Updated: Aug 14
"They'll never know."
"It will be quick."
"I need to practice for a trial."
"My dog needs to be familiar with the area to be successful, it is only fair!"
When it comes to training, working with and even playing with our dogs, we, as dog owners, handlers and trainers, can sometimes become very single-minded and focused. It is all about us and our dogs. Everything else just fades away. Which in and of itself is not that big of a problem. Where the rub comes in is when we do not appreciate the fact that there is a big wide world out there that doesn't center around us and our dogs. The nature of Scent Work training, especially if you are interested in competing, is to go out and practice in the real world. Your dog needs these skills, as do you. It is also fun to see your dog working out a "real world" scenario outside of your own house, yard or training center set-up.
But how you go about doing this matters.
Time for some real-talk: As a whole, the dog owning community is terrible at following rules, or even laws. We take it upon ourselves to have our dogs frolic off-leash when hiking in the park that plainly states there is strict leash laws (it will be quick!). We kick their poop into the bushes instead of picking it up because we either forgot our poop bag, or worst yet didn't feel like carrying it out (they'll never know!). We practice our Scent Work where it plainly states dogs are not welcome (I need to practice for trial!).
These are all huge problems, and each and every single time one of us does any of these things, we are ruining it for everyone else.
The world is getting less dog-friendly, not the other way around. And for good reason. We, as a community, tend to be flat out rude.
In the tiny segment of the dog community where Scent Work resides, we are exacerbating this problem by barging into businesses uninvited, disrupting customers, allowing our dogs to do aggressive alerts within these businesses…the list goes on and on.
Now, does that mean these people are waking up in the morning with the goal of ruining everyone else's day? Of course not. However, they are also not being considerate or thoughtful to the outside world, or to other dog owners, handlers and trainers.
Let me give you an example: when I was still teaching in-person group training classes, I was scoping out local businesses to do a training session with one of my more advanced Scent Work classes. I found a dog-friendly one, visited it ahead of time to make sure it would work for what I needed. Pleased, I asked to speak with manager to get permission to have my students practice there. The conversation was a very pleasant one, with the manager thoroughly interested in what this sniffing game was all about. We determined a date and time that would work for both of us when I and my students could come practice. I even purchased a $15.00 gift certificate for each of my students to use at that store. When the day finally came, we held our class, and all went well, with even some staff and customers checking it out.
Fast-forward another 6-weeks. New class. New session. New opportunity to search. I contact the business again, expecting to be welcomed with open arms. Instead, the manager got on the phone and was clearly upset. Apparently, some people had come in the weeks since I held my class and had done practice sessions near the front of the store. Per the manager, these people were blocking the entrance with their dogs, and one of the dogs scratched up one of their displays. The manager understood that I had been respectful of the space and didn't recognize any of these people as my students, but didn't want any more of that "police dog stuff" going on at their store. I apologized that had happened, even though I wasn't involved, and explained that I completely understood. I further let the manager know that I would relay to my students to refrain from practicing at their store, and thanked them again for letting us play there that one time.
A great training opportunity lost. A dog-friendly business was now less so. Customers and staff who may have been on the fence about dogs as a whole, were now convinced that dogs are indeed (fill in whatever negative association they already had here). All because people did not follow some simple rules when it comes to practicing at businesses:
Get permission first. This business does not exist so you can practice and train your dog. They are there to provide a service and/or product for their clients and customers. Nothing more, nothing less.
Do not disrupt the customers. Again, that business is not there for you to practice. The customers have every right to be there. They take priority, not you. So, don't practice near an entrance or exit. See a busy section? Avoid that one. Use common sense.
If you notice a customer is afraid of your dog, give them space. This is crucially important, even during a search. If a person turns the corner of an aisle your dog is currently searching, and clearly they are worried, bring your dog to another area to allow this person to pass. Perpetuating someone's fear is only going to make your life harder down the line. We want MORE people to like and be comfortable around dogs, not less.
Do not destroy anything within the business. Common sense, I know, but this can include such things as excessive drool, scratching or biting. If you know your dog has an aggressive alert (digging, scratching, biting or even barking), then you should work on this beforehand to ensure you do not get yourself into trouble. This also means being mindful of where you put your hide. Maybe don't put your tin inside the drawer of the $1,000 cabinet.
Be considerate to the business. This includes thanking the manager and/or staff. Buying something from there, even it is small. Something, anything. Remember: they are not there for you. To drive this point home, let me give you a completely different example: when I drove across the country, I would have to take rest stops. These would often occur at local McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts or other fast food restaurants. I would always, always, purchase at least a beverage after using the restroom. These businesses were not built to be my potty area! Be considerate.
Together, we can show outside world that the dog community is not as bad as it may seem at times. For this to work, however, it will take all of us. So the next time that little voice in the back of your head says, "Oh, no one will ever know" or "Just this once" or worse still, "Me and my dog deserve this!", tell it to go take a hike and do the right thing instead. It will work out better for you, and everyone else, in the end.
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 Family Dog University, 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 FDU, DSU and SWU and she looks forward to the continued growth of FDU, DSU and SWU and increased learning opportunities all of these online dog training platforms can provide.