Ahead of time
One of the biggest problems novices have is lack of timing. What is timing … it’s seeing something ABOUT to happen AND giving the command in enough time that the dog can respond. Most novices see something “after the fact” then try to give the dog a command … which of course, never works as the dog doesn’t have a chance to correct something that’s already happened.
Watch good open handlers run … “better yet” watch the sheep and listen to the handlers commands. What you will see is a good handler will recognize an issue before it becomes a problem and their reaction will allow the dog to control the situation.
Example: The sheep are heading toward the panel and all looks well through novice eyes … when suddenly a whistle comes from the open handler – leaving them trying to figure out why. They’re confused because they have been told to watch the sheep and they were. But watching and reading are “two different things. The open handler saw something that didn’t look right … more than likely the lead ewes head (or maybe just an ear) turned away from the center of the panel (but since the body was still going straight the novice thought all was going well). The open handler knows the body follows the head and tucked that head back in – before the ewe ever had a chance to “mentally commit” to turn away from the panel.
Keeping sheep in the correct “frame of mind” is just as important as keeping your dogs mind “in the right spot”. If the sheep think they can beat a dog … they will take full advantage of it.
Often novices wait until the sheep have not just turned away from the panel but are actually going sideways before giving a flank. Then to “compound” the problem — they give a wide flank and are slow on a “there” whistle. So, “by then” their dog has overflanked and the sheep are going sideways the OTHER direction. Leading to the “dreaded” Zig-Zag :@) All because they didn’t tuck the sheep at the correct time.
Another thing I see is novices not flanking their dog far enough to actually turn heads. “Let’s say” the dog is fetching but the lead ewes head is NOT pointed toward the handler at the post. An open handler will have kept the dog on the side the sheep are leaning “tucking” in any ewe that tries to “stray”. A novice tends to think since the sheep are coming “towards” them that everything is OK … that is until the sheep go the wrong way around the post.
You also need to know and understand your dog. All dogs flank at different distances and speeds so you will need to flank at the correct moment that “fits” your paticuar dog. If you have a wide flanking dog you will handle it differently than a dog that takes short, tight flanks.