Ep. 7: Being a Good Scent Work Instructor
Do you teach Scent Work classes and/or provide private consultations? Then this episode is for you. We discuss a variety topics many instructors oftentimes overlook. Such as how you can help ensure your students (both canine and human) are successful in your classes and consultations, what you can do to feel fulfilled and happy with what you do as an instructor and common pitfalls to avoid.
Welcome to the All About Scent Work Podcast. In this podcast, we'll be talking about all things Scent Work. This includes the behind the scenes look for how trials are conducted, what your instructor may be going through, training tips and other helpful information that we can provide. In this episode, we'll be talking about what it takes to be a good Scent Work instructor. This will include tips for success, pitfalls to avoid, things that some people don't consider, and just understanding how influential you really are.
Before we start diving into the podcast, let me just quickly introduce myself. My name is Dianna Santos, I'm the Owner and Lead instructor for both Scent Work University and Dog Sport University. These are online dog training platforms that are designed to provide high quality instruction, incredible convenience and flexible learning options. We offer online courses, webinars and seminars.
So if you have any questions about those, you're always more than welcome to contact me. All right, without further ado, let's dive in.
In this episode, I want to talk about what goes into that being a good Scent Work instructor. This can be a touchy subject because initially people are going to assume, "Well, that all depends on the type of instructing that you're going to be doing as far as the school of thought." And I don't want to dive into those weeds.
There are lots of different schools of thought as far as how it is that you should go about teaching Scent Work, what I want to discuss is how it is that you can go about being just a good instructor as in a good teacher. And this can be subjective, absolutely, I don't proclaim to be an authority in this matter. A lot of this is going to be common sense and making certain that we do not get lost as instructors in forgetting what it feels like to be a student, and also realizing just how much clout we have. How heavy our words are as well as our actions and how much influence they can actually hold over our students, both actual students, past students and potential students. Even people who may not have signed up with us yet, but may be viewing our information that's on social media for instance.
So I hope that it makes sense kind of where this podcast is going, this isn't a debate about how it is that you should be teaching Scent Work. It's more of the manner in which you carry yourself when you're teaching Scent Work. Now, some of these things are going to apply across the board, they're going to apply regardless of the subject matter that you are teaching when it comes to dog training.
But I think with Scent Work, we have to be even more especially aware of the potential pitfalls because with this activity it is inviting a certain class of dogs that are going to require a certain extra level of attention. Meaning dogs that are reactive and dogs that are fearful and dogs that have stranger danger and you may also just be incorporating this into your behavior modification programs.
With that in mind, you have to, as an instructor, know how to keep everything safe, know how to ensure that your students both canine and human are progressing the way that they should, and know also how to keep expectations reasonable. All of that is really super important and there are things that I think that we do as instructors maybe outside of the actual class or private lesson that can actually hurt that effort, and that we can create an aura that is just not attainable in reality. And I'm hoping that with this podcast we can at least be more aware of those potential pitfalls, so that we can maybe temper the way that we talk about things, or at least put them in more of a realistic light, where if someone were to read it and to say, "Okay, this person achieved this with that dog in this situation."
And maybe myself and my dog will not be able to achieve that, but that doesn't make us lesser than. That doesn't mean that we're failures, but we are going to achieve X, Y, and Z, which are our goals. Like it's an important thing to realize that when you have the title instructor people are going to listen to you more, your words carry more weight. You are important within the community as a whole, so we just have to be really careful about those kinds of things.
So I'm gonna break this up into a couple of sections, I'm going to try to keep this so it doesn't go on forever. This is a very large and whole encompassing kind of subject matter, but I want to try to focus it to a couple of key things. The first is that in order to be a good Scent Work instructor, again, this is in my opinion, you have to know who your clientele is and you have to be really honest about that. The potential buckets of people that I could see it could be your potential clients are people who are just looking to have a good time with their dog, they're not looking to really achieve anything else as far as competition.
They're not doing it for any other reason than "I just liked to have some fun with my dog. Maybe, I want to give them a job so that they don't like destroy my house, but other than that, it's just this is an extra activity to do." So that's one bucket of people.
Another bucket of people are people who are interested in competition, they either just found out about it and maybe they're doing other dog sports, but they are seeing you because they want to achieve something. They want to achieve titles. They want to perfect certain skills. They want to be successful in competition. I don't know of many people who are interested in competition and want to pay money to an instructor so that they don't get results.
That's typically not how these things work. So that's bucket number two. Bucket number three are people who are doing Scent Work because they want to give an outlet to their dog, and oftentimes in the context of a behavior modification program. Someone who has a reactive dog, a shy dog, a dog who they need to help build confidence or a dog who has stranger danger or it could even be a dog that just used to be able to do a lot of things, but now they can no longer do them because of age or physical limitations. So may not even be a behavioral thing and maybe more of a life change because they had a physical injury for instance.
So these bucket of people have very specific wants and needs and desires and you are supposed to help them achieve those things. Now, with bucket number three, some of them may very well also wanted to compete and some of them very well may also want to just have fun with their dog. As an instructor, you have to know who it is that you are appealing to and who it is that you're helping and who it is that's reaching out to you for help and whether or not you can help them.
That's not to say that as an instructor that you would not have clients who fit in all three buckets, meaning that you have some clients who just want to have fun, some clients who want to be competitive, and some clients who are working on behavior mod or they're trying to give their dog a physical outlet in an activity that maybe they used to do agility but now they've retired.
Of course, I think that a lot of Scent Work instructors have a variety of clients from all three buckets, where the trouble lies is where you're trying to apply the same type of approach that you would for a competitive client that you are with a client who's just trying to have fun or even worse still, you're trying to put the same level of expectation on the client who has a behavior modification case, as you would for a client who is trying to be competitive.
When you know that that team will have to take a much longer period of time to potentially compete and you also know there's a really good possibility that they never will be able to compete. This is something that I see happen a lot, where people will contact me and say, "I've been working with a trainer for a while. I had a couple of questions," and they layout all these things that they want to do, say, okay, and why can't you do this with your trainer? Like, "Oh, my trainer is great. They like them, blah, blah, blah. I just don't feel like we're going where we need to."
Okay, but why? Because first of all, I don't want to obviously take someone else's client, that's not okay. But I also just wanted to figure out what the disconnect is. And the person is saying, "Well, my trainer has said that we need to do X, Y, and Z so that we can achieve said goal." More often than not when they are, there's trouble, it's because they want to trial. "And I just don't feel like we're getting there. We've been doing this for put in time a month, three months, six months, whatever. And I just don't feel like I'm getting any closer and I feel as though my trainer is getting frustrated with me."
I said, "Okay, well can you give me a little bit more background about your dog?" And then sure enough the dog has a slew of other issues behaviorally, which is not bad on the dog at all. But from the outset, from what I'm seeing and what I'm hearing, it doesn't sound as though competition would be on the priority track for this team. It would be more of, "Well, let's address some of these other behavioral things first and then maybe once all those things are figured out and the dog has the skills and you have the skills, maybe then we can talk about competition."
So I will send them back to the other trainer with that news and say, "Okay, well, you know, maybe you guys just need to readjust the way that you're approaching this. Maybe focus on this, this and this, and focus on having a good time and you make sure that you're jotting down your successes, and I'm sure you and your trainer will do a really great job with this. You guys sound like you're on the right path. You guys are doing great."
And I'm happy to report that the very few number of times that that's happened, the trainer will reach out to me saying, because I always CC and everything else because I'm not trying to steal anyone's clients, that's another big thing to be a good instructor, don't steal other people's clients. But I'll CC them on the email and they will respond to me, "Thank you very much. Appreciate it."
This happened two different times with one person, it was just a miscommunication between them and the client. So this helped them figure out, "Okay, we need to be on a better wavelength to figure out what you need and what I can offer you." For the other trainer it was just an eye opener of, "Oh, I had no idea. I thought that this is what they wanted." So it's trying to push them that way, but apparently they need to work on this other stuff first. And it's not that either of these instructors are bad, they're not, they're great people, they're accomplished, their students like them, they just were looking for clarification because things didn't seem to be working out.
Which as a good dog advocate, you should do, I mean, I don't care who you work with. If you're working with them for any period of time and you're not getting the results that you thought, then you should probably get a second opinion. It doesn't mean that that first person is bad. It's just being a good dog advocate.
So all of this to say that in order to be a good instructor, you have to know the client that's in front of you and how it is that you can help them. This can be really challenging when we're talking about in-person group training classes and I know there's some people rolling their eyes going, "Oh, you're just saying the only online works." And that's not true at all.
I think honestly that in-person group training classes are excellent training tools, if people could do a combination of these in-person group training classes, maybe even a couple of privates and online, I think that's actually the way to go because it just gives you the full picture. But where I see on an instructor side that it can be really challenging is when you have a class that's filled with all these variety of people and you haven't really thought of how it is you can address each of their needs without singling one out or without making another one feel as though they're being singled out, or without making another one feels as they're falling behind and all these.
It's a challenge, it's hard, it's difficult. There's no real good formula to it as far as do this and you're guaranteed to be successful, it's all about really how it is that you design your classes, the length, how they're run, what the expectation is for the class and how it is that you approach it with the people.
So when I used to do in-person group training classes, all the dogs are being crated and the expectation from the very, very baby class to even my most advanced classes was that the people obviously want to be checking-in on their dogs, make sure their dogs are fine, and after the first week or two of the dogs are either working or they're sleeping. But they are there to learn by watching the other dogs to figure out what's happening in this space to see why it is that we're setting things up certain ways.
It's a learning thing the entire time for the people and to almost celebrate the differences of dog-to-dog, and almost to celebrate the differences from team-to-team. We will be very transparent as far as who was interested in competing and who wasn't. And it wasn't a, "Wow, you're great at competing and I'm just this lowly little person who just wants to have fun. I'm not important and you are." It wasn't anything like that. But it was the highlight the differences and the differences are okay, but we want to make sure that everyone is getting something out of this.
Now I'm not saying that that's perfect, I'm not saying that someone couldn't improve upon that, but that format worked for my clients and it also created a level of partnership and a bond between all of them where they would root for each other's dogs, where they would root for each other. The ones who people knew were competing, they'd ask how they did during the weekend, and it was just a nice way of kind of building a little mini community within the class itself.
A good instructor should be cultivating that, of allowing these people to join the community of the dog. That should be the whole goal and not having these little tiny islands of individual people and dogs who never communicate with one another, and it's all very competitive and gross and yucky. That can happen a lot in group training classes where people are comparing, your students are comparing each other to one another and it just gets really gross really quickly, and that's across the board. That's not just in Scent Work, that's you see it in your basic obedience classes too.
"Well my dog didn't sit as fast as that dog", and so on and so forth. You want to try to avoid those kinds of things as best as you can, so as an instructor you have to know how to cultivate a good atmosphere within your class and even if you're working with someone one-on-one, you want to be able to do that too. You have to build up that relationship, particularly for working with a dog who has any kind of behavioral issues or physical issues. You're going to have to make adjustments so that that dog can be successful. Somehow manipulating the space, manipulating the search, manipulating the exercise, maybe breaking it down to further pieces, whatever the case may be so that they can be successful.
And particularly in a group training class that has to be done in such a way that that person doesn't feel as though your "dumbing things down for their dog", which you aren't, but that can be the perception. And you also want to make sure the other people in the class like, "Oh, now they're going, everything's going to be really boring now." I mean, again, you just have to think how can this go wrong and how can I avoid that?
So that's the biggest thing that I see with people who are teaching Scent Work is obviously you want to keep things safe and everything else will go into a little bit about that in this podcast, but it's just designing it so that you're fulfilling the needs of the people who you're working with.
This is where you have to be honest with yourself. For me personally, I am not the type of instructor who cares about having people shaving off seconds off of their total search time. I prefer to focus on the dog doing well as far as being able to complete the task, being an independent hunter and having that relationship with the person where the person is listening to the dog as far as what is the dog is saying as they're hunting.
I don't care about placements, like that's not a gauge for me personally as a competitor, but it's also not a gauge for me for my students, I don't care, I just don't. So if I had someone come to me as a student who wanted me to solely focus on that, I'm not that instructor. That's not who I am, and I've had two people, not in Scent Work but for Barn Hunt when I used to teach Barn Hunt, that's what they wanted to do. They wanted to get High in Trial every single time. And I'm like, "I'm not the person to work with, sorry."
And they were both shocked and they were like, "What?" They were friends. It's just not what I focus on, like it's I care more about your dog doing well as far as doing the activity, as far as completing the task. I don't care if you get High in Trial, "But we do!" like, "I know, but what I'm saying is that, I can't provide you with those guarantees."
Number one, I don't think anyone can, but number two, if things start going down the rabbit hole of your dog isn't getting High in Trial. I'm uncomfortable as far as how it is that I would then fix that, I don't want to get into any of that because it's just not what I do. There are instructors who can absolutely zero in on, we can figure out the exact skills that you and your dog would need to help better ensure that you could be closer to the high in trial rankings. I mean, no one can guarantee you that you're going to get High in Trial every single time.
And if they do, then maybe you should look elsewhere, but it's just understanding who you are as an individual. So for those two people, they had every intention of paying me as much as I wanted to charge them and just guarantee us. I'm like, "That's not what I do, I'm sorry," and they worked with someone else and that's totally fine, but what we need to realize just as instructors is who we are as people and what it is that we're providing, and making sure that we can indeed provide what it is that our students are asking us to provide.
That also goes into making sure you're being careful with how you advertise yourself and evaluating. I mean, if you find yourself, you have a booked schedule hopefully and you have lots of classes and you have privates and consultations and everything else, and you find yourself dreading anything where you're like, "Ugh, I live in the east and I really hope it snows today so I can cancel my class." If that happens, then something's wrong.
You may want to reevaluate things so that it can be something that you don't dread. And that leads us into how it's important in being a good instructor of doing good self-care, of making certain that you are balancing all these different things you have to do. I think that it is false that to be a good instructor you have to have achieved the highest titles and if you were doing a dog sports-specific instructing like Scent Work. You must have gotten or you must have earned X title in order to teach. I don't think that's true. There are people who are excellent instructors which means that in from my terminology, so just so we're clear on this, an instructor in my estimation means someone who is very good at teaching people and training dogs and both together to where the dog and the person can actually understand what is being taught to them. There are people who are very good at teaching the people, but not very good at training the dogs. There's people who are very good at training dogs, but terrible teaching people.
In my estimation to be a good instructor, you have to be a total package. You have to be able to do both and it's difficult, it's very hard, don't get me wrong. So now that we have a better understanding what my definition of instructor is, there are instructors who do not like to compete, there are instructors who maybe competed before but don't feel like competing anymore. There are instructors who just don't have the time to compete or the resources to do so.
That doesn't mean that they're bad instructors, that's not a disqualifier. So I know that it's very alluring to say, "Well, if I receive, if I earned the highest title, then that will just be a guarantee that people will want to work with me." Then let's be blunt, the higher the title that you have, the more people are gonna say, "Well, you achieve that. You must know what you're doing." Sure. But that's not a guarantee, there are plenty of people who have achieved the highest titles across the board, not just instructors just anyone, and you would actually watch them work a dog and be like, "Wow, really?" "Okay. I mean that's fine, but I don't feel like I can learn anything from you."
So what I'm hoping that people understand is if you want to be a good instructor you have to know who you are as a person and not put yourself into situations where you're going to be burning yourself out, where you're going to be making it so that it is so impossible for you to do what you need to do to serve your clients best.
This is speaking from experience of being someone who's pretty much on the fence about competing. There are times I like it, there are times I don't and I really couldn't take it or leave it. It's just there. I think it's a good test for training but it's not like a need, it's not like, "Oh, I have to go and do this." It's just like, "Okay, well if I get around to it then I'll go and do a trial and we'll see where things are."
It doesn't make me a lesser than instructor than someone who's out every single weekend campaigning, it's just different. The other thing that I really want to nail down in this podcast is that there shouldn't, even though there is a perceived but there shouldn't be different tiers of instructors depending on who it is that you work with or who it is that you're focusing on.
What I mean is, is that I had a colleague come up to me during a workshop that I was speaking at, and it was during a break and she was asking me a question about the organization that I worked with and she's like, "I don't really understand why it is that they offer this high champion award." So I was explaining it, whatever. And she said, "Well, I just think that it's odd that they would already be pointing out dogs that are already champions." I was like, "Well, there's a lot of work that goes into it and it's celebrating people who putting the time and the training and everything else. It's still a dog has to do well at that trial in order to earn it. And it's just basically any dogs who have already earned a championship would be eligible for that award, to figure out depending on how they did it, that particular trial."
What she said next has always stuck with me, "Well, I guess I should just stick to the type of trainer that I am. I focus on people and dogs who just may need help, and not those champion types", and she walked away and I just looked after her and it's stuck with me all these years later because there really is at the heart in the community this delineation between "pet people" and "dog sport people" and I just don't think that's true.
I mean, we talked about earlier in the podcast, those buckets of people, but that doesn't mean that as an instructor you can only work with one of them. Like that's the misnomer of, if you're going to be working with people who care about competition, then you are not allowed to work with people who just want to have fun with their dogs.
"Clearly, you would have no idea what those people would want." Well, that's not true and it also doesn't apply the other way. If you were focusing solely on people who just wanted to have fun with their dogs, or as you were focusing on people who just wanted to do competition, that somehow you're better or worse than another instructor.
That's not true either, so this is something that I think is. It's an ugly underbelly of our industry of instead of celebrating your achievements up to a point when I get to that in a second, and also what you could provide, a lot of it is trying to say, "Well at least I don't do that." It's like, "Well, who cares? I'm not trying to work with whatever that is. I'm trying to work with you, and I want to work with people who are inclusive."
So in my opinion, because Scent Work is such a broad community as far as the types of people who may be interested in hiring you for your services if you are an instructor. You're going to be limiting yourself, if you put on those different hats of "pet people only", "competitor person only", whatever else. It doesn't mean that you shouldn't know your clientele, you should.
If you don't have any idea how it is you be able to help that person, then please don't advertise to them. But don't look down on people who aren't in the camp that you're working with, I hope that makes sense because it's a huge problem and all it does it perpetuate more of the cliquiness that's within just the dog community overall, which would be really nice if that went away.
So I want to talk about some of the things that I found have been helpful when I was teaching in-person group training classes when I was doing Scent Work. I touched upon some of these things already, but the big thing was to really think through what it is that I wanted the class as a whole to achieve within a given session.
So a session would be like a six-week class where they're starting and where I wanted them to go as a group, and then how individually their goals may line up with that. So as an example, I had a class of, I believe it was eight or nine dogs and it was a beginner class. So the goal overall is for the dogs and the people to have a basic understanding of what Scent Work is all about. Hopefully getting them to the point where I follow the training.
We go from having food in boxes, so hopefully going from that point to where now they are finding food that's placed on top of little tins, throughout an interior space. Hopefully, you know that's the goal anyway. With this individual class, there was one dog who had a severe level of fear, a severe level of timidity and shyness and no confidence mean crawling on the belly to come into the class. I mean, just really bad. The goal for this dog is just to have them comfortable in the space and explaining all of that to the other students and incorporating them in that process by having the person who had that shy dog, go out and just, we would have maybe two or three boxes in the room.
And the treats would be in front of the boxes because the dog was so worried if the treat was inside the box, they would just fall apart. So to have the person come in, let the dog take the lead, and if the tried, they ate the tree off the floor, then they give them a jackpot and everybody else would do very quiet, "Yay!" I mean we're talking super quiet. But by having them be involved, meaning the other human students, they breathe more because the first run they all held our breath which made the dog like, "Oh my God, no one's breathing." So that doesn't help.
It offered them a level of empathy for this team, they were all genuinely rooting for this team. It provided support for the handler of the dog that was working and it also ignited in the dog the joy of having other people cheer for her. By the end of that six weeks, she was confidently working the space with multiple boxes, we have confidence problems where a box of had treats in it, had an empty box on top of it and she would move the empty box out of the way.
She was a little too worried about it, she'd go for it and then she would have it her mother and say, "Can you just change this a little bit for me?" In the beginning, we may and then we would just wait her out and she was able to do it and she would just light up when people could now clap for her and go, "Yay. You're great," like it would be a little bit more boisterous as far as the crowd was concerned. She loved it. She was fantastic and it helped all the other students understand the power of the activity itself.
This dog handler down the line may very well be interested in competition. Her goal right now was to get it so her dog wasn't terrified with life, that's all she cared about and they achieved that and she saw the changes at home, she saw how the dog would actually asked to play. She would go up at home and she would boink the boxes that were up on the table and she'd be like, "I would like to play my nose game now."
All of that helped all the students and because she was starting at one level which was several stages below where their dogs were starting, just because of the confidence issues. It almost took off some of the pressure from them, if their dogs happen to be struggling with something, like even the confidence problems, they'd be like, "Wow, you know, my dog did so well with this that, but they're really having a hard time with this. I'm just going to wait them out, if that dog can do it, so can I."
And it just provided them more patience, which everyone needs and it was this really great bonding experience with all these students. There was different levels of handling ability as far as their ability to just walk within the space of staying focused during the search of being able to handle at leash or a long line, and being a good instructor is knowing what it is you want to focus on and to not destroy your student, particularly in front of everybody else. By always pointing out when something is wrong, but you have to use those positive reinforcement kind of approaches.
So that you're building them up to, you don't have to address everything in every single run, there may just be certain things that you focus on. Again, these are people, they have lives, they have work, they have other things going on. If you're bombarding them during a one and a half minute run of 30 things that they need to do, they're not going to do any of them, they're just going to feel really defeated and gross, and they're going to go back to their seat and they're just going to be really gloomy.
Being a good instructor is being able to tick off all those boxes of, "I see what they're doing, I see that these five things are going really well, I see these five things have improved, and I see these five things need improvement. What's one from each of those columns that I can bring up?" So they can have one thing that they check off is great, one thing that's improving and they should be proud of, and one thing they can work on. What's the most important thing in that run right then that they can do when they can walk away with and they can practice outside of class?
The other thing that I find personally has helped as an instructor is trying to take some of the pressure off of people as far as it comes to being perfect in class. So again, for that very shy dog, there would be exercises that we will be talking about and she would only be able do half of them. She'd be able to do part of the setup and then you would see her kind of unravel and be like, "Oh no, you're fine, we do a recovery searching, it should be all set."
The expectation was as long as she tries, that's all I care about. You can then work on this at home for the next seven days until I see you again. We don't have to jam this all into one hour. So to be a good Scent Work instructor, in my opinion, you have to be able to be that flexible, you have to set your client's expectations so they're not sitting their dog up to fail and they're not seeing themselves up to fail.
You have to outline what it is exactly that they're supposed to be doing when they're not with you, they have all those days and hours that they could be doing stuff. You can't get everything done in one class. So being able to juggle all that is really important.
So one of the big pitfalls that I see as far as being a Scent Work instructor is not understanding the clout that you have with what it is that you say or do. What I mean by this is, if you are constantly posting, particularly on social media about all of your accomplishments in competition for instance. And you have current, former or perspective clients who are seeing that, but they're just seeing it in a bubble where you're not explaining, "Oh by the way, this dog and I worked on these things for a year and a half, was really super intensive. It wasn't just a straight line, there was a lot of hills and valleys and we took some detours and whatever else and we're still working on X, Y, and Z, and then we also achieve this stuff."
If you don't have all those qualifiers in there, you're putting out to the world, "I have achieved all of this by pure magic and I am the best thing since slice bread and if you want to be as good as I am, then you better achieve this as well." That's problematic because again, understand specifically with Scent Work, it is open to a wide swath of people. For a dog sport, it is almost a gateway dog sport where you can have people who've never even heard the term "dog sport" before but they may fall into Scent Work for any number of reasons.
And if they see on social media that you're just buried in ribbons and titles and trophies and everything else and you have a very young dog. They go, "Well then my dog should be able to do that too," and they rush off the trial and then they fail, and they get really frustrated and they get angry and they get demoralized, and they don't understand because all that lead up wasn't included.
It wasn't included that you work with that dog almost like a campaign like it is an insane amount of work that you've put in to achieve that. Maybe it was the dogs breeding, maybe it was a combination of all these things. On top of that, you also do this for a living. I'm not saying that you have to have an asterix behind what you do, but understand the clout that you're carrying when you post stuff, because I can tell you as a fellow instructor, as one of your colleagues, it is heartbreaking to try to piece together the relationship of a handler and a dog who have completely fallen apart because they didn't understand all that other stuff that would into it.
They rushed into trial, they failed and now they think that there's something wrong with them and their dog, and it takes forever. If you ever can to try to piece it all back together again and it's totally avoidable, if we just focus on this is an innate instinct, absolutely. But it's still a skill and there are absolutely dogs out there who need to learn how to learn, who need to learn the skills so that they can work at the most basic problems.
There are other dogs who can fly through foundation competition, and they get stuck in the middle levels because they don't have those skills yet. And that's okay, you can work on it. There's no rush. So I'm just hoping that people who are instructors just realize who's listening to them, and when they see all the dazzle and the wonderful posts that those people are the ones who then run into the room, they grabbed their odor kit that they haven't practiced with in a year.
They throw some hides around and they say, "Okay dog, go find it." And when it doesn't find them all, all 20 hides in 10 seconds, they get frustrated. You just have to be careful. So for me personally, I am very good at self-deprecating, I don't have much of an ego. Actually, I don't think very highly of myself at all. So if things don't go well, I'm more than happy to post about them. If I'm doing some training with my dog and he's struggling with something, I'm happy to post that too. I'm happy to post about, "Oh, you know we're working on this, we're working on that."
If we compete, yeah, sure, great, we did this. Oh, but we didn't get this and this and this and this is why. It just helps people realize that I'm a human being and it also reduces some of the expectations for me because what happens if you go on this big blitz, right? Everything is perfect and awesome and now all of a sudden you know you're up against even better competition than maybe you were and now you're not.
You still get your titles, but now all of a sudden you're not getting every single ribbon under the sun. It's just you have to be thoughtful about these things, just be careful. Lastly, just to round this out, in my estimation to be a good Scent Work instructor, you have to have a very distinctive view on how to keep things safe.
Particularly, when we're talking about group classes. You're asking dogs to use hunting and for a very high valued resource that you are only building value in. There are lots of opportunities for things to go wrong, there's lots of opportunity if you're not careful for a dog to be placed into conflict. There's a lot of opportunity for a dog to be put into conflict not only with other dogs, but even with the instructor, with their handler, things can get really icky really quick. But even outside of that, the way that you design your searches can absolutely break a dog, and I'm not overstating this.
Depending on the type of dog that you're working with. Like for instance, that very shy dog. If I had presented her with a horrendously difficult problem for her. Because I was concerned about the rest of the class and I wanted all of them to progress at a certain rate. She could have shut down and could have turned off to the entire activity, and then also could have ruined the relationship she had with her owner.
You have to be able to recognize those things and obviously avoid them. And as an instructor, if you're a good instructor, you know how to help guide your students so they are not inadvertently doing that with their dogs and they're practicing. And that's where capping off those expectations are really important. Harping on those expectations, helping them break things down into small attainable goals, pacing themselves, being just very fort right at the very beginning.
"This is why we're doing it this way, all will be well. The journey is the important part and this is what we're trying to avoid. We don't want X, Y, and Z to happen. We don't want your dog to shut down, we don't want them to hate odor, we don't want them to not trust you, we don't want them to lessen their confidence, we want the opposite of all those things."
So to be a good instructor, you have to know how it is that you're designing your searches in your classes, in your sessions, as well as if you're handing out homework, what they should be doing at home. To achieve those things, to ensure that you're not setting people up to fail. Knowing the difference between offering a learning problem and offering a trick question, in my opinion, trick questions have no place in dog training period.
A learning problem is allowing the dog to develop a skill, a trick question is just what it sounds like. You're setting something up going, "Aha, there's no way you're ever going to get that!" What's the point? There's no point to that.
The last thing that I would say that someone would need to be a good instructor is knowing when you don't have the answer, is being humble to refer out to someone else if you need to or to consult with someone else or to work with someone else. You don't have to know everything. That's okay. You're not expected to know everything.
If you did, then you probably wouldn't be a dog training instructor. You would be some celestial being that would fix a universe and all will be well. There's always going to be someone else who knows more than you, which is fine. But if you come across something that you just don't know how to deal with, be honest with yourself and be comfortable doing one of those three things.
I've done all three throughout my career on a variety of different things, not just with Scent Work, but just dog training overall. And also understanding that there may be times when you just may not mesh well with a client just personality wise, but it could also be expectations, it could be any number of things. That's when you need to have good relationships with your fellow colleagues, your fellow instructors. So you can let that person go somewhere else and obviously have a really bad client, I'm not saying that you should, you'll be like, "Oh, hey, Sally and Sue, here's this terrible client. Enjoy." I'm not saying that, but if you have someone that is perfectly fine, they pay their bills, they try hard, but the two of you are just missing one another.
Having those relationships with fellow instructors will allow you to refer this client to them which helps you in the end. I know that doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense because you're losing that business, but that person will like you for it because you didn't just leave them high and dry. You're cultivating this relationship with this other instructor, which is great. And it's a really good possibility that instructor is going to run into the same situation and maybe they have someone they think will be good for you.
Also, the person that you referred, I doubt they live on an island. So they probably know people, friends or family, they may refer those people to you so it's just having a little bit of foresight. I think that is the big underlying thing as far as what it takes to be a good Scent Work instructor, foresight of who it is that you're working with, who it is that you're advertising to, who it is that you can best help, how it is that you can actually have them achieve the goals that they're setting, how it is you can help them set those goals, what ways you're going to help cap off their expectations or set them so that they are realistic.
How is it that you're going to present yourself so that you are portraying the right information and you are setting the right expectations for even people who may not work with you yet? How is it you can prevent problems from happening down the line, and how is it that you can conduct yourself so that you are good within the community of fellow instructors, competitors, and just dog owners?
So those are the big things that I think a lot of us just don't think about when we're instructing. It's hard being an instructor when you actually get going, it's a hustle and then all of a sudden it's a day and you're running from thing to thing to thing, you're almost on autopilot but sometimes you just need to take a step back and just evaluate everything and making sure that we're checking off all of our boxes, that we're doing what we need to do and that we are meeting our clients expectations and needs and we're doing it in the right way, and we're doing it for the right reasons.
So I hope you found this podcast helpful, happy training, and we'll look forward to seeing you soon.