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Helping dog understand differences in flanks


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I am a beginner with a young dog. right now I am struggling with how to help my dog understand the difference of when I am asking for a full flank vs quarter flanks, etc.


when I want a full flank, I have been drawing out comand saying the full "away to me" or "come bye" and have shortened it to just "way" or "come" when we want it shorter. he has been doing a good job for the most part with inside and off balance flanks, but when we work on them, he stops short on his outruns and doesn't go behind the sheep. Or when working figure eights, he will not continue around when I ask if we have been doing a lot of partial flanks.


I really think it is lack of understanding of the difference. I was wondering what folks do to help their dog know when to go all the way around vs part way.

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The way you address the problem will depend on what the actual issue is! (sorry I know this sounds trite but there are a number of different reasons why you could be having this problem)


You need to ask yourself 'why is my dog stopping short?'


things to consider are

  • is the issue with his outrun (e.g. are you asking him to go too far for the stage he's really at?)
  • does he have too much eye & is this making him stick?
  • does he lack confidence and not want to go behind the sheep?
  • what are you doing? (yes, you say you are giving vocal commands.. but what is your body language/position & gestures saying?). Perhaps you are standing in a position that makes him want to stop short but he is in fact balancing the sheep correctly towards you (its just that it is not completely at a"12 o'clock position")
  • does he not know how to balance sheep properly towards you? .

Once you have worked out the why.. you can then look at ways to address the issue.

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This is not meant to sound rude or be an insult, but what is your experience level?


If I give a flank command, generally I want the dog to continue to flank until I tell them to stop. The major except would be an outrun (I generally let my more experienced dog do silent gathers). Another exception would be during penning. If the dog already knows the job, a small flank with no extra command (such as lie down or stand) might be sufficient.


short, quick "way" would be a small, short, quick flank


short but soft "way" would be a short, slower/softer flank


long, drawn out "away" would be a big, slow flank or outrun (the more I draw it out, the longer the outrun)


rapid fire "way! way! way!" would be used if the sheep were bolting and I wanted them caught/stopped


A lot of the subtleties of flanks comes with experience on the part of the human and dog. Don't be afraid to give the flank again to continue movement around the sheep. Don't be afraid to use a lie down, stand, or there to stop movement.


As far as coming up short on the outrun, that isn't so much a command problem as a lack of clear understanding of the task at hand. I do practice silent gathers. If the dog doesn't continue around all the way I use body pressure to encourage them on.


Sounds like you also need to practice freeing up the flanks. Is your dog driving comfortably yet? I do things like have the dog start to drive the sheep away, then randomly ask them to flank around. I keep using the flank command as needed to get the dog to go all the way around. I might ask them to do a 360 circle, several circles, a 180 degree turn, etc. I mix things up so the dog can't anticipate when or where to stop.


Is there someone nearby who can take a look at your dog and work with you?

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I agree with LizP that you probably need to free up your dog's flanks , to my mind the way you do this depends on what the underlying problem is..hence my earlier queries. If you find it hard to see what the issue is, then I completely agree with LizP ithat it would probably help you if you can find someone with more experience to cast an eye of the pair of you working.


When I started training working sheepdogs. I was shown a similar method to that described by LizP of insisting that the dog circle till I gave a stop command. I was taught this method by a well respected trainer and triallist. It clearly works for many people. but personally I didn't like it.


I now use a different approach to teaching short and long flanks because my primary aim on training a young dog is to encourage him to use his Initiative right from the start rather than just obey my commands. I therefore train flanks mainly using body language.


Say I want my dog to flank clockwise (come bye).We both start a 6o,clock with me slightly closer to the sheep and looking at my dog so that it stops him running straight up the field.

I then take a step towards 5 o,clock and put my left arm out to the side (ie in the opposite direction) . This encourages him to move clockwise. To help him stop at the correct balance point from where he started (ie probably 12 o,clock) I then move back towards the 6. Once he has reached the correct point and is balancing the sheep to me ( ie they are turning their heads towards me). I start walking backwards. This releases pressure and lets him work his flock. This acts as a reward for doing the right thing.


At these early stages I use very few vocal commands other than 'shush', 'there' and the odd tongue click to encourage him to walk onto the sheep. If he comes in too fast, I move forward to block him while probably raising a hand and saying a low 'hey'! These actions put mild pressure on the dog and asks him to think about how he is acting. When he slows, I again walk backwards.


Onc he is flanking as I want based on my body language, I add in the relevant vocal command.


Once I know he can balance properly, I start adding short and long flanks, but rather than use a lie down to stop him, I move my position. For a long flank II give a long vocal command and after setting the dog off I move to an 8 or 9 position. This encourages the dog to move round to 2 or 3 because he already knows he has to balance sheep to me. Similarly for a short flank, I give a short vocal command and move to the 4 or 3 position and this stops him short.


Because I combine long commands with moving to an 8 or 9 o,clock position, my dog learns to associate the way I give the command with his need to move further round and as I say the vocal command before I move, with time I can stop moving myself and he responds just to the voice or whistle command.

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thanks all. To answer some questions:


my experience level -- pretty inexperienced. I have been "dabbling" in this for about 3 years -- meaning taking my girl I adopted to see stock about 6-10 times a year - driving a couple hours each way. but I got hooked and a couple years ago bought a nice pup with the hopes of trailing. Last fall I took the plunge and bought a handful of sheep and since This spring, we have been working stock almost on a daily basis. we just did our first novice trial. we were in over our heads, but got a score and completed the course.

he is very aware of the draw and worries about losing the sheep to the draw. he also has a lot of eye and does get sticky. at the advice of a clinician and of my trainer, all I've worked on for the most part is getting him to free up his flanks and kick out wider. I was teaching the OR very similar to how you described.


we started working on driving and off balance/ inside flanks just recently. But I was asking him to lie down. I will try it with body position like you suggested. he is a smart dog and usually figures things out quickly, just feeling that I don't have the knowledge or experience to help him with this.


thanks again.

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Good luck, I like the body language approach. I've personally found that the more dogs I train, the quieter I've become! But, then I also tend to spend a long time working close at hand partly because my training field is only 50 x 70m. After that my sheep are out on rough, uneven, steepish hillside and so it's easy for me to lose sight of them. By the time I work a dog here, I need to know he really understands what I want.


With a sticky dog, I tend never to ask for a lie down because it can make him stick more. Try working so he is on his feet and keep him flowing. I also spend a long time getting him to move by moving myself. It becomes like a dance. Just be very conscious of what your body is saying to him. E.g how does he respond when you are facing him compared to how he acts when you are side on. Work out if there any gestures you make that seem to pull him up or others that seem to make him flow better.


It also helps if you can work him on larger numbers of sheep..but I appreciate that that is not always possible.


To stop a sticky Outrun, once I've sent the dog,, I tend move towards the point I know he is likely to stop and put some pressure on him to move out as well as around. Also as he approaches the 'stcky point' especially if I see him start to slow, I give additional flank commands or shushing noises.


If you try this, just be aware of where you are in relation to your dog and sheep, if you are only sending a short OR and else he starts by flanking wide (but comes in tight later), then it's easy to get to a position where he thinks you are in front of him...so he stops rather than moves... Hope that makes sense


Have fun with the training...I agree, stock work is pretty addictive.

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This is important. I have a clappy dog. She's the second dog I ever trained. If I knew then what I know now... ;) She's wonderful, can move anything, but she is clappy. I am starting her daughter now, and lie downs aren't on the menu much.




With a sticky dog, I tend never to ask for a lie down because it can make him stick more. Try working so he is on his

J.feet and keep him flowing.

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Exercises for freeing up the flanks are for dogs with some training. I don't teach flanks that way to a dog just starting out. I also use body pressure to teach them initially, but my personal preference is to move quickly away from it (as soon as they understand the verbal commands). I find dogs that were not weaned off body pressure quickly enough can be reluctant to flank off balance.


Everyone needs to find training methods that work best for them and for their dogs.

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^^Agreed. I spend more time without any voice commands because I want the youngster to learn to feel and control sheep without me giving direction. For me that's an important building block of training that will serve me and my dog well later. I like a dog with a bit of eye, so it's important to me to keep the flow going initially, but I still keep my mouth shut and just let the dog work naturally. My personal method.



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I think my method sound similar to Julie's for exactly the same reason.


But as Liz says, each trainer needs to find what works best for them and their dogs.


When I started, I guess like many novice handlers, I found it tough with my first couple of dogs partly because I wasn't completely certain which aspects were more important than others. Now I focus on things like getting my dog to feel his sheep, balance and not cutting the flanks right from the start of my training. As Julie said, if only I knew then what I know now!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Finally getting back to this. Thanks to advice, I had an experienced trainer watch us. She saw two big things going on. Things as a first timer I wasn't seeing. when he flanked on the come bye side, he was much freer and went wider. On the away side, he never let go of the sheep with his eye and that was drawing him in, a lot. This also translated to partial flanks.


The other is that he reads the sheep well and is very sensitive to any draws, and he is lacking the confidence right now to flank in a way that could open the sheep up to the draw.


The first we have made a lot of progress on with suggestion you made here. Last night he started each of his outruns kicking out sideways instead of straight and only glanced at the stock twice to get his bearings on the away, instead of staring at them the entire way around.


my trainer also had us set up a circle with cones, with the sheep and I in the middle and the dog on the outside and I am flanking him in one direction or the other, stopping him with my body position and sending him the other way. Sometimes it is a quarter flank, sometimes he goes all the way around, sometimes a half flank, etc. And then mixing it up with letting him to a silent gather and bring me the sheep.


it all seems to be helping. Any other suggestions are always appreciated! Thanks again.

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