Hi, my name is Lee Windeatt and I have been competing in dog agility since 1999.
Many years ago when I got my second agility dog, Shy, I started to study all the top handlers. What they did with their hands, arms, feet and voice, in fact their whole body and how the dog responds to them. Most of the time the handlers didn’t do much other than run towards a jump and point but many did things that they weren’t even aware of and I found it interesting to watch how the dogs reacted to them. I attempted to try to see everything from the dog’s perspective and what made sense to the dog regarding handling in agility. This led me to change my idea of handling and start using my arms, feet, head, body etc in a way that seemed to make sense to ALL dogs. I filmed myself using different techniques when training my dogs, whether it be handling from in front, or from behind, a distance or along side. I studied what worked and threw out what didn’t work. I have been using and obviously constantly tweaking and evolving these ideas and methods all the time. Always looking to improve handling techniques from the dog’s perspective.
I love teaching agility
I am very passionate that the dogs and handlers do well and improve.
The more I teach people and dogs the more I really get to see what the dogs instantly understand without any training and in a group of eight dogs, six or seven will instantly understand the handling without any previous training of that style of handling. The other one or two have to be trained to learn the handling. I believe this is because of a very different handling style that has been already ingrained into that particular dog. I believe if most dogs instantly understand the handling then we have to be on the right track. Obviously I wont stop and assume this is the way to handle forever as in a few years time we all will hopefully improve and change our methods to keep up with modern ideas. Hopefully I am modern at this present time.
As for dog training
Well there are good dog trainers, good handlers, bad dog trainers, bad handlers, bad dog trainers but good handlers and good dog trainers but a bad handler. I think that makes sense. My aim is to be a good dog trainer that handles excellently. I think there are very few people that are both but we can do lots to become both. For a start, study the latest ideas on dog training, not only dog training but animal training. We have to move on and not just do what we have always done.
I have studied the theory, for animals as well as humans. I had to do this for some of my psychology exams many years ago. I found it fascinating and so obvious when you understand it. I use positive reinforcement to train my own dogs but also encourage handlers to only use that when I teach. When teaching I ban the word “no.” I only want the dogs trained in a happy positive environment. No telling off or reprimanding at all. Agility is fun.
I use operant conditioning in training my dogs and a I guess some classical conditioning too now and then.
Basically I use positive reinforcement when training my dogs, simply explained, I make them crazy for their toy, I give the toy great value, it’s like ten million pounds to them. If they do the correct behaviour they get the toy/reward. If they don’t do the correct behaviour they don’t get given the toy/reward, they have it withheld. (negative punishment) I am very reluctant to use the two words ‘negative punishment’ as they sound so horrible, but I promise all they mean in this instance is not giving my dogs the ten million pound toy they so badly desire. No harsh words, no telling off, no bad looks, no getting angry, just simply “sorry you must try harder to get paid.”
The work that Breland and Bailey did to show us what works with animals (and doesn’t work) is invaluable to us at this stage (even though some of it wasn’t ethical) but, that doesn’t mean it stops there. In 50 years time ideas will have opened up a whole new way of teaching animals, probably through their favoured sense. So we may find a whole new concept of training a dog a behaviour through its nose which is what it uses most. I am not talking scent work. People learn visually, auditory or kinaesthetically so why shouldn’t dogs prefer to learn olfactorily? Until then, stick with if the dog does it correctly it gets rewarded, if it does it incorrectly it gets the reward withheld.
Anyway let’s keep our minds open to new positive ideas and look to improve from the stage we are at now.