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A dog training video: What do you see?

September 22, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

The week before last I wrote about how videotaping yourself with your dog, especially during training sessions, can help you to see things you might not have noticed in the moment. Looking at pictures I had taken while working with Maggie made me realize how pressure sensitive she is and how I needed to change my approach with her.

It’s not just the every day dog owner who can be helped by videotaping themselves with their dog, dog trainers do it too. Sometimes they do it to improve their technique or sometimes they do it to observe a dog’s behavior more closely. For many, it is also a way to educate dog owners on how to train their dog, as I believe the video below was meant to do.

While I very much disagree with the trainer’s assessment of the dog she is using in the video, I also had the luxury of watching their interactions (on video) several times. Slowing down a video and watching it over and over again can help you to see so many things. I suspect the trainer in this video was so focused on making a specific training point that she missed all the behaviors telling her otherwise. Either that, or she did not recognize the behaviors at all.

So today, you be the trainer. Take a look at the dog’s body language and describe what you see. Is the dog distracted or is something else going  on here?  

You can see my observations and analysis below, but try to do a little analysis yourself. What do you SEE? What is the dog doing or not doing? What behaviors is she displaying? Are the ears up, back, or forward? Is her body leaning? If so, in which direction? What else do you see?

My observations of Bubbles, the Border Collie:

  • At the beginning of the video, Bubbles sniffs the ground several times and pulls at the end of a leash.
  • Bubbles does not look at the trainer, but looks in the direction of the camera and towards the group (perhaps her owner is there?).
  • Ears are back and she appears to be panting. (This is about the time the trainer mentions how Border Collies can become very distracted by their environment.)
  • 23 seconds into the video, Bubbles’ ears go up and she looks to the left (her left). Her body turns in that direction immediately afterwards.  Her ears go back down.
  • Bubbles continues to turn left as she goes behind the trainer sniffing and looking distracted. Her tail is down and very close to her body (almost between her legs.)
  • When the trainer mentions her name, Bubbles ignores it and keeps sniffing at the ground, moving further left and to the trainer’s right. Her ears are closer to the back of her head.
  • Bubbles continues to sniff the ground and moves behind the trainer again and to her right. Her head lifts up. Her ears are pricked and she is looking straight ahead and pulling in that direction. Her tail is down.
  • She pulls as far away as she can from the trainer and continues to look off in the distance. Her ears are up. Her body is leaning forward and away from the trainer.
  • The trainer shortens the leash and pulls Bubbles around and back to her and uses a treat as a lure. Bubbles’ moves towards the trainer with her ears down. She lip licks and yawns, sniffs the food, and then turns away. Her head is down and her body is leaning away from the trainer.
  • At 55 seconds, Bubbles’ body goes down lower to the ground. She is leaning away from the trainer and looking away
  • The trainer pulls Bubbles closer. Bubbles head is lower. She looks up and lip licks and turns her head away. Her ears are back and low on her head.
  • The trainer crouches down next to Bubbles and reaches her had out to her with the treat. Bubbles does another lip lick and turns away. Her tail is low and wags slightly for a moment.
  • At 59 seconds, her body is leaning away from the trainer’s. She rejects the treat in the trainer’s hand.
  • The trainer pauses to speak. Bubbles tries to pull away again. She lip licks and glances toward the trainer.
  • Bubbles lip licks several more times and glances at the trainer before looking away again.
  • She now pulls even further away from the trainer so that her head is the furthest away from her and her butt is closes to the trainer.
  • The trainer calls her name and her ears immediately go down and back on her head. It looks like she lip licks before her head and upper body goes down. She moves her body closer and her tail wags low, but she keeps her head as far as she can from the trainer.
  • Bubbles moves her body so that she is completely facing away from the trainer. At 1:18 she is leaning away from the trainer and has her back to her. She gives several more lip licks.
  • When the trainer calls her name and pull her back towards her again, Bubbles pulls again and then turns her body slightly horizontal to the trainer’s body when the leash is pulled toward the trainer. She sits and looks up.
  • She is offered the treat again, but turns away from it.  I could be wrong, but her busy seems hunched forward.
  • Bubbles turns her head further away and looks behind her, lip licks, and then starts to stand up.
  • She pulls away (lip licks), but sits back down because she has no leash length to pull away. She again has her back to the trainer.
  • More lip licks.
  • Bubbles continues to look away and to the side with her back to the trainer.
  • She pulls away as hard as she can and tries to create distance.
  • The trainer tries to engage Bubbles “one more time” and pulls her (using the leash) towards her. Bubbles faces towards the camera. The trainer reaches down with the treat in her hand and puts it in front of Bubbles’ nose. Bubbles glances quickly at her hand and turns away. She lip licks and yawns.
  • The trainer then knees her in the back-end, forcing her to sit. Her body is leaning away from the trainer.
    She glances up at the trainer. Her ears are back. She lip licks again. The trainer reaches her hand out with the treat again. Lip lick again. Bubbles opens her mouth when the trainer inserts the treat in her lip. You can to longer see her ears.
  • She takes the treat, turns her head away and lip licks.
  • Lip lick again.
  • Bubbles starts to stand up again, looking away. She stands with her back to the trainer. Her ears are back and low on her head. Her tail is now between her legs.
  • Her ears go up and down again. She lip licks. She sniffs the ground and pulls away from the trainer.
  • She continues to pull away in all directions from the trainer.

My assessment:

It clear from all of Bubbles’ behaviors that she was extremely uncomfortable. Perhaps it was because she did not know the trainer (as the trainer admits) or because she was unfamiliar with the setting or even afraid of the camera, or maybe, both. She displays a lot of calming signals – lip licking, look aways, yawning, etc. She also tries very hard to create distance between her and the trainer, over and over again.  Bubbles is not distracted by squirrel, but is uncomfortable and nervous. The trainer should have stopped as soon as she saw these behaviors. The fact that Bubbles refused the treat was a dead give away that she was way to nervous to be enticed by a treat. Not only did the trainer’s words not match the behaviors being displayed, but she did nothing to build the trust between her and Bubbles because she forced her to interact with her and even kneed her to sit down.  A better approach would have been to stop completely and give Bubbles her space and the choice of whether she wanted to interact or not.

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  1. fredrieka
    September 23, 2014 at 5:03 AM

    great video keep them coming

  2. September 23, 2014 at 5:18 PM

    Excellent write up, great assessment on your part. Thanks for the post!

    • Mel
      September 23, 2014 at 8:35 PM

      Thanks Kim. I always find these challenging from a time perspective, but so much fun from a dog behavior perspective. I appreciate your kind words.

  3. September 25, 2014 at 4:49 PM

    Oh, dear. Poor Bubbles. She tried everything to say she was uncomfortable, but that trainer just kept pulling her closer and closer. (Projecting here, but…) I would conjecture that Bubbles must be a “soft” dog, though, because Cooper would’ve probably snapped at that woman.

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