Scent Work University Blog

Where we discuss all things Scent Work-related!

Training v. Trialing

​Whether we want to admit it or not, there is an inherent conflict between training and trialing when it comes to Scent Work. If we aren't careful, we could throw all of our training away as we chase after more and more trialing opportunities.
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.
Self-doubt and self-loathing can steal away any joy you would otherwise enjoy in Scent Work. It's crucially important to fight against these urges and focus on what is actually important: having fun with your dog.
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.
​I went back and forth about whether to cover this topic in a blog post or a podcast episode...I decided this format would be less conducive to rage-induced cursing, so a blog post it is. 
​You love Scent Work. You're passionate about it. Your dog loves it, they look forward to their practice sessions and if you compete, they enjoy doing that too. But is everything really unicorns and rainbows? Or, are you suffering from a severe form of odor blindness? Infliction of Odor Blindness  "WHAT IS THAT?! IT SOUNDS SERIOUS!" It is.&nbs...