Updated: Aug 14, 2020
Human beings are an interesting species. We crave for perfection, doing a task over and over and over again to ensure it is 100% perfect. This, however, is not how dogs are wired. Using this approach in Scent Work is a surefire way to turn this fun game into something your dog dreads.
Allow me to share a real-life example of how the fun sniffy game morphed into a dull, boring and ultimately enthusiasm-killing drill in one of my in-person classes. It was an Intro to Scent Work group class. Six-weeks of going over how to introduce the dogs to the concept of Scent Work. This class was designed to use primary (aka food) initially, and would incrementally build such skills as working out elevation and endurance searches, working independently, problem-solving and more. The focus being on having the dogs love the game and their handlers to better appreciate how brilliant their dogs were.
Week 1 goes fantastically! All the dogs and handlers are engaged and enthusiastic. They all receive some verbal tips on how they can practice with their dogs until the next class. Week 2 and seven of the eight canine students come strutting into the classroom, eager to play their new favorite game. Their people have huge beaming smiles on their faces.
Then Student Number 8 walks in.
Rather, human student walks in dragging her dog behind her.
Shocked, I rush over and ask, "Oh my...is your pup okay?!"
"Oh, he's fine."
She tries to drag him a few more steps.
"Okay, let's not drag him..."
I place a high-value treat at his nose and try to slowly treat-magnet him to their spot. The dog looks listless. Is not really interested in the treat. He clearly does not want to be here.
The very same dog was quiet when he first started the class the prior week, but by the end, he was bright-eyed, his tail was up and wagging, and he was thoroughly engaged in the game. Now, well now he looks as though he wants to crawl into a hole and die.
We finally get the pair to their spot, with the handler oblivious that there is anything wrong with her dog.
He doesn't seem sick. No discharge. No coughing. Not limping.
He looks more like he is shutdown.
Still looking at the pair, I go into my intro spiel, and immediately check-in with everyone.
Working my way down the row, with Student 8 being the end of the row.
"Oh, they love the boxes!"
"Remember how she was a little worried last week with the boxes? She dives right in now!"
"He was so mad when I ended the game!"
"My boyfriend thought this class was a dumb...but, he saw us play at home and now he is doing the practice sessions. Oh, and this is my boyfriend." (Boyfriend sheepishly waves hello).
"They seem to really like it."
"We're practicing before we sit down for dinner or to watch a movie, and they (the dog) sleeps all the way through!"
"It's fun and easy."
All good energy. Happy people reporting about happy dogs, who are eagerly waiting inside their crates to play the sniffy game.
Then we get to Student 8 who is intently listening to everyone with a smile on her face, as her dog still looks as though he would prefer for a giant hole to open beneath him and swallow him whole.
"How did your boy do?"
Okay, that tact is not going to work.
"So, you practiced this week?"
"...Oh, everyday. That's a lot of sniffing..."
"Twice a day actually." ...
"'Sorry, did you say twice a day?"
"Yes, in the morning and evening for his meals."
A picture is forming in my head and a pit in my stomach.
"Alright, when you say you are practicing twice a day, everyday, for his meals, what do you mean..."