Choosing a Mentor

We live in a day and age when we are inundated with information from around the world 24 hours a day.  We have access to experts in every field at the click of a button.  It is an exciting moment in time but, it can be overwhelming at times. 

Dog training is no different.  You can look at 3 different trainers and get three different solutions to a training or behaviour problem.  While I love all dog training canine scent activities is where my special interest lies.  We know a lot about how dogs work, but are only starting to scratch the surface of understanding of scent work with dogs.

Traditionally, most scent training with dogs was done by traditional hunters, military, police, search and rescue, etc.  In short, most of those backgrounds are full of “tradition” that the human factor is proud of.  The way we do things is the way it has always been done.  It works, so why change things?  Why challenge the system?  The dogs used by these traditional backgrounds also conformed to a small fraction of the dog population.  The dogs generally could not adapt to household.  While they had an excellent “on button”, switching them off often meant kenneling them outside the house whenever they were not working. 

With new interest in scent sports for the family pet, and newer uses for dogs in a professional capacity, things are changing.  Newer studies in animal learning and how it pertains to scent detection in dogs are emerging regularly, and studies are being done on how formalizing scent work can help the family dog or shelter dog cope with life challenges.  I love seeing the new shared information coming out.

While developing myself as a trainer who has an interest in scent sports and training Camo for bedbug detection, finding mentors to look up to and share information has been an exciting, but daunting experience.

Here is a tale of how a training hole with Camo was handled by 2 different trainers.  Before I share it, both trainers have an extensive resume of producing working detection dogs and I was able to learn from both trainers. There is a clear winner on who I want to consider a mentor as a trainer.  Camo is young, male, and intact.  Butterflies, leaves, and birds, can all grab his interest.  When Camo was a pup, I was very mindful of taking him to a variety of places to play with him and keep engagement as a priority. Life got in the way for a period of time and my priorities had to be on my classes (and thus paying the bills), and some household attention, as well as the arrival of winter.  We did continue training indoors, and since as a working bedbug dog, I wasn’t too worried about how he performed outdoors.  Our training hit a time where we needed an objective evaluation of where we were as a team and there was no one nearby to evaluate.  We traveled to trainer A and the first evaluation on bedbugs was outdoors (hey, wait, I stopped training outdoors because we would only be working indoors) after a few issues with travel and Camo not feeling well.  Camo’s performance was not what I had hoped in that situation.  Trainer A told me that I should lock Camo up, not feed him for the night and for the morning before our next training session.  Essentially, he wanted me to use isolation and hunger to create a dog who would not be distracted.  He also wanted leash corrections for any distraction or missed indications. (Please note, that this is not how I train my dog, and that advice went in one ear and out the other).

6 weeks later, I had the opportunity to work with trainer B.  Camo was getting better working outdoors, but was definitely still distracted.  We were working at a training spot that Camo associated with nothing but fun, so guess what, distraction was still an issue.  I knew what I wanted to work on while the trainer was here and asked for advice.  After a full day of work, the advice was not to go home and lock my dog up.  The advice was to go back and play some more with my dog, and find some further play motivators.  The trainer helped with some training mechanics with toys that Camo already loved (FLIRT POLE!!!!) and how to create even further drive for those toys.  A funny thing started to happen.  We spent 3 days playing outdoors in a distracting environment.  All we did was work on play and 1 second indications.  Some people would have thought I was nuts doing “scent detection” with a great trainer and all I did was work on play.  The magic happened after hours at the hotel and when I returned home.  The more I play with Camo outdoors in distracting areas and had clear criteria with play, the faster and more intense Camo’s indications on bugs was getting inside in real work scenarios.

Which trainer do you think I chose as a mentor?  Again, both of these trainers have a vast resume of training detection dogs on the global level, but there was a clear winner on who I want to learn from and have critique my training skills.

In today’s age, we can learn from people globally, and there are experts everywhere. When looking for someone who you want to learn from on a day to day basis, look to see not only what they have produced, but how they get there.  Does it make sense to how you train?  I have people I consider to be mentors in a variety of dog activities and in everyday life.  I also have people who I believe that even if I don’t consider them a mentor, I can learn something from them and will continue to be engaged with what they do.  There is a very small factor that I don’t think at this point in my professional and private life that there is anything I can learn from, but I am sure that there are those who can learn from them.

Drop me a note and tell me who your mentors are and what you look for in a mentor.  I’d love to see how they compare to my list and see if there is someone else I need to find out more about (someone recently recommended a UK scent trainer to me and I finally had a chance to look up his work and I’m thankful she pointed me in his direction).

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