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The Dog Will Tell You

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How do you use video review to improve your performance?

You’ve got options.  You can watch your timing, your delivery, the length of your session, compare your dog’s fluency over time, etc.  All excellent and appropriate uses of a videocamera and applied review!

Another option is to watch your dog.

Your dog will tell you, second by second, how you’re doing.  It really can be that simple.

Your dog is leaping along, happy as a clam, ears up, tail wagging and fully engaged?  Well, whatever you’re doing right then is working.

And then a few seconds later you notice a change.  It comes fast, is quick and subtle and is gone almost as fast as it showed up.  You saw the ears go back with indecision, the speed and bounce dropped, and…it’s didn’t feel the same.   Your dog’s behavior has spoken.

What did you do in the seconds before that happened?  How did that vary from earlier in your session?  Did you correct your dog?  Ask for a larger increase in criteria than your dog was ready for?  Or did you approach a brand new exercise and your dog’s style is to “learn slowly and gain speed with time?”

What changes you make, if any, are up to you.  It depends on your goals, how you view training, and what is “normal” for your dog. Regardless, if you’re watching your dog, you’re getting a constant and perfectly accurate stream of information on the quality of your training – for that dog, on that day, and at that moment in time.

Or maybe you’re noticing that your session started out strong and then your dog’s “happy” deteriorated over time.

What did you do over the course of that session that might have build up cumulative concern in your dog?  Did you train for too long?  Drill one behavior endlessly?  Nag your dog?  Change your choice of reinforcers?

When I watch my training sessions via video, I normally watch very casually and I concentrate on the dog.  The dog tells me how I’m doing so I don’t normally work much harder than that.

This approach works both for issues of “happy” and for specific skill building.

Here’s an example that focuses on developing Brito’s skill with the dumbbell hold (skill building).

What is Brito Telling Me?

The most obvious thing is that he tilts his head to the left because I carry the treats in my left pocket.  How do I know this?  He is staring at my left pocket.  If I do not like that picture/head tilt, how must I change my training?

Take away the reason for him to stare at my left pocket.

I can try putting the treats in my right pocket or just take them off of my body altogether.  In this case, I switch them to a shelf on the right side – and then reward with my right hand.  In a few days I’ll look at his behavior again, and go from there. Of course, the longer it’s been going on, the longer it may take to change it.

I don’t have to watch my technique in the video to see if I am rewarding correctly – he’s made it pretty clear with his behavior what I am doing wrong.

I try to approach training the same way without a video camera, but often it’s hard to get a sense of flow and progression without it.  The fact is, the camera won’t lie.

Watching this video has reminded me that I need to do a lot more video training.

Your dog’s behavior is a reflection of what you are doing in training.  Watch with care and you’ll become a better and more efficient trainer.

Have you had moments in training where you watched your dog on video and then realized for yourself where you had gone wrong?  Tell me about it in the comments!


About dfenzi

I'm a professional dog trainer who specializes in building relationship in dog handler teams who compete in dog sports. My personal passions are Competitive Obedience and no force (motivational) dog training. I travel throughout the world teaching seminars on topics related to Dog Obedience and Building Drives and Motivation. I own Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, a comprehensive online school for motivational training of performance sport dogs.

5 responses »

  1. “Another option is to watch your dog”. Yes, yes, yes! I feel much the same way and have noticed that I am watching my dog more for clues as to how to improve my training. And our relationship. I thought you might get a kick out of my learning experience.I started a simple task that looked successful but I didn’t like the way I was doing it when I reviewed the video: because of my dog’s response. So I revisited the task with the aim to improve it and make it more fun for her. (Hope it’s OK to share this with you here?) Thanks so much for this blog. Really good stuff to read.

  2. Great info! I learn so much from watching my dogs in video.

  3. I agree 100%. Seeing myself in video from a “third person´s view” sometimes opens my eyes. Not only with training dogs, but also for example for training presentation techniques.

  4. Suzanne Plumb

    Very informative, so clear to see on the video. Thank you.


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