Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Encounters of the Couch Kind: How Video Can Help Our Dogs

Maisy has always been cautious of new objects, especially those that suddenly appear where they shouldn’t. I recently got a great example of this on video:

I recorded this on one of our daily walks a few weeks ago. Although I didn’t set it up this way, I got lucky that the day I was taking video to prepare for Maisy’s appointment with the veterinary behaviorist was the same day that someone decided to put a couch out on their curb.

I really like this video because it clearly demonstrates just how nervous it makes Maisy to encounter something unexpected; she startles several times throughout the video. This is a long-standing trait of hers. She’d lived with me for less than three weeks when she first expressed her displeasure at something changing. In that case, she barked with all of her puppy might at a soda can that I had carelessly left sitting out. Since then, she’s grown up, and more importantly, she’s grown braver. A lot of this is because we’ve worked hard on dealing with environmental changes, so I’m very proud that she was brave enough to investigate an object she clearly felt unsure about.

I also like this video because it’s a nice example of what I’ve previously called the conflicted nature of reactivity. Even though Maisy’s not lunging, barking or growling here, you can clearly see the conflicted feelings that often lead up to such reactivity. (And, in fact, later in this walk, she did lunge at a biker- a trigger that she has largely overcome. You can see that video here.)

But what I really find fascinating about this video is the way she startles. Although it initially seems more like a double-take, later on, her jumpiness coincides with road noise from cars, something that doesn’t normally provoke a response from her. This suggests to me that relatively benign changes have the effect of increasing her environmental vigilance. In turn, this increased vigilance probably contributed to her reactivity towards the biker.

Beyond the insight I gained into Maisy’s behavior, this video also showed me that there is a clear advantage to studying a recording over assessing a dog live. Being able to watch the same event several times allowed me to see more nuance to Maisy’s behavior. It allowed me fully concentrate on what she was doing without needing to worry about what was going on around us, or trying to manage the situation. And good video always helps me see ways I can improve the way I interact with my dog.

Of course, this last bit can be difficult- no one likes seeing what they do wrong. For example, my handling skills are not great in this video. I should have offered Maisy treats as she first began to interact with the couch in order to reinforce bravery. Instead, she didn’t get a treat until after she moved away from the couch, which was, at best, ineffective counter-conditioning, and at worst, reinforcing the retreat rather than the approach.

I don’t like to make excuses for my mistakes- I prefer to learn from them. However, in this case, the excuse actually offers a really good lesson. You see, I thought that it would be better if the veterinary behaviorist saw videos of Maisy “how she really is,” so I didn’t offer her as much guidance as I normally do. Unfortunately, my hands-off approach meant that vet behaviorist had less to work with when advising me. Considering how valuable I found her suggestions, I wish she could have seen more of how I normally interact with Maisy.

Still, I found that taking videos of Maisy in everyday situations was incredibly enlightening. Although I’ve been recording formal training sessions for a long time, I never realized before how much I could learn by watching videos of my dog outside of training. Doing so has allowed me to see new pieces to the puzzle that is Maisy- pieces that, when put together, have allowed me to see just how anxious my poor dog is… and it makes me feel confident that my decision to put her on medication was the correct one.

But enough about me. I’m curious to know how you guys use video. When do you take it? And if you haven’t, why not? Have you learned anything interesting about your dog? About yourself? How have you adjusted your training strategies as a result? I can’t wait to hear about your experiences.


andrea said...

Neat observations

I don't use video nearly enough .. I don't have extra hands to video - and I don't have technology to make the most of them

Crystal said...

Yeah, the no extra hands thing is hard. Usually I just set my camera down on a table or something. It's not great, but it gets the job done. I took this one as we were walking, obviously. That makes it SUPER hard to act normal, and a lot of my video was too bouncy to be useful.

I don't have much in the way of technology- a point and shoot that happens to take video, and I upload to YouTube. Again, would be nice to have something higher quality, but it gets the job done.

But... like you said, I don't video as often as a result. I'd like to do more, though.

Kristen said...

I do too much video. I take a ton of it. The problem is, it then just sets on my computer. I often don't go back to utilize it. It takes up a lot of space too. And sometimes I don't train because I don't want my camera and I "Might want to really see it again later."

But, when I do review it, I watch what happened, sometimes I make notes about ROR and dog responses. I look at how perfect or not the behavior is.

With contact behaviors, when we got to full height obstacles, I was taking video every week or two for a while so I could go back through and time how long it took my dog to do the obstacle (to look at speed). I could see what made for fast and what made for slower speeds.

I really love my camera.

Crystal said...

Oh, Kristen, I think I love you and I've never met you.

Man, you're right about the space video takes up on the computer, though. I have to keep it on an external harddrive.