Leading Out ~ a Brief Tutorial

I would love to go into the world to teach a series of novice to intermediate handling and dog training seminars. Almost always I wind up teaching the advanced to masters folks. The downside of this is that I’m still keen to teach a strong foundation for the handler. I believe that the handler should be active, energetic, and sublime.

By the time they get “advanced” the typical handler is so warped by bad muscle memory that it’s far more difficult to set them aright. Their dogs have engaged in powerful compensatory learning which winds up being the sole redeeming quality of the team.

I return to my opening premise: I would love to go into the world to teach a series of novice to intermediate handling and dog training seminars. It is poignantly ironic that novice handlers will stay away from seminar work in droves. I would be keener to build the best foundation in both the dog and the handler, rather than struggling to fix dog and handler after they’ve become entrenched in bad habits.

And so it goes.

Many novice handlers are over-occupied with the notion that they need to square the dog up for the first jump in a sequence. In this drawing the handler leaves his dog, but releases while on the tangential path caused by simply trying to get around the wing of the jump.

If the dog doesn’t follow the handler on the indirect path (not getting to the jump at all) he’s more than likely going to wrap quickly back to the handler on the landing side of the jump.

This makes for a wobbly and awful start.

What I try to teach my own students is to sight a nice straight line down the edge of the jumps. This is the handling path. It’s a straight line that allows the handler to move in a smooth line. The handler needn’t bother to begin the dog square to the jump at all. The dog’s path will straighten up after the jump.

A secondary lesson, if there is such a thing, is to question why a handler would ask the dog to sit… and then not ask for a stay at all. It’s an all risk and no advantage scenario. I would be much better to learn to wind the dog up and go. Like many skills, one cannot own the skill if it is not earned by practice.

Wind the dog up and go isn’t bound to always be a successful strategy unless the handler moves as fast as the dog. If the opening line is a long straight line the handler will discover one of the laws of a dog in motion: A dog forward of the handler tends to curl back to the handler’s position.

Just to tantalize the dog I’ve added an inviting wrong-course obstacle off to the side the handler is working.

Now all the rules have changed. Now we want the dog nice and square to the first jump so that the dog’s path down the line becomes suggestive and obvious.

There is a test of adequacy to the lead-out. The handler must get far enough down the line to keep the pressure on the dog to continue movement without curling back to the handler and spoiling the line. The dog cannot be released during the handler’s initial movement to get around the wing of the jump. Instead the handler releases the dog after establishing the long straight line forward.

I teach the lead-out as movement. There will be fewer incidences of dropped bars and running around the opening jumps when the handler is in motion, as compared to the handler who is standing still, facing the wrong direction, or both.

If we really want to have a little fun with this sequence, consider learning and practicing a sling-shot start. The handler winds the dog around him on Post… and releases (the sling) from an aggressive lateral position. As the dog commits out to jump #1 the handler’s runs on a slight oblique or diagonal line to apply pressure back out to the dog’s path.

This is a lot of fun to play with and better than that rigid unforgiving mindset that assumes the dog should always be pressed into an obedience performance at the start of an agility sequence.

Free Open Training Night at Country Dream

Tonight we begin an interesting program… a free open training night (and potluck!) We’ll make a pot of coffee, have a table set for any potluck snacks, have agility equipment set, and sequence suggestions posted.

Anyone can show up, whether or not they are students otherwise. We’ll start at 5:00 pm and shut off the lights at 9:00 pm. So it’s come when you like, sign up for some floor time (in 5-minute increments), set jumps for your dog, follow the sequences (or not), walk or train on the adjoining field, work on problem obstacles, visit with your friends, and leave when you like.  There is no charge and this is open to all experienced handlers with experienced dogs or pups in training.

Each time a Country Dream student brings a guest who hasn’t trained here before, our student’s name is entered in a monthly drawing for a free private lesson.

We won’t allow beginner handlers with beginner dogs; though we’ll be more likely to trust experienced handlers with their beginner dogs so long as they keep it safe.

Bud’s Google-proof Trivia Contest

What is this prickly invasive hedgerow plant?

First correct answer posted as a reply to this blog post wins a free copy of the February Jokers Notebook (or March, if you prefer).


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: BudHouston@hughes.net. Check out my latest publication the Jokers Notebook ~ Dog Agility Distance Training Plan – Feb 2010 available on the Country Dream Web Store: http://countrydream.wordpress.com/web-store/ . Readers of my web log get a discount: Enter “special02” in the box for the discount code. And that will take $5.00 off the price of the order.


14 Responses to “Leading Out ~ a Brief Tutorial”

  1. Adrienne Says:

    I’ll take a guess with blackberry.

  2. candice Says:

    I’ll guess raspberry.

  3. Nancy Hoffman Says:

    I am going to say Buckthorn

  4. Michelle B Says:

    I get this – in fact, I’m eating it and breathing it in daily training now that I have dog #2 on the drawing board and I am trying like heck NOT to make the same mistakes with her that I did with poor dog #1. Dog #1 never had a foundation of any kind – back then, it was just “line ‘em up and make ‘em go!” ( I call it the “Tyrannical Methodology” versus the “Tug Toy Methodology” – fear and loathing versus fun and lavish rewards.) Making-it-fun wins, but now what do I do with this dog who demands fun and how do I translate it into brilliant partnership?

    #1 is doing okay, considering his pitiable start, but they are also very different dogs – #1, pace dog, no independent drive; #2, all drive, all the time, no off switch and plenty of smarts and potential speed if I can find a way to harness it without slowing it (as you observed last summer, “she’s built like an antelope” and, I’ll add, could probably catch one in a footrace). So, I’m now erring on the side of too much foundation, too much in skills work (boring the dog with drills) and not sure how to progress from “foundation” to improvement of my handling to meet the challenge of this little rocket ship. I’m not kidding, #2 is brilliant, but I have absolutely no clue what I am doing (and I’ve been to one seminar and two separate weeks of Bud Camp and have copius notes on every word you ever said). You can’t be a handler and a trainer of your very first dog at the same time (or, in my case, your very first high drive dog). In equestrian sports, we have “schooling horses,” who teach the riders. Astronauts have flight simulators to physically ready them for the rigors and precision of high speed travel. How do I “train” and “do” at the same time, without causing my training partner to make unnecessary and dog-brain-frustrating mistakes? Who offers a course in “Handling 101,” a foundation for agility that spares our more intelligent partners?

    I’m terrified of making the mistakes I did with #1 and messing up #2, irreparably. I’m not a novice, I’m an athlete with basic means who needs to be recast. Where do I find the right, regular coaching, as I do not believe this is something that can be fixed in a seminar, or a few private lessons, or “online coaching.” Self-study alone will not make me good enough to manage this process of reprogramming my body and mind, muscle memory, course analysis, speed of thought and mechanics in order to compensate? Practical advice would be appreciated.

    • budhouston Says:

      You need to give yourself a break sister. I understand the pressure to be sure. But at the end of the day it’s a game we play in the park with our dog.

      You’ve had an epiphany here and you should just roll with it. You have a dog that’s keen to play; and you should develop the habit and culture of the delightful dog trainer. Heap reward on your pup and approach every working session with an infallible grin.

      With a young dog coming up you’re faced with the two-fold dilemma of doing the right thing by your training and establishing the ease and grace of communication when you work (the art of the handler). Take a long view and have fun today.

      As for handler trainers… where do you live? You can always come train with me. Oh, and between you and me and the wall, Stuart Mah is about the best handler trainer in this country. If you get a chance go train with uncle Stu.

      Bud Houston

      PS You cannot control the wind. You can only trim your sails.

    • Adrienne Says:

      Hey Michelle!

      Boy oh boy did I wish for a schooling dog when I started. My Emma girl is a rocket. And I WAS a completely green handler.

      Lord knows I have made lots of mistakes. I have definitely affected her adversely. But we keep learning! I am evening things out now. I finally found a trainer that can teach handling. lol

      Chill out, have fun and for heaven’s sake keep your sense of humor handy! A fast dog sure is a good way to stay humble, might as well laugh over it.

  5. Adrienne Says:


  6. Nancy Hoffman Says:

    I have seen a lot of handlers use the sling shot start, and like the looks of it. So melt, darn snow, so I can get out and train!

  7. Maggie Says:

    Is it Florabunda?

  8. Adrienne Says:

    I wish the picture were more in focus. Even on 400% magnificatioin on my screen I can’t make out the leaves.

    It looks like it might be a climbing/rambling rose. But the “invasive” throws me off. Are roses considered invasive? Ask.com says they can be. But the leaves and arrangement look awfully like the climbing rose I have out back. And similar to my shrub rose.

    That’s my best guess. 🙂

  9. Betty Says:


  10. Lee Says:

    It looks Hops to me, “fugals” perhaps?

  11. Betty Says:


  12. Ronni Says:

    Still wondering what the answer is…prickly ash?

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