Sunday, October 16, 2011

Cameras, Lights, Action!

         I have been fortunate to attend workshops of some of the greatest trainers and teachers of our time in the field of dog or animal training. The late 90's was when I went to a number of seminar, workshops and conferences to feed my thirst for learning about dogs. What a learning curve and I couldn't get enough. I was fortunate to attend Chicken Camp where Bob Bailey mentioned to improve your training skills, get a video camera. I did. This was back in July of 1999. This was a really nice camera. Nearly top of the line for the hobbyist who just wanted to shoot. I filmed many different things, but never filmed myself training my dogs. I had a huge phobia in watching myself on camera. Having life long ridicule of how retarded I looked, it had stuck for me for many years. Life long teasing or shunning.

             In August 2011 I took a lecture from Bob Bailey to get back into the grove and get me going again. It did. I got a new camera and filmed myself training Mickey one of the behaviors that were demonstrated in the lecture. I knew I could do that. I knew Mickey hadn't done this behavior and I wanted to do it with complete shaping style. No prompting, no luring, just shaping.  Just how I remembered training a chicken 12 years ago.

             The seminar had a behavior where someone would shape their dog to nose the plastic drawer closed. We had audience participation, brainstorming of ideas and how to approach how to get the behavior. They were thinking targeting with a Post It note. clever idea. Instead, I wanted to see a pure shaping example.

             After 12 years of training after Chicken Camp, I finally got the courage enough to video myself training.

             One of the things I did not do, that we learned in the seminar was plan. After all the workshop was called  Think, Plan, Do. I thought about what I wanted, but I didn't carefully plan. I didn't make sure the light was perfect for me to see well enough to catch the behaviors I needed to condition. It was a bit dim so I pulled the curtains, but it wasn't bright enough. My eyes had not adjusted and I just went for it and turned on the camera. I had rehearsed what I was going to say once, but sure enough, I stumbled during my explanation on what I was about to do. When I started to first shape, I was fumbling. Goodness, this is not good! Usually I'm much faster than this and I don't fumble. Oops. As I look at the drawer and in amidst of shaping, I realized it was a bit hazy for me to see. Slight more adjustment and I had started to get better. My adventures of learning how to train in front of a camera.

            Then I realized as I was shaping Mickey, I positioned myself in the wrong place, I get up, and move in front of the drawer. Ahhh, this is much better. It didn't take long after that for Mickey to get the behavior. Was this session my usual good training? No, it wasn't. I just wanted to get through this very first video. Like putting a dolphin in a new tank to train. They are not going to do their usual great performance. This was all new for me and to get over the fear of being in front of a video was huge for me.

           This was a humbling experience. Now I'm put on the other side. Having criticized many videos of other people, I was the one on stage. I now understand how the other feels and feel rather embarrassed at how I didn't really know how to critique others work in a video by not being in their shoes. Another lesson learned. The camera view and what you see while training are two completely different perspectives. It can appear that I'm not shaping or clicking at the right time, when in reality I was probably right on. The big epiphany of learning here was camera placement and where I am located is extremely important. I have a new found respect for those who do this for a living, small or large scale. There is skill and insight to knowing about the camera.

           Dog trainers are an interesting bunch. They always have to give you some method to use. I did the same when I critiqued people. It is just in us to do. Now before I give any suggestion, I am in a better position to ask why someone does something, before assuming. A lot of my responses were from assuming. Dog trainers are very married to their suggestions. I did the same. Why doesn't that person do it my way? Some suggestions can be really good. Some are just opinions of how they would do something, which in many cases it may not make a difference.

          I believe in the science of positive reinforcement training. I try to be as clean and scientific as possible. It is about perfecting skill and most of all perfecting mechanical skill. I do occasionally use luring. It is an important tool. I use it, then  try to shape away from it as soon as possible. So my videos will show more free shaping. Again, I have to emphasize, I use luring, it is a great tool, however, I am a believer that the more you use luring, the more steps later you will have to use to wean the subject off the luring. Less thinking of the dog and less the dog will do the behavior without the dependency of the lure.
          So many things to think of such as placement of food, where to give the reinforcements, timing and the consequences it creates in an exercise. I train with the idea in mind, what will I have to fix later? Tossing food on the floor is not the way I train. I don't want my carpet gooey, I don't want to take extra sessions to train my dog not to search for food while out in public. Being visually impaired and that my dogs are my service dogs, I would have to take extra steps to teach my dog not to search for food when ever they want. Tossing food does tend to create that. Yes, you can toss food but teach your dog the rules when they should and should not. I just do not want to take those extra steps. Especially when I have a a dog that is excessive with their food drive. Will I never toss food on the floor? No, there might be a time I do, but doing it all the time, does create a dog that will search on the ground. I don't want this behavior when I go into a restaurant and there were a bunch of messy kids sitting there before.

          Some people think cuing the dog early into behaviors is the way to go, but I like shaping. The more I can focus on sh aping, the more keen my skills become. The more that when I use other things like luring, prompting etc. the better I can use the m minimally and at the right time. I feel that shaping is a foundation of good clean training. I think the shaping process gets the dog to figure the problem, as long as you use an extreme high rate of reinforcements.

         I did the terrible mistake showing this video to other dog trainers. They saw me at my worst and judged me at my worse. Which now I'm back to not wanting to film myself again, when the purpose of this video was to get me past that hump to just doing it and not be afraid of critique. I succeeded in learning and getting over the first hump, but certainly not from the criticism that I'm so sensitive. Next time I will be more careful who sees my videos. But it has now been 3 months since I filmed myself, now I have to get over the hump of trying to do video two. Sharing it with the right people who understand and know the situation is the way to go. Those who actually have seen me in person train and those who know my training style and my focus. I plan to make a video in the next two weeks.

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