Reference Library

When training dogs and practicing my handling I’m constantly aware that dog’s operate from a Reference Library. When I want this thing… it looks like this; when I want that thing, it looks like that.

So with this in mind my lesson plan this week will be to work with my students and their dogs To sharpen language from the Reference Library with very specific meaning. These are jumping exercises with very basic handler instructions:

  • Go on!
  • Soft turn
  • Close turn

This is a simple go on exercise with a soft turn in the transition from jump #3 to #4. Taking a lead-out is entirely up to the handler; but since we’re practicing a physical cue for a soft turn it would be a dandy idea for the handler to be in the picture to make the turn.

The instruction might be a pre-cue on the approach to jump #3 or a keep-it-simple Post on the landing side of jump #3. We reserve the pre-cue for dogs moving with considerable inertia. It gives the dog a chance to ease back on the acceleration and come over the jump already dedicated to the turn.

Mindful of developing the dog’s “reference library” what should the pre-cue instruction look like? That’s probably up to you… but for me I will bring up my counter-arm on the approach to the jump while rotating my inside shoulder subtly away.

In terms of the “Go on!” instruction to the dog the handler loses the Go on in the opening line by taking the lead-out. But it truly is a pay me now or pay me later proposition. After jump #4 the handler will certainly have to release the dog to Go on!

In this exercise the turn at jump #3 has to be a close turn. Certainly this will be accomplished with a Front Cross. I’m very interested in this context in making the physical cues for the hard-aback close turn look considerably different from the soft turn instruction. So now, in addition to bringing up the counter-arm on the approach to jump #3 I’ll also counter-rotate back toward my dog on the approach, approximating what’s being called in the world a “backy uppy”.

After the turn back to jump #4 the handler has to set up for a soft turn at that jump. This will be an interesting timing bit. Good movement (physical cues) is lost when addressing the rear end of the dog.

This sequence also gives us an opportunity to practice Post and Tandem in the transition #4 through #6. Of course if the handler can actually outrun his dog the #4 to #5 turn should be a Front Cross.

This is a short sequence with no fewer than three pull-through moments requiring almost constant pre-cue advice to the dog. Anybody that practices this movement understands the double-edged risk of the movement. If the handler’s physical cue is too stern or demanding it might very well stop the dog on the approach to the jump (consequently earning a refusal in competition). The handler must learn exactly how much pressure of counter-rotation to use and how much pressure of movement. Note that the term “backy uppy” implies movement rather than standing still.

This simple sequence affords a little fun with a Go on instruction to the dog. I haven’t provided much discussion of what the physical cues for Go on might be. It would be a bad idea in this discussion to over-look the obvious. It’s pretty simple, keep your shoulders square, power down the line, and use only your inside arm to lead.

We might have a bit of fun with the turning direction at jump #3. If the dog turns to the left he probably has a shorter consequential path. However the line doesn’t lead precisely to jump #5 and, as we all know, a dog forward of the handler might curl to the handler’s position. This would offer the dummy jump as a real wrong course possibility.

If we wrap to the right the handler needs to give a hard-wrap turning pre-cue. Note that there’s a real possibility of a back-jump wrong course if this turn is mishandled.

Now that we’ve conditioned the dog to Go on, we’ll ask the dog to turn. With a straight line wrong course option the handler might be tempted to harden the turning cue. But remember that we’re trying to condition the “Reference Library” understanding of the cues. In this sequence we’re giving soft-turning cues to the dog and should stick to the plan.

This is a simple enough sequence beginning with dog on left; then making an interesting change of sides transition at jump #7; and finishing with dog on right.

This is the set of the floor for class this evening. The game for the evening will likely be this simple follow-the-numbers course. Naturally it incorporates some of what we’ve worked on through class.

I have to include contact obstacles and usually weave poles on the floor. While most of the handler training issues can be addressed in jumping sequences my students (and probably yours) will want to do some obsessive training with the contacts and weaves.


The set of the floor was inspired by Tom Kula’s “Course Memorization” puzzle ( The “Reference Library” is central to the teaching of Marsha Houston’s Two Minute Dog Trainer (


Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston The Country Dream web store is up and running. You know… I have five volumes (over 100 pp each) of The Joker’s Notebook available on my web-store at an embarrassingly inexpensive price. These are lesson plans suitable for individual or group classes for teaching dog to work at a distance.

2 Responses to “Reference Library”

  1. Linda Knowles Says:

    Great exercises for class. Can’t wait to set it up for my dogs and for my students. Will let you know how it works with your analogy.

  2. Marsha Nix Says:

    Bud – I would love to practice these sequences at home; however as you know my brain is rather thick and so I was wondering if you could put the handler’s stance for the precue for the 1st exercise. I’ll probably have more questions later…

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