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.