At all of the clinics I've attended, video cameras are an essential tool. I purchased a little JVC Everio and
absolutely love it! It's very basic and easy to operate. The biggest advantage of filming your sessions is that it helps enormously to fine-tune one's training skills (like practicing ballet in front of a mirror!) You get to sit in a comfy chair and really analyse the session.
Trainer: how was body language, timing, treat delivery? Did I speak to the animal when I shouldn't have, were the instructions clear or confusing, did I set up the environment for success? Did I repeat the behaviour too often or not often enough? Did I end the session on a positive note?
Trainee: was the animal focused or distracted? Did she understand what was being asked? If not, how can the trainer break the lesson steps down even smaller? Any signs of frustration?
I think one of the biggest challenges revealed by my handy dandy camera is ... developing clarity!
I often see that my body language is unclear, wishy-washy - I am stooping or not facing the direction I want the animal to go. I don't portray a picture of absolute confidence and sometimes I use multiple cues (talking + gesturing) and/or change cues (horrors!) Going back to the ballet analogy, I think I am doing a swell job of confusing my dance partner!
I love the thought that training an animal is a form of dance. When you see this done well, it's absolutely magical, trainer and trainee moving in synchronicity. Alexandra Kurland often has people working with people in her sessions in order to understand and develop body language before going out and confusing the animal ... it's such a good practice and actually, tying a lead rope to the back of a chair can make a poor, but adequate substitute. You can practice rope handling mechanics this way until you think you are working with a soft touch, then go out a work with the donkey, horse, dog etc. without jerking her around.
Anyway, here's our latest video training session, followed by my "notes" - observations to help us be better clicker trainers!
This is the formal critique format that we used as beta testers for the course on operant conditioning behaviour analysis from the AG College of Nova Scotia.
Goal: Review basic targeting and begin to teach "head down" using the target stick
Strengths: The area is set for success, other donkeys are not able to interfere. Trainer has everything she needs to begin the lesson (target stick, treat pouch.) Trainer position is good: she removes the target stick after clicking and pivots on her right foot, stepping into the donkey with her left foot to back her up.
Trainer was quiet and focussed!
Weaknesses: Not enough repetitions of each behaviour (my fault!)
Suggestions/ Comments: I'd like to see: touch target held in front of nose x 5, touch target held in air x 5, touch target held on ground x 5, then jackpot and session is over. At one point Rose is taking too long to find the target as the behaviour request had been changed too soon. She is a very sweet donkey and didn't get frustrated but a good session should flow along: behaviour = click = treat; repeat 5 times!