Viewing training sessions on film

These days’ people log in many hours on screens watching TV, YouTube, Video games, Phones and so forth. However how much time is spent watching videos of training dogs that we do with clients dog or even our own dogs? Viewing videos for the nostalgia or the cute moments are fine and we all need to do a fair amount of that. Viewing for the purposes of bettering the training process and accurately observing and assessing the environmental and behavioral aspects for both the humans and the dogs is crucial for improvements.

Trainers spend all sorts of time and money watching other trainer’s DVD’s and so forth and that is fine. That is a very good thing to have access to. The truth is most dog trainers spend very little time watching themselves on film and critiquing the process accurately.

When people do watch video of training or dogs playing many times it becomes more about what hairstyle and clothing choice was acted upon that day or the cuteness of the dogs etc…rather than the rate of reinforcements or how the mechanics of their leash handling skills were being executed or the effect of the environment on the dog.

One major aspect of improvement for both the behavior of humans and the behavior of dogs are having the events on film. As I have said many times even a poorly filmed dog training session is better than no film at all.

Here are some suggestions on how to watch yourself on film and critique your skills or your client’s skills with efficacy. Also, I will detail how to set up cameras for the best angles and what to look for from different angles to get the best picture of the dog’s behavior as it relates to the humans behavior.

Viewing 1 – The fun run through.
This is the time for all the gushing over the dog, the self critiques of cloths and hair etc…You can do this a few times and get back to business that day or right away or the next day. Get it out of the way. Right after loading the video into your computer if you have the time is a good time to do this fun run through.

Viewing 2 – Watching the dog

When you watch the video for the second round, watch the dog and focus on all that you need to in order to get a read on how the dog feels about the training. As well as how the dog is responding to the environment, training cues, prompts, marker word and lures etc….

Also note what the various forms of stimuli are most salient and most distracting either in the “makes dog very happy” category or “has dog feeling vexed – distracted - stressed” to some degree.

A camera placed on the floor during play for example is a great way to tell if the dogs are having early signs of stress in play. This helps the next play session go much smoother by having shorter or perhaps longer durations for play established after watching the video.

Log any pertinent distances and durations related to training protocols that have been established or that will be established. Get these parameters defined with film within inches or feet and they’ll be easier to manipulate in future sessions. When we stop making guesses about distances and durations training success is more frequent.

If you have no other people in the room or if the outside environments that you are training in are quite except for trainer and animal sounds, some traffic no need to watch without the volume. However if it is a class or there are people asking lots of questions or even lots of loud city noises etc…I always suggest at least one or two viewings watching the dog with the sound off.

This silent viewing helps our focus to be placed on what the dog is doing not what the dog is “sounding” like. Many times that is a piece of the behavior that subconsciously triggers false negative CER’s for people assessing dog behavior. I.E. They hear lots of growling so it must not be too good.

Humans are sensitive to growling and vocalizations by dogs.
Many times the dog is simply playing tug or the barking is out of frustration and is being labeled “aggressive” even though there is no bite history based on years of exchanges or perhaps it is a puppy under 22 weeks and is simply “growing up”. Also many times people take vocalizing to be a sign of stress or aggression when there are no signs of fear or stress.

These silent viewings help focus on what the dogs are doing.

3 - Viewing yourself on film

This is the most difficult part for all of us, but the most necessary. During this viewing watch with the sole purpose of critiquing your mechanics and timing of the intended training that was being implemented. Were you achieving the results you set out for? Are you better off than in the last session? How well are you adjusting to environmental contingencies? These are all very useful pieces of feedback.

For instance if the goal is counter conditioning a dog for seeing a passing skate board the main thing to watch for is the rate of reinforcement – rewards per seconds – matched with the duration of the stimulus passing.

If the mechanics and timing are commiserate with the dog staying under threshold, them most likely your mechanics and timing are very good. You may also have had the right distance and a bit of luck with the duration. These are all good things to make note of.

If you are not having success then readjust something with the mechanics and timing of training execution or manipulate the environment to your advantage by way of creating distances or lessening distances or perhaps lowering the duration. Even luring a dog away from something that is distracting and resetting the training in a more amenable place is manipulating the environment.

When judging the mechanics of training we have to take into account all areas of the human body. Breathing, vision acuity, feet positioning, body posture, quick and gentle deftness of movements related to leash skills, wrangling, impromptu management and or luring dogs as needed.

We need to examine the retrieval of food rewards from pouches or pockets and the delivery to the dogs mouth, the efficacy of verbal cues and prompts, hand signal efficiency, leash handling skills, and our awareness to the environment as to how we adjusted for sudden contrasts and behavior shifts in the dog. Film can supply all of this information and more.

I usually go through this portion of self-evaluation with at least 6 – 8 different start to finish viewings when I am watching for my mechanics or for client evaluations of their mechanics. I usually watch a few key areas in slow motion to dial in mechanics and timing I feel could be better or watch some of the “n the moment successes” so that I can be a flexible again in the future and copy those same executions.

For at least one or two of the more challenging aspects of a training session, if there were any, these are played in slow motion and looked at frame-by-frame if needed. I also do this with dog play many times so I can see what was what in the dog play pile and or get a read on my or others referee skills.

I have done slow motion replays when there have been over threshold behaviors that resulted in either redirected bite attempts to humans, or dog play has gone too far and tipped over. Slow motion viewings help to evaluate varying distances & durations for protocols to determine a baseline distance duration correlate. This is also very useful for improvement in classes or individual sessions.

4 – Viewing the environment – Where are you training?
Along with the self-evaluation viewings the environmental viewing is assuredly the most important aspect of watching video when you are training dogs. Why? We usually remember most about the dog and least about ourselves and the environment.

The environment is the most influential aspect of any dog’s behavior, or any humans for that matter. Knowing what occurred in the environment to help or hinder the training goals is essential for either successes in the future, or perhaps simply staying the course. Video reviews are especially good for avoiding environmental issues that can cause over threshold behavior or training to fall apart around distractions.

At a seminar I attended the instructor was working a puppy and her heels were a bit loud on the stage, so the puppy was being distracted and the stays were being interrupted. I mentioned this and the shoes came off, and the puppy was less distracted.

By watching film and being aware of multiple aspects of the training process occurring at once we get better at real time evaluations.

No matter what the training is, the environment is playing the largest role on the dog’s behavioral outcome. When humans become better at controlling the environment they get better results in training.

We have all seen the dog do their whole repertoire with flawless ease in the living room and blow it in the back yard 20 minutes later all due to too much stimulation or distractions and the humans not doing as much or as efficient training in the context of the back yard.

By having the environment on film we can see and hear what was occurring in the background while they were training and what was happening inside that made the difference in the results being better.

I was watching a video of a session with a dog, named Brandi. I have a few videos of her at our YouTube channel. Links are below.

As I watched this one video of us working in a urban setting doing counter conditioning for a passing dog we had orchestrated, I noticed that when dog was present no matter how far off as long as she had a bead on the dog her reactivity and even her orientations to trucks/traffic was diminished and or non-existent as long as the trucks were not too close or too sudden. Even then the dog saliency was trumping the traffic!

This “super saliency” that some stimuli creates for dogs provided us with an advantage, especially when the dog may have multiple triggers for reactivity. This super saliency towards dogs allowed Brandi to forget about the traffic. This helped greatly when we were working at a Vet hospital in later sessions where there were trucks and traffic passing.

With many regular dog sightings during that session, making the general area dogs were spotted most in, more salient, Brandi had little or no interest in the passing trucks behind her or when they would appear in her peripheral vision.

The traffic was actually rather close (20 – 50 feet at shortest distances) when we were on the sidewalk and or a grass area.

Knowing that we would get the dogs to trump the trucks from past films of session in parking lots and heavily trafficked areas, we were able to do many successful trials at two different sessions at the Vet hospital which Brandi goes to when she needs Vet care. Film was crucial in determining her durations and distances from traffic in order to have her under threshold.

This knowledge made training in the environment better associated for Brandi and her handler, Nancy, Brandi’s “mom”. Now they are also better equipped to orchestrate her in that environment when she takes her there for Vet visits.

Knowing what the environment may provide as help or a hindrance is crucial in the success of any training but especially when training in open environments. Knowing the environmental contingencies as well as the parameters with which to achieve more success in open environments will reduce you and your dogs stress immensely. When you get good at this from watching films you get better in real time.

Taking the time to film, review and honestly critique training sessions, gathering environmental information and assessing dog behavior will save you time, money and energy the next time you are working with a dog no matter what the goals are. We miss quite a bit in the moment when training and film will always capture what we need I suggest never do a training session without filming.

Types of Cameras for dog training -

Cameras that work well for dog training are small and rugged and easily camouflaged to be non invasive. I suggest cameras with wide-angle lenses.

I mainly use the Contour Roam almost exclusively. They are inexpensive, sturdy (the standard “snowboard camera”) shoots in HD, waterproof in up to 3 inches of water, so you can use them in the rain. They can take a few falls and knock about moments as well and keep on filming. These are all handy attributes when working with dogs and filming them.

The Contour Roam has a number of options for mounting. This is also a tremendous help.

I use the adhesive mounts the Contour comes with, without taking off the backing so they are not sticky. This is for a quick and all around mount no matter where it needs to be placed. I have obtained dozens of amazing pieces of footage by simply placing the camera down and getting to work in a class, play group or on a walk. This camera has been the main part of my training “tool kit” since it arrived.

I also use a suction cup mount (I have 2) that can be placed onto most surfaces securely and adjusted to get a 98% shot of our 1000 square foot facility or the better part of a wide open area such as a back yard.

This camera has helped me obtain vital behavioral data on both myself, clients and especially due to its small size and clear picture; I have been able to get lots of film of dog behavior up close with digital clarity that otherwise would have been lost in the moment.

This is especially useful in any play assessments, resource guarding assessments and or generally wanting to see up close just what is occurring with a dog’s mouth or small facial features during play or training.

I have also been able to get great car riding footage of dogs be they anxious, frustrated or simply reacting to passing stimuli. Mounted and hands free the Contour can help you do in car training in parking lots very well, or capture dog behavior while driving for observing later.

The overhead suction mounts are equally valuable for capturing a playgroup or a class of people working with their dogs. It also helps give a good view of the various angles with which all training takes place. This perspective has given me a whole new out look when I am in a room with dogs.

If you can set up at least one overhead camera and use one roaming camera to capture sessions or classes you will be making an investment into your training that gives back 10 fold, as film never lies and always has the information we cannot remember or might forget. If you can get three angles you are pretty much covered for both, the human and the dog as well as the environment you are working in.

For examples of the Contour Roam camera, iPhone and Flip cameras in action check out these videos on the Urban Dawgs YouTube channel.

Here are some examples of the Contour Roam in action
This video is about counter conditioning a small dog to be touched and eventually picked up. I was able to get the floor shot and close ups using a Contour Roam on a floor mount as well as an overhead on the suction mount.

Much of the video I did on Scent for my series on leash walking Less Stress More Success was shot on an iPhone and or the Contour Roam camera.

Much of the footage for this video and many others that focus on leash walking were filmed myself as I walked the dogs or by clients holding the small Contour or Flip camera.

Less Stress More Success series

4 Scent video

3 The Environment video

2 Leash Mechanics video

1 Leash Walking Intro

Videos that were filmed on Contour & Flip cameras.

Brandi & Nancy Leash reactivity – Flip camera

Lucy – Leash reactivity – Flip camera

Seymour – Leash walking & reactivity – Flip camera and Contour

Counter conditioning a puppy to a baby – iPhone

Here is a link for the Contour Roam camera.

Go Film Yourself Training Dogs!

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