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Say What? Guide to Protection

You’re getting ready to trial. But do you know what to say? You only have to talk to the judge at the beginning and end of each phase, and after that, just give your dog commands, right? Well, yes – until you get to protection. Of all the phases, protection is the one that requires the most talking on the handler’s part. In this phase, you get to order the helper around! So what do you say, and when?

First, let’s look at what you need to say. Below are the phrases to practice:

  • Helper, step out.​

  • Step back.

  • Step back, turn around, move out (Or, “Step, turn, move.”).

  • Halt.

So when do you say each one? Below is a quick reference guide:

  • Call-out of the blind: “Helper, step out.”

  • Preparing for side transport: “Step back.

  • Approaching the judge with the helper after completing front half/back half: “Halt.”

  • Preparing for the back transport: “Step back, turn around, move out.

Let’s look at these moments in greater detail.

 "Helper step out." Photo by: Perfect Recall Media.


All levels

After the bark and hold in Blind Six, you will collect/call out your dog from the blind. Once you have performed the call out, you command the helper to leave the blind with: “Helper, step out.” The helper will then leave the blind and walk to the designated spot for the escape.

Sequence: Dog is barking in Blind Six. Judge waves you over. You come to the call-out line in front of the blind, look at the judge, and at his signal call your dog out with a “Here-Fuss!” (or heel your dog out of the blind, in the IPO1). When your dog comes to the heel position, you then command the helper with: “Helper, step out.”

Handling Tips:

  1. Make sure your dog is settled into the heel position before asking the helper to step out. Give the dog a chance to mentally make that transition from guarding to obedience, down to a state of lower drive; this lessens the chance that he will follow or engage the helper when the helper leaves the blind.

  2. When you are instructing the helper to step out, do not look at him. Watch your dog instead. It is human nature to want to look at the person you are talking to, and if you can’t resist, toss the helper a quick glance so he knows you’re ready to talk to him. But when you actually say the words “Helper step out”, you should be watching your dog. Why? You don’t need to watch the helper to make sure he gets to the escape location correctly. He knows where to go, but he’s waiting for the handler to indicate that they are ready for him to move. There should be nothing unexpected coming from the helper at this point. The only thing that will act unexpectedly here is the dog. You should always watch your dog to make sure he or she doesn’t break from that heel position and re-engage the moving helper. If the dog does break and touches or grips the sleeve or the helper, it is a DQ! So keep an eye on him, and if he seems like he is going to break position, give an extra command (“Fuss”).

Telling the dog to "sit" before asking the helper to "step back".  Photo by: Perfect Recall Media.



You will say “Helper step back”, or just “Step back”, once you cap your dog after the reattack and drive, so that you have room to heel downfield for the long bite. You will say this again after capping and collecting your dog on the long bite, before you move into position for the side transport.  If your dog guards far enough from the helper that you don’t need the helper to step back and give you some room, then you may not need to say anything other than “Sit”, followed by “Fuss” to your dog. It is not required to say “Step back”.

Sequence on the front half: The helper drives the dog and delivers two stick hits, then locks up. The dog outs on your command, guards; at the judge’s signal, you walk up to your dog and step into basic position. Command “Sit”, then say “Step back,” followed by a strong “Fuss” (“Heel”) command, and then heel your dog downfield for the long bite.

Sequence after the long bite: The helper catches the dog on the long bite and drives the dog, then locks up. The dog outs on your command and guards; at the judge’s signal, approach your dog and step into basic position. Tell the dog to “Sit”, and then command the helper with “Step back”. The helper will step back and have the stick ready for you to take. Command “Fuss” and heel your dog into the side transport position, disarming the helper along the way (or once you get into position).

IPO2 and IPO3

Say “Step back” right after the back transport, before you perform the side transport to the judge. You will say this phrase again after the long bite, when you perform another side transport to the judge.

Sequence: Helper drives the dog and locks up. The dog outs on your command, and settles into guarding. At the judge’s signal, walk up to your dog, step into basic position, and say “Sit”. When the dog sits, say “Step back”, followed by “Fuss” as you heel your dog into the side transport position.

Handling tips:

  1. Always give your dog a moment to settle into basic position before commanding the helper to step back! You must allow for that transition from fight/aggression to obedience. If you don’t give your dog a chance to settle, then he will most likely follow or even re-engage the helper when the helper steps away from you.

  2. Always watch your dog when giving this command. You do not need to watch the helper, because he is going to do as you ask, and he’s not going to run away or attack you. Watch your dog, and be prepared to give a very strong “Fuss” command if he starts to show any sign of breaking and re-engaging the helper.

Preparing for the back transport - "Helper step back, turn around, move out". Photo by: Perfect Recall Media.


IPO2 and IPO3

You will say this to start the back transport exercise. After the reattack on the front half, the judge will signal you to walk up to your dog. Walk up to your dog, step into basic position, and command “Sit”. Then say “Step back, turn around, move out...transport”. Most likely this will come out as: “Sit”, pause, “Step back, turn around, move out”, slight pause, “Transport.” The “Transport” here is a command for your dog, not the helper.

Putting this sequence together can create a tongue twister when you are pumped with adrenaline, so make sure you practice it. You can also shorten it to just a few key words: “Step, turn, move.” This makes it much more manageable (thank you to Vadim Plotsker for this tip of “Step, turn, move”!).

Sequence: Helper drives the dog and locks up. The dog outs on your command and guards. At the judge’s signal, walk up to the dog, step into basic position, and command “Sit!” Then say “Step back, turn around, move out” (or “Step, turn, move”)….Transport!”, and begin moving with your dog when the helper is about five paces away.

Handling tips:

  1. Give your dog a chance to settle from the fight before commanding the helper to step back, so that he is not tempted to go with the helper.

  2. Watch your dog here, but also keep an eye on the helper so you can gauge when to begin moving in the transport exercise. The helper should be approximately five paces away from you when you begin to move out.

  3. Speak at the tempo needed for your dog. Most dogs need a slight pause after the “Sit” command to allow them to settle and transition from fight to obedience. Some dogs do fine with a slight pause between the “Step, turn, move” sequence and the “Transport” command. Other dogs need an immediate “Transport” command, so as not to break and go with the helper. In this case, your instructions will come out as one continuous phrase – “Step back, turn around, move out, TRANSPORT!” – with a strong emphasis on the transport command. As you train this exercise, figure out what works for your dog.

Side transport to the judge - "Halt!" Photo by: Perfect Recall Media.


All levels

This is said whenever you transport the helper to the judge: at the end of the back half for IPO1 through IPO3, and after the back transport in the IPO2 and IPO3. When you reach the judge with the dog and helper, you will command “Halt”, then hand the judge the stick and report out (Need to know what to say? Check out this handy tip sheet on reporting in and out to the judge!).

Sequence: After you have said “Step back,” tell your dog “Fuss”, and then heel your dog into position for the side transport. Disarm the helper either as you heel past, or once you settle into the side transport position next to the helper. Command “Transport”, and then walk with the dog and helper toward the judge. When you reach the judge, command “Halt”. The dog should sit automatically, and then you hand the stick to the judge and report out.

Handling Tips:

  1. Make sure in training that the dog learns to sit automatically when the command “Halt” is given here.

  2. Know your dog! How well does he cap and remain under control here, especially after the long bite? Does he get amped up? Does he get unruly? Can he still think and process commands? This gives you an idea of how you need to handle your dog here in a trial.

  3. Watch your dog during and at the end of the transport. If he does not sit on the “Halt” command due to difficulty transitioning between drives, don’t allow him the opportunity to get squirrelly or disobedient. Tell him “Sit” if he is bouncing around, moving back and forth, or otherwise indicating that he is on the verge of getting out of control. Yes, this is faulty, and you will receive a deduction for a second command, but you need to gain control of the dog. A dog that does not sit here may either re-engage the helper, or may not heel away with you when you command “Fuss”. If the dog is just standing quietly, then most likely you can leave him be. Just give a strong “Fuss” command when you heel away.

  4. If your dog does re-engage the helper or leave you to circle the helper, you have two options. Command “Fuss” to get the dog back into heel position, or, if the dog has gripped the sleeve from the side transport position, you can command “Sit.” If you say “Aus”, that is a DQ!


As you train for your IPO title, make these four little phrases part of your protection training process, until they become second nature to you. Pay attention in trials or in protection videos to what the handler is doing and saying (and when); this will help you put all those pieces together. When the time comes for you to step out onto that trial field, take a deep breath and relax -- you know what to say!

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