Proofing the Skill

We’ve been having an interesting discussion about the (evil?) challenges that have been emerging in our sport. The emerging dichotomy in the discussion contrasts the handler’s athletic ability with dog trainer’s skill in preparing the dog for independent performance.

Those who enjoy and occasionally solve the “Masters Challenge” caliber of agility course riddles resent the implication that the athletic handler doesn’t require a well-trained dog.

I’m especially interested in the blind approach jump (managed/back-side approach). I submit that this skill is largely a matter of micro-management/handling and obviously easier for the athletic handler to get into position to do that micro-managing.

Just to cut to the chase, I’d offer that it’s very easy to test a dog’s training for performance by putting together a simple proofing exercise.

I can be proven wrong!


Here’s the proofing exercise. The handler remains behind jump #1 while sending the dog down-the-line. The handler must give the dog a command to take jump #3 from the blind side. I have kindly nudged the #3 jump to the side so that the dog can get to the back-side with nearly a straight line.

Please share your YouTube videos in your comments to this blog entry. Of course I’ll expect to see dozens of videos (based on all the times I’ve heard “I’ve trained my dog to do that”). Until I see this proof I will refuse to believe this is a training issue.

En Passant

I wrote the other day that I’m not quite ready to say the European game has the intellectual lead on interesting course challenges. The course below has a very interesting bit that I’d like to put into a USAAA Masters Challenge jumpers course… the En Passant.


The concept is simple. The handler is required to turn the dog through a box with multiple options with the target obstacle blind to the initial approach. In this course the in passant occurs twice, from jump #1 to #2, and then again from jump #10 to #11.  

The course has other interesting challenges as well and should be approached with a sense of humor.



An important attribute of this challenge is that the transitional distance between obstacles is considerably longer than the usual distances found between obstacles in an agility course. With this in mind, it might be hard to get course reviewers to understand and approve the challenge.

USDAA News and Events

The USDAA web site has for some time featured interesting training bits. The hard working editor of these training bits, Brenna Fender, as selected several of my legacy exercises to put up on the page. You can visit here: USDAA training bits.

I’ve got a million of them! ~ Jimmy Durante


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



11 Responses to “Proofing the Skill”

  1. Elayne Says:

    Great example of handling the back side of a jump at a distance on this video at about 1:40: Not the challenge you were asking for but way more difficult if you ask me. If you click on her Youtube site she has zillions of videos showing off her European handling distance skills including backsides of jumps, threadles, difficult weave and tunnel entries, etc. She is pretty amazing and shatters the myth that you have to be young, athletic, etc. to kick butt at European courses.

    • budhouston Says:

      I was ready to say “no pass”… watching the video patiently. Then I saw it… the handler command occurs at 1:43 in the video. Awesome.

      By the way, I’m truly impressed by the distance skills of this lady and her dog. I think I have to subscribe to her YouTube posts. The first trick in dog training as comprehension of the training objective.

      It’s one in a million, so far.

      Bud Houston

  2. Rose Says:

    Sabine absolutely rocks! However, for some of us it’s not a matter of trying to keep up with our dogs OR relying on distance. It’s a wonderful marriage of the two. My dog might be able to run a course faster if I could micro-manage like Terry Smorch or sprint ahead like Lisa Frick. However, barring a miracle, that isn’t going to happen. So I’ll sacrifice a super tight wrap for a tight wrap and the ability to get down course in time for the next control point, and continue to work on Belle’s training and my handling. It’s what I absolutely love about the sport–figuring out how to do something that two years or six months ago I thought we’d never be able to do.

    The test you sketched out above relies upon two things. First, the dog has to be willing to drive away from her handler, and second, she has to understand the handler’s communication to take #3 from the back. I know we couldn’t pass the test above, but on the other hand, if I need to get ahead of Belle on the course, I certainly can send her around the wing of a jump from 10′ or 12′ to get a backside. However, although I have a verbal command for the backside, I don’t kid myself. Belle’s performance is 90% dependent upon me pressuring her line to the backside. What Sabine does with Kate is like magic to me. It would be interesting to know how of it she does with verbals and how much is Kate picking up on her body language.

  3. teamcreativedogs Says:

    • budhouston Says:

      lol, I didn’t say it can’t be done. I’m actually quite sure it can be done (and it would be silly for me to say otherwise with the proof at hand). I’m just saying if you can’t do it then you don’t own it. Further, 99.999% of the performances I’ve seen are handled/micro-managed and not independent performance.

      Okay, so there’s two in a million. Anyone else?

      Bud Houston

  4. Pat Says:

    But unless one is playing a particular game in which the handler is deliberately restricted to a single point or very small area on the course, is it not ALWAYS going to be easier for a more-mobile handler? That is sort of just inherent in the sport, it seems to me. More tools is always better, and yes, not all of us get the option of having as many tools as some others do.

    But the test you propose is only relevant to a real course if you are for whatever reason truly *required* to be back behind that line. (like some catastrophically complicated handling required on the completely opposite side of the ring, a few fast straight jumps prior to what you show). Barring that, in real life you would figure a way to send the dog to things down there while you start heading towards 3 to support your verbal backside cue, no?

    For that reason, I’ve not worried about training a backside cue to that level with my dog, b/c I just don’t see a real-world need for it and have other things to occupy my time. One certainly CAN do it if you want (or have) to invest the work tho. There is a lady around here who does not break out of a walk at all during her (very fast) dog’s runs and does scary things like you are talking about on a regular basis. It is beautiful to watch.

    On the course shown here, surely one would lead out to roundabouts the top end of the tunnel so you can clearly and easily send the dog on by it to #2. And then when he enters the tunnel #10, use a “right!” verbal and whatever further-rightward movement you can get to. (Admittedly at least in Canada not everyone seems to *work on* right/left verbals out of *tunnels specifically*, but a significant number do and have them down real well (not me, I alas do not own a tunnel to work with daily) possibly b/c of what AAC Gamblers courses can be like… so obviously it is very doable.

    I dunno… if it were easy then it would not be so much fun, would it? 😛

    • budhouston Says:

      Pat, the “catastrophically complicated handling required” happens all the time in course design when the ham-handed course designer stretches you between two control positions from one side of the ring to the other. If you can outrun your dog, no big deal. If not, catastrophe ensues.


  5. Marla Says:

    LOL, Bud. I was just playing along. Did seem you kinda hinted it would not be done with “I can be proven wrong.” That’s what intrigued me. I love a challenge:-)

    So, to respond to Pat. I agree with Bud. There are often going to be times when a handler can’t get to where they need to be/ want to be. Having a dog trained to independent performance sure comes in handy. Have you played Masters Challenge? There have been some courses I’ve done that required a handler to get up to manage a particular spot on course and then a straight line to a backside (sometimes backside turn away from handler). Having a dog trained to this level sure comes in handy then too:-)

  6. Pat Says:

    Sorry, I still just dunno. People keep *saying* it’s common to get courses where you genuinely have to teleport from one end of the ring to another, but I just don’t SEE them (well, hardly ever, anyhow). Certainly not in either of the courses discussed here (this blogpost and the previous one). They just require creative use of distance skills and careful judgement of where’s the best place to take risks.

    It’s *always* going to be easier for a faster handler. Unless you want to start a flavor of agility where the handler is required by rules to stand in one place more or less, to level the playing field. Since when is life fair? For the record, I am 48, verrrry slow and with bad feet, so I am definitely more to the disadvantaged side of things and will presumably get more so as time passes. But one does the best one can. Isn’t that fun enough?


  7. Jean Magee Says:

    Today I started training back sides of jumps for the first time with my five year old dog. She took to it pretty good. I can layer her to do it from the side quite a few feet away by calling “come” and then “around” with a hand signal. So far I cant do it from behind her or by pushing her to the opposite side. I think this might come with practice though, it is early days.
    I have watched the wonder video for two whole days now and it is absolutely amazing. Also I have got on the you tube site where there are lots of her videos. ( I wish I could work out what her name is.) but so far I have not seen any evidence of pull throughs or push throughs.
    In the UK we dont have Qs we have to win out to get in to a higher level sometimes against one hundred + dogs. So I am in a low class (grade 4) that being the case backsides of jumps although quite prevalent are usually in an easy to get at place,but this is not the case in the higher classes.
    My bugbear is lots of pull and push throughs where the dog has to be micro managed, followed by the dogwalk and then more pull and push throughs after the dogwalk when I am only half way there. I can get her to stay but obviously I have time faults.

  8. Rose Says:

    Jean, her name is Sabine Westhaeusser. Her website is:

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