Use Video to Get More Out of Dog Training Classes

Sheltie jumping in AKC agility trial with handler running course
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Training class is one of the highlights of my week. I look forward to my time in the agility ring with my dog and a chance to watch my classmates run. I’m a fan of filming all my training sessions, but I am especially keen on getting video from class. One of the advantages of a class that we don’t have in solo training is the eyes of an instructor watching you and your dog in real time. We also get an opportunity to use our skills we’ve been working on at home in an environment that more closely mimics a trial. There are other dogs, people in and out of the ring and interesting smells.

In class, there is some valuable information being given by both the instructor AND the dog. The instructor is of course providing feedback and offering guidance to help you improve. But the dog is also telling you what is hard, what is easy and how they’re feeling throughout your training time. Even though we do our best to absorb as much as we can from class, it can be very hard for us as handlers to split our attention between our dog and our instructor. And that means we are probably missing some important information from both sources.

Video is a great solution here. When you video your turns in class, you can go back later and review it, which is so valuable. I’m surprised to see how few people actually film their time in class. Of course, we need to make sure our instructor is okay with it, but if they are, it’s easy to ask a classmate to film or set up a tripod. And it’s free!

Here are some of the benefits I’ve experienced from filming my class training time.

Self observation

In the moment, it is pretty difficult to be aware of everything I’m doing while I’m in the ring. And our instructors are splitting their focus between us and our dogs. So by watching video, we can pick up on what we really did out there. Some people find this off-putting and don’t want to watch themselves. Personally, I would rather know what I am actually doing and not just what I thought I did. If I’m aware, I can make changes and improve. And it’s also fun to see the parts when I was right on target.

Instructor Feedback Processing

When I’m not preoccupied with paying attention to my dog, I can really listen and understand what my instructor was communicating. My instructor does a great job of not giving much feedback until I am out of the ring so that I can be tuned into my dog, but even then I’m out of breath from running the course and just not quite in the best state of mind to take in all her words.

standard poodle does agility tunnel with handler during class
Photo by Ron Armstrong
More Objective View of My Dog

It’s easy to miss things in the moment. When I have my plan in my head and I’m trying to remember the sequence and where and how I’m going to reward her and where I need to make sure I connect, I don’t catch details. And beyond my dog’s performance, I am looking for indications of how she was feeling. I care a lot about what emotions my dog is experiencing while she’s in the ring. I want her confident, happy and playful. Video allows me to see subtle signs of stress and confusion that I didn’t notice in real time. This is how I was able to pick up on the pattern of my dog pulling away from me when I removed her leash at the beginning and when I put it back on at the end. I was too focused on my plan and didn’t see her doing that until I closely reviewed my videos.

Training Plan Development

What I notice in my videos informs what I work on in training. Continuing with my leash example, I was able to break down the leash skill and teach my dog to take off and put on her own slip lead. This gives us a much more confident start and finish. Video helps you see patterns. If you observe that you repeatedly struggle with late front crosses or that your dog keeps running off before you can start the sequence or skill, then you can make a plan to improve.

Slow Motion Analysis

I know there are programs specifically for agility video review, but I simply use the slow motion feature on my phone and laptop. This allows me to analyze things more in-depth and it’s great for looking at the timing of my handling. It also makes it easier to look at my dog’s strides and lead legs.

Fun

Plain and simple, I find it very fun to see my dog learning and being successful. It’s so fun to rewatch my dog tearing up a course or improving on a specific skill. Running agility can give me a mental and emotional high and having video of those moments brings me joy. You can also show these videos to family members who don’t know much about agility, but think your dog is impressive, and that’s fun too.

Learning Time is Extended

I love learning. Class is usually an hour long and our portion of that hour is usually 10 minutes or less. But with video, you can extend the learning way beyond that time length. If you pay for class and make the effort of showing up, why not film and get even more out of that time?

Video Tips

I hope I’ve convinced you to get into the habit of filming your class time. It’s free, easy and has so many positives. I’ll leave you with two tips for maximizing the benefits of your videos.

Start filming before your turn even starts. Ask your classmate to begin filming before you even go in the ring and to keep filming until you head out to put your dog back in the crate or car. This will give you even more information. Perhaps you’ll notice that you do something your dog doesn’t like right before you go in the ring.  Or that your dog avoids you when it’s time to exit. My instructor often gives me feedback once I’ve left the ring and don’t need to focus on my dog as much. She encourages her students to film that as well. While it’s usually the most interesting to watch our dogs during the actual training portion, there is great value in seeing what happens before and after as well.

And then make time to actually watch your videos! I like to watch you videos once right after class while things are still fresh in my mind. Then I will usually watch them several more times over the next couple days and use that information to guide my training.

Do you film your class time? What benefits have you experienced from having those videos? And if you aren’t filming, what’s keeping you from doing so?

This Post Has 3 Comments

  1. To up the fun and learning factor even more it’s nice to have a classmate or 2 that’s interested in swapping videos. I use Facebook’s Instant Message for this. You get a chance to see handling on the same course that you didn’t think to try, can help each other sort out the parts that didn’t go well and someone to celebrate something like your fastest dog walk so far!

  2. If Alisa didn’t list enough reasons to video just imagine fast forwarding to a time when your dog can no longer do agility. Do you know when that day is? Eight years from now, next week? I can’t imagine not being able to look back and see what we accomplished together or even just the joy I get from watching my dog run. My whole first year of agility I thought my dog was messing up. It wasn’t until I started getting videos of us that I realized that 98% of the errors are mine. For the most part now, I assume it’s my fault and give him a treat for doing what I asked and then I try to do better.

    1. Okay, this comment is going to make me cry! Our time with our dogs really is a gift <3 And it's really special to be able to look back on those moments together.

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