Whether you’re a professional trainer or someone who trains their own dogs, there’s always room for improvement. But how can you get better at something if you’re not aware of what needs improvement? A helpful technique is to record yourself training. (I used to say “videotape yourself” but now that makes me sound like I’m 100 years old!) Everyone’s got a smart phone, and it’s easy enough to set it up on a mini-tripod or countertop while you run through the obedience skills or tricks your dog knows. Record a few segments, and for at least one or two, set your phone camera to slow-motion mode. When you review the footage, watch it with the sound off. Pay attention to two things: your dog’s body language and your own. Does your dog appear to be enthusiastically engaged throughout the session, or does he show subtle signs of stress such as lip licking, yawning, sniffing the ground, scratching, or turning his eyes or face away from you? If so, try to detect what specifically is causing it. Does he seem less enthusiastic after the first few repetitions? That could signify a need to keep training sessions shorter. Does he look confused or lose track of your hand signal at any point? That brings us to your body language.
To review your own body language, again, watch the recording without the sound. Where are you holding the treats as you give your hand signals? If you’re signaling with one hand, the treats should be held behind your back in the other (or in a bait bag around your waist). Otherwise, your dog might be more focused on the treat than on your signal. Watch for subtle movements or positioning that could be contributing or taking away from your dog’s success, such as your leaning forward or back, or moving your hand too quickly or in a way your dog isn’t following. For example, a classic mistake when luring a dog from a sit to a down is to start with the treat held to his nose like a magnet, but then instead of keeping it there as he follows it downward, moving the treat too quickly to the ground away from his nose so he ends up motionless, just staring down at the treat.
Now, watch again with the sound turned on. Does your praise voice sound enthusiastic? How does your dog respond to it? Some dogs thrive on super happy sounding, high-pitched, enthusiastic praise, while for some shyer dogs, it’s too much; it actually scares them and so is not the reward we think it is. Shy dogs often do better with a softer, calmer, but still happy-sounding praise voice. Or, maybe your voice isn’t enthusiastic enough. I’ve seen more than a few people call their dogs to them in a voice that prompts me to think, I sure wouldn’t want to come if you called me like that! Also, do you repeat verbal cues instead of giving them once and then waiting for your dog to respond? That’s a pretty common and understandable error. But, like so many other things, you might never realize you’re doing it without watching yourself objectively.
It’s not easy to watch ourselves on camera (and some of us really hate it), but this exercise is a worthwhile one that will definitely improve your training skills. And in the long run, it might even help to improve the bond between you and your dog.
Speaking of body language, don't forget, in addition to my books you can now find my seminars on body language and more not only on DVD but also in streaming format here at www.nicolewilde.com! ___________________________________________________________________________________ © Nicole Wilde www.nicolewilde.com