Shaping the flanks …
Just what do trainers mean when they say that. It will be hard for a novice to recognize an incorrect flank if they can’t visualize what a correct flank looks like.
The first thing to remember is shape means more than just distance from the sheep. Why … because different sheep will need different distances … “as well” as different dogs needing greater/lesser distance from their sheep. So, “one size doesn’t fit all”!
A good flank is smooth (no ragged edges) thoughtful (not flying around in a circle as fast as they can) even (not going out to wide nor coming in every time they look at their sheep) relaxed (not tense and jerky) and most important “with the correct attitude and with purpose”. It’s NOT just a circle around the sheep … it’s to change the dogs position in relationship to the sheep.
A dog should be looking at his sheep when you start the flank. When he leaves your side he should take off at an angle away from you – with good speed but not just running. He can glance in to check to see where the sheep are and what they are doing. However, he shouldn’t put pressure on the sheep with either eye nor physically cutting in. He should gauge if he needs to go wider if the sheep “call for it” … trying to release a little pressure.
Watch his shoulder and head … if they are turning in then he’s getting closer to his sheep (He should not turn in at all untill the flank is completed). Watch his feet … is he “digging in” running as fast as he can (flanks are not a race). Watch his body … is it tense and tight (relaxed flanks don’t upset sheep). When ending the flank … don’t let the dog “bore in” or the entire flank will be ruined.
A dog will tend to want to turn in and slice if the sheep are running towards you. So you if you only work dog broke sheep … you might think your dog is flanking correctly but he’s curving in at the end of the flank but your sheep aren’t reacting. It’s not until you get to the trial with fresh sheep you will find that “hole”.