This is the time of year I have sold off my ram lambs but have kept a group of 20 or so - 6 month old ewe lambs to work. Making work “new and fresh” for both the dogs and I. It’s a great lesson (for both of us) how to work sheep that have no leader and “not” a clue which way they want to go. They split, they run, they stop and face the dog but NEVER in unison :@)
This “type” of work will make even a clean flanking dog turn into a tight, edgy flanker. The problem being: one tight flank will send lambs “shooting” in four (or five depending on the number you are working :@) different directions. And the dogs, who are not expecting this (having spent most of the time working dog broke sheep) - flanking “back and forth” (with dirt flying as they do the reverse manuever at full speed) trying to cover ALL sides. Building tension in both sheep and dog *not to mention the handler*.
If flanking isn’t a difficult enough task then pushing them will be … if the dog doesn’t ”push on” enough the lambs will stop and stare – making the dogs have to lift every 10 feet.
So, what’s a trainer and dog to do? They key is first you have to “break” them to go forward together as a “group”. Which usually means the dog has to tuck in each and every one of them (at least once … sometimes more) when they try to go sideways (or backwards :@). Once he has convinced them they can’t go anywhere except forward … then you work on teaching the dog how to keep that forward pressure without pushing to hard. Because, if they push to hard they will “revert” back your original problem (getting “skirty” and breaking sideways) – and “one more time” your dog will have to “break” them to go FORWARD. BUT if they don’t push enough – the lambs will stall out, turn and stare at the dog … and again we are back to “re-lifting”.
Cool, calm, STEADY pressure is the key. Try and find that pressure point and distance where the lambs are going STRAIGHT forward without the dog having to flank. If you have to flank make SURE the dog does a clean, quiet, smooth flank … just enough to “tuck” them in AND doesn’t go so far he catches an eye or you “again” will have to repeat the lift.
Dogs that are used to lambs will *after they have tucked them into a cohesive group* tend to lean instead of actually flanking as they have learned how NOT to upset the “apple cart”. They don’t want to have to clean up the mess so they wisely let the lambs relax before they put forward pressure on.
Lambs are “a bit” like range ewes. They don’t want to be forced but will take full advantage of a dog that doesn’t take control. They want to be convinced they need to move away from the dog but you can’t do it with force or you will have a fight. Once they are moving they need to be firmly guided (not shoved) in the direction you want.
So, basically it takes the Mohammad Ali technique of “move like a butterfly sting like a bee” :@)
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.