Do you know what you just did?

As I’ve mentioned previously, I teach an undergraduate behavior analysis class during the fall and spring semesters. As part of the class, my students do an extended project that involves teaching a series of behaviors to a pet. The majority of my students have zero animal training experience before taking the class.

All of the training takes place outside of class. So, I never actually meet any of the animals. Instead, the students submit video clips to demonstrate mastery for each part of the project and also bring me videos when they need feedback or advice.

At the beginning of the project, the students have to practice delivering reinforcers. Earlier this fall, I had a student send me a video of her progress. She had also evaluated her video using one of the checklists that I give the students.

She told me that she was very surprised when she first watched her video!

She was often reaching for the treat before she clicked or as she was clicking. However, she was completely unaware of this before watching the video. She thought she was keeping her hand still until the click. I gave her a few suggestions, and she went off to keep practicing.

Pretty soon, her mechanics were much better. In the next video she sent me, she was perfect at keeping her treat hand still until after the click. (This is an important skill for beginners to practice. If you move your hand before the click, the animal may begin watching your hand movements, instead of listening for the click.)

This is just a simple example, but I hope you can see some of the implications.

I find that beginner trainers spend almost all of their time focusing on their animal. As a result, they often don’t notice things that they could change about their own behavior.

Expert trainers, on the other hand, spend as much (or more!) time focusing on their own behavior as they spend focusing on the behavior of their animal. And there’s a reason for this. Good trainers know that small changes in their behavior can often lead to drastic changes in the animal’s behavior

During the project, I have my students practice observing their own behavior by taking videos of their training sessions. I also give them questions and checklists that they use to evaluate their own behavior. This is certainly a skill that takes some practice. However, even as novice trainers, they are often able to notice things in their videos and then change their behavior as a result.

So, if you are new to training or if you are an experienced trainer, I encourage you to spend some extra time this week observing your own behavior.

You can start by just videoing yourself while you are training. What do you see?

You may want to have a training friend or even a professional trainer watch your video. What does that person see?

I hope you’re able to see both things that you already do really well, as well as areas where you could change your own behavior.

If you want, leave a comment and tell me what you discover during this process.

If you liked this post, take a moment to share it!

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  • Birgit Laser

    Hi Mary,

    thanks for your new blog post – good to have you back “on blog” ;-).

    I’d love to see the checklists you give to your students!

    • Several other people have also inquired about the checklists…. 🙂

      I would be happy to share them.

      I’m busy right now with finals coming up. But, I’ve made a note to myself for December to do a follow-up post and include the checklists.

      • Kristen VanNess

        Was this something you shared? I don’t see it but may have missed it!

        • Kristen, it is not something I have shared yet. This year has been busy so far! Things will be calmer this summer, so I hope I can share the checklist soon.

  • Linda D. Keast

    Thank you for reminding me that I need to incorporate video feedback in training our therapy team handlers! The Little Dog Laughed AAT works with at-risk youth, using the activity of dog training to teach and reinforce pro-social behaviors and problem-solving skills. This means we need to watch how our physical actions/reactions affect the child as well as the dog. One concrete example I was able to capture several times on video and which I use in training new teams is how the child reacts as the handler (inadvertently) leans into the child’s space. VERY eye-opening. Especially since in one of the videos the handler was me 🙁

    • Linda – thanks for sharing your experience.

      I think that is the power of video. It makes us more aware of our own behavior. As a result, we can change our behavior for the better, and improve the way we teach others.

      Your story reminded me of a video clip I have from some years ago. I was doing some clicker training with a young horses. Several times, when she did really well, I gave her some extra treats and also scratched her on the neck.

      In the video, you can see her trying to move away every time I go to scratch her…… It is so noticeable in the video! And I wasn’t even aware of it at the time because I was so absorbed with the task we were working on.

  • Nichole Grosser

    Mary, would you be willing to share your checklist and questions with us? I think it would be a great asset for our training circle.

    • Anke Roepke

      I agree. The checklists would be a great resource! Thank you for the blog, Mary! As always – great work.

      • HI Nichole and Anke,

        I just left a comment above to Birgit. I am happy to share the checklists.

        I’m busy right now with finals coming up. But, I’ve made a note to myself for December to do a follow-up post and include the checklists. 🙂


  • Tracy Heitmeier Johnson

    This is so appropriate. I was working with a client’s dog & had a friend with her dog helping too. She was taping the dogs but got me in there as well. When I watched it, I was shocked. I was moving my hand from my back before the click!! I think the one thing that was saving me was the dog had great eye contact & was focused on that. I know there are other times when I have the treat down (somewhat as a lure but not intended to be) before I click. I need to figure out a way to video myself more. Now I have to remind myself “click, pause just very briefly, treat”. It’s harder than you think!
    And glad to have you back. I was just thinking the other day that I hadn’t seen anything from you.

    • Tracy – Yes, I agree that training is harder than most people think! Especially when there’s lots going on and a lot to think about. I love that video can make us more aware of exactly what we are doing and all the tiny details.


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