Trainer AND Helper


A Helper (or Trainer) is needed in Dog Games to either -

  • Quietly hold the dog at the 50ft/15m marker in Recall or Bounce
  • Place the retrieve object on the black rubber mat in Hand
  • Guide the dog around the traffic cone in Round
  • or stand on the target box to weigh it down in Touch.

In group sessions the Helper is usually the Trainer, while individuals may ask a family member or friend to be their Helper.

However, it is recommended that the dog gets used to different Helpers early on in its training, so that it can cope with being held by different people in Recall and Bounce. It will also be able to concentrate on the "ball" it is retrieving in Hand, and the target box in Touch, rather than depend on a specific human as the Helper.  Failure to Generalise this aspect of its training will result in the dog assuming that it can only play the Game with a specific person as their Helper.


Be careful who you chose to be a Helper - an experienced Trainer is often a good person to start with, as they can monitor the dog's body language and calming signals and can adapt the training method to suit the dog.  Another alternative, particularly for nervous dogs, is to have a family member act as the Helper in the early stages of its training. Some dogs are wary of men approaching them, others are very sensitive to certain pitches of voice as deep voices are usually associated with being told off, while high pitched ones are heard when humans are happy or excited (see Dogs Dictionary).  Some people have the gift of being popular and effective Helpers while others, however hard they try, never seem to appeal to the dogs they are training with.  Please don't take it personally!






  • Carefully read and remember stages 2 to 8 of Recall Starters. 
  • A Helper should always be present when a dog is doing these Games.  Many dogs cannot cope with the stress and pressure of being asked to "wait" then seeing their Handler walk away from them, and often break their "waits" in their anxiety. There is no need to put this extra pressure on a dog. It is far better for it to be held gently by its harness (although harnesses are not compulsory, we strongly recommend them as the dogs really enjoy wearing them for these Games), then allow it to wait calmly and patiently until the Handler has the mark, then silently release it.
  • Bounce - If there is not enough space to do a wide curve to the side of the lane (or even go out of the netted area and enter in a "doorway" further down the netting, never encourage or allow a dog to jump over the netting as it is setting a precedent that the dog will remember!) the dog should be led up the lane on the lead with both human and dog going between the poles and over the jumps.  This helps the dog to learn that it must always do the equipment correctly whenever it is close to it.




  • Before and while the dog approaches you at the 50ft/15m marker, stand upright and avoid eye contact with the dog by turning your head to the side.  Many dogs feel threatened or intimidated if humans loom or bend over them, or make eye contact with them as they approach.  The dogs will show their unease by slowing down, freezing or running back to their handler for reassurance.  Eye contact can also break a dog's concentration so that it forgets what is was about to do.
  • As a general rule, you, the Trainer or Helper should SAY NOTHING to the dog.  The human voice is another strong distraction for many dogs as they become unsure whether they are being given a new command by the Helper or keep doing what their Handler expected of them.  Also, the humans voice can convey many different emotions that the dog can pick up and be influenced by. For instance, the Helper may be excited because the dog is in a race and wants it to run faster, however, as far as the dog is concerned, the Helper's emotion could be a result of something it has unwittingly done. The situation makes the dog anxious and it starts to slow down in order to calm the human (see Calming Signals). Therefore, for both these reasons, the Handler should be the only person giving commands and signals to the dog.
  • When playing Hand, Bounce & Hand, and perhaps eventually Flyball, a Helper must always be present.  The dog must learn that there is no point running up to the mat unless the Helper is there, as it is the Helper who places the "ball" on the mat.  The dog soon makes the association with the presence of the human being linked to the presence of the "ball" and this helps to focus the dog's attention on the Helper and the black rubber mat area.


  • Keep still with your hands behind your back. Dogs have learnt that humans communicate with them using either their voices or body movement. Therefore, the distraction of the Helper moving their upper body and particularly their hands (especially when holding a "ball") will not only break the dog's concentration on what it was doing, it will misinterpret the movements as signals for it to do something else.


  • Dog Games have no rules against a Helper standing behind the target box in Touch, or Bounce & Touch (of course the target box must be staked down for the dog's safety); nor the traffic cone in Round, or Bounce & Round.  Some dogs may become distracted by their presence while others need the comforting familiarity of a human silhouette to encourage them to run up to the 50ft/15m marker area.  There is no harm in experimenting and trying to train the dog to do the Games with either the Helper being there or not.
  • If a dog's attention is distracted by something, the Helper can help focus the dog's attention on them and the equipment by calling the dog's name the instant that the Handler lets the dog go, but not speaking as the dog comes close to them.  Please do not call the dog's name until the he is released as he can become stressed and anxious that he has not been released and cannot come when its name is called. Some dogs benefit by being called by the Helper as they run up the lane, and then called back down the lane by the Handler so that they return, but we have found that helpers have vary rarely needed to call dogs when doing these Games.  In fact many dogs become too confused by hearing their name called so often and are unsure of where to go and who to listen to - most dogs benefit from just the Handler calling them as they return. Watch the dog closely and do what is right for that particular dog. 

As has been said before on this website, each dog is different and learns in different ways. There is no single definitive way to train all dogs - Handlers, Trainers and Helpers have to adapt their training methods to each individual dog.






  • Keep the "balls" (ie the retrieve articles used in Hand and Bounce & Hand - see Hand Equipment) out of sight of the dog until it has been placed on the mat. The "balls" can be hidden in the Helper's pockets; in a bum bag or apron they are wearing; or hidden in their hands behind their back. If there are a lot of dogs being trained at the same time it may be worthwhile using a covered bucket or box to store the "balls" in - it needs to be covered in case a dog takes the opportunity to steal a "ball" from the container rather than get the one off the mat!  The container needs to be unobtrusive but nearby - so the best place is just behind the helper.
  • Have an assortment of different "balls" to keep the dog's interest - particularly those dogs that are not avid "retrievers".
  • Stand just behind the mat facing down the lane. Wait and watch the dog as the Handler prepares the dog ready to run towards you.  As soon as the dog looks in your direction place the "ball" on the centre of the mat - make sure that the dog saw you place it there.  If the dog does not realise you are behind the mat, you can catch the dog's attention by calling its name, or waggle or toss the ball in the air and catch it before putting on the mat.  It will then be totally focused and the Handler can immediately release the dog so that it can retrieve the "ball".  Do not allow the dog to become frustrated by being delayed when it wants to retrieve.  It will become stressed and unable to concentrate on the Game properly.  It may even decide not to play the Game anymore as it has been teased too much.
  • Luring.  If a dog is very unfocused on the Helper, he may come down the lane and show the dog the "ball" (without teasing or frustrating it too much) as a lure.  He should then turn and walk back up the lane to his position holding the "ball" behind him, so that the dog can see and focus on it as they walk away.  As soon as the Helper returns to the mat they should place the "ball" on it and the Handler should release the dog.  Gradually decrease the distance that the Helper has to walk down the lane until the dog is able to associate the "ball" to wherever the Helper is standing.


  • Do not be tempted to throw a "ball" (especially between handler and helper) when training or playing these Games as dogs would far rather chase a moving object than retrieve a static one.  The sight of a "ball" flying through the air will break the dog's concentration and distort the emphasis on what it has learnt about the Game.  It may then build up an association that sometime in the future, when it is playing the Game, a "ball" may once again be thrown and will keep part of its senses alert for this event.  If Handler and Helper do need to transfer "balls" between one end of the training area and the other, the Helper should walk down the lane (and over the jumps if they are there) and be passed the "balls" by the Handler in the Handler Area of the training lane.  The Handler should not walk past the poles (particularly with the dog) because the dog should associate the handler as ALWAYS being in the Handler Area.   Once the Helper has hidden the balls they should return back down the centre of the lane and take up their appropriate position. 


This web site has been written by Sally Hopkins (unless the author of the web page is stated otherwise).


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