#49 - Why You Need to Video Your Pets

[00:00:00] Allie: Even if you’re already fantastic at observing, there’s still more to learn through videos. One of the reasons we are such big advocates of watching video as opposed to only relying on realtime observation is because you get to manipulate a video. You can slow it down, you can start and stop it, you can rewind. You get to spend as much time watching that interaction as you need to to learn what you’re hoping to learn. Welcome to Enrichment for the Real World, the podcast devoted to improving the quality of life of pets and their people through enrichment. We are your hosts, Allie Bender…

[00:00:44] Emily: …and I’m Emily Strong…

[00:00:45] Allie: …and we are here to challenge and expand your view of what enrichment is, what enrichment can be and what enrichment can do for you and the animals in your lives. Let’s get started.

Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of Enrichment for the Real World, and I want to thank you for rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen to podcasts.

Last week we heard from Lili Chin, and one of the topics we discussed was essentially how to creep on your pets to learn more about them. This week we’re going to dive further into why you need to video your pets and talk about implementation with the animals in your life. In this implementation episode, Emily and I talk about, Emily’s love of infomercials, how we watch videos and what we’re looking for, and a couple of interactions where sound was getting in the way. Let’s get started.

We talk about observation all the time, body language all the time, and we kind of just leave it at that, just saying like, “Do the thing.” So, I’m really excited today to dive deeper into one of the strategies that we use to observe pets, and how we can make good, objective decisions when it comes to working with animals. And that is spending a whole lot of time watching video.

[00:02:04] Emily: Right, because here’s the thing. I’ve been obsessively staring at animals since probably before I could walk. And then by the time I became a behavior consult, I had a pretty refined intuition regarding body language of, you know, all the species I had grown up with. But I couldn’t really articulate why I was perceiving what I was perceiving. So, when I started working with clients or colleagues and trying to discuss the body language of the animals we were looking at together, I wasn’t super great about spelling it out until videos.

[00:02:35] Allie: I wasn’t aware this was an infomercial.

[00:02:38] Emily: I mean, obvi, when am I not a walking-talking billboard for the things I’ve been passionate about?

[00:02:44] Allie: I mean, that’s very true. Y’all, Emily will literally email me and Ellen about a new product she’s found. Usually through Facebook ads, I’m not gonna lie, and do a written infomercial for us about why we should consider it.

[00:02:58] Emily: Wow. Just, wow. I didn’t think my professional wife would help me like this, but I see you’re choosing violence today. Okay!

[00:03:08] Allie: All day, every day. Any who-sles videos? Okay. Y’all should video your pets to become even better observers. Even if you’re already fantastic at observing. There’s still more to learn through videos. And let’s break down how we do that. One of the reasons we are such big advocates of watching video as opposed to only relying on realtime observation is because you get to manipulate a video.

You can slow it down, you can start and stop it, you can rewind. You get to spend as much time watching that interaction as you need to to learn what you’re hoping to learn. Emily, what’s your favorite way of doing this?

[00:03:48] Emily: I like to watch the video at full speed first to kind of get a gut feel, but then I watch each animal. I mean, this is assuming there are multiple animals in the video, right? Obviously if there’s only one animal, I just watched that one. But most of the time when I’m looking at body language videos, I’m looking at multiple animals, and so I’ll watch each animal in slow motion separately. I may go back and re-watch parts that are trickier, but I’m just focusing on one animal at a time. Then I watch again in slow motion, but I’m looking at the interaction as a whole. And then finally I’ll watch it again at full speed to see what all those subtle interactions look like at full speed. And I’ve actually found this to be a really powerful way of improving my ability to catch those minute details in real time. How about you?

[00:04:37] Allie: I do something pretty similar, and to your point of there’s usually multiple animals in the video, I would say like you and I are counting humans in that mix, and so if we’re not watching multiple dogs, or multiple cats, or a dog cat, we’re watching a dog and a human, a cat and a human, so humans count in that multiple animals mix.

I watched the full interaction, like you said, kind of getting a gut feel, just, you know, getting to know what to expect in that video. Noting parts that I need to pay more attention to the second or third time around. Then on the rewatch, when I hit those parts of the interaction, I play through watching one animal, then the other, then the interaction as a whole by just stopping and starting the video and rewinding and all of that, and that’s my version of slowmo.

[00:05:25] Emily: I love that there are many paths up the mountain that gives people space for personal preference and maybe even neurodiversities, too. So, we talked about how we watched the videos. Next, let’s talk about what we’re looking for in the videos. So first, Allie and I both practice watching without trying to interpret what we’re seeing. We focus on the overt body language signals first. If you’re new to practicing this skill, I highly recommend saying the body language signals out loud as you see them, writing them down, or checking them off a checklist.

Whatever you prefer to do to create a tangible inventory for yourself, so you can go back, review, and make sure that you’re catching as many body language signals as possible. When you’ve done that for each individual animal in the video, then you can do the same thing during the part where you’re watching the interaction as a whole.

And this is particularly important because sometimes body language signals can be ambiguous, or an individual animal may be expressing some signals in atypical ways, and it can be hard to tell what’s actually going on. So, the best way to identify what their communications impact is on the other animals in the video is to watch the other animal’s body language signals in response to the hard to read ones. Then and only then after you’ve done all that work, is it helpful to start interpreting what you’re seeing.

So often when I do this exercise with our students, which by the way is on a regular basis because we have monthly body language observation practice sessions, so we do this frequently, the student’s final interpretation is very different from their initial gut response, and I just think it’s really remarkable how when we take that methodological approach to reading body language, it can really cut through those cognitive biases that tend to cloud all of our perceptions, including me. I’m not immune to that either, right? Even though I’ve been looking at animals for more than four decades now, uh, it still happens to all of us.

[00:07:25] Allie: Yeah, absolutely. And speaking of clouding our perception, I find that sound is something that can really influence how we interpret those interactions. And yes, sound is absolutely another component of observation and can give us really good information. However, some folks can be more sensitive to vocalizations than others, and some play vocalizations can sound legitimately scary regardless of your sound sensitivities or risk aversions.

And for that reason, I usually actually turn the sound off the majority of the time that I’m watching videos. I’ll often start with it on for the first initial watch just to make a note of any vocalizations that are happening, but then I just focus on the visual cues.

[00:08:08] Emily: Yeah, same.

[00:08:09] Allie: And I actually have the perfect example of this that literally happened with a client yesterday. So, I’ve been working with these clients for their dogs, Sadie and Oliver. Oliver is this just happy-go-lucky adolescent, and everything that that entails. He’s a bundle of energy and wants to play and, and all of the things.

Sadie is an older lady and has not been appreciative of Oliver’s pep. So, uh, they called me in for, for an intra household issue. Sadie and Oliver’s interactions were escalating to the point of fighting, not injurious at this point, but they really wanted to nip it in the bud and, and have a harmonious household.

So, when we started, they sent, sent me the initial video of their interactions and it was like, “Oh, yeah, no. Sadie is really not enjoying what’s happening here and Oliver is really not respecting her communications.” We, we have some issues on both sides of this fence here, so to speak, and sometimes literally because we’ve been using fences and baby gates to help with their management.

So, we’ve been working for a couple of months and yesterday I saw them again for their third session and they were telling me, “Okay, Sadie and Oliver are now interacting a little bit.” Hooray. We’ve gotten to that stage, but we’re now in kind of that awkward stage in intra household cases where the dogs have progressed enough, they have learned enough skills, that they’re able to navigate some interactions, and the humans do not trust what is happening there. And I’ve seen this happen in almost every intra household case that I’ve worked on, where there comes a point where the humans are like, “Uh, I don’t know that this is okay or not. I, I have no idea.”

They were telling me that, Sadie would tell Oliver to go away. Oliver would escalate. They weren’t sure how long to let these scenarios play out for when they needed to inter interrupt them, when they shouldn’t interrupt them, and they should allow them to just communicate with one another.

And so they sent me videos during the session, oh my gosh, these videos were so good. Those videos answered so many of our questions. One was, what does Sadie do when she legitimately does need a break from Oliver? One of the problems that the clients were having with interpreting that is both Sadie and Oliver play with kind of a stank face where their face, if you only saw their faces, it looks very angry. They have all the snarling, all the teeth happening, all the muzzle wrinkling. I call it a stank face, and it just looks gnarly when you are only seeing their face, so that was one problem that they were having was that the face didn’t really change between play and angry. It just always looked angry.

And the other problem they were having was that Sadie had some really intense vocalizations during play and is a difference between her play and angry vocalizations, but it’s pretty subtle and it, you know, something that is legitimately hard to interpret when you’re just in the middle of these dogs playing, and trying to make real time decisions.

So, we watched the videos together. I turned the sound off, and the dead actually remarked that the, the videos seemed so different when there wasn’t sound with them. And so, that was a, a tip that he is going to take away and, and continue on as they’re watching. The really nice thing about having the videos, they sent me four videos was we were able to see the same exact behavior sequence from Sadie every time she was done with Oliver.

And so, they were having these questions of when should we interrupt and when should we let this play out? And I was able to say, “This moment right here, stop the video. You saw this is what happened, this is what happened next, that same sequence has happened every single time in these videos. And so, this is the exact moment that I want you to interrupt. Here’s how I want you to do that.” And it gave them a much clearer picture and they’re much more confident now with their kiddos interacting in this new, kind of no man’s land that we’re in of like, “Okay, we’re doing better.” But that can sometimes be scary for the humans who have seen it at its worst.

[00:12:50] Emily: I love that story because I feel like that happens a lot. And actually my story is kind of a similar theme. It just happened much longer ago than yesterday because my story is about when I was brand new at the sanctuary where Allie and I met, and our boss brought me a video and asked me, you know, watch this video and tell me what you think about it.

And, I think part of it was that legitimately there was some disagreement over what was going on in that video, but I think also part of it was like Sherri was like, “What’s your skill level at?” So, I watched the video first, full speed, sound on, and she was like, “What’s your gut? What’s your gut saying about this?”

And I was like, “Well, right now it just looks like intense over the top play. But don’t quote me on that. You know, I wanna look at it further.” When we went back and looked at the actual kind of slow mo of each dog, it became really clear what was going on, and also very understandable why people would misinterpret it as conflict.

Because one of the dogs was this huge blockhead, muscley dude, like just a big beefcake, and the other dog was about the same height, but had a much more like streamlined build. And so, I think all just right out of the gate, like the, the people involved in that playgroup had some concerns about size and strength differences between the two dogs.

And so, that’s obviously gonna set you off with a negativity bias where you’re, where you’re expecting things to go wrong. The big beefcake dog immediately, as soon as he gets close enough to the other dog to, to start interacting, jumps up on his hin legs and makes this like really terrifying [growly sound].

Like, just really just like awful sound and like spits flying everywhere, and he’s got big jaws, and big teeth. But when you looked at his body language, yes, his mouth was open. Yes, he was bearing his teeth and making these awful sounds. But his open mouth had this nice c-curve of the commissure, which indicates that the muscles in their, on their cheeks and face aren’t actually tense.

He didn’t have any tension in his brow. His ears were actually high and back, and yes, he had hackles, but dogs can have play hackles. As he was on his hind legs, his whole butt is wagging. So, he’s doing one of those like dancey things. And it kind of got lost in the chaos because he’s also like flailing his front paws at the other dog.

And so, I think in real time it just looked like a lot of chaotic movement, but when you looked at it in slow motion, he’s doing the happy, like butt dance, right? And then yeah, his front paws are like slapping at the other dog.

And then what was interesting is that you would expect a dog that’s smaller and more svelte to be terrified by that, and to be fair to the caregivers who did the introduction, it did look like the dog was flailing, but when you looked in slow motion, the other dog was butt dancing back. They were both on their hind legs. They were both doing the wiggly butt dance, and they were both like slapping each other with their front legs.

But like Allie and I say in our body language classes, when they’re slappy, they’re happy. And the other dog also had like no tension in the face and the head. So, they’re both like open jaw vocalizing at each other. They’re both just chaos, bodies wiggling everywhere. But when you actually looked at it, it was actually really sweet.

They were into it. So, they never got any farther than that because the caregivers separated them a few seconds afterwards, and then there was this debate about whether or not these dogs were appropriate, um, an appropriate match, and whether the beefcake was even appropriate to play with dogs at all.

And by slowing down the video, and being able to look at all the body language signals really methodically like that, we realized that they actually did wanna be play buddies. We just need to help the beefcake slow his role a little bit when he meets new dogs. So, we’re just gonna do intros with like a parallel walk into a playgroup instead of just immediately taking him in direct approach to another dog.

And, and then he was beautiful. He was beautiful in these playgroup and they got to be buddies. So, it was, it was legitimately scary to watch, but I had that gut feeling and it was really nice to be, it was, the first time my body language skills had been tested and it was like nice to ace that test, cause I was like, “Yes, you did make a good choice to hire me.” this was really validating, but also it was a really sweet example of like how it can look terrifying until you slow it down and, and take a methodical approach and then it’s.

[00:17:48] Allie: And then it’s cute. All right, so today we talked about why you need to video your pets. That includes watching and rewatching those videos, whether that’s in slow motion, or stopping and starting and rewinding, or a combination of all of the above. Make sure to pay attention to one animal at a time, humans count as animals in this, and watch each individual before putting it all together and before coming up with your interpretation of what’s going on. Watch those overt body language signals first. And one in doubt, try it without sound because you may find like my clients that there’s some really lovely play that’s happening. It just sounds really gnarly. Next week we are ending this season with another Q and A episode.

Thank you for listening. You can find us at petharmonytraining.com and @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram, and also @petharmonypro on Instagram for those of you who are behavioral professionals. As always links to everything we discussed in this episode are in the show notes and a reminder to please rate, review and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts a special thank you to Ellen Yoakum for editing this episode, our intro music is from Penguin Music on Pixabay.

Thank you for listening and happy training.

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