be like, oh my God, this is so frustrating Santos Lady. What does this have anything at all to do with stunt mark? Well this is who he was, right? And again, this is the age he was, he was a year and a half old. So when I did start working on Scent Work, it was a little bit after we had him and he had gotten much better with his shaping. He thought the shaping was fun. Now he was able to experiment. He wasn't having the barking fits and all the other stuff. But when we started doing Scent Work and in the very beginning he was a rockstar. He was just amazing, so talented. But then as things got more complicated, particularly as we started working outside in our backyard where there's all kinds of stuff. Like we had a squirrel army , which is torment him on our fence was awful.

And he had a weakness about ground heights. If there was a hide on the ground, he had a really hard time figuring out where that was. So when we started working on those things, working, when the squirrels were out, getting him used to all of that stuff, having ground hides and all these ki types of things, if he was in the middle of trying to solve one of those puzzles that was challenging, right? It's really testing him, it's really stretching him. He would then peel off and grab a toy and then just start zooming around with it, death shaking it and just, ugh, this is just too much for my baby brain . I can't do this. And instead of panicking instead of, you know, slouching my shoulders or sighing or whatever else, I would just wait because I knew what this was. Cuz we had already gone through all of this tantrum stuff when he was trying to figure out what shaping was about.

So I knew that at some point he would give up the ghost and he would try again, right? And he did sure enough. And those sessions, those points of time of him having this little blow up, this little, you know, I can't do this. , you know, got less and less until they totally went away. And then he was able to do really complicated things over a period of time. But that was all because I knew that this existed, this basically this threshold that he would hit and then just his brain would explode. He'd be like, oh I can't possibly do this anymore. So I wanted to do this episode to try to put this term into some better light because I see a lot of dogs have this and I think it is part probably of their development. Just like with people, males definitely show it a lot cuz there's also just a lot of things that are going on with them in particular, you got hormones and everything else that the females don't, they do as well.

What's important is what our reaction is to it, right? Is that if we look it through the lens of the dog struggling, how can we then determine a good way of helping them be more successful next time? And recognizing that we shouldn't be feeding into the frustration threshold. I don't want him to stay there. That's not good , that's not a great way to live that anytime he has a situation where things are a little bit challenging, he just kind of falls apart. That's not where we wanna be. But I don't want to make it so like, no, you will do this and just get your crap together and let's go. Like I don't wanna do that either. So it's important I think for us, particularly in stunt work, to recognize that this is actually a thing. You may be experiencing this right now with your dogs and that there are things that we should be doing in order to help them develop the skills so they can actually stay more engaged with these types of puzzles, with these types of situations.

And that they're not falling apart, they're not having the meltdown, but that we're also not feeding into it and then it can't be fairly complicated. The other thing I wanted to bring up was that you can have absolutely a stacking effect where there could have been multiple things going on that were then adding on to the actual situation, making it that much harder for your dog. So they were much more apt to hit their frustration threshold sooner. So this is a shorter episode than my usual ramblings because I just wanted to put this out into the ether of people to think about. If your dog is currently doing searches and they're going in, they're tackling something maybe in doing searching for a little bit and now you're doing some more complicated things or more involved searches, maybe you doing any field trip searches, whether the case may be, and you're noticing this type of thing where your dog is working and then they don't seem as though they're getting the answer to a particular puzzle and maybe they peel off and they grab a toy, maybe they disengage and they're checking out the critters.

Maybe they just come over and they just start barking at you Maybe they just disengage altogether, right? It's very possible that that's what this is. It could be other things as well, but to look at it from a different angle and recognize like okay we have a brain meltdown And then coming up with a plan on how you be able to help them develop some new skills so they would be able to stay more engaged with that particular exercise or that type of exercise until they got to the answer. So we're actually gonna be doing a webinar that, I'm going to be talking about this in a lot more detail considering it's a 90 minute long webinar. And trying to highlight again what this could potentially look like when you're talking about it within the context of summer and ways that we could potentially help our dogs.

Cuz there's a bunch of different ways that it can look and there's a bunch of different things that could be contributing to it, but ways that we would be able to help with various exercises, training plans, and also just adjusting way that we're approaching it. The way that we look at it, the way that we react to it, I think is really important because placing more pressure, probably not the best bet right dog is already, you know, having a meltdown, putting more pressure on them is not going to be advantageous for you. So that webinar is actually scheduled for December 20th. So if you wanted to join in on the live webinar, you would actually be able to ask me questions in real time, which is really fun. I love it when it is interactive and people are asking questions. You would also receive free access to the fully edited webinar replay and you have continual access to that as well.

So that's a really nice thing that people like to enjoy as far as what our training provides is they get to see it as often as they like. There isn't like some date you have to circle on your calendar like I have to watch this before the date, otherwise it disappears. It's, it's there forever. But if you can't join us for the live, completely understand people have very busy schedules, then you'd be able to order the webinar replay and just go through that whenever you, it works best for you and your schedule. I fully edit our live webinars to make sure that they are as clean as possible, making sure the audio in the video is good quality so that webinar replay would be posted to our site by the end of the day on December 21st. So this again is a shorter episode, just trying to better define defined with this frustration threshold thing is what I mean by it.

Again, it's just a term I made up. I'm sure there are other actual more formal behavioral scientific terms out there, but this is just the term that I use to try to, for myself, try to explain what it is that I'm seeing and what the dogs seem to be experiencing. I hope it was somewhat helpful, but as always we want to hear from you guys. Let me know. We're gonna be posting this podcast episode up on our social media, so it'll be up on our Facebook page, on our Instagram and it'll also be up on our website. So if you have any questions, you're always feel free to contact me. We are gonna be doing a regular podcast episode posting. We've had a little bit of a break because there's only one of me, and I am doing a million things at once right now, but we are gonna be posting our podcast every Friday from this point going forward.

So they're probably going to be a combination of shorter episodes like this, one more longer rants that I like to do. We're also looking forward to doing several round tables with some of our instructors. I'm trying to line up some additional outside speakers as well to end out the year. But the goal is that we will have a new pockets episode every single Friday. So I'm looking forward to that. If there is a particular topic you would like for us to talk about in our pockets, episodes, please let me know, cuz I want to make sure that we're talking with the things that you guys are interested in. And also if you have a suggestion and it's something I think that we could possibly talk about in a podcast, but I think it would also be helpful as far as a training resource, then we will turn around and create that resource for you as well.

That's one of the big things that I like about Scent Work University mean, being the owner of it. I can do what I want , but the, my whole goal is to make sure that we're offering what people need and what they're interested in. So if you do have any suggestions or there's certain things that you'd like for us to talk about in the podcast, I'll definitely try to make sure that we do that. But it may also turn into us creating other courses or webinars or seminars or e-books or blog posts, whatever type of resource we think would be best to help you guys so that you and your dogs can enjoy having more fun playing the Sniffy game. All right guys, thanks so much for listening. Happy training. Really look forward to seeing you soon.

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