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Full circle flanks


Maja
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At a one-day clinic with an Austrian trainer, the trainer noticed that Bonnie does not always go on the correct flank, and that she (Bonnie) flanks in reference to where I stand. Not always of course, but sometimes she did take the wrong flank.

 

So the trainer gave me an exercise: standing with the dog at a distance from the sheep I send the dog on a flank, follow her for a short while, then I stop and make her do the whole circle, so that she comes up to mi side, behind me, and past me and then lie down. So Bonnie in fact makes more than a circle. The same thing the other way. Bonnie did the exercise very well (we actually got lots of praise from the trainer altogether, if I may boast so shamelessly :D )

 

After I came back home I forgot about it for a month until Bonnie did the flank thing again, so I tried to go back to the exercise. However, she did the exercise very badly, often changing direction (!) in the middle of a flank, or trying to cross in front of me very close to the sheep. She looked very confused. I decided to help her a little more with the task and it was better. Then one morning in the wee hours - my usual time for intellectual enlightenment - I realized that she did the "more than a circle" flanks well, when I sort of pivoted as she went, so that I was always facing her side. I tested this idea in the morning, and I was right. She did both more than circles fully first time around.

 

So my question is this:

What is involved here: is my turning round as she goes putting just the right pressure on her to keep her going? Should I try to continue with the exercise until she does it while I stand stock still? Or maybe it does not matter?

 

The trainer was Austrian and I don't speak German, and she speaks only a smattering of English, so we communicated largely by telepathy :); we did very well actually, but there was no room to discuss the fine points.

 

I will be grateful for your input on this.

 

Maja

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Dear Wouldbe sheepdoggers,

Its hard to picture what's going on here. This exercise, if I understand it, is new to me:

1. handler sends dog on way to me flank.

2. Handler walks behind the dog as it flanks?

3. At some point, handler stops and insists dog continue its flank past the balance point?

 

Donald McCaig

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Dear Wouldbe sheepdoggers,

Its hard to picture what's going on here. This exercise, if I understand it, is new to me:

1. handler sends dog on way to me flank.

2. Handler walks behind the dog as it flanks?

3. At some point, handler stops and insists dog continue its flank past the balance point? Donald McCaig

Following Derek's method I never insist that the dog goes on a flank, and if I slip in that direction I kick myself real good afterwards for being stupid while knowing better. So I correct Bonnie if she flips the sides on a flank, and then invite her to continue. I made the wrong impression by saying "I make her continue".

 

1. Yes, I send her on e.g. way to me flank.

 

2. Yes , I follow her doing a flank for a spell (this is a calm causal walk) - perhaps a distance of "two-hours" (e.g moving from six o'clock to four o'clock) on a flank since it makes her kick out a lot.

 

3. Yes, then I stop, she continues the flank and when she gets to the point where I can see in her eye a slight hesitation, so I usually repeat the command in a very nice voice. She goes past the balance getting closer to me until she passes behind me and shortly afterwards she lies down on command.

 

This above is the successful version when, after I stop, I follow her by turning as she goes and facing her side.

 

It's not that Bonnie can't take a flank off balance - she does of balance flanks all the time, but she has a couple of weak points where it's hard for her to do the correct flank.

 

Maja

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Hello Maja,

 

I have seen this exersice used in a couple different contexts...never in the one your trainer describes using it for though..

 

I have seen two top trainers/handlers here use variations of this exercise for a couple different things...number one would be to teach a dog who is not covering properly to do so...This is done with the handler plastered to the end of a fence with the sheep in front of them...The handler asks the dog to flank and keep flanking aalllll the way around to the fence..in front of them and fly around to balance and stop...The dogs get all jazzed up and love it....helps keen them up a bit and get them excited about covering there sheep...when they flank and get to the rail the sheep will typicly move forward and the dog has to REALLY speed up...cover find balance and bring them back...

 

The other version is not done on the rail...out in the open...and it's used to more "free up" dogs who have alot of the eye by forcing them to go past balance, speed up and flank freely instead of getting sticky...I am currently using this on my young dog...You flank the dog around then insist they whip around all the way past balance..in front of you and then back to balance...this takes quite a bit of pressure for a strong eyed dog and if he hesitates I get behind his hip and apply pressure....the dog should be booking at a good speed....

 

Both of these exercises though...are done with the dog going in front of you...as you don't want them using you as a reference point....

 

I wouldn't really encourage this exercise for a looser eyed dog who WANTS to flank and flank...and if I were you I would end the exercise with Bonnie at balance...and have her go in front of you not behind you..

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Thank you for the input :) . I do not end the exercise in balance. With me being at six and Bonnie at about either 8:00 o 4:00 clock, I don't see how that constitutes a balance.

 

The reason, and the only reason I do it in an enclosed area is because in the open she kicks out too much, and it's a waste of time an energy.

 

Bonnie does not want to "flank and flank", so this is not a problem. She goes on a flank happily though.

 

Maja

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Dear Wouldbe Sheepdoggers,

 

I thank Ms. Maja for the video. I still don't understand the purpose of the circling exercise. The sheep are held on grain and don't react to the dog in any way. How is running past unreactive sheep helping train the dog? Trained to do what, exactly?

 

T'were it mine, I would much prefer to see the dog lock on on balance and lift those sheep toward me. Yes, a dog must sometimes be off balance, but - push come to shove - one wants the dog to outrun, lift and fetch the sheep. That's the default activity - not circling to demonstrate obedience. It isn't terribly hard to inform a sheepdog that sometimes it must flank when it doesn't want to - simple verbal and body language corrections will make your point. If you've been doing farm work where daily the dog must gather on its own, even an older, experienced dog will need to be reminded that he doesn't determine ALL the flanks before you take it to a trial.

 

Training inside flanks (dog between you and the sheep) often requires considerable handler movement but that isn't the issue here.

 

If the dog won't take a flank, insist. While a dog should be happy on an outrun - and most are -he'll be happy about a given flank only when that flank puts him back on what he understands as the balance/pressure point. Countless times at trials I've seen dogs refuse a flank, have the handler insist and ZOOP!!! Sheep off the field!

 

But sometimes a dog must come off pressure to hit those pesky gates. When he refuses a flank, or is extremely reluctant to take it, he's telling you something about the sheep and usually, he's right. Often the handler already knows what the dog is telling him/her but discounts it to insist on the flank (pesky gates).

 

In this circumstance, a flank and down might be needed, lest the dog take the flank but bounce right back where he was to regain control of the pressure.

 

Donald McCaig

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I still don't understand the purpose of the circling exercise. The sheep are held on grain and don't react to the dog in any way. How is running past unreactive sheep helping train the dog? Trained to do what, exactly?

The sheep are not held on grain. The dog is far enough from the sheep that her movements don't cause the sheep to move. If she came a little closer, the sheep would move. The purpose was simply to show the dog that "I say you go, you go no matter where you are, in the direction I tell you." It's not a sort of exercise I do over and over again (there is hardly anything I do over and over again) because the repetition would cause Bonnie to blow a fuse. I do it once or twice in a herding session and definitely not every session - if she does not show any "flank-problem" I do not do it at all.

 

T'were it mine, I would much prefer to see the dog lock on on balance and lift those sheep toward me.

Yes, but it's not a problem - Bonnie can lock on on balance and lift sheep just fine.

 

 

If the dog won't take a flank, insist. While a dog should be happy on an outrun - and most are -he'll be happy about a given flank only when that flank puts him back on what he understands as the balance/pressure point. Countless times at trials I've seen dogs refuse a flank, have the handler insist and ZOOP!!! Sheep off the field!

 

But sometimes a dog must come off pressure to hit those pesky gates. When he refuses a flank, or is extremely reluctant to take it, he's telling you something about the sheep and usually, he's right. Often the handler already knows what the dog is telling him/her but discounts it to insist on the flank (pesky gates).

 

In this circumstance, a flank and down might be needed, lest the dog take the flank but bounce right back where he was to regain control of the pressure.

 

This, and other comments I did not quote, is all very interesting and gives me a lot to think about. I think that the exercise is for the very purpose to sort of remind the dog that she does not decide about the flanks. It is not simply a problem of flanking off balance. I am not fully sure when it is a problem, since things usually happen very fast for me. But, when Bonnie knows what the purpose is, she flanks off balance without any problem whatsoever. E.g putting the sheep through gates and inside pens and trailers(she is very good at it) changing directions of where the sheep go.

 

The cases when I see the flank as a wrong flank is when she, I think, misunderstands the purpose of the command. I understand the idea of the dog being on the ball and knowing which flank is better, and I try to be very careful about it, to balance the obedience and the initiative. The obedience is important when the dog has to do something new and has to trust me that I know what I'm doing, because she has no idea yet of what I am trying to accomplish. E.g. they do not know (neither she nor the sheep) that since yesterday there is a gate in the electric fence, and it's open and I am taking the sheep there (towards the fence as she sees it for the time being). So there is a dynamic balance between the obedience to the handler and the dog's initiative. I try to communicate this to her.

 

With the flank, if she takes the wrong one, she gets corrected "TIE!" (my version of Derek's "time!) and then nicely "come by!". If I can help with the body language I do, if she insists on the wrong flank, I insist in the corrections. I do not use "comeby or else" because for this dog it's a very bad idea. If I ask for a flank and she does nothing, than that's another thing yet - that's a sign to me she knows what I want her to do but there is a sheep problem.

 

Anyhow, I very much appreciate your input. I think Bonnie got the general idea that a flank can be given at any point of the circle, and in relation to my original question, I think that earlier I was unconsciously giving her the wrong body language and confusing her, while with pivoting, I was was giving her a clear clue what I wanted.

 

Best wishes,

Maja

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I'd like to mention one variation of this that anyone who has trialed in open might have encountered: turning the sheep to start the drive at some spot that is not the handler's post. I've seen dog after dog resist coming around to effect the turn and start the drive because they *know* they bring the sheep all the way to the handler. A similar (in some respects only) situation would be dropping the sheep at a post before asking for a flank and turn back.

 

Because I want my dog to be willing to flank and turn the sheep *even on the fetch* I will sometimes practice asking the dog to circle the sheep completely while fetching, or circle partway and then drive them off in another direction without ever having completed the fetch. I don't do this with youngsters just starting out, but it is part of my training repertoire. I'm just mentioning this because there are indeed times (at home and at trials) where you might need a dog to start a fetch and then flank around and move the sheep in a different direction.

 

I haven't watched the videos (don't have time at the moment), but the sense I got was that the exercise was an attempt to teach Bonnie to continue on to balance in cases where she was perhaps turning in too soon, but if that is the case, then I would either move myself to change the balance and "force" her on around (which Jack Knox would call "making the dog do it right) or I'd simply give a verbal correction for stopping/turning in short and then ask for the dog to continue to flank on around.

 

FWIW, when I'm just starting training, I will allow a youngster to flank behind me, but by the time we're working on driving, I want the dog comfortable flanking in front of me.

 

I don't know if any of this addresses the actual issue that was first asked about; but it's some random thoughts related to the topic anyway....

 

J.

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Julie,

 

Thank you for your thoughts. I must say I still can't pin why sometimes Bonnie gets the flank wrong. Maybe she just gets mixed up. Since her mother by my mistake got fixed on balance work I started quite early to do things off balance. So Bonnie is really good at driving, taking the sheep strange places in a "non-fetch" direction, pushing them away from me, etc. It is actually one of her strong points among trialling tasks (in away-from-home performance the outrun and lift are the most likely to crumble). But Maybe I should remember she is not 2 yo yet and gets mixed up sometimes. It's not that she refuses to go on the correct flank, she goes full steam on the wrong one.

 

Concerning going in front of me or behind me on flanks - in my case that depends on where I am and what the radius of the circle is. If my distance from the sheep is greater than the expected radius of the flank then Bonnie is supposed to go in front me, if the flank radius is larger than my distance from the sheep then I would expect her to go behind me. Is this correct?

 

Maja

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I must say I still can't pin why sometimes Bonnie gets the flank wrong. Maybe she just gets mixed up.

 

It's possible you pushed forward too soon before she was really solid on the meanings of her flanks. It's also possible she gets mixed up. Phoebe still mixes up her flanks and if I trial her, I just have to be prepared to react instantaneously if she takes the wrong flanks. I did a lot of drilling trying to get her to be more often right than wrong on her flanks, but the more I drilled, the worse--and more frantic--she got. I often wondered if her brain is just mis-wired (I've never had a similar problem with any other dog I've trained, and I tried all sorts of different things with her to try and fix it). She's the one who's epileptic, so maybe there's just a brain issue in general. Anyway, if it's just an occasional wrong flank, I wouldn't worry a whole lot about it. If she's doing it a lot, I'd back up to close work and circling and balancing exercises and see if you can't "reteach" the flanks.

 

Concerning going in front of me or behind me on flanks - in my case that depends on where I am and what the radius of the circle is. If my distance from the sheep is greater than the expected radius of the flank then Bonnie is supposed to go in front me, if the flank radius is larger than my distance from the sheep then I would expect her to go behind me. Is this correct?

 

Technically, yes, but I wouldn't want a dog to get in the habit of going behind me on a flank simply because if the dog gets confused or things start going to he!! I want the dog in and engaged and not flanking to the back of beyond way off behind me somewhere. If you think in terms of work, the dog is either driving, which means its between you and the sheep and so should properly be flanking between you and the sheep, and fetching, in which case the dog should be opposite you and the sheep. There are few work situations I can think of when I'd want the dog flanking behind me (for example, if a sheep breaks past me I'd want the dog to flank behind me to stop it).

 

For training, though, if I'm working on inside flanks and the dog wants to flank behind me, I usually back up so that the dog has to flank in front. If the dog is very uncomfortable with that, then I will use the fence exercise that someone else described, where the dog has nowhere to go but in front of me.

 

J.

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Julie,

 

Thank you for the input. The flank is just an occasional mistake. It is also very possible I went too fast and/or that I went about it somewhat the wrong way. I am going to a trial Sunday week, we will see how the flanks go there. My sheep are again a little overdogged. I wish I had a flock of 20 or so, so that I can rotate them.

 

Maja

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