Ep. 97: It Depends - Missed a Hide in Training

Aug 13, 2023

"It depends", one of the most common responses Scent Work instructors will give regarding what to do when a dog misses a hide in training. While this may be met with frustration and consternation from our clients, there is good reason for it. Solutions are NOT one-size-fits all. There are a multitude of factors which may result in drastically different approaches being implemented for the best outcome.

In this episode, we discuss a few scenarios where a dog missed a hide in training in an attempt to illustrate why "It depends" actually makes sense and how handlers can reframe how they think, and emotionally react to, their dog missing a hide.


Dianna L. Santos


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 talk about "It depends" about the dog struggling to find to hide. 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 where we offer online courses, seminars, webinars, and eBooks that are all focused around Scent Work. So regardless of where you are in your sniffy journey, you're just getting started. You're trying to develop some more advanced skills. You're interested in trialing or 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 dive into the episode itself.

So in this episode I want to talk about the wonderful responses sometimes we as instructors will give our clients, "It depends", but specific to what happens when your dog doesn't find a hide, particularly when it comes to Scent Work. "It depends" is a really common response that instructors will give clients and then clients heads explode and there is much sadness. I wanted to talk about why this is and how this whole idea of a dog missing a hide, how that can manifest, what could be possibly going on and what you may be able to do, different decisions and things you can make in the moment, training decisions, so on and so forth. So I'm talking about this all within the context of training, not talking about this at a trial. So you've set up a training search for your dog, you have however many hides your dog has successfully found some of those hides, and then for whatever reason, they just cannot seem to find this other hide and they're looking at you as though I've found all the hides there are to find, I would like my party now kind of thing.

Or it could be, I don't know where it is, right? Maybe they know there's something else out there, but they can't seem to figure it out in that moment. Where it depends comes into play is what are you supposed to do? And the reason why as instructors we say, "It depends", is that there are so many different factors that go into that situation. How long has your dog been training? How many hides have they already found? What number of exercises is this inside your training session? Have you already been training for 15, 20 minutes with breaks? Hopefully with number of searches? And this is their final search. They've put in a ton of effort. Everything's been going great. This was your final search and for whatever reason this hide is just giving you guys trouble. How experienced is your dog? Is this a hide that they've been able to nail nine times out of 10 in all of the training sessions and it just doesn't seem to be happening today?

Why is that? What were your goals when you were designing this search? There are so many different factors that go into this that all informs us as instructors as far as the advice that we would give. So lemme try to lay out some scenarios for you to help this make a little bit more sense. Let's say that there was a total of three hides in a search area that comprised several rooms. You have a dog that has been doing Scent Work for a little bit, they're working for primary and they've done similar setups in the past without any issue. They're very enthusiastic. They're like, this is the best game ever. This is their first run for this session. So they're nice and fresh and all of these hides are placed in areas that the dog has similarly found those hides before successfully. As the dog is working inside this interior space, a couple of rooms inside of a house, you notice that the dog is clearly in odor, they're clearly working, they're working really hard, but they seem to be working harder to find all of the hides that this isn't just simply a, they're struggling to find the one hide that they simply are not able to find by the end of the session.

But all of them seem to be challenging. And again, all of these hide placements are similar or in same exact locations that they've been in before. In that situation, you want to try to think through what changed. I've done training sessions before with these hide placements using primary, so in my case, food, the dog was able to find them without any issue. My dog is clearly working, they're focused, they're happy, but they're putting in a ton of effort to find each individual, hide something's going on, and then realize we're in the heat of summer. It's pretty darn cool in here. Aha, the air conditioning is on. This is causing all kinds of things to happen as far as environmental factors. So yes, the dog is finding food in hide locations that they found before. The massive change is that the air conditioning is on and blowing and trying to make it so that we aren't in an oven that is doing a lot to what's happening with the odor.

This is what I mean as far as depends. If that air conditioning wasn't on and nothing else had changed from other sessions as instructors, we would then try to figure out, okay, well why is a dog struggling so much? Could it be that maybe they're tired, right? Maybe they had just finished a trial weekend and we're doing this training session on a Monday as an example. Could they be sick? Could there be something that maybe they're sore, maybe they're under the weather, maybe there's something else going on. But clearly something has happened because our history is telling us we've done similar high placements without any issue in the same location, nothing else has changed, but now the dog is putting in so much more effort, they're successfully finding bunch of these hides, but it's taking longer, it's taking more effort. The dog is checking more planes.

Something has changed in this scenario is the air conditioning has completely changed the way the odor is interacting within the space. For me, when I've been seeing this, because I literally just had this happen, that's why I wanted to do this podcast, is I just did a quick little search of my guy, my little guy, and that's exactly what we were running into is we had a four room search finding primary and all in high placements that he's done before and he was really putting in a ton of effort. And you can see he's going into rooms that are blank that don't have anything in them, but because of the way the air is circulating around with the air conditioning, a bunch of odor is getting dumped in this room. I've seen that consistently in this rental that we are in. Even when the air conditioning is not on, there seems to be just airflow seems to really collect inside this one particular room.

So he was spending a whole ton of time in there. There's nothing in here. What's fascinating to see, but I have to keep that in mind as far as, well, how many more searches are we going to do? And he hasn't found anything yet. He's been searching for a good minute and a half. He knows there's odor, but he needs to work out this puzzle first and he has four highs to find, so we need to figure out for me, what kind of decisions am I going to make as a handler and as a trainer. So he was successfully able to find two of the hides and then two more hides were really giving him trouble. One, I was expecting to be challenging when I set it up. The other one was literally on just the side of my computer chair, but that computer chair was out in the open, so when the air conditioning is on, particularly where the vent is located, there was no way for him to get a line to this hide.

After he is doing all this work, he's found the two other hides. After working half in the other blank room, he's now circling around and circling around and he's like, I can't figure this out. And so what a nice try. We go back into our staging area, give him one little cookie for being there. And then I made some adjustments. So the two hides were one on the side of my computer chair that was out in the middle of the room and the other was just inside of our laundry room. The door was propped up a little bit, tiny, tiny bit, prop up that door a little bit more, move my computer chair. So it's basically up against his crate to try to allow that odor to kind of interact with something more, give it a plane for him to be able to get aligned to it, to be able to actually figure it out.

Two small little adjustments, right? Release him to search again. He finds a boom bang, no problem. Where this all comes into, it depends. Is that in the same kind of you have multiple hides in multiple rooms with an experienced dog, nothing has changed, right? Let's say the air conditioning is not on and the dog kind of putters in and it's just like, Hey, you with the thumbs, why don't you go find the hides for me? They're not putting in any effort, they're not trying. However, they don't look scared, they don't look nervous, they don't look worried or anything. They're just like, eh, why don't you go do it? In that case, I wouldn't be resetting the dog. I'd be just sitting there and looking towards the space. I don't know where it is. We're finding food. Go find food. And again, even with that, you see how long that's going to go on for because maybe the food that you're using just isn't high value enough.

I hope that you're seeing that this is really what it depends means is any piece of advice or a certain tact is so individualized and customized to the situation. But particularly when we're talking about missing hides and training, there's so much emotion attached to it of we're concerned. First of all, the dog missed the hide. Terrible. It's really like who caress? That's it. Well, I shouldn't say that. It's a great thing if a dog misses a hide because it's a learning opportunity for us. It's a way for us to gather more information. Why did they miss the hide? It's not a condemnation of anything. It's merely an opportunity to see, okay, something needs to be addressed and it could just be our understanding of how we set up the hide. That is the thing that I find most interesting is when I set something up and the dog is clearly saying, I don't know how to solve this.

That's an opportunity for me to do some learning. I'm learning from the dog. The dog is the one who can really experience the odor. I cannot. So I'm constantly improving my understanding based upon what my dog tells me, and I'm continuing to improve my ability to design searches based upon those situations. So as another example to try to help this make more sense, when I first started playing around with my little guy, we were finding primary and I was just messing around and seeing what would work and what wouldn't. I put a hide on the back part of back corner of our little entertainment table that holds onto our tv, and I had Dobermans in the past. He's a little smooth fox terrier, very big difference as far as height. So I've done similar height settings for my Dobermans without a problem. It's basically slightly below head height for them, so it's not an issue at all.

And for him, for my little guy, he was getting whiffs of the odor and would just lose it and would just be like, where is it? I'm like, that is so interesting. And then I realized that it was basically getting sucked down this hallway and there was no way for him to get a clear line to it where he was in his understanding about these things. I put something, basically I moved a floor lamp more in front of it so it would have more of a thing to kind of hit onto and provide him a plane and then bam, he was able to find it without a problem. Similarly, same room, had another hide on the edge of a end table, same exact kind of thing. He's all over the place. He knows that there is a hide, but he can't seem to get a line back to it.

No problem. What a nice try. We go into another room, I set up, I think it was like a little step stool or something at the time, maybe like a foot or two in front of it. And then he was able to work the step stool and they're like, oh, there it is. And then able to find it. These are all great examples of the dog missing. The hide is because of me. It's not because of him. He's communicating that he doesn't have the what Judith Guthrie calls odor library yet as far as what this looks like. We had just started and now that's my responsibility to provide him with those opportunities. Could I just stand there for 10 minutes and hope that he would figure it out, I guess. And there are times when you do want to do that where that would be a good choice of just waiting the dog out, not pulling them and immediately making an adjustment.

But when he's working for, because I wait a bit, he's working for three, four minutes on one hide and he's not fading or anything, but I'm like, I don't want to get to the point where he's asking questions, whining, shutting down, going like, screw this and walking you off. All that's bad. This is what it really means when we say as instructors, it depends because in that same situation for now, if he were to go into a search like that for those two high placements, even if they were just singular hide searches, the air conditioning is not on similar situations he had before. And if you would just kind of walk in and be like, okay, yeah, can you tell me where it is? Of course I'm not going to just pull, okay, Pooky, come on little one and then we're just going to go and do an adjustment.

Be like, no, you need to put in some effort for this. He hasn't done that yet. And the reason being is that I have not been injecting myself as the gateway to make it easier. So again, to try to make this a little bit more sense, when we very first started playing, he had no concept about this at all. Zero, zilch. He was pulled from a municipal shelter. So he had a prior life before me. I have no idea what that life was, but he clearly had some training, some interactions. He understood the whole concept of you tell me what to do and I get cookies or reinforcement or something. So when we first started playing, that was his default was, okay, what do I need to do? And he's focused on me. He wasn't focused on hunting. So the very first part that I had to do was to basically detach those two, was to get him to realize, no, you are the one that can go get this to happen.

You little terrier, you have to go find the things. It doesn't involve me. I'll come in and I'll give you more reward when you do, but I'm not the gateway to you getting the treats, if that makes sense. So in the beginning, there was a lot of adjustments that I had to make that I didn't have to do with my Dobermans in order to get him to understand that part. There were lots of things that I had to do where someone else may be watching me. He missed a hide, he wasn't working. He had no idea what hunting was. He was staring at me. I wasn't going to stress about the fact that he was missing the hide because he wasn't hunting yet. He had no concept of what the hunt was. He was in training head. He was in what do I need to do to make the lady feed me?

So any kind of suggestions that I may have made to a client for a dog who was hunting and missing a hide wouldn't have applied because I didn't have the hunting piece. So I hope that helps to just a couple of examples of why you may receive it. It depends. Feedback from an Instructor, and again, it drives everyone crazy. Just tell me what to do. But a lot of it is we're trying to make certain that we don't give you incorrect advice, and it can be such slight differences, would need drastically different pieces of advice to try to wrap all this up in a bow, I dog misses a hide, right? You're doing training and that is a very stressful thing in and of itself. My suggestion would be to find a way to make it so that that's not the case. To see how you may be able to readjust the way that you're looking at it so that missing a hide is information as opposed to calamity.

And then you want to analyze why that may have happened. It can give you a chance to take a step back and to say, what was going on here? Like the search I did today, right? Again, literally right before I sat down to record, this is when this happened, which is what sparked this in me, which is why I'm doing this. What has changed? Particularly if it's similar to what you've done before and your dog was successful, and it may not be an environmental thing, it could be something going on with the dog. This could be a really good early warning indicator that something's wrong. It could be that they're not feeling well. It could be that they're exhausted. You've been doing so many fun things and they're like, my God, I really wish I could just sleep today. You're like, whatever. Right? There's so many possibilities, but that's why missing a high to me is a great way for me to say, what is happening?

Why did that happen? And it could also be like the other example I was giving when we were very first starting in our journey of maybe they haven't seen this yet and how could I make an adjustment? How could I manipulate the environment to provide them with that learning to provide them with that opportunity to build that odor library that Judith Guthrie talks about and being humble enough to understand that I am just guessing. I'm going by what the dog is telling me to try to make adjustments to offer that learning, and then I need to make certain that I'm fading out those, adding the step stool or moving the lamp, those kinds of things. Do that gradually of removing those things to see if the dog can find the hide the way it was originally designed and that I'm not interjecting myself inadvertently as this big beacon.

It's there. It's there because then look, the dog found it, but did the dog find it or were they using me and my position next to the hide? Am I staring at the hide? Is every time they get close to the hide, am I reaching into my pocket or into my tree pouch? Am I holding my breath? Am I moving? There's so many things that we can do, which is why videoing is also really, really helpful and videoing yourself included. I don't like being on camera, it's not fun, but being able to see what I'm potentially doing completely unconsciously, but the dog picks up on, that's also really helpful. Again, try, I'm trying my best, it's a giant topic, but if your dog were to miss a hide in training, if anything, it should be eliciting some questions and you want to see was it the high design?

Was there some kind of adjustment that could be made to the search area? Could there be something going on with the dog? Is maybe this an example of where there's maybe a gap in your training where there's a hole. Could it have been that you were doing something different with your handling for this run and now suddenly the dog isn't able to find their hide because they don't have the cues and the support from you that you didn't even know you were giving, but now those are gone and now the dog is having a hard time. Again, the possibilities are endless, but what I want to really implore upon people is the idea that your dog doesn't need to find every single hide in training, and that is I'm sure, making many people go, what are you talking about? For the setup I had today, I could have sat around and waited.

I could have pulled up a chair and just waited forever for him to find these. I think that would've been very problematic and it probably would have diminished the quality of the training and everything I've put into the games and the setups that we've done so far, I think it would've caused a lot of frustration on his part. He probably would've been pretty darn flattened because if he doesn't have the information and he doesn't have the ability to do it, why is that suddenly going to change five minutes from now? Right? If I'm telling someone in no uncertain terms, I don't know. I don't know. I had no idea help me, and they were just to give me a blank face of I'm going to get really upset. You don't seem to understand. I'm asking you for help because I have no idea how to do this.

Yep, well, you just lemme know when you figure it out. I'm telling you that I can't and it just gets worse from there. Having that option of saying what a nice try and then putting 'em up in a staging area and making an adjustment. I grant myself that option as a viable one because it is one, and I don't think that there are enough people who do that. Instead, they'll just stay and they wait and they wait and they wait and they wait and the dog just spirals down and then they get frustrated. So then there's all this stuff that happens and then nine times out of 10, the person's then basically van a whiting or even pointing to the hide and the dog is like, oh, this thing Jesus, yeah, fine, great. They didn't really find it. It's just almost like a please make it stop.

I want everyone to avoid that if you can. It's really easy to fall into. I've fallen into it plenty of times because it's very stressful for us when our dogs miss the hides and then for me, I'll just speak for myself. I would then be like, oh God, I set up a really bad hide, so then I feel bad, but there's a way of avoiding all of that. It's just like, put a nice try and then off you go. But where it depends comes in is that on the other side of the spectrum is there'll be dogs that are working. They haven't found the hide yet, but they're still actively working. They haven't asked a whole lot of questions. They're not puzzled. They're not completely muffled or anything, and the person to me is either, they're like, okay, pull 'em out, which is not really that common.

It's more so that what activates them to do something. Right now they're moving in towards the hide. They're dancing near the high, they're doing all this stuff and it's like, what are you doing? The dog is fine. Nothing is happening that you need to be doing those things and you're injecting yourself now into the process. You then have to actively fade out of. You have to remove all those cues. You're making more work for yourself. It's important to keep that part of the spectrum in mind as well, because that's actually more common is the dog doesn't immediately find the hide. Well, that means I have to do something. You don't have to do anything. We're training. We want to give them the opportunity to do this, and learning does take time, but you just said Sandos lady, that that dog was trying and was doing learning and training and that you stop the surge, make up your mind, and I know it's very frustrating, but this is where the art of dog training comes in that you need to really be in tune to what it is that you're seeing.

Is the dog still actively trying and working and if they are, breathe and give them a minute. If they've been actively trying and working for five minutes for one hide, that's a lot, and it depends again on what that looks like. Are they getting closer to the hide? Do they look as though they're getting even more amped up because they know they're zeroing in on it, or are they now becoming frantic because they aren't zeroing in on it and they're starting to panic because they haven't found it yet? Those two presentations are very, very different, and we wouldn't want the franticness to be rewarded. We don't want franticness. Franticness is bad. You would want to have different tacks with those two dogs. The dog who is focused, they are in drive, they are enthused, and they're like, I've got this. I'm almost there. Give them the chance to finish it, right?

It would be so awful to interrupt the dog in that situation. The dog who's getting frantic, who's almost like having a panic attack, they're just bouncing off of everything and they're just frantically. Their eyes are bugging out of their head. Where is it? But they have no idea interrupting that dog and be like, okay, that was a really nice try. Let's go relax for a minute and let me make an adjustment, would be a much better thing to do because in that scenario, ideally that frantic dog has a chance to just kind of calm down a little bit, come down a couple levels. You can make an adjustment where they could actually solve this thing. They come in, they search, they're able to find it without you showing it to them. It's not really super easy. We've just made a little bit of an adjustment, like putting something in front of it so they can actually get aligned to the hide, and now they're finding it in a completely different mindset.

We're rewarding that different mindset. We're still rewarding effort and focus. We're not rewarding frantic panic. We're maybe they trip over the odor as an example. That's what it really boils down to. When instructors are saying, well, it depends because those are drastically different scenarios, but if you were to just describe it offhand, my dog missed to hide after they were working for however long, what do I do? It depends on all those different things, right? And that's not even all of it. That's just the tip of the iceberg. So I'm hoping that this at least gets you thinking about how it is that you're viewing when your dog happens to miss a hide in training. To me, it shouldn't be the end of the world. It should be information, and if anything, it should be exciting information. I view information as a good thing. Now I have more things that I can do, I can improve upon.

If I didn't know as an example that all the odor was being dumped in this blanked room, I wouldn't be able to leverage that possibility for learning. Where I can purposefully set up searches where there's a whole bunch of odors that's going to get dumped in that room and he has to figure out what that looks like, then get back to his source hides, and then on the flip side, I can put hides in that room so he can see the difference. There's odor being dumped in here, but there's nothing in here for you to find. Now. There is actually something in here for you to find. That's to me, that's what our role is. I is to identify these situations and scenarios and then try to extrapolate from them how can I design something to give this presentation to the dog so that they can do learning on their own?

I'm not training my dog how to hunt. That would be a preposterous thing for me to say. They know how to use their Nose. I'm merely designing searches that give them the opportunities to see different presentations of odor, and I'm trying my educated best to design those things with a medium that I cannot see. It would be so much different if we could see these odor plumes and we can see how they move and change and interact within the environment. It would be night and day. It probably would be a little bit more boring after a while, but it would definitely help because I can't do that. I need to be able to use my educated guess, the history and what he tells me and then make those adjustments from there. But to just try to have a, well, this is the advice I give in all situations.

It just doesn't work. So that's really why we say as instructors, it depends in the context of it's all the time, but specifically for this episode, when dogs happen to miss hides when they're training, but as always, I want to hear from you guys, did this help or make sense? I was just so excited when the searching was like, I have to talk about this in the podcast because I know for me, I had to go through the journey of when I first started, I would be so crestfallen if a dog would miss a hide. I felt like a failure, like, oh no, but now it's like, okay, that's good information for me. We need to figure out why that happened and then what kind of adjustments we can make and all that's happening in the moment, and that takes time and experience too, and we have to be open to going into that growth.

That's not going to happen overnight. Understand where our tendencies may be, grant ourselves a little bit of grace and just allow the learning to happen on our end as well. But again, I'd love to hear from all of you, what do you think? Is any of this, at least getting these, thinking about certain things? She's like, oh, whatever. Silly Santos lady, I'd love to hear from you. We posted this episode up on our website as well as our social media accounts. You're always more than welcome to post any questions or comments that you have there. We are going to be talking with more outside speakers, which I'm very, very excited about because you don't want to just hear about me pontificating about things. We are also continuing our spotlight series, so if there is an individual or a business that you happen to know gives back to the separate community, please let me know. I would love to talk to them. And we also have some other interesting series coming up that I cannot wait to share with you, but thank you so much for listening. Happy training. Look forward to seeing you soon.

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