I went back and forth about whether to cover this topic in a blog post or a podcast episode...I decided this format would be less conducive to rage-induced cursing, so a blog post it is.
"...Well, it's good to see you too, I think..."
I will try my best to collect myself so my thoughts are somewhat coherent, as this is an important topic: the need to rainproof your parade.
"Sigh. I don't think I've missed her rants, I mean, blogs."
Let's all face one essential fact: we're all doing things with our dogs for different reasons. We have different goals. Different priorities. No two dog and handler teams are the same. Can we at least agree on that?
Great! Then it should be easy to understand that if one dog and handler team are elated to have achieved X,Y and Z that does not negatively affect or take anything away from another dog and handler team, right?
"Yeah, that sounds right."
Perfect, we're on a roll.
Therefore, we should do everything in our power to ensure that:
- we are celebrating our own successes, which WE define,
- we do not knowingly take away from anyone else's successes, and
- we ensure that we do not permit or allow anyone else to take away from our successes.
"That all sounds reasonable."
"...So what's the problem?"
There are far too many times when none of these things are being done.
YOU Define Your Successes, No One Else
I got out of bed today, played some Scent Work with my dog AND took a shower. That is freakin' amazing taking into account the fact my brain was demanding I rot in bed and wallow in misery all day instead.
Hey, it's the truth. There are days where it is marvel I function at all. Then there are others where I get so much done one would think I was Superwoman or something (which I am not). The point being, my definition of "success" fluctuates day-to-day. Was I physically able to lift my head up? Could I actually stand? How about walk? If my physical body wasn't plotting against me, how about that brain of mine? Was I able to muster the mental strength and fortitude to tackle the day?
To an outsider, many of these things would be laughable as a goal, but for me they are painfully real.
"O-kay....but what does that have to do with Scent Work?"
Let's say you have been working with your environmentally sensitive dog for a few months. On this day, you take them to a new location, allow them to get acclimated first. You then run them in a search which has 4 total hides. They find 3 out of the 4 hides, being engaged and focused on the search, before getting overwhelmed and sucked into the environment. Would that be considered a success?
"Well, they only found 3 hides..."
True, but they were working and engaged, staying under threshold and were happy during their search for those 3 hides. It was while working the fourth hide that things got too difficult for them.
"Yeah, but there was still that fourth hide."
You're missing the point. If your goal was to have your environmentally sensitive dog work in a new environment, stay focused on the task at-hand and not shutdown, goal achieved. The number of hides don't matter. The fact they were able to find three hides and were overwhelmed by hide #4, is simply information for you that more work is to be done. BUT, your dog did an amazing job finding three hides in a new place!
I'm not asking you to dumb things down or make everything easier. I'm asking you to create goals that are realistic and one's that you can garner success from. But YOU are ultimately the arbitrator of what would qualify as a success.
"Yeah, that makes sense, I think."
So the next time you set-up a training exercise, or go to a trial, have a clear idea of what would truly count as a success and remember that YOUR definition of success is the only one that matters, no one else's.
Don't Steal Away Other People's Joy
"I WOULD NEVER DO SUCH A THING!"
I would sincerely hope you would never do this knowingly. If you did, shame on you.
But, we have to be mindful of the impact our words and actions have.
Let's say we are at a trial together and you come out after finishing a search with your dog. You are beaming with pride and give a big 'ole thumbs up. I then say, "Congratulations! We did well too! I have to say though, I did think the hides were supposed to be a bit more challenging at this level. I mean, I want my title to MEAN something., you know? Maybe the next few searches will be a bit a tougher."
"...Well, the searches are supposed to get harder as you go up the levels..."
Don't try to justify this rude statement I made to you in this hypothetical situation. A proper response would have been, "Congratulations!". Full stop. Why would I need to add how I may think the hides are too easy? What is that implying? That you and your dog didn't REALLY earn your Q? That your success is somewhat cheapened? That the situation is rigged?! WHAT?!
"But shouldn't there be standards?"
Of course. This goes without saying.
There are LOTS of Scent Work competition organizations now. Some of newer than others, with CPE just jumping into the Scent Work competition game. This means standards will vary and may perfect and change over time. There is also the fact that Judges, COs, CSDs and hide setters are human with varying level of expertise and backgrounds. Would it be great for competition organizations to standardize their officials and make 100% positive each and every single search at a given level was held to the same standards? Absolutely! Is that realistic? No.
There are a TON of factors that go into any given search. Expertise and experience of the person setting the hides is paramount, obviously, but all of that is still at the mercy of the logistics of the trial site and almighty Mother Nature herself. Every step can be taken to set a reasonable, fair, yet challenging hide, that is level-appropriate, and then Mother Nature gets in a cranky mood and that is the end of that. An experienced official will notice this shift and make an appropriate adjustment, as best as they can.
Translation: sometimes the Scent Work gods are with you and sometimes they are not.
That-being-said, I have a plea to all of my fellow trial officials: please, for the love of all, be mindful of what you are saying at the trial, afterwards and on social media and in your social circles. Your-words-carry-weight! It may not be your intention, but you could push someone off of their celebration cloud in an instant when it is ENTIRELY inappropriate to do so.
As far as I am aware, most competition organizations have private social media or email groups that are only for trial officials. The purpose of these groups are to give officials a safe space to talk about searches, what worked, what didn't, ask questions and so on. Concerned a search was too easy or too difficult for a given level? Talk about it there. Need clarification on the rules, what would be appropriate, inappropriate and so on? Talk at it there. Having the same discussions in "public" could very well be misconstrued by competitors who ran in a given search. If a ton officials and people are questioning the legitimacy of a given search, how can that NOT be construed that if you happened to Q in that search it is now, somehow, tainted?! NO BUENO!
Look, I'm no saint. I've done something similar completely innocently. I was judging for the first time at a Novice USCSS trial years ago. The search had 1 hide in it and the time limit was set to 2 minutes and 30 seconds. As I was greeting the competitors, I gave them a quick run down of where the start line was, where the search boundaries were and then added at the end, "And you have 2 and a half minutes to find 1 hide, but you won't need all that time!".
"...What's wrong with that?"
What about the competitor with a senior dog who works slowly? Or a dog that needs time to warm-up before they get down to searching? Or a human competitor who is a NOVICE competitor who is nervous, so it takes them some time to get in game? This was a NOVICE search, there were brand spanking new people and dogs running for Pete's sake! I was stealing their joy before they even ran the damn search! If they DID take close to 2:30 minutes to find the hide, per their Judge (me), they were clearly doing something wrong.
Yeah, not good! Luckily I caught myself after that trial but it was still terrible. I am human. I make mistakes...a lot, but those mistakes have consequences. I sincerely hope I didn't derail anyone or steal their thunder with my poorly worded statement, but it is entirely possible that I did.
The point being, we all need to be careful. Think before you speak or post.
Guard Your Joy With Your Life
Hey, it is the truth.
People can only steal your joy if you let them. Now, they can pull and tug on it, may get a few pieces of it, but you are in possession of it.
Have a clear understanding of what your goals are. Make sure they are doable and realistic. Allow yourself to be proud! You didn't get High In Trial but you and your dog were a true team from start to finish? Scream and dance with delight as you go up to claim your Q ribbons!
You didn't Q but your dog stayed under-threshold and even ventured into the horrific-slippery-floor-interior-room-of-death without shutting down? DO A FREAKIN' JIG!
"But people think I'm being silly..."
Are they going home with your dog? Will they be taking care of them for the rest of their days? Will they recalling these memories as tears stream down their face when the time finally comes when the dog is no longer here?
The answer is no.
I recognize it can be hard, I really do. We DO care what other people think, even when we shouldn't. There's the keeping up with the Jones', the showing off of your skills, the interwoven nature of your self-worth with how you do in any given endeavor. I get it. I also know all of that is entirely unhealthy, unhelpful and needs to be guarded against.
"It sounds like maybe I shouldn't compete..."
I can understand how you could come to that conclusion from reading this, but please know, the Scent Work competition world, as a general rule, is a supportive one. Are there super-uber competitive people? Yup. Do they sometimes, whether on purpose or not, take the shine off of other competitors? Yup. Are they the majority? Nope.
All I'm trying to say is that you can only control you. All those other people, you have absolutely no control over them. You should not rely on someone else doing everything 100% right so that your joy stays intact. Instead, buffer yourself from any inadvertent, or purposeful, joy-stealing by being mindful, thoughtful and purposeful in your goal-setting.
Recognize what all of this is at the end of the day: a game. An excuse to play a fun game with your dog and make memories. That is all it is. If you want to read more into it, that is fine, as long as you do so keeping reality in mind.
I've been fortunate enough to call some truly accomplished and talented trainers and competitors, who have reached amazing heights of success and notoriety in a vast array of dog sports, colleagues and friends. One central theme with all of them: they are incredibly humble and so over-the-moon when their dogs do well. They have a wonderful perspective on things and have gone through the highs of being on the top of a given sport or profession to then be on the other side of that hill to where they are saying goodbye to the very dog who got them there. They never lost sight of what the most important factor was: their dog and their relationship with them. I would dare to say most, if not all of them, would trade all of their accomplishments and accolades for even just one more day with their friend and partner.
We're all on our own journey. I love to celebrate with people for whatever they have accomplished, be it some title or conquering a long-battled training dragon. As long as your goals are realistic and doable for you and your dog, then you are good. Revel in your successes. Be truly happy when others succeed, and guard against even inadvertent attempts of joy-theft.
Rainproof your parade.
Author: Dianna L. Santos, KPA-CTP, CPDT-KA, CNWI
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, Dog Sport University 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, DSU and SWU and she looks forward to the continued growth of PDU, DSU 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, Inc., an organization that operates in the gray space between training and trialing in Scent Work. With Cyber Scent Work, Inc., handlers have the opportunity to earn Qs, titles and ribbons while also receiving helpful training advice regardless of whether they qualify or not! Be sure to check out Cyber Scent Work, Inc., you will be happy you did!
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