It's Too Hot! Too Cold! Too Rainy! Too Snowy!...Is It?
Dianna L. Santos
Scent Work is one of the few dog sport activities that can be held in all types of weather. Regardless of the season or what Mother Nature throws at competitors, as long as it is safe, the trial will go on. Do you find yourself dreading a weather report for an upcoming trial? Thinking to yourself, "It will be too (enter weather condition)...we will never succeed!". Then you need to listen to this podcast, where we will discuss some tips on how you can help your dog overcome some of these stumbling blocks, and what you should keep in mind when you are implementing your training plan.
Podcast Episode Transcript
Welcome to the Scent Work University, All About Scent Work Podcast. In this podcast we'll be talking about all things Scent Work. We'll be giving you behind the scenes look as far as what your instructor or trial officials may be going through. We'll be giving you training tips, and we'll just be discussing everything that goes along with doing Scent Work with your dog, whether you're interested in competition or not.
In this particular episode, we're gonna be talking about the effect of weather, and how it is you'd be able to train your dog to be able to work within a variety of different conditions. Alright, let's get started.
Before we get started, I just wanna take a really quick moment to introduce myself. My name is Dianna Santos. I am the Owner and Lead Instructor for both Scent Work University and Dog Sport University. These are online dog training platforms that are designed to connect outstanding trainers with as many dog owners as possible. Both SWU and DSU are designed to provide quality, convenience, and flexibility. So we hope that you'll check them out to see if there are any online programs that may be suitable for both you and your dog. Without further ado, let's dive into the podcast.
If you're currently competing in Scent Work, it's more likely than not that you've come across a situation where you thought that the weather was going to negatively effect your performance. You may have told yourself, it's too hot, or it's too cold, or it's too rainy, or it's too snowy. There's something going on weather wise that's going to prevent your dog from being able to be successful at that trial, but the real question is, is that true? And what we wanna talk about in this podcast is, while you should always put the weather into consideration, it shouldn't be a block or a preventative for your dog actually being successful.
So one of the first things that we have to discuss is that weather absolutely will effect odor. It will change your odor picture. With that in mind, it's important that your dog actually understands what those odor pictures look like when the weather is in those different conditions. In other words, if you were to only practice when your dog was searching in ideal conditions, low humidity, nice low 70's, perfect weather, no clouds, no rain, no snow, not too hot, not too cold, but if that's the only time they ever got to play, then if you were to bring them to a trial that did offer one of those different weather conditions, your dog simply may have never seen that picture before. They may never have seen what the odor looks like in those conditions, and therefore, they may very well say I have no idea what to do.
So with that in mind, we as trainers, want to be able to expose our dog to as many of these different conditions as possible, as long as it's safe, but there's another element to this. We'll take the example of a very hot day. When the weather is very warm, it not only will effect the odor picture in that it will cause the odor to plume out more, it can spread out more throughout the search area, but it can also obviously effect your dog. Your dog will obviously be warmer, but that's also gonna be promoting them to pant more which will cause them to dry up both their mouth and their nose and could also cause dehydration.
The reason why that's a issue, particularly when we're talking about Scent Work, is that their nose actually has to stay moist in order for them to efficiently and effectively scent. They will not be able to actually sniff well if their nose is dried out. So when it's very warm outside and your dog is prompted to pant more, they are quite literally drying out their nose as they're going along. So what we need to do is, we need to keep that in mind and put in steps in place in our routine to ensure that our dog is still remaining hydrated, but there's another fact to this.
You and I have both gone out on some summer day and had all types of plans what it was that we were going to do, and as the day goes on and it's still very warm, you feel tired. You feel worn down. The heat just kind of zaps the energy right out of you. That happens to your dog as well, and then that effect is exacerbated when the dog also is having difficulty sniffing because their nose is dried out.
What all this means is that we have to take into account the effect that the weather can have on our dog physically, but we also have to ask, "What is our dog's baseline endurance for what it is we're asking them to do?" For instance, if you're dog has only practiced at home in finding one or two hides in a search area and they maybe do one or two searches within your practice session, and they're not even necessarily back-to-back, and you then try to take them to a trial that's very warm, they haven't practiced in that before, and they're now going to have to find potentially two or three hides in each search area, and they're going to have to do searches one, two, or three back-to-back-to-back, and then have a bunch of hours to wait, and then do that again, that's an entirely different endurance test or endurance ability then what they've been doing in practice.
Though a lot of people will just say, "Well, it was because of the weather." And it's not that the weather didn't have an effect. It probably did, but what you also have to ask yourself is what is your dog's baseline endurance level for searching just overall? And has your practice sessions properly prepared your dog for what they may actually see at trial?
Basically, the way that I tell my students on how it is they should approach this is, your practice session should be preparing your dog for more than what they'll see at trial. So as an example, if you were just getting started in Scent Work, more likely than not, there's only going to be one hide within each of the search areas. There's some organizations that provide game searches or things of that sort where they're not level dependent, meaning that depending on the type of the game that's offered, or the skill that's being tested, there may actually be more than one hide within the search area, and any dog of any level would be able to enter them.
Generally speaking, when you're entering into a trial, you have to start off at the lowest level, and the lowest level, there's only going to be one hide in the search area. But, you're also going to have to do, more likely than not, multiple searches back-to-back just so that the trial can run efficiently. If you had 40, 50, 60, 70 dogs, and they all can only do one search at a time, you're gonna be there a while.
So in order for things to run efficiently, they have teams come up and they have them do these searches. They'll do, for instance, an interior search to a container search to maybe even an exterior search, just as an example. So when we're talking about building up our dogs endurance, as far as how we should be doing their practice sessions, we have to then prepare our dogs to do even more than what they'll see at trial. Therefore, when they go into the trial itself, it's easy because they've been practicing for a level even higher than what they're actually entered in.
So I hope that makes sense that the whole purpose behind your training sessions and your practice sessions is to build up your dog's skills so when they go to trial, it's not hard at all. And how this plays into the effect of weather is that if your dog is already struggling, just to keep their ability to sniff up because it's very hot, as an example, that's going to be exacerbated if they also do not have the endurance to just do the searches even if it was a perfectly weather related day, even if it was nice and cool and only 70 and their nose was nice and moist anyway.
So it's something that we have to always ask ourselves when we are getting ready to trial and we start thinking about things such as weather, what is my dogs baseline endurance for doing these searches? And are there ways that I can build up their endurance so that the weather isn't already exacerbating a bad situation?
The other thing that we wanna ask ourselves when we start concerning ourselves with the weather and how that may be impacting our dog's ability to perform, is does your dog have any medical issues that would be able to effect their ability to work in that given weather condition? And that could be very hot conditions. That could be very cold conditions. That could be when it's raining. That could be when it's snowing. That could be high altitude, low altitude, all these different things. Is there something that your dog has going on medically that would be negatively effecting their ability to perform?
So in and of itself, the weather condition may actually not be that big of a deal, but if your dog has something medically going on, then the weather condition could exacerbate that significantly to where they wouldn't be able to perform as you would have expected. If that's the case, is there a way that you can get them over that hump? Is there a way you'd be able to help them so that this wasn't such a big issue? So as an example, if your dog is of a breed with a very short snout, such as a bulldog or a pug or something like that, you want to ensure, particularly in very hot weather, that there is a way to help keep them cool and also a way to prevent them from overheating and also losing their breath because they're panting so much trying to stay cool. That could also cause them to overheat. That could be a very serious medical condition.
So you have to keep that in mind when you have that particular type of dog. What is it that I have to do to ensure that my dog will stay cool, not get overheated, just because they, quite frankly, have to work that much harder to cool themselves down because of the way that they breath? So things such as cooling mats, fans, using a lot of water, being very mindful of maybe you carry them from search area to search instead of making them walk. You may even, in that situation, if there's a medical, very serious medical, physical issue that would be even dangerous for the dog to really push them in that situation, you may just say, "Hey, for any trial that's going to be over 90 degrees, I just can't keep my dog safe. We're just not going to be entering those trials."
And that is an absolute possibility, particularly when we're talking about things that are medical. There are ways that you can bridge that gap, but the safety and security and the well being of your dog is far more important than any titles that you could ever get. So if you're ever really questioning, you're looking at the weather report, or you're looking even at the time of year, and you're looking at where this trial is going to be. You're saying, "I don't know if I can keep my dog safe." Then just simply don't enter that trial.
That's not a training issue. That's more of a I need to keep it so that my dog doesn't get sick or worse. That's an entirely different situation. So always make certain that you're just looking at this as objectively as possible and going from there. Outside of a medical issue, the other question that you wanna ask yourself when you're trying to make these decisions is, are there certain weather conditions that your dog currently struggles with right now? And that could be even outside of the context of Scent Work.
So I'll give you an example. I have a Doberman, and as a breed quirk, they melt in the rain. I don't really understand it, but it's across the breed norm that Dobermans just do not like the rain. If I'm gonna be entering a trial and it's forecast to be raining, that could be a problem if I haven't trained for it. So in that situation, I then have to say, okay, this isn't necessarily, it's not a medical issue. It's not just simply, it's going to be effecting his ability to scent because of the way the odor's working or how it's effecting him physically. It's more of a, I really don't like this, and he goes out into the rain even when he has to go potty. And he gets airplane ears, and he squints. And he just kinda stands there and sulks. It's very sad, but when we're talking about in the context of Scent Work, well that would be a problem at a trial.
So what do you do in that situation? I know that rain is an issue, and I live in a part of the country now where we just don't get that much rain. But when we do, often times it's a drizzle. Often times, it's just a mist. Sometimes it can be pretty substantial, but it's very rare. What we did is in those misting days, we would go out, and we would do container searches that were paired. And we would make it really super fun. High value treats for rewards, lots of play afterwards, making it so that it was really super fun. Rain searches are the best, and I have to tell you that with time, he determined that searching in rain for Scent Work was awesome. Did that really carry over to him liking rain overall? I would say he's a little bit better than what he used to be, but if there's no Scent Work involved, he'll go out and be like, "Oh, are we searching? Oh, we're not. We're just pottying. Oh, gross. Rain."
But I have to say that taking that consorted effort of saying my dog doesn't like the rain. It's not effecting him medically or anything like that. How is it that I can make this so that it is not as icky to him so that he can actually work in this condition? Made all the difference in the world. So that's a prime example of what a lot of people would just say, "Well, my dog doesn't like the rain. Oh, we're just never gonna enter a trial that has rainy conditions." Well, that's a training thing that you could be working on. You could just finding a way of where working in rain is actually a good thing. Working in the rain is fun. Working in the rain is special.
Keeping your sessions really super short, having them really super successful, building up all that drive and enthusiasm for working in the rain, and then once they are okay with that, then you can start incorporating some of the more complicated problems as far as maybe harder hide settings, more complicated search areas. Maybe working in the rain a little bit more. Maybe working in conditions that are a little bit more raining. Maybe not just a mist, but you know, substantial rain.
And the key is just to realize what it is that you're trying to do. You're tying to get it so the dog actually enjoys doing this thing. So the shorter and the more successful it can be and always ending on a good note is what you should be doing, and I would say just for my dog, we would do, maybe at most, two searches out in the rain, back-to-back, one hide each, really super successful. And then we would do a recovery search inside, where he was then able to really have a big party, a very big celebration. "Aren't you the smartest dog in the whole world?" He said, "Yes, I am," and then he would get a really special chew afterwards to really, as an exclamation point, this was the best session ever. Why aren't all of our sessions this great?
And again, for him personally, it worked out really well. If he gets on his Scent Work equipment and we are heading out when it is raining, he's totally fine. So it's just something to think about if you know there's a particular type of weather condition your dog goes, "Ew, I couldn't possibly." Then there's a way that you can use training to change their mind, to make it so that that's actually a fun thing to do, not something to dread.
The other thing to think about when you are looking at the calendar, when your trials may be coming up, and you're saying, "Ugh, it's gonna be so hot here. It's gonna be really cold there. Ugh, we could be getting rain over here. Ugh, it's gonna be snowing there. I have like one weekend I can do trialing." Instead of dreading all of those things, again if your dog doesn't have a medical issue or something like that, you should be looking at those things as opportunities. Now again, training is entirely different from trialing. Those are two different things.
So what I mean by that as far as looking at opportunities is, if you're trying to get ready for trial, you should be doing lots of practices and lots of training sessions. If mother nature provides you with an opportunity such as a snowy day, that should not be looked as a, "Ugh, I have to hibernate today, and ugh, I hate it." I'm not a big fan of the snow, but when I was traveling across country with my dog, if we were driving through an area that had snow, we would stop, put out a hide really quick, I stick on his equipment, and we would go search in the snow. And he would say, "Wow, that was really fun. That was really cool." He actually really likes the snow, and that worked out well.
Those are the types of things that you wanna do with yourself, is that if Mother Nature has provided you with an opportunity with a different type of weather condition then what you would normally practice in, jump on that and practice in it. Be mindful where you set your hides. Don't make them really super complicated. Just expose your dog to what that looks like because the very same hide position that you may have done on that beautiful 70 degree day, if you do it when it's raining or you're doing it when it's cold or you're doing it when it's snowing, the odor picture is going to look completely different. So even though your dog may have found that very same hide on that beautiful day, when you bring them out in the different condition, they may actually have to work it a little bit to actually find it because the odor looks different. The picture looks different, but that's learning for them.
And saying, "Oh, when it's snowing, the odor does this. And oh, when it's raining, the odor does that. And oh, when it's cold, the odor does this other thing." That's exactly what it is you want them to know and to understand. So if you do enter into a trial, and lo and behold the weather is doing such and such, your dog is actually seeing what that looks like already. This isn't going to happen overnight though. You will have to do this with a number of repetitions, but the more that you can practice, the better that it will be.
Now I'm hoping that you're able to see the underlying theme for all of this. It's looking at what it is you're actually going to be experiencing at trial, and determining how it is you can weave that into your training and your practice sessions so that it's not so brand new when you walk into the trial site. With that in mind, you wanna try and create a training plan on how it is that your dog would be able to do these things. So it's not just simply throwing a hide out and hoping for the best. When you are starting to enter trials, in theory, you should already have an idea of what your dogs strengths are and what their weaknesses are.
When you're trying to work on a particular element, such as working within different weather conditions, you should be leaning towards their strengths so that you're only working on one element at a time, meaning that you're only trying to work on exposing the dog to I have to now work in this weather condition as opposed to I have to work in this weather condition, and learn this brand new type of hide, and deal with this brand new type of handling. And we're also using different rewards, and ugh, there's so much being thrown at me at once.
You wanna be really mindful of how it is that you do this. In the same vein, you wanna make sure that you're progressing incrementally. Don't just throw your dog into the deep end of the pool. Don't just expect them to go from I always work in the most pristine and awesome weather conditions to now I'm working in the middle of a blizzard. You expect me to do well, and that goes for any kind of weather extreme. Make sure that you are incrementally progressing with your dog. Make sure that you're videotaping as much as you can so you can review how it is your dog is actually doing, and if there's anything that you still need to work on, or maybe you're going a little bit too fast in some ways, and you can actually push them a little bit more in others.
Our goal with all of this is to keep your dogs enthusiasm super high, even though they're working in these different weather conditions. It shouldn't be that you get dog ready to go to a trial, and you open the door and they go, "Oh, it's doing that outside. I hate it." If they see you getting all their stuff together to go to the trial for Scent Work, they probably have their special equipment. You probably have stuff that you bring with you that's specific to going to trial. They should be really excited about that, and when you get to the trial and you actually get on all their equipment to actually go search, they should be really super excited about that.
All that excitement and enthusiasm and drive will be able to overcome any of the baseline issues that they may have, whether it be physical, such as now I have to make sure that I'm keeping my dog really super cool because it's really hot outside. Or something that I was talking about with my dog where as a default, he's not particularly fond of the rain. All that practicing and training, where the goal is to make this really super, awesome fun will help the dog overcome all of that. So you wanna be careful with how it is that you're approaching this training wise that it doesn't turn into a drill. It's not a, "We will go, and we will search in rain."
That's just, it's not gonna be as fun for the dog. You wanna make certain that this is something that they think is a really fun game. That they have a lot of rewards associated with it, and that means that you may have to act a little bit too. So know that you absolutely have an effect on this. If you go out to do a training session in, pick your weather condition, and you're like, "Oh, I hate this so much." It's going to translate to the dog, and they're gonna say, "Well, you know, you can try to give me hotdogs, whatever else, but I know that you know that this isn't fun." So we have to be mindful about our effect on our dog as well.
The last thing I wanna point out when it comes to weather is something that we touched upon really briefly, the early part of this podcast. This may seem like a century ago already, is something that I don't think people give enough credence to, is actually elevation changes. So we can be very mindful that when things are hot, when things are cold, or when it's raining, or when it's snowing, but the change in elevation to where your dog normally lives and resides and practices makes an enormous difference on how the dog feels. And depending on your dog, it could actually have a really medical effect on them. There are some dogs where if they're changing elevation, it can pop their ears and make it really painful, and then if you do that consistently going to a trial. They're like, "Every single time we go to a trial, I'm in pain. I don't like trialing."
That would be really bad, but there can also a physical effect just how the difference in elevation effects them physically, how they feel. There's also the effect of the change of how the odor moves. It can look completely different. The other big thing that I don't think that people who travel a lot keep in mind is a level of humidity in the air. So for myself, I currently live in southern California. I'm originally from out east. Two completely different types of humidity levels as you could possibly get. In southern California, humidity is always pretty low, which is fabulous. In the northeast, humidity is pretty high, which particularly in the summer, is unbearable.
When I did my cross-country trip with my boy, of course it was in the summer, and we were doing some Scent Work practices. And he struggled with some of these hides because we had not been practicing in humid conditions leading up to that point, and he just went, "Ooph, I can't find this thing to save my life." And the reason being is that, when things are humid, the odor stays really close to the hide itself. It doesn't spread out as much as when it's not humid. So the dog has to work a little bit harder in order to find the hide. So as the owner and handler and trainer of your dog, those are the types of things you wanna keep in mind. Again, not only when you're doing your practice sessions, but also when you're going into your trial.
Remember that every single time that you get a "yes" at a trial and every single time that you get a "sorry, no" at a trial, those are effecting as the handler and the trainer. You are basically doing, learning, and training yourself subconsciously. Every single time you walk up to that line, you are as much the learner as your dog. That situation is going to be effecting you as much as it effects your dog, and that could subconsciously then follow you around, how it is you approach later training sessions and later trials.
The reason why this is important is that if you go through a string of trials that have a variety of different weather conditions that your dog doesn't do particularly well with, you could then start becoming adverse yourself, to that particular type of trial setup. You could start avoiding entering those trials. You can start second guessing yourself or your dog, even in trials that don't have those conditions, and it could really snowball badly from there.
So what's crucially important is that we understand all the different ways that weather can be effecting the hide and the odor situation and our dog, but also, really asking ourselves honestly, before we step up to the line, "Has my dog actually ever practiced this before? Is there any real good reason for them to do well? And if they don't, do I know why? Is there something that I did as the handler that maybe caused them to false alert somewhere? Was there something else outside of my control that happened? Could the dog just not be feeling well? What is it that caused that?" And try to avoid having it become this big cloud that just kind of hangs over you where now you're gonna start making some bad decisions for both yourself and your dog going forward.
It's a very fine line to cross, and it can be pretty challenging. But it's something that we wanna be mindful of because we are a very important part to the team when we're talking about Scent Work, and we could start steering our dog astray if we are concentrating on the wrong things. So I'm hoping this podcast showed you how it is that, simply because there is a particular weather condition doesn't necessarily mean that you wouldn't be able to be successful at a trial. You just wanna know what your dog's baseline endurance is, how it is that they would be able to handle that condition, even outside of the realm of Scent Work, whether or not there may be a medical issue that could be effecting their ability to work in that condition, and maybe it would be better for them to just not trial at trials that offer that type of weather condition.
How it is you'd be able to practice with your dog to give them the skills they need so that they would be able to succeed regardless of what the situation is, and also understanding how it is that those conditions can effect the odor picture itself and to prepare yourself on how it is you should be approaching these types of situations to ensure that both you and your dog are successful and you're not inadvertently carrying baggage along with you.
If you are interested in learning a little bit more about how odor pictures can change within a given environment and what actual trial officials consider when they're setting hides at a trial, I would urge you to check out the Hide Placement For Trial course that we have through Scent Work University. It is taught specifically for officials with the organization, United States Canine Scent Sports, to give them ideas of what it is they should be considering when they're setting hides at trial, but it can be extraordinarily helpful for competitors to understand what those officials are thinking. But also to have an idea and understanding of all the different factors that effect how the odor will be acting within a given space.
I urge you to check out that course. I think you'd be really happy that you did. Thank you so much for listening to this podcast. I hope you found it helpful. Happy training, and we look forward to seeing you soon.