A friend and I traveled 12 + hours to a trial in Utah and had a blast. I told her on the way home it reminded me of the trials of 20 years ago.
It wasn’t the course that reminded me of ”days gone by”. It was a very challenging field with many pressure points. The field they usually held it on was over grown so they decided to move to a hill field where the grass had been grazed down. It consisted of a tough but honest outrun up two hills taking dogs with scopey outruns or “lacking that” … the ability to listen to the handler when a re-direct was needed. A number of dogs crossed the first day if they weren’t in the “listening mood”.
It wasn’t the sheep as they were the “usual” (if there is such an animal :@) range ewes that needed a dog to be able to push – with a little finesse thrown in – in order to get around the course. They would take full advantage of a dog that flanked too wide (walking toward the dog and even charging if they sensed any weakness). However, they would run like “deer” if the dog put too much (or the wrong) pressure on them. Once running they were often hard to stop or turn. Scores the first day reflected the “fight” between finesse and push. By the second day they had settled in and were very workable. That’s another “odd” thing about range ewes is how quickly they do “accept” dog work (IF they are treated right). These are the kind of sheep that make a 12 hour drive worthwhile … improving both dogs and handlers.
What made it a “trial of old” was the people and their attitude. It wasn’t that they weren’t competitive (they were as they should be) but it was a healthy competitiveness – without the nastiness that sometimes comes from competing against other handlers. They all tried as hard as they could while running and when the run was over – it was over. They moved on to cheering on the rest of the field … anyone that made a pen (and there were few of those … especially the first day) - the cheers could be heard around the trial. The atmosphere was casual and the attitude positive. It was a pleasure to run and we couldn’t have found a better way to spend a weekend. If we could just find a way to move it closer to home it would have been perfect :@)
Give them a try Utah Stockdog … I think you will enjoy it.
I was recently emailed and asked if I had written any articles on “eye”. I said I had referred to it in a number of articles but never really written one exclusively about the difference in eye and how I work dogs to “fit” their eye.
It got me thinking why I hadn’t done an article on it and came to the conclusion – because if you try to confine your training issues to “just eye” the you are missing the “whole” picture. There are many different “kinds” of eye but its NOT just the eye it’s the rest of “the package” combined with the eye that you have to deal with.
However, I thought I would “touch on” some of the issues I’ve run up against through the years.
There are dogs with the kind of eye that always wants to head. When you first start fetching they will make a circle around you trying to get to the head of the sheep. It’s a battle to keep them on the other side to fetch. Sometimes in the beginning they won’t even “go around” the sheep if they catch the sheep’s heads when they’re first brought out.
Eye that doesn’t want to come inside the bubble and lies down. Sometimes these are flanking dogs will keep a certain distance around the sheep. When you try to make them “walk up” they want to flank to move their sheep instead of push on straight.
Eye that freezes and won’t move. The prefer to lie there as long as they “feel” the sheep are under control and not moving. Usually these”type” if forced to come into the bubble … totally break all eye contact and come in fast and often gripping.
Eye that will keep moving but never releases pressure. These are the type that while flanking are “leaning” on their sheep with eye. They may not get closer to the sheep with their body … but their mind and eye are putting pressure on the entire time.
Eye that makes a dog “kick out” and keep “kicking out”. These kind will look at sheep and go wider every time they look … ending up totally out of contact with the sheep.
Eye that won’t finish a flank. These type don’t flank they “lean” … go 3 steps and stop to eye some more. However, some of these only have that eye on the flank and if asked to walk straight will push the sheep straight without hesitance.
Eye that goes past balance. They look and leave correctly but then “get lost” and forget what they are doing. But when brought back “into the picture” will eye up again.
So loose eyed they will just keep walking until they are in the middle of their sheep. Usually these “type” have no feel or balance. Often even after trained these type flop around behind their sheep.
Strong eyed but no style. Most people “think” that if a dog show eye he’s stylish. I’ve seen a number of dogs freeze with their eye but stand totally upright (head up – shoulder up, etc.). Some of these can show style as long as they aren’t “personal and up close” with their sheep.
After saying “all that”, it’s never wise to bring a working dog down to “one” attribute. Because everything can change by adding one more element into the “eye equations” above. Say a dog with too much eye but also has a lot of forward … you won’t run into the same issues with that dog as you would with one that has very little forward.
So, how do you work with all this “eye”? In a “nutshell” direct the action so you can direct the eye.
I find it easier to work on eye at the same time I’m working on flanks. My goal is to create rhythmic and relaxed “flank” in the dog with calm, quiet, even pressure. Teaching him to stop on pressure (not running past it or trying to go the other way) will help with loose eyed dogs. Keeping me, the sheep and the dog moving helps strong eyed dogs. Eying up on a flank or flying about with no thought needs to be corrected UP CLOSE first. The dog’s body AND thought process needs to be collected. Avoidance will create a flank in the dog but shouldn’t be mistaken for actually learning his flanks. He must understand that pressure/correction is there to help him “problem solve”.
So, if he “eyes” up in the wrong spot … correction (pressure) … release only when he gives to that pressure - then encourage him to go on with the flank. Until, the eye “creeps” in again then repeat the correction “over and over” again. You are trying to shape his “programming”. It’s not as if he’s going out of his way to do something wrong … he’s trying to control sheep the only way he knows and you need to convince him there is another way of handling sheep.
Once the dog is “in-tune” with your body language and understands the you are there to give guidance … use your body language to create the shape of flank you want THEN put the command with it. So, don’t give a “come-bye” if he’s NOT flanking correctly. You don’t want him to associate the “flank command” to an incorrect movement. You have to be consist with your body, your words and your whistles. If sometimes you let him show more eye than he needs then correct him other times … the flank (and later the outrun) will never have the shape you want.
So, as you can “see” no dog is perfect but it’s your job to “draw out” the best in him. If you can look at the “whole dog” and work with what he has … he will be a better dog and you will end up a better trainer.
What is the difference between a natural flank and a mechanical flank. Do you really need a mechanical flank. What happens if you only have natural flanks?
A lot of students seem to get stumped with flanks and then get frustrated – thinking if they can’t even “grasp” something as basic as flanks how will they ever get anything else.
The easiest test to see/understand what “type” of flanker you have is for you do the moving and let the dog do the *covering*. When you move away from the sheep’s heads the dog should counter balance the sheep by shouldering out enough to keep the sheep’s heads pointed toward you without pushing the sheep over you. This would be what is natural in the dog … of course not all dogs have that programed in them.
You have to have a visual of what the flank should look like, the distance that the dog should be and how fast he should be going. If the sheep jerk while he’s on his flank … he’s to fast or tight. If they put their head down and eat he’s not having an effect. Look for signs when he’s correct to help you both understand a correct flank. Watch him, the sheep, the results so you can begin to get a picture in your mind of what correct is.
Different flanks for different dogs. Some dogs don’t look at their sheep when they flank – you handle those “types” by calling their name, saying stand or anything to draw them back on their sheep. Some dogs eye sheep so much that every step they take puts a constant pressure on the sheep – those you need to growl or put enough “handler” pressure to keep them from pulling in on their sheep as they go.
So first figure out YOUR dog and the reaction the sheep have to his working style then start “fixing” any issues UP CLOSE. So, let’s say you have a dog that has too much eye and flanks very slowly around his sheep. If you just stand there and REPEAT the flank command … All you will teach him is to go slower and slower. Soon he will be taking two steps every time you give a flank and you have to give another flank command to get another two steps. You give the command ONE time then walk out and get in between him and his sheep to MAKE him go farther on that flank than he wanted to.
Every time you repeat a command and he doesn’t respond … you have “numbed him down” one more “notch” to ignoring you.
If your dog is one that flanks and doesn’t “check in” (flying pass balance) then you need to MAKE them turn the minute you say a command (stand, their name, lie down … whatever fits you and your dog). Don’t stand there and let them run with out thought.
If you give a command and they just keep running — it will be twice as hard next time to get through to them. So say it one time and then MOVE … go out and block them from running past balance (use a correction voice to let them know they were wrong not only in what they did but also wrong it ignoring a command).
So, yes try and develop all the natural they have but don’t just stand there and let them do it wrong all in the name of “natural”.
What causes tension in a dog?
Tension can come from either the dog, the sheep, the handler or a combination of all the above.
Some dogs just work with a lot of tension.
In some cases … it’s “in the genes” and you can trace some lines to this trait. That’s not to say its all bad as there are some top dogs that run with tension in them. It all depends on how the dog handles it (if it makes them grip off … that’s usually not a good thing :@).
Just to make in more confusing a dog can be relaxed off stock and still be tense when working.
Some handlers build tension.
Sometimes it’s not in the dogs “nature” but it’s “handler made” tension. If someone handles a dog and their timing is “off” it can cause a dog to work with tension even if he’s not “normally” a tense dog.
When a good trainer is working a dog … their timing is correct and it allows the dog to feel comfortable doing what is asked of him (because the handler is “in-sync” with the sheep and dog). So it all FEELS right to the dog. Which allows a dog to relax and think about “the job at hand”.
However, “on a different page” … there are tense handlers that pass this on to the dog – and the dog “thrives” on it (usually it’s the “non-tense” calmer ones that respond). It seems to encourage the dog to “step up a notch” and focus better.
Sometimes sheep build tension.
For different dogs it can be different types of sheep. Some dogs don’t mind wild sheep and will react by flanking off and backing off. They seem to view it as exciting and “makes them read their sheep better”.
For other dogs wild sheep make them feel they are losing control. They like to be in “contact” with their sheep at all times and panic when they can’t find that contact point – causing tension.
Some dogs get so tense working heavy sheep they can revert to gripping. To others it “makes their day” and will just put their “head down and power on”.
So you see … it’s not if the dog has tension or not … but what “the team” does with that tension that “counts”.
Here are some issues that come up during class with our dog that loves to “contact” his sheep.
He’s a good line driver and just takes them and goes … he will pace when reminded “firmly” :@) so those are two are things we won’t have to worry about as much. However, flanking the dog back around once he’s in driving mode will be the problem. Remember when this dog catches the sheep’s eye he goes into in FULL contact mode.
So, “for now” when we flank him we will flank towards the sheep’s butts … this will limit his eye contact and will give a freer, cleaner flank. Let’s say you have him driving straight away – before you flank him pay attention which side the sheep have drifted (in regards to you). So, it starts out everyone is “in line” and 20 yards away he has shifted to his (and your right) the sheep will be drifting to “everyone’s” left. So, when you flank him … send him on an away. If you made him take a come-bye “at this stage” you would send him straight into his sheep. Hope this makes sense as it’s hard to “put on paper”
After you get him flanking cleanly toward the sheep’s rear. You can start working getting the same clean flank toward the head. Training starts with “baby steps” and working up to the difficult. If, “in the beginning” we get him in the habit of flanking cleanly it will become more natural to him.
When we progress to flanking into the heads … what will happen is the dog won’t want to take a flank or will take 2 steps straight INTO his sheep (where he now he’s really confronting them). So give the flank once – maybe twice ( but if you give it a second time make sure to growl it) then stop the dog walk out and MAKE him BREAK eye contact … go all the way around and back to where he was. Then start the drive over again. Make sure to put a correction in not just repeat the command (Listen to me or … whatever) you need to let him know that he was wrong.
When you walk out to make him flank … position yourself to push him out (we will work on “pull in” later in his training … remember baby steps :@). If you were trying to make him come bye and he didn’t take it … go out and stand on his right side so you can push him at the shoulder to make him go “cleaner”.
After the complete flank (clean one) then go right back to driving then try to give it again (with you standing close) to see if he understood the correction.
After you get what you want … let him to take them and drive. He likes control and he likes line so take advantage of that to get him working happy and with purpose. Then slowly “insert” what you need/want into what he wants. We have to be firm as he’s a strong dog but we don’t want to just use “force” and make him. People don’t like stepping out of their comfort zone and neither do dogs. So we want him to understand that if he will do what we ask … he can go back to what he’s comfortable with. Then slowly we will start stretching him out farther.
Now this will not work with dogs that LOVE to flank so we will address that issue “down the line” with a different type of dog.