With the COVID-19 pandemic going on, Scent Work has not been spared. Group activities, Sniff N' Go's and trials have being cancelled while dog training businesses are closing or suspending their services all in an attempt to mitigate the spread of the virus. One thing this situation has highlighted that may have otherwise been missed: Scent Work is a social activity for the human handlers.
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What exactly is the handler's role in the Scent Work team, anyway?
This topic has been on my mind this week as it came up in back-to-back in person NW1 Trial Prep classes I was instructing. One student made the comment, "I don't know why people worry about what to do at a trial, the dog does all of the work, we don't have to do anything".
People, by design, are fairly impatient. We get all excited about something and we want to do it NOW! The prospect of having to wait for the final payoff is painful and frustrating.
Unfortunately, this WANT IT NOW approach can spell havoc when we are talking about working with and training our dogs, especially in regards to Scent Work.
"Hi! I've heard a lot about your training and I wanted to see if you could help me and my dog. We've been training for a while and, while I like my trainer, I don't think we are getting anywhere. Looking forward to working with you!"
Surprisingly, this type of message from a prospective client is not all that rare. Now, I'm not saying that to toot my own horn. I'm saying it because there appears to be a lack of communication between trainers or instructors and their clients which causes the latter to seek out help elsewhere.
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.
You've been practicing Scent Work with your dog. Maybe you've been following the K9 Nose Work® training method that we cover in our Foundation Scent Work learning path. Perhaps you are using an operant training approach. Or an entirely different training approach altogether. Regardless, you may be noticing an issue: your dog finds the hides perfectly when you're practicing with them at-home...but not so much when you are at a trial or when someone else is setting the hides for you. But why?! Let's discuss some potential causes.
A heartbreaking trend I've encountered throughout my professional dog training career is dog owners desperately wanting their dogs to be something they are not. The older dog to be spry again. The shy dog to be without any self-preservation. The reserved dog to suddenly go head-first into any given situation without a care. The careful and methodical dog to turn into a Tasmanian devil of activity. This is a surefire way to remove all the joy from any activity you are doing with your dog, especially Scent Work.
One the common themes I noticed teaching in-person group dog training classes was how hard it was for handlers to allow their dogs the time necessary to learn. As in give them time to truly work out a given problem.
This pattern was not solely relegated to Scent Work, it was something I noticed across the board. Handlers rushing in either to help the dog or, worst still, getting horrendously frustrated with the dog for not coming up with the answer sooner. Both approaches are detrimental to all aspects of dog training, but can be devastating when we are talking about Scent Work.
You've got a new puppy and you are ready to hit the ground running with your Scent Work training! You have an important question to ask yourself: start on odor right away, or not?
In this blog post, I provide my opinions on this topic. Look them over and see what you think.
"Only people who do that competing stuff would do Scent Work."
"Why would I spend money to teach my dog to sniff...that sounds stupid, I just want them to be well-behaved!"
"That looks boring, I like exciting stuff like agility!"
These are all real statements that I have heard from clients over the years. Every single one of them humored me to give Scent Work a try. Every single one of them never looked back.
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.
You set-up a challenging training search for your dog. It was designed to be a learning opportunity. A chance to stretch them, all while setting them up to succeed. Wouldn't you know it, they nailed it!
You give them a reward and end your session.
What you do next is really important. Are you maximizing on this?