Ep. 96: Sniffing Puppies are Still Puppies

Aug 5, 2023

Watching baby puppies tackle a Scent Work search is endearing to say the very least. We can easily get swept away by how amazing these tiny little babies are at solving their searches. Before we know it, we are offering more and more challenging searches for them to tackle. However, we must remember that they are indeed babies, not simply small adult dogs. 

In this episode, we discuss how it is fantastic to play Scent Work with our puppies. However, doing so requires that we set appropriate challenges for them. Thus, we must take our time and avoid the allure the rush. We also discus how crucial it is to take into account their age and stage of development.

The key message with this episode is to relish the time with our puppies and ensure whatever we are doing with them is FUN!

Are you looking to get your puppy started in Scent Work? Check out our Puppy Sniffing Program today!


Dianna L. Santos



Dianna L. Santos:
Welcome to the All About Scent Work Podcast. In this podcast we talk about all things Scent Work that can include training tips, a behind scenes look at wat your instructor or trial official is going through and much more. In this episode, I want to talk about puppies and Scent Work. 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 provide online courses, seminars, webinars, and eBooks that are all focused around Scent Work. So whether you're just getting started, you're looking to develop some more advanced skills, you're interested in trialing or you're already trialing, we likely have a training solution for you. So now that you know a little bit more about me, let's get into the episode itself.

So in this episode I wanted to talk about puppies and Scent Work, and it's a really specific thing I want to talk about and that's remembering that our puppies are babies. I love working with puppies. I mean, who doesn't love working with puppies, but I particularly love working with puppies with Scent Work. It is an endearing thing that I never get bored of. I don't get bored with anything with Scent Work, but really when you're talking about little baby puppies working in a search area to find food, which is what I use in my classes, it's just the best because you have this tiny, itty bitty little baby that they have the attention span of like a nanosecond. They have little baby bladders, they're little baby bodies. They don't know anything about the world, and yet this amazing instinct kicks in and it's incredible to see them in such a very short period of time master the ability to work a search area of exhibiting confidence and knowledge and assertiveness in their own ability to smell, to problem solve, to figure out an answer to a puzzle without getting the big giant two-legged thing to help them that they can do it on their own.

The progress that puppies can make is astounding, and it's never stopped to amaze me. I've been doing this for a good amount of time now, and it still floors me every single time. I don't watch puppy videos doing set work and just go, oh, well. It's always like, oh my God, look at the baby. But that's the main thing that I've catch myself constantly saying when I'm providing feedback to my clients is, look at your little baby puppy doing this and constantly trying to drive that home that they are babies and they stay babies for a long time. Relatively speaking to humans. It's like a blink of an eye, but there are some breeds. Dobermans were my breed of choice for a long time. Those males, they're pretty puppyish until they're like two and a half years old, and yet they look like an adult.

They may to an untrained eye move like an adult, but they are very far from it. And what I wanted to talk about in this episode is the true joy that a handler and trainer can experience if you really grasp onto and hold onto that fact that you're dealing with little babies, breaking things down into small enough pieces where they can be successful, highlighting things that they could benefit from given where they are in their development as opposed to trying to train them as though they're just very small adults. There's a big difference between the two, and there is a nefarious side effect to how amazing the puppies are is that the owner will be amazed with me for maybe the first couple of exercises, and then it just becomes an expectation and then it becomes, well, when do they get methodical? When do they do this again, particularly if they're thinking about competition as an example.
They've done three searches in their existence ever. Wait, can we just back up a little bit? So what I wanted to put forward are some things to think about, and it's not a school of thought or a training methodology specific type of thing. It's more of a thought process of how we're approaching the puppies, what our expectations are, what we're hoping to get out of any given training session, what we want them to learn, what we want them to experience, and how full we're making their calendar because babies need to sleep and some of these puppies are just simply not sleeping enough. It sounds bizarre, but it's true. They are beyond exhausted, and that's when you see lots of hyperactivity, see other kinds of behavioral issues. They're wound up way too tight, way too high because they simply, they need to sleep like hours and they're just not getting it because their calendar is full between puppy kindergarten and then maybe there's a social, and then there's doing tricks and we're doing obedience and we're doing Scent Work and et cetera, et cetera, right?

And it's like, but when are they sleeping? When are they growing? When are they just being a puppy? When are they, they just having fun. When we're talking specifically about Scent Work, this is very, very hard of an activity for a dog to do and anyone who runs as an Instructor or has even attended or maybe you assist an introduction class, you're going to see this firsthand if you do it for any period of time, is dogs who are never done it before, maybe they haven't even done formal training before. They're brand new to this whole thing. Scent Work takes a lot of effort on behalf of the dog. We're talking adult dogs. They're all done developing, growing. They've been living life. They're tired. They want to sleep by the end of the class, and sometimes they want to sleep by the end of their third search, which may have only been 15 minutes in, and that's always an interesting situation to be in as an Instructor.

It's like we don't have any dog left. Okay, what do we do? The point being is that if that's true for an adult dog, why are we then surprised when the puppies are having a hard time focusing on a search or we're trying to do too many repetitions or we're trying to do too many exercises at once, or we're going to do a bunch of searches in the morning, then we're going to do a bunch of searches at night. Okay, but why? And is it going to be every day? Are you doing that again, why and how long and how often, and again, some of the questions may absolutely have absolute great answers, right? Oh, we're going to do this. This is our main activity and we only do one or two searches. They come in, they get out and they have a lot of fun and they're great.

Okay, great. Perfect. You've thought about it. We're copacetic, but it's simply because while I think I have a puppy who has a lot of need, they really want to do a lot of stuff and I'm trying to tucker them out. They may actually be ready to sleep, but they may be bursting out of their skin. They needed to sleep like four hours ago, so doing more is actually just making it worse, but even worse than all of that is we could be asking our little tiny, itty bitty baby puppies to be doing searches that require a level of expertise, life experience, exposure to odor puzzles and the way the odor may work, environmental factors, as well as dealing with us as a handler, whatever it is that we're doing that they simply don't have yet because they haven't existed long enough. If I'm asking a puppy to do something that a four-year-old dog has been doing, Scent Work for two and a half years would be able to do, I'm thinking, that's probably not such a great idea.
Why would they do? Well, they haven't been on in existence that long yet. They've only been here for 10 weeks or whatever. I think that we need to adjust our thinking and our expectation for what the puppies can do depending on their age, depending on who they are as a personality, depending on where they are in their development, knowing that things are going to be in fluxx. There's a whole lot of fluxx with puppies. They're going through a lot. They're changing and growing so fast. I do not purport to be an expert in any of this as far as physiology. I'm not a vet, but you can tell just by looking at them, there's so much happening to them and is in a very fast compressed timeframe. The last thing I would want to do is to set up a situation where the puppy didn't have a hope or a prayer of doing well because all these outside factors or even interior internal factors are making life difficult. They don't have a hope or prayer of doing wellness in the search. Then why would we be doing it, particularly if maybe now we're on odor, that would be even worse. Okay, so potentially in poisoning Birch, the thing that if we did want to trial is the bedrock to everything.

Really what I'm trying to get across is that yes, you can do Scent Work with your puppies and there's lots of different training methodologies and schools of thought as far as how to do that. All I'm pleading for is that we remember that they are babies, that they should have things that are set up for them that are still thinking exercises, that are puzzles that they can go and solve that are focused on building their confidence and their independence, but that it should be in a balanced way, that there should also be plenty of opportunity for them to experience the world. I actually promote for people to do even more field trip searches with the puppies than I do with my regular foundation track because we're trying to basically key into the fact that they are little sponges. Let's use this to our advantage if we can.

Let's see if we can have some more setups where the puppy is seeing a strange footing like using a tarp in our searches if we've built up a solid foundation up until that point and then we make it really fun and light and airy. It's a game. I really leverage play a lot in my classes when I'm talking about our puppy program. There is a lot of play and it's getting the handler to be comfortable with whatever type of play is going to be appropriate for their puppy, and this is going to be something hopefully they'll be able to use even when the puppy is an adult. We do potty breaks, whole lots of potty brings baby noses getting turned on, turns on all the bodily functions for little baby bladders. Baby bladders need to go potty bake all this in. We have breaks. We have, okay, we're doing a search.

We then go into our little staging area and we have a chew, okay, we're going to do maybe three searches in this exercise and then we're going to be done, and then we're not going to do any searches the next day. We're going to do them maybe the day after as an example. It's keeping in mind that they're a baby reminding clients actually write down, type it in your phone, write it on a calendar, whatever. What is your puppy doing daily? Walking, hiking, any kind of, they went to the vet, they went to the pet store, they went to some other kind of pet training class. They went to the park, they visited a friend's house, they had a play date, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. You may see it visually and be like, wow, that's a whole lot, and that can then help you adjust where you're doing things.
Maybe there's some days where there's just way too much for your puppy. See if you can move things around. Again, set work is really, really flexible. You can do it pretty much at any time. Do it on those days where maybe the puppy hasn't done 1,000,001 things, they'll be more effective, they'll have more gas in their tank. You won't be butting up against the possibility that they've already spent all of their mental clarity on everything else, and now all you're left is butterfly moments. It's this kind of recognizing who it is that your puppy is and embracing it and not being frustrated by it and not saying, oh, why can't you just grow up faster? They're growing really fast as it is. If anything, in my opinion, puppies should help us really pump the brakes. Puppies should help us slow down because that's what they desperately need us to do.

They're not a smaller version of our adult dog or the dog maybe we had before, or the other dog we have right now. They're a baby and they need us to guide them through their little developmental journey to have fun playing the sniffing game, and we can learn a lot from our puppies because they're a clean slate. Our other dog may have really propped us up a lot. I can say my Valor boy was that to a T. He carried my weight so much brilliant dog, really not talented handler, but that means that working with my little guy, he may not be a puppy, but I can recognize the places that I need to work on and even more so where I really can't ignore it. This is an opportunity to be better. That's even more so with a puppy because they're brand new. So to me, I think having puppies play Scent Work, again, the activity of Scent Work hunting for whatever the case may be, I think is a wonderful thing.

How we go about doing that and ensuring that our expectations are realistic in my opinion is really, really important. But if you've never seen a puppy doing set work, oh, search it out. I'll see if we'll be able to compile some videos that we've had with prior clients. Puppies doing Scent Work is the best. It really is awesome, and it makes me very, very happy when clients can just kind of take a deep breath and just appreciate how amazing this baby creature is for doing these things that we're asking them to do, but then it is a challenge that we can get so enthused, and then we want the baby puppy to do what the eight-year old Elite Summit Detective dog is doing. Is it Calm down. Just wait a second. Your puppy is four months old. Let's just hang on. Just some things to think about.

Again, it's not that I don't think the puppy should be playing Scent Work. I think that they should. We just should be careful about how it is that we're approaching it and just remember that they are babies. But as always, I would love to hear from all of you, what are your thoughts? What are your opinions? Do you agree with anything? You're like, ah, no. This is just silly. We'll be posting this episode off on our website as well as our social media, so you're more than welcome to post any comments there. We are also going to be having some more outside speakers joining us for some more episodes, so you don't need to just hear me pontificate about things, which I think would be helpful, and we're also going to be having some additional other specialized series that I'm very excited about, but thank you so much for listening, happy training and we look forward to seeing you soon.

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