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”.
Part of refining flanks is to teach a dog to flank and then stop with his shoulder pointed away from the sheep. This will allow the sheep to feel less pressure than if a dog flanks and then turns in towards them. I won’t do this with all dogs (especially dogs that tend to flank to wide to begin with).
As usual I use the sheep to help the dog understand what I’m looking for. I will also use a number of sheep … just because it’s easier than using 5 sheep. I start by flanking the dog with a 1/2 flank, stop him and then another 1/2 flank and stop. When the dog flanks, of course I want him turning out correctly on his flanks — but the main reason for this excercise is to teach him when he stops he needs to keep his shoulder turned out (ready for the next flank) and not draw in towards his sheep .
Let’s say I’m working on a come bye … I have the sheep to my right shoulder and slightly in front of me (I’m facing the same direction as the sheep) … the dog is on my left side. As I flank him … I turn with the sheep pushing them away from me (still facing the same direction as the sheep and keeping them at my right shoulder). This makes the dog want to flank because he’s trying to get to their heads. If I stand in the same place I will lose my angle and it might allow him to tighten up on his flank. By keeping myself and the sheep “turning” it encourages him want to turn out on his flank.
Then I will stop him and use a stick (or whatever) to put pressure on his shoulder (to keep it from turning in) and his head (to stop him). If he tries to turn in when he stops I lift the stick up and then point it back at him … putting pressure on him to turn out even more.
With this exercise you can also be working on your 1/2 flanks, and teaching them how to relax about stopping before heading their sheep (for dogs that have issues with “letting go” on a drive). However, the main purpose of teaching him not to turn in … is to help you with your shedding/penning work when you don’t need your dog pushing sheep over the top of you.
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.