ALL ABOUT SCENT WORK PODCAST

Ep.

57

Spotlight: Michele Ellertson and PACE Team Games

SPEAKERS:
    Dianna L. Santos
    Michele Ellertson
BRIEF DESCRIPTION:

In this spotlight episode, we have the privilege to speak with Michele Ellertson, CNWI, a professional dog trainer, instructor, CO with NACSW and the owner of The Dog's PACE about her PACE Team Games program. This program is a fabulous way to encourage people to support one another while tackling challenging, and FUN, searches. It has been a big hit in the Northeastern US and the Los Angeles-area as well.

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Podcast Episode Transcript

Be sure to learn more about the PACE Team Games program here.


Dianna L. Santos:

Welcome to the All About Scent Work Podcast. In this podcast, we talk about all things scent work. That can include training tips, a behind the scenes look at what your instructor or trial official may be going through, and much more. In this episode, I had the distinct privilege of speaking with Michele Ellertson of The Dog's PACE and PACE Team Games about her PACE Team Game program. This is part of our new series where we're highlighting individuals and businesses who are giving back to the scent work community and helping all of us enjoy this wonderful game with our dogs.


Dianna L. Santos:

Before we start diving into the podcast episode, though, help me do a very quick introduction of myself. My name is Dianna Santos. I'm the owner and lead instructor for Scent Work University, Dog Sport University, and Pet Dog U. These are online dog training platforms that are designed to provide high quality dog training instruction to as many people as possible. We're very fortunate to have a client basis worldwide. For Scent Work University in particular we provide online courses, seminars, webinars, and eBooks that are all designed to help you achieve your scent work training goals. So whether that's just getting started in scent work, developing some more advanced skills or getting ready for trial, we have a training solution for you. So now that you know a little bit more about me, let's step into the podcast episode self.


Dianna L. Santos:

So, once again, in this podcast episode, we are speaking with Michele Ellertson in order to learn a little bit more about her PACE Team Games program. At the beginning of this conversation, we're just learning a little bit more about Michele herself. All right, let's listen in.


Michele Ellertson:

So I am Michele Ellerston. I own The Dog's PACE in Franklin, Massachusetts. I have been training dogs in general, a little over 15 years, and then I've been doing canine Nose Work since 2009, so I was part of the kind of initial founding series from the NACSW, that was where I came from. I come from a behavior background so everything that I do is kind of veiled with a behavior feel, I guess, I'm always looking at the dog and how they're interpreting information, how they're feeling about things. The cool thing about Nose Work is that it's very much a team driven sport and each partner and that is equal. So it's not only looking at the dog in this case, but it's also looking at the human. I have two dogs, I have a German Shepherd, Chaser, and I have a Belgian Malinois, Cannoli. Cannoli's just starting on her journey bu Chaser has just gotten his elite title, which is pretty exciting. PACE has been open for three years now, going strong. We have online classes and in person classes and then PACE Team Games.


Dianna L. Santos:

Perfect. So it's really good for people to understand like where you're coming from, as far as how it is, you created your different businesses and the pace games in particular, because I think it's always helpful to figure out, "Okay, well, who is this person? And why did they make this thing? And is this really a good fit for me?"


Michele Ellertson:

Right, right.


Dianna L. Santos:

So do you maybe want to talk about how PACE Games came to be?


Michele Ellertson:

So PACE Games came to be because we were looking for kind of a different way to give participants a different takeaway from the experience and the team aspect of PACE Team Games allows you to work cooperatively with another person. The dogs always work independently, there's never two dogs doing the same search at the same time, but your team may, your partner, your human partner can come with you to all of your searches. So in that experience, you can utilize your human partner for really whatever you need them to do. They can keep time for you, they can keep track of what hides you found, they can help you negotiate if you think your dog's in odor, but you're not really sure about it, you can have a conversation with your human partner while your dog is working, potentially, and come to a conclusion that way it helps.


Michele Ellertson:

It helps... It's nice to have the support of another person there to make some calls that you might not otherwise. It gives you that confidence to do it and then that transfers really nicely to when you're all by yourself, you can reflect on that a little bit and have that confidence going forward, which is really great.


Dianna L. Santos:

That sounds awesome. And I'm sure there's lots of people who are like, "Wow, I really wish I had that at a formal trial." "Hey, Emma I'm not sure I want to call this. Hey, Could you maybe do my backup for me?"


Michele Ellertson:

Exactly.


Dianna L. Santos:

So are there different levels, as far as if someone was interested in looking into this, do you have to have a certain amount of experience in order to participate?


Michele Ellertson:

No, so we make sure that PACE Team Games has hides that are suitable for any level. So there's certainly going to be the higher level stuff, you're certainly going to have potentially deep and inaccessibles, you're potentially going to have a high hide, you're potentially going to have lots of hides, but there's plenty of candy so that dogs who maybe don't have the great breadth of experience that a summit dog has can still be really successful. We always have... So PACE is made up of individual games that have individual rules. One those games we call Source and Source Abilities, so that is typically four hides in one space, but all of the hides are completely sourceable and you know that. You know that all going into it, the dog would need to know how to work multiple hides, but most of the dogs can, by the time they're even thinking about getting to a competitive kind of realm in any situation they can pretty much work multiple hides.


Michele Ellertson:

And then you have your partner there too, who could essentially stand in front of a hide if you wanted them to, they could literally do anything you want them to do to help your dog out and help them be successful. So, that's one of the games we make sure we have at every single PACE Team Games, because we want to make sure that there are a number of events during that day, that all levels of dogs can be successful in. We do the BFS, the big fricking search too, which is a ginormous area, whatever the biggest spaces we can find, that's what we use for this search, and there are upwards of 18 hides in this space, but a number of them, the less experienced dogs, have no problem hitting, they're decent spaces away there's we kind of make so that everybody can be as successful as they can be.


Dianna L. Santos:

Awesome. And so if someone was interested in entering to one of these, is there a minimum number of games you'd have to enter in within a given day? Or can you pick and choose?


Michele Ellertson:

No, you would enter for the day and then that day would consist of five, maybe six, if we can squeak at out an extra one, different games to play some of the games, both dogs participate in, some of the games, only one dog participates in. So you would look at the rules and negotiate with your partner whose dog or whose team would be best suited for which game. To win PACE Team Games, it's really a strategy game. It's interesting, in my opinion, that it's not the most experienced team that wins PACE Team Games. It's really the team who has put thought into where are my strengths as a team with my dog? Where are my weaknesses? And then really thinking about how I can utilize those strengths to be the best partner to my teammate that I possibly can.


Michele Ellertson:

And that, I think... More than anything, I think reflecting on what your strengths as a team actually are, I think that's probably the most beneficial part of participating in this, assuming you're looking at it to win, to really play the games. There are plenty of people who come out for PACE Team Games and they just want to do some searches with their dog and that's totally fine too. We certainly provide that. But if you're looking to win PACE Team Games, it's crucial that you know what you're good at, you know where your shaky points are, and you can help your partner fill in those blanks for you.


Dianna L. Santos:

That's awesome. So as far as number of people who may attend a given day of games, what would you say the general range of people would be?


Michele Ellertson:

So we have capped it at 12. It depends on the venue because we have to park that many people, so 12 teams of two people, so 24 people. We have opted to, depending on the venue, sometimes we have parking restrictions, sometimes we have other logistical things that we just can't accommodate more people, but the one, I think the one that we just did most recently here in Massachusetts we had 14 or 15 teams.


Dianna L. Santos:

And then how far... So is this more a Northeast United States thing? Are you doing this nationwide?


Michele Ellertson:

Yes. We've done it two years running in LA. We couldn't go because of COVID obviously. And we're having some site issues a little bit right now to get it going for this year, but we've done it two years in LA, and then we do... Because this is our local area, we have more connections, more ability to do it more frequently, so we do two a year here. We've had some interest to bring it out to like Pennsylvania and different areas like that which we'll look at. It's not a model that I have fully investigated but enough people are asking. So I will.


Dianna L. Santos:

Awesome. And then what are your plans as far as the future, or what are your goals with this looking forward?


Michele Ellertson:

I want to keep creating interesting games that propel people to really examine their training plan. I am a trainer, that is what I love to do, I love to help people make training plans to help them be successful in the trial arena. I personally dislike trialing very much, but I think it's a benchmark to where your training plan is and how it's working and every time you have a little hiccup, you can go back and kind of fill in that hole. I think PACE Team Games can be another, less pressure way to do that. Doesn't mean anything, right? If you don't do well at PACE Team Games, it's okay, you still have a good day with your dog, nothing's on the line.


Michele Ellertson:

Then you have your teammates too, who can help you negotiate because they've seen it, they saw it real life. So whatever has happened in your search that you can't make sense of, you have somebody else, at least, who was there watching and can say, "Yeah, I really, I don't know. I agree with you. That's a place we need to fill in," or however they can help you.


Dianna L. Santos:

And that's a really interesting concept because I'm sure that there are lots of people... And again, as you know, Nose Work and scent is just exploding in popularity with all these different organizations, everything now, and everyone in their mother is like, "Oh, I need to go compete," and it's like, well, maybe pump the brakes a little bit.


Michele Ellertson:

Yeah. Yes.


Dianna L. Santos:

This whole idea with what you've created, where you have that support system of your teammate and also encouraging them to provide insight or to notice when someone may freeze or just have that mental block of, "Oh my God, I might get a no," and then they just don't know what to do.


Michele Ellertson:

Yep.


Dianna L. Santos:

That's really empowering because if people have that experience of, "I get a no and everything falls apart," which of course it again, it's not that trialing isn't painful when you get, no of course it is, but like in the grand scheme of life, like you and your dog are going to be fine, but it's such an aversion that people feel, and it's such a mental weight. What you've done is basically baked in away to make it so that that is not quite as bad and that if people actually maximized on this opportunity, they could actually desensitize themselves a little bit because they have a little bit of a support system, which is awesome. So you should pet yourself in the back for that.


Michele Ellertson:

Thank you. Yeah. It started as a cool thing to do once and then everybody loved it and we're like, "Okay, we'll do it again. Okay. We'll do it again," and then Laura Lee calls, "Will you bring it to LA?" "Sure." And people love it. It's just fun. It is just fun. And I think what you're saying is absolutely... There's just something really nice about having that support there to soften the blow a little bit if you get a no.


Dianna L. Santos:

Exactly. So are there any things, as far as the ones that you've held, that or teams that really stood out to you when you were watching, be like, "Wow, that's a really great way of tackling this search or you two really worked well together." Do you want to share that with us?


Michele Ellertson:

Yes. My favorite team every time because they're always so tickled... When we had one search area, I forget what it was called, something about distractions, and we had gotten fake poop and fake mice, like little rubber mice and we had littered the entire search area with these items and the poops looked like real poops so people were getting panics that their dog was sniffing this thing, some of them were hot. There were some mice that were hot, it was just a fun thing, but they're always so willing to have a good time with it and laugh and giggle and it's the epitome to me of what this is. It's just... Let the humor of it take over a little bit and then in the BFS, which always have, the big fricking search, the big one, both dogs always run that, so the team has to decide which dog runs first, the dog who runs second, obviously that handler knows, or that team knows where some of the hides are.


Michele Ellertson:

It's highly unlikely, if not impossible for the team one... For the dog one to get all the of problems, so you really have to divide... "Are we going to split the search area in half and you cover this half and I'll cover that half? Are you going to let the novice dog swing through and pick off all the candy hides and then let the senior dog kind of come in and negotiate what is there additionally?" They always adjust their strategy a little bit, they've played in every PACE Games that we've had in the New England area. Their team name is Double Dog Dare and they always adjust their strategy a little bit and are the most involved team, some teams don't... They're either not comfortable to utilize their teammate or they're not really sure how to, but this team does, like there's active conversation between the partners, one partner's calling out time marks, "That's been a minute, that's been two minutes. That's been three minutes," as they're going.


Michele Ellertson:

They remind each other of where there are hides, where there were hides, where they found things, where the other teammate found things. There's just constant dialogue back and forth about what's happening. The dog might be negotiating something that looks like a high hide, they'll have a conversation about it. Which is also kind of nice from the dog's perspective, they learn to kind of tune all of that out, they're focused on their job and there's this whole interaction happening behind them. They're so good at working together to accomplish this goal. They're an advanced team, one of the teammates is in Summit level for a NACSW and the other teammate, I want to say, is working towards his NW3 Elite, I think he's working for that. So not a novice team, but they've gradually climbed the ranks. I think they finished second at the last one we did, but they are the most fun team to watch. I can't stop smiling the entire time they're in the search area.


Dianna L. Santos:

That's awesome. One thing that came to mind when you were describing this particular team is, is this something that people who walk away from a PACE Game event could then say, "You know what, this actually would be really helpful for me to maybe do every now and again just in my training. Where I would be able to do this with a friend or a scent work partner or something where we could actually do some of these things to just have that collaborative work and the comfort of seeing what's going on and actually saying it while you're trying to handle your dog is really hard," and so [crosstalk 00:16:14] I think it would be really, really helpful. So do you have any people doing that? Where they're doing some of this training outside of the games as well?


Michele Ellertson:

I don't know how many people are doing it on their own. We certainly play games in classes that are related to this, where you would partner up with somebody and kind of compliment them going through their searches to get them used to... There's something to be said too, about seeing what your dog is doing and making the connection to verbalize it. That's a big learning moment, like if we just take a step back and think about how we learn, that's a big piece of it and if you can articulate what you're seeing, you may clarify that a little bit in your eye to really be able to see it without overthinking it or without doubting yourself or whatever, just talk about the behaviors that you're seeing. I think that solidifies a lot of, again, doubt that we have when we're looking at what our dog is doing, we know what our dogs look like when they're on odor, we know what they look like when they do X, but to verbalize it to somebody else is a whole different level of certainty that you have to have.


Dianna L. Santos:

That's a really important point. Thank you for saying that. And it's something that I hope that people take to heart and will think about doing just in their outside training whenever they're practicing, even just by yourself, just watching your dog search and just say what you see.


Michele Ellertson:

Or watch video of your dog searching and articulate what it is that you have... It's one of my favorite ways to do video review with people is, "Tell me what you see. What is it that you're seeing in here?" Cause I can tell you what I see, but if you're not seeing it that it's not helpful to you.


Dianna L. Santos:

Right. Where can people find out more information about all of this?


Michele Ellertson:

So they can look at our website, it's thedogspace.net, we run two a year in the New England area, we run one a year in LA, so if they're in any of those spaces, I encourage them to enter or check it out, come lend a helping hand. We don't need a terrible lot of volunteers for PACE Team Games, just because we have an app system that works, so the app times and logs the hides found and all of that for us, so we don't have to have the volume of volunteers... Everybody can play, which is nice. But check out the website, that's kind of what we do. There's a little blurb on it, about what PACE Team Games are and then the schedule of where we're going to be at. That would be the best place.


Dianna L. Santos:

Perfect. Was there anything else that you wanted to share with people?


Michele Ellertson:

No, I'm just super excited to be able to talk about PACE Team Games and it was certainly not a thought when I had the creative burst to develop it. It was not something that I was like, "Oh, this is going to blow up. This is going to be so big and everybody's going to want to do it," I was just trying to create something fun for my students, but it's so fun and so valuable that it's exciting that more people want to investigate it a little bit.


Dianna L. Santos:

Awesome. Well, I really appreciate you spending the time with us and letting us know a little bit more about this. It's really exciting and I hope everyone goes and checks it out. So as you can see, Michele is a fantastic asset to have within the scent work community. Given her incredible breadth of knowledge and expertise and her desire to help dogs and handlers better enjoy themselves playing the game of set work, we are all very fortunate to have her to be a part of this scent work community at large. What she has created with PACE Team Games is creative and brilliant.


Dianna L. Santos:

And for those of you who are located in the Northeast United States or in the LA area who have already participated in those games, my hat's off to you. And for those of you who may be in those areas and are interested, definitely make sure that you check out her website to learn a little bit more about it. And as she said, there are people who are interested in helping this grow, so if were in other areas of the country that be like, "Hey, we would like to play that over here," by all means, feel free to contact Michele and see if that would be possibility. What she has created is basically highlighting a way for handlers to improve their own skills while celebrating this wonderful activity that we get to do with our dogs in a super creative way. We should let Michele know that we appreciate her creativity and how it's going to help dog and handler their teams and how it already has.


Dianna L. Santos:

As she said, the ability for you to be able to watch a search and identify what it is that you are seeing and articulate that out loud is an important skill that we should all be doing anyway. So we really want to thank Michele for participating in this podcast and also for creating PACE Team Games. If you know of someone else in the scent work community, whether it's an individual or a business, that's giving back to the community and you would like for us to highlight, please let me know. We want to make sure that we are shining a light on these individuals and businesses that are helping all of us really build this wonderful community that we all get to enjoy.


Dianna L. Santos:

Again, life can be very stressful and at sometimes very dark, but this community of ours that we're fortunate enough to be a part of is actually pretty great. The more that we're able to highlight these individuals and businesses that are providing these opportunities for us to play this wonderful game with our dogs, we should do so. So if you have any suggestions of individuals or businesses you would like for us to speak to, please let me know. Thanks so much listening to this episode, we hope that you enjoyed it. Happy training. We look forward to seeing you soon.