It's important to video a dog in action. Here's why.

In which Jill gently suggests that you get out and play!

In which Jill gently suggests that you get out and play!

It occurred to me the other day, as I was getting Vinnie into the shelter’s play yard, that very few shelter visitors get to meet the dogs.

Sure, they can stroll through the kennels and see animals in their cages. Some shelters, like Ventura County Animal Services, even encourage giving treats to dogs who are well behaved in their kennels. But you really can’t get to know a dog until you spend quality time with him in a place where you both want to be. In Vinnie’s case and mine, that place was the shelter’s grassy play area, where I tossed him tennis balls, we hung with other dogs, and got to relax in the shade.

I’ve been videoing dogs in shelters since 2014. The idea came to me after recording an introductory video about my team at work. The video was short, funny, and got a lot of attention inside our new company. Someone emailed me: “Wow, what a fun video! I’d love to find out more!”

Wouldn’t it be great if someone said those words about a dog at a high-kill shelter?

I keep data on all the dogs I’ve videoed, and have kept data on “control group” dogs, too. It turns out that dogs that are featured in videos are three times more likely to be adopted than dogs who appear in still photos. (That figure goes up if the still photo was taken of the animal in its kennel.)

I’m not a professional videographer. My videos are rough and unedited. But the dogs shine through anyway. You don’t need high-tech camera equipment, sound or lighting to video a dog. All you need is a smartphone, and a space large enough to let the dog be a dog for a few minutes.

Polish aside, my data has shown that there are three success factors for shelter animal videos that get shared on social media:

  1. The video should be narrated. This narration can be done in the form of a “host” who talks about the dog while interacting with it (which is what I do). It can also be done as a voiceover, with someone off-camera providing information about the dog. Or it can be done via text captions overlaid on the video. No matter how the video is narrated, the point is to provide additional data about the dog as viewers watch it on their screens.
  2. The video should be between 45 and 75 seconds long. Too short and you don’t get a sense of the dog. Too long and the viewer can lose interest.
  3. See the good in every dog. Shelter dogs can be filthy. Many have health issues that affect their mobility or mood. Others may be depressed or manic because of their tenure “behind bars.” The important thing is to feature what’s nice about the dog. It might be the fact that the dog is wagging his tail for the first time in days, or that he is taking advantage of the temporary freedom to poop outside his kennel. Most dogs blossom a little bit as soon as they escape their shelter kennels. That looks different for different dogs.

Oh, and about Vinnie: Here’s a picture of him in his kennel, and another one of us having a moment in the shelter’s play yard. Now you can see why he had an adoption offer immediately after his video was posted!

The point is to cultivate as many shares as possible on social media. The greater the number of people who see a dog’s video, the higher his chances of getting adopted. I’ve found that most of the time the person who ends up saving the dog is at least two degrees removed: a friend of a friend. The fact is, it’s not who you know, it’s who they know.

According to Inc., Facebook generates an average of eight billion video views per day. If we could get 1.6 percent of those viewers to share a shelter dog, we could prevent euthanasia in North America. So get your camera phone out! There’s a dog waiting to get outta the cage!

Outta the Cage