Pragmatic Resiliency

Dec 18, 2023

 Silhouette of dog against the sunset

Dig deeper. Put in the work. Learn from and appreciate your failures. Be resilient in the face of challenges. Demonstrate tenacity and fortitude.

Bite-size pearls of wisdom we absolutely should apply when training and competing in Scent Work.

These apply to both ends of the leash, to dog and handler equally.

For instance, we want our dogs to encounter an odor puzzle and stick with it, applying the mental and physical effort required to solve said puzzle, even when it is challenging.

As handlers, we want to step up as a competent and supportive teammate, being present and knowledgeable even as pressures mount due to working a blind search, a novel area, or an unknown number of hides, as an example.

However, there is a critical piece missing when we attempt to apply these pearls of wisdom: where you and your dog are right now.

Taking stock of the “now” not only in terms of your hunting or handling skills, but your mental and physical health, life happenings and levels of stress.

If we were to pull a clearly sickly dog from the local shelter and plop them into a search, we would not expect them to perform at the level of a dog in the prime of their life and health with over 5 years of experience training and trialing in Scent Work, that would be ridiculous!

Then why do we not afford that experienced dog the same grace when they are inundated with the stressors of sudden and momentous disruptions to their lives?

“Like what?!”

How about the emergency construction taking place in your home due to burst pipes which has relegated your entire household to live, eat and trip over one another in the living room? Oh, and did I mention this is all happening at the very same time you have family visiting and staying with you from out-of-town for the holidays? They also brought their elderly cat along, as it requires regular insulin injections. That tidbit of information is important as you are now sporting a brand-new cast around your broken wrist. Why? Well, you happened to trip as you attempted to keep your pup from chasing said elderly cat.

“…That sounds rather stressful.”


Yet, how many times do we discount all of this and follow the mantras of “rising to the challenge”? Meaning, we drag ourselves to tackle that challenging training search or attend a trial?

“That is what you are supposed to do!”

Okay, let’s follow this logic.

We will say you opted to go to the trial anyway, cast and all. However, you forgot half of your usual trial comforts due to what I am coining as “foggy stress brain.” Better still, your car wouldn’t start, so you had to borrow the cat owner’s car, and they were less than pleased. Oh, and you got lost getting there!

No matter! You and your dog are there, and you will find those damn hides!

Except you don’t.

Your dog is flat at best. They meander around the search area, appearing checked out and disinterested.

You are frazzled and NOT having a good time in the least. You are scowling and fuming, thinking of all the time and money wasted!

No amount of “digging deep” is going to help this situation. Both you and your dog are fried.

“What do you suggest then?!”

Practice pragmatic resiliency instead.

Take stock of where you and your dog are right now.

What are you both dealing with? How full are your “cups of joy?” Are they overflowing or bone dry?

Can you attend the trial and make it a positive experience for both you and your dog, separate from titling or placing? If so, fantastic! This can be a wonderful reason to get out of that stress-filled house, play your favorite game with your dog and celebrate every moment you have with them.

Creating new process goals, as Kayla Dever and Samantha Winslow discussed in their latest Tackling NW3 Head-On: Conquering the Mind Game Webinar, can assist you in finding plenty of “wins” throughout the day. These will help both you and your dog grow and excel as a team.

However, this is where the pragmatic approach comes into play: this may not be the best tact for everyone.

Perhaps being around a bunch of other dog and handler teams is the last thing you need. Maybe you need some quiet alone time. A field trip to a quiet location where you can do some hiking, set some straightforward hides, and simply recharge. What a gift for both you and your dog, recognizing the stressors you both are under and creating a more supportive approach.

Should we shy away from adversity or difficult situations when training or trialing our dogs? No.

Should we make excuses, such as, “Of course we couldn’t find the hides with those distractors there!” No.

Rather we should strive for a more pragmatic approach, one that recognizes every choice has consequences. Not as a positive or a negative, but as a result.

You haven’t had a good night’s sleep in weeks and are stressed to the nines yet feel as though you must go out and train. How will that session go? Could you be unclear to your dog, muddying their understanding about the game? Perhaps you will reward less, even when they found that challenging hide. We wouldn’t want that!

Or you recognize your “cup of joy” is bone dry, but you opt to attend that trial anyway. What will the result be? Could you be inadvertently diminishing the dog’s love and motivation for the game or your own confidence as a handler? If that is a possibility, what can you do instead to have a different result?

Where are you and your dog right now? How can you go about building some pragmatic resiliency?

Happy Training!

Dianna has been training dogs professionally since 2011. She has done everything from teaching group training classes and private lessons, to specializing in working with fearful, reactive and aggressive dogs, to being a trial official and competition organization staff member.

Following a serious neck and back injury, Dianna was forced to retire from in-person dog training. But she was not ready to give up her passion! So, she created Pet Dog U and Scent Work University to provide outstanding online dog training to as many dog handlers, owners and trainers possible…regardless of where they live! Dianna is incredibly grateful to the amazingly talented group of instructors who have joined PDU and SWU and she looks forward to the continued growth of PDU and SWU and increased learning opportunities all of these online dog training platforms can provide.

In June 2021, Dianna and her business partner, Sean McMurray launched Cyber Scent Work, an organization that operates in the gray space between training and trialing in Scent Work. With Cyber Scent Work, handlers have the opportunity to earn Qs, titles and ribbons while also receiving helpful training advice regardless of whether they qualify or not! The advent of the Cyber Sniffing Games, Traditional Cyber Scent Work Program, in-person and online assessments have been met with much fanfare! Be sure to check out Cyber Scent Work, you will be happy you did!

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