Filming Fido – Why a camera is a dog trainer’s best tool.

When I attended a 2 - day seminar by legendary animal trainer Bob Baily last year I was not surprised when he said that the “greatest tool an animal trainer has is film”.

What I was surprised at was the small amount of hands that went up when he asked the audience of more than 200 people “who films themselves training”? …”and not just the dog” he added “how many film yourselves while training”? Even more hands went down.

Considering that just about everyone has a phone that also shoots film or considering how inexpensive a quality camera is these days, why are more people not filming their dog training?

I started filming dogs proactively in 2005 and I have only become more and more obsessed with filming dogs, dog training, dog play and any other potential environmental variables that I can in order to better train dogs, better my mechanics and timing, better coaching for clients, better assessments of dogs and to document the findings so I can reference the film.

A poorly filmed session is better than a non-filmed session.
Even if you are not a professional dog trainer or perhaps lacking the multi tasking abilities to film yourself via tri pod you can always ask someone to film. Get the session or the behavior in the environment it occurs in or you that want it performed in.

This is the crux of the matter. Most times the filming of dogs occurs it surrounds a picture or a brief moment where the dog is doing something cute. That is all well and good but wee need behavioral evidence for the betterment of the dog.

Cute pictures and funny videos are all well and good. However consider having your better half or the teen-age sibling film the dog walk that has you vexed or the sit and wait at front doors that are hopefully at least being done consistently, now you have something that is valuable.

Here is why.

Film does not lie. It shows the humans behavior, the animal’s behavior and it shows the environment and the context. Then we can start to assess why things are working or not working. This stops lots of disagreements.

The take home is; film all the time every time you are training, in an environment that has been known to be challenging or film because you are capturing the dog and the environment and you will look at it later and assess things.

How to film dog training and dog behavior so you get what you need to become a better trainer.
1 – Focus on the dog if that is all you need on film. This usually means handler is top notch and that is not the issue; you need to see how the dog is responding in the environments that things are challenging in. Or you are filming dog play off leash.
2 – If it is a pure handler issue you need at least a shoulders down to feet shot with the dog in view. Preferably from the front with either a dead center or right left angle. Not too far away enough to stay put of the way and yet get a good shot of the action.
3 – The best show is side view or front view. Too many times due to many factors you will get “behind the dog and handler” shots, so you’ll have plenty of those.
4 – Do Not Talk. Film. If you are filming a friend or you are filming your trainer training your dog – just film. Ask questions later and avoid chit chat. Turn off cell phones.
If you are a dog trainer filming your client training you will be coaching so talking and giving instructions is fine. Make sure you keep them in the frame!

Watch the environment an plan accordingly.
If you have the camera on a tri pod or stand etc…and you are filming yourself training get the whole shot from the front or side and train. Set it and forget it. If you are savvy use 2 cameras and get environmental footage as well as the dog training aspect.
5 – Follow the action. This goes for the person filming as well as the person being filmed. Both people should be wide-awake and ready to train and film etc…Far too many times people waste time jibber jabbing or filming the ground! Stay focused and follow the action. If you are very savvy you can even “create scenes” EX; Dog trainer is filming and see’s dog on leash and orchestrates “sighting” at proper distances. Thus getting successful trial on film to view later.
6 – Set Ups – These are the sessions where you know what you are filming, where you are filming and how you are filming. These are usually inside sessions though if you know the outside area and the training plan for that environment then set ups outside are also encouraged. However remember when you train in “open environments” anything can happen at anytime. Stay aware.
7 – Guerrilla Filming and getting what you get. Many times these are the best documents of a dog walk or a play session or perhaps you just start filming right before things get interesting. No set up just point and film and watch later. Do this often with your phones!
A combo of both is usually the best results meaning – you know that you are filming and you’ve done a bit of or a lot of set up pre planning and you have also left room for flexible intangibles that may occur during animal training and filming. Meaning relax, train and film. Watch later.

I’m ready for my close up
One reason I think many people do not want to film themselves training is quiet honestly they are embarrassed by the way they look – their weight – hair - voice – mechanics – etc…
In a phrase - get over it.

All people that are required to do something mechanical such as dog training, be it sports, firefighters or doctors are all required to work on their mechanics to the point of “doing it in their sleep” as many times they may be required to do it in hectic situations or on actual sleep deprived stages of life. Been there!

Dog walks or dog playgroups can also be hectic or stressful or require practiced mechanics.

Even teaching a puppy a sit stay can be challenging. If you had some iPhone video of the 100’s of times you tried and failed the legit dog trainer would consider that “gold” for you sessions.

The take home is everyone should be filming his or her dogs as much as possible as well as getting just as much film of themselves training.

I’ll take a camera over a clicker any day.
The other thing Bob Bailey said at his seminar in 2011 was that “clickers” are a “precision instrument” and that novice trainers should not use them. He also said he rarely uses them, at the “end” to “clean it up” he said.

I started having my clients film portions of sessions while I trained then I would take the camera and film them. This has been invaluable for my assessments of their handling and leash skills as well as the dog’s thresholds for reactivity or stress and my own mechanics are now scrutinized to the max.
In my editing soft wear I can slow down the film and watch things at half speed so I can really see the stages where things fall apart or perhaps where they all work out. Either way I have improved 10 fold as have my sessions with clients!

I have a Point of View camera running and capturing all private training sessions and most group classes. If you think you do not need to film your classes you are wrong!

With a full room view I see what everyone did and or did not do for the whole hour, not just what I caught on the iPhone or what others reported or a saw.

If you want to see how a group of puppies develops over a 6 week class film each week and watch play sties form and grow. I have a few Puppy Kindergarten classes filmed over a 6 week period and it is very interesting to see how the dogs develop their play and how well human intervention can help shape it.

Next to a good nights sleep, some quality coffee and the behavior history form, or first hand intimate knowledge of a dogs history… a camera is my most valuable tool as a dog trainer and behavior technician.

Film ends arguments.
With film there is no opinion of what happened. You can see it. If the results are what you wanted or are pleasing awesome! If not then “there ya go” now you know why based on the environment, distances, durations of stimulus or consequences and any distractions or human mechanical issues.

It was either mechanical or environmental. Film ends the hackneyed debates over nonsense like “energy” and “dominance” or the ever popular “this dog is stubborn”. Yea maybe, but I bet it is motivation and environmental variables.

What is the target behavior and where will it be performed? That is the question. Film holds the answers as to how to get ot accomplished most efficiently.

So if your dog is not coming when called get it on film.

If your dog is reacting at other dogs get it on film. Do not intentionally set the dog up to react! Just have someone follow you on a walk and do what you do.

If your dog is fearful and stressed out or appears to be shut down get it on film. Obviously you should not rehearse or flood your dog f they have extreme fear issues or stress do not intentionally reenact the event!

When the client says “the dog was pulling me” and you show them film of their feet moving as if they and the dog were on ice skates, and then show them film of yourself walking the same dog 5 minutes later and the dog is pulling less, or maybe not at all and it is due to the mechanics being the reason there is no need to debate over “energy” or “dominance”. It is in the mechanics and the environment.

Now granted not everyone has the same mechanics. That is fine. The environments can change and sometimes fast. I agree things cab get hectic in the real world.

Stay flexible, learn proper mechanics with out using choke chains and in time things do smooth out if you are consistent and kind the dog will learn what we need the dog to learn.

For dog owners the good news is you only need to have mechanics for your dogs. For dog trainers that fancy them selves to be professional or have some sort of “way” or “gift” film settles the score every time.

If you are not filming you’re faking the funk.

For professional dog trainers you need mechanics for all dogs. That is if you want to succeed on any level that impacts your community.

So for the professional dog trainer to not film himself or herself training it is like a pro basketball player not watching game films from when he missed and lost as well as when he made it and won. Mechanics not emotions win games and also that is what gets the dog trained.

Film helps the trainer see when they get it right so they can do it again and again, and film shows us when we were wrong and then we can avoid those mistakes and help other avoid them. This way dogs learn, people are safe and stress is reduced.

Case in point I recently met with a client and their dog walker of one year. The dog walker was having extreme difficulty walking the dog as well as harnessing and leashing the dog up.

When I looked back at the film of this person walking the dog I noticed the following -
• Would walk if the dog moved after they had stopped for pulling thus allowing a reward/reinforcement for pulling.
• After stopping for pulling the dog sits and the walker reached for a food reward thus about to reward the dog for pulling then sitting. I interrupted and explained so the dog would not be rewarded with food for a behavior we want reduced by way of the reward being the next scent.
• Despite this person’s “years of walking 1,000’s of dogs” this person was inadvertently reinforcing the pulling. In addition this person was also not physically equipped to walk this dog in the first place.

Had I seen film of the dog walker months ago when I met with the clients initially I could have assed the situation and resolved the issue and referred a new person thus reducing the stress for the dog, the walker and my clients. The take home is film all the time and catalog behaviors of humans and dogs. Then you have answers not feelings.

Now that all my sessions are filmed in total or at least a large portion there is really no need for disagreements or opinions or as I call them “guesses and gut feelings” it is all a matter of watching the film. That will detail what needs to be known.

At the end of the day no matter how good you think you are, or what you feel the dog’s “intentions and motivations” were/are the film will allow you and anyone lese for that matter to quantify your behavior, the dog’s behavior and also see how the dog felt about it all based on seeing it in the environment it occurred in and not simply remembering it.

In the next installment of Filming Fido I will speak about setting up the shots you need, using a cameraperson, using a tri pod or mounted camera, filming in open environments, sound, editing and the art of getting the shots you need for the story and or observations and instructions for you or others to follow. Hopefully these insights will help you get better film of yourselves training dogs!

Go Film Some Dogs!

In 2004 Drayton Michaels, CTC started K9 Son Media. A dog centric media company that works to dispel myths and teach people simple, safe and effective dog training.

Releases by K9 Son Media
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Part 1 -
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Great fun to play and cool to watch! Check out Belly Ball!

The Behavior Problems Crash Course. Free on Dunbar Academy