We are working with a dog that is a natural outrunner – she has a nice “pear shape” one – not to wide nor tight. Checking the sheep as she goes and will “give or take” ground if she feels the need. Her flanks are also clean and correct. She’s easy to handle and wants to work with her handler.
So with all those good things … what’s our problem. Her issue is she’s uncomfortable driving … she lacks the confidence to just “take them and go” so our job is to find a way to inject confidence into her.
When dogs have such a strong instinct to fetch … driving seems awkward and without purpose. They have focused on “you” as something to balance the sheep to … when you are out of the picture they don’t have a pressure object to push against. Driving to them feels as if they are taking sheep into “thin air” and they don’t know how to push when there is nothing to push against. So, often when they first start driving they tend to “flap” around behind their sheep or sometimes refuse to go at all.
With this “sort” of dog it helps to stay close to her and have both of you drive the sheep. This will give her pressure from the side with both of you putting pressure on the sheep. It also gives her something to balance off of and will help with her confidence since you are close to her encouraging her on.
When she gets comfortable “not just fetching” and begins to understand what we are asking … we will start driving straight away but will allow her to do it by flanking. She’s never gong to be a “bore in” driver and we can’t expect that as she’s not a line dog. But, she’s such a good flanker – we won’t have to stop her (which can take confidence out of a dog) in order to widen her flanks. She tends to want to move her sheep by flanking anyway so this makes it feel more “natural” to her – again giving her more confidence.
So, we start to “fall back” and let her take the pressure of the sheep “on her own” we insert flank … walk up … flank … walk up. The minute she feels uncertain we start walking with her again.
Normally I don’t like to flank young dogs on a drive … I prefer to teach them how to drive before I “steer” them but it’s important to change our training to “fit” the dog “not the other way around”.
With other dogs – if you try to walk with them – it’s too much “people pressure” and they won’t walk up on their sheep. So with those, after you turn the sheep and start the drive – you need to back up taking all your pressure off the dog – then give your walk up.
Knowing your dogs strengths and weakness and working to build up the weak parts may take longer than just using a “cookie cutter” training approach … but in my mind it’s a long-term solution instead of a quick fix.