Updated: Sep 2
Nothing like starting a blog post with a bang...
There is no denying Scent Work is exploding in popularity, which in and of itself is a wonderful thing. More dogs sniffing, fantastic!
Scent Work is an activity that is open to ALL dogs and carries with it real benefits trainers, instructors, competitors and dog owners worldwide are beginning to truly grasp and recognize.
However, I fear that for some dogs, the quest to shift from the beneficial and fun activity of playing the Game of Scent Work to competing in the Sport of Scent Work could very well spell their doom.
Competition is NOT for All Dogs
I say it ad nauseam, but the fact remains: the GAME of Scent Work is something every single dog with a functioning nose should do. The SPORT of Scent Work is probably NOT a good fit for that entire population.
Asking certain dogs to compete would be the equivalent of pushing a square peg into a round hole. It simply doesn't work.
"Fine Ms. Debby Downer, which dogs shouldn't compete then?"
Dogs who are aggressive: There should be absolutely no wiggle room on this. If your dog's first reaction to another dog OR person is to use their teeth, the have NO place at a trial. Full stop.
Dogs who are highly reactive to people: The likelihood your dog will make a tragic mistake is just too high. Between the judge, timer, score sheet runner, gate steward and one or more volunteers, all of which will be inside the search area as your dog is running, there are too many possibilities your dog will tag someone.
Dogs who suffer from significant "stranger danger": Trials are a stranger factory on steroids! What a terrifying situation to force your dog into. Again, WAY too many opportunities for them to make a tragic mistake.
Dogs who suffer from significant environmental sensitivities: If your dog needs a Thundercoat whenever they are outside the house to prevent them from completely falling apart, trialing is not what they need. Instead, these dogs desperately need a place where they feel safe. Not a terrifyingly bustling place that is essentially a pressure-cooker of stress and angst.
No Ribbon Can Adequately Represent Your Rehabilitation Success
Working with a dog who has a serious behavioral issue is trying and draining emotionally, not to mention time-consuming and expensive. Certainly not for the faint of heart and I tip my hat to anyone who is currently in this camp.
One of the things that owners of behaviorally challenged dogs want more than anything is a semblance of normalcy. That in some respect, their dog is not the odd one out. No, in some way, they ARE like other dogs.
This entirely understandable desire is usually the starting point for festering issues when we are talking about Scent Work.
Let's walk through a scenario: a dog and owner team have partnered with a Scent Work instructor. They've completed a few private sessions to ensure the dog has the foundation understanding of the Game and the instructor has ascertained they can safely incorporate the dog into a group training class. Everything is done with care, with special attention paid to safety, being certain not to ostracize anyone. Weeks turn to months and the team is doing well. Their classmates are patient, accepting and supportive of them. The dog is benefiting from the activity and the proactive and deliberate approach taken to ens