Filming Fido – How to get the shots you need and want

This is the second installment for this series Filming Fido.

I am not a professional photographer or have any legitimate experience with filming or making films. In fact I know so little about it from an actual schooling or practical stand point that I should not even be allowed to write about it. Nonetheless here I go. I mean hell that never stopped a dog trainer before from speaking about things they perhaps did not know all too much about.

Despite this massive gap in my film education I film LOTS of dogs and dog training. I edit hours and hours of footage in either chronological order or sequentially as it occurred in real time. I have also been known to edit an interview or two with lauded professionals in the field of training and behavior as well as tell a story from time to time via video, but I’m not a pro by any means. So please take it from me, as dog trainers do not let any thing about filming yourself or your dogs, or your clients and their dogs deter you from filming! In fact become fanatical about it. It is the only real and accurate way to fast track getting better at what you do.

For film students or people that actually know about making films this probably will not be of interest unless you own a dog, if that is the case then keep reading. Or if any film students want to lend a hand in any way get in touch. I could use some help!

For the dog trainers and dog owners this series of blogs on filming dogs may have a thing or two for those of you out there looking to improve their training mechanics and to have an actual document of dog behavior.

What & who is the film for?
Knowing what your purpose of filming will greatly expedite the process. EX: Having trouble training down stays for guests arriving. Film that and then go watch it.

All you need is a guest to arrive and you can capture it in 2 - 5 minutes. If needed you can film a succession of your training challenges all through out life and see over time where the issues are and how to improve them when someone takes a look that knows what to look for. All you need is someone to film or a tri-pod friendly environment and you have a document.

Some things are not as easy to film such as leash reactivity.

One challenge is you do not want to intentionally set the dog up to fail, yet you may have to push some distances and durations early on in the assessment phase so handler expertise is always something to consider when doing this.

A trip to the local “Pet Mart” with a large parking lot might be the best place to get your dog’s reaction to seeing dogs pass on leash. Here is why.

You will most likely see dogs if you go on a weekend. Think Saturday/Sunday or 7 – 9 PM weekdays.

* The film set up is done with a tri pod or someone filming. You and the dog set up far enough back in the parking lot with a clear view of the doorway to the store. You can also take a left or right angle view to the door if that is easier.
* You should have enough distance from the action yet the dog and you still have a clear view of dogs coming arriving and exiting the store.
* You get a long distance and a longish duration depending on where the passing dog’s car is parked. Also many times you get lots of “antecedent interventions” by way of parked cars.

These are the type of amenable conditions for desensitizing and counter conditioning a dog to seeing dogs on leash and filming it.

Camera work instructions for parking lot scene or on street leash reactivity –

• The cameraperson should get a shot of you over your right or left shoulder at an angel so they get the passing dog as well as your mechanics of marking and rewarding or creating distance. They can move as needed with the action. Keep the trainer and the dog in the frame at all times no matter what.

• Be mindful of when you start backing up with the dog when you are “playing the distance” so you and the cameraperson do not get caught up. This “over the left/right shoulder shot if done properly will also help determine distances and durations of the dog sightings.

Try some practice sessions at home in the back or front yard or in an enclosed area, and then take it on the road.

If you cannot get this shot described above, go for a right or left front angle shot. (You should get a few of both). You want the whole picture from head to toe with the handler’s chest and front side delivering food reinforces and dog in full view. This will yield all you need to know in terms of mechanics and dog body language for behavior assessments.
A 10 – 15 foot distance from dog and handler is usually is a safe bet for the cameraperson to get all the action and be out of the way.

If you are feeling brave as far as filming goes, get at least one or two shots of the dog that is passing. Get it before the dog notices it and again at any time the dog being trained might be “off the clock” meaning the dog has disengaged and the handler is reloading or perhaps the dog has given up on looking at the passing dog and is now focused on the handler – get a few seconds of the dog that passed 3 – 5 seconds is all you’ll need but 5 – 7 if you’re fast this will help more…it will be good to edit it in as it will give the distance assessments more accuracy in terms of determining rate of reinforcements and durations needed.

BTW if the dog has a melt down and goes over threshold or you get a sudden too close sighting; “time out” the dog by getting in the car and driving away or by gaining more distance by expediently getting away from the sudden too close dog.

• You are working in a parking lot so be super mindful of cars driving around when you bolt to gain distance!
• Have your car door open and close by. Use lust like a crate on wheels.

Come back in 2 minutes and set up in a new area or end the day’s events. This teaches dog that the “food for seeing dogs game” ends if you freak out. Reset your distance in the next round so the dog succeeds.

If you are doing “set ups” and a person is walking a dog past in & out of view make sure you have an exit way and “time out” the dog with a massive amount of distance into a secluded area or at least out of view of the dog and no food for following. Or do set ups with a dog and a handler you have chosen in a parking lot on a day when fewer or perhaps no one is around. Use the car the same way as described above.

Few people if any will be in the way when you are set up in parking lots, or off the side walk in an area where you have lots of space and a way to exit fast.

Also as they are there to shop and get in and get out as it were, you get to work your training mechanics and the dog in an assembly like way. Then the dog’s reactions to seeing dogs or people pass in real life become easier when it occurs in other more sudden contexts. Dogs learn sequences very well and if done with efficiency they learn them fast. Film helps you tweak the sequences, hence your mechanics and timing.

Once you go watch it all on film it really does make all the difference in becoming better at training!

Knowing where you are filming and what you are filming will save you time on both ends of the process. Plan it all out.

Tips to save you time
Many times clips of 1 minute or 30 seconds will yield the results you need sometimes you’ll need to keep rolling as things develop or as you wait out the environment. Or simply filming each pass of the dog and stopping the recording in between will make editing easier. Think like an editor as you film. What do you want in the computer?

So when filming dogs that may react on leash you’ll want to either keep it roiling or have your cameraperson start stop recording a few seconds before the action starts and ends after 10 – 20 seconds past the event.

However the camera person must be aware of the on coming dog, person bike etc and start filming before the dog gets wind of it. Or else it will really be messy. This first notice of the stimuli is a good time to get a few seconds of it. Then get the focus on the dog and the handler. The dog handler should be watching the environment as well and be aware of on coming stimuli.
So plan ahead and decide how you will film, keep it rolling and sift later or start and stop as needed. This also save battery life and digital space/tape.

If you are cranking out trials such as down stays or recalls etc…anything that has set parameters and possibly fixed durations for criteria get it captured and stop filming during breaks in the action unless you need film of the dog “off the clock”.

When you dump file into your computer for editing you can name the files “down stay 1” with the date “down stay 2” “Dog passing 1”etc…and have a chronological order of your sessions.
The same goes for filming dogs on leash if you do start stop filming you’ll be able to name clips such as “dog reactive at skateboard 1 Sept 3rd 09” etc…

When filming dog play and or dog walking it is best to let it roll as the action may change fast and you’ll want to have it all.

One thing that has helped me when filming continuously over an hour or two is to make note of highlights by way of clock time. Ex: If I started filming at 2pm and something occurred roughly around 2:20 that I want to go back and look at; I note it somewhere that at around 20 minutes into the event something needs looking at. This helps when you need to sift through 2 hours of film.

Close to the Edit - The Art of truth telling
Once you find out how easy it is to edit together dog training so it looks like you are “gifted” or edited so it makes it look like “all the training worked out” you will never ever again watch any dog training TV show with the same perceptions. Or view dog trainers with the same reverence when someone boasts claims of greatness. Unless you see them do it live in real time without editing it’s all opinions, feelings and self-aggrandizements based in their memory of the events. Now those may be accurate to a degree, but they may not be exact and properly reflect the true nature of the events.

With that said once you start filming and editing yourself or others in a real - time - as it occurred to critique and adjust training mechanics or see how the dog’s behavior developed over time in the session or over days weeks etc… you will also never again look at film of yourself or anyone else training a dog the same way. It changes you when you become invested in self-critique or the critique of others for the betterment of the dog. You get better as the subtle signs of stress or antecedent orientations by way of air sniffs or slight head turns, self disengagements the dog chooses opposed to being asked for, your leash skill, your luring or verbal cue skills.

I watch quite a bit of basketball. ALL the players win or lose watch film for one reason only to adjust mechanics and behavior. Dog trainers should have this as part of our culture well.

It is funny how many people really believe they are “gifted” or “special” or can “speak” with dogs, yet they have never once watched a film of themselves training and handling dogs or had someone better than them watch it and assess them. Really now, just cuz you say so, oh ok.

Once you film it and really address the ways of success and deal with the “how come it didn’t happen as we intended” aspects that occur, based on human behavior & environmental contingencies you do not have the exact information of the event you have a version you remembered. Which may be ok, but it also may not be.

Who is the film for?
For self-assessments and personal use keep it simple stay in a closed area such as a fenced yard or inside and get what you need and get out. Go watch it and adjust.

I understand the various disconnects that some would have with filming dogs and dog training. Who would think to film themselves training with the intent of bettering themselves? It is not something any of the dog training books stress, they might mention it here and there but it is not a part of the tool kits as it were. It should be.

Most people film the training of dogs to it to show off or be cute. It is not really done with the thought of capturing one’s mechanical growth as it relates to dog training. It should be though.

It is largely, for most people that set out to film dog training an ego-based event where the animal is actually second to the focus or the focus is based in “how cute”. The dog focus when filming should be equal with the human’s behavior be the focus on film and third aspect that gets equal weight in the filming is the environment you are training in. All three aspects deserve equal focus.

Being able to see what we are doing, the dog behavior based on the context of the environment is all crucial and indispensible for assessing dog behavior and training skills. It can save dogs lives and fast track training and behavior modification. It can also help when you write up behavior modification and training protocols.

1 – Why believe what someone says about the dog? Film it. This way we can assess it by watching it and not by hearing about it or worse flooding the dog again to show some one or training it improperly again and getting half assed results again. See the cycle here and how film can get to the bottom of things better, faster and more accurately.

For the life of me I cannot figure out why more shelters, rescues and other Orgs doing temperament tests and behavior evaluations do not film and catalog them, it is beyond me.

For a few hundred dollars any one could have a Flip camera or a POV (Point of View) camera installed or mounted or use the phone to capture that resource-guarding test. Film it though.
Then they have it on film and there is no need to go - “show someone” thus there is not a need to repeat the behavior we want reduced! This simple idea would save dogs lives and save people stress.

Valuable information about the distance, duration and actions of the person is all on film not felt - the angle of approach, the size of the room, or area the test was performed in can all be cataloged and evaluated. This way there is a factual record of the events.

Then we can best determine the criteria for improved results next time they set out to desensitize the dog for resource guarding or what ever the training or behavior modification might be needed.

The same goes for dog play groups. I would highly suggest that ALL shelters and rescues doing dog play groups get a wide shot of the whole environment and let the camera roll the whole time. Catalog it by date and dogs in play group and people in playgroup as supervisors. Something goes awry, go to the videotape. Something is super cute and awesome, edit it and place it ion the website to heighten awareness and increase adoptions.

With all the time that gets wasted at shelters and rescues discussing “feelings” and complaining or filming only cute pictures of dogs about to die - they could be evaluating film of temperament tests and dogs that are in need of serious training and behavior help, which is pretty much all of them to some extent.

In addition now they can “hire out” and or get people to more easily help them with dogs. By getting someone outside the shelter politics to evaluate the dog’s behavior on an impartial basis via video!

The shelter that starts filming dogs and filming behavior tests and trainers and volunteers and catalogs it for behavioral purposes will be a shelter that has stepped into the 21st century and will be really helping dogs by having an accurate document of behavior and an accurate document of the people training or perhaps not training them.

2 - Film really ends all the nonsense of how good one is or is not. Film also erases the fictional assessments, opinions and mysteries of how the dog was “trained” and gets the real information front and center about the dog’s behavior during the event it occurred in. When the film is viewed by someone that actually understands how to assess dogs based on criteria with distances and durations of stimuli being considered; the dog gets an accurate assessment and a more effective training plan can be issued.

I agree with the skeptics it does depend on whom is viewing the film and what they’re knowledge base is or is not and what they’re motivations are as far as how they are assessing the action. One person “feels” growling is too “intense” and “aggressive” while the other person “knows” that the dog is allowed to growl in play or during tug games and that the dog’s history and other environmental variables or dog body language signals determine how the growl is being delivered and why.

So it is not a slam-dunk to film, it will largely depend on the viewer’s intent and knowledge, also we are going to assume the dog and humans were captured appropriately on film. So there is none of this….

“Yes I can HEAR what the dog is doing, because you were filming the ground”!

Along with some history taking about the dog a film of the event settles the debate and starts the process of getting better results. Film dogs all the time and you have it to end some debates and perhaps start others, but once you get into the room with or send it to someone qualified to assess the dog you will at least have accurate information.

In the end when someone is fearful of dogs, or certain “types” of dogs or dogs that may be “aroused” or “hectic” or perceived “aggressive” that is many times due to their inner workings.
Unless they have definitive history on the dog; they do not know anything other than what has transpired since knowing the dog. That is also based on the context of knowing that dog. The film tells the truth about what we want to know which is this…

What is the behavior that was needed or wanted? Did it occur? If so; how do we replicate it? If not why? What were the environmental contingencies and what were the humans doing or not doing?

These are the main questions when viewing the footage no matter what the goal may be.

Plan it out as best as you can.
Now of course you need a plan in advance of filming or at least some basic parameters in which things will transpire. This blog has suggested a few things that should get you off to an easier start.

In the beginning with a new dog or new client those first few outings you film will be the foundation going forward so get as much of it as you can and keep cataloging it along the way. As things are better known and set ups can be orchestrated you may be able to do more start stop filming or capturing specifics in training.

Always ask these questions when watching film of dog training

Did the human get it by way of mutual cooperation from the dog? If so then the film should tell the story of how it came to be. i.e. what was the reinforcement history of the event?

Did human cajole, bribe, force, startle, or “make the dog” do what human wanted? If so then the unedited film will show the results of that.

As long as it was edited in real time with out editing trickery and voice over dubs that have little or nothing to do with what was actually happening; then the film will allow you and anyone else qualified to assess dog behavior to determine what really happened and why. Film does not lie.

After all is that not the point with most things in life, to get better and understand how to become even better as time goes on.

Go Film Yourself Training Dogs!