FLIPPING AWAY ON ONE FLANK

by Melinda May, Anne Jespersen, Tenley Dexter, Marsha Westerman

Melinda–I’m looking for suggestions on positioning and timing for how to correct a pup that is short sided on one flank.

I’ve got a pup that is just starting on stock. We are working on the “shuffle” and using moderately heavy groupy ewes, not knee knockers that would follow me whatever the pup is doing…the pup has to be fairly correct.

He is working quietly and giving good distance, reads the stock well and has good balance and rate and squaring flanks fairly well. The sheep are quiet and responsive and everything is in control.

This pup flanks nicely to the “go bye” and covers the heads but will cut the flank short on the “away” direction. I am working him in a 70 foot round pen so we don’t have a lot of distance for me to go straight backwards before I run out of space. As the pup gets to the spot where he would turn on the flank, I apply pressure toward his shoulder or just behind trying to get a few more steps. When I do this he flips out away from the stock and makes a circle to the right to flank back the other way, avoiding the pressure. I have applied as little pressure as possible but he continues to do this.

This evening I started making short 30-40 degree turns and asked him to continue to cover the stock to that side. It seemed to help and he started going out a little farther to catch the heads. But I think mostly that was just luck and a good group of fat, out of shape, tired sheep that figured out the drill.

any suggestions???

Anne
Have you tried pushing the sheep away so that the dog’s mistake is more obvious? Just as the dog cuts back without having quite made it to head, I physically push the sheep’s heads out away from me (if the dog was originally flanking “away” I would be pushing the sheep off to my left and back toward the dog.) I have done that and it seems to make the dog more aware that he is wrong and he will keep on his toes better rather than just assuming the sheep will go approximately the right direction. If the sheep are light enough that you can’t actually touch them but can spook them off of you that works even better.

Melinda
Yes, he covers and groups them well in this situation. But given the choice right now, he short sides that flank on the initial trip around….every time. I can “fix” it by making him cover the sheep in this way. But he won’t go around completely to catch the heads on the first trip.

Tenley
This is not an unusual problem. Many dogs are one sided just like people are left or right handed. My suggestion is “to make the dog more wrong” when the dog comes up short in the one direction. It sounds like you are trying to do this.

Since the dog is flipping and circling back and reversing its flank instead of getting off and flanking wider in the correct direction, my guess would be that something is going wrong with the way you are applying the pressure. If you aren’t getting the desired result, rather than the dog avoiding the pressure, you may not be applying the pressure in exactly the right spot on the dog which can be especially hard if a dog is very balance-oriented and extremely sensitive to your body position. If you are truly behind the dog’s eye, he shouldn’t be flipping back into you which would actually cause the dog to go into your pressure, not away from it.

Melinda
Yes, actually most of my dogs have this problem on this particular side. I think because I used to ALWAYS carry my stick in my right hand. I started a new hobby this summer with my horses and have learned new skills at carrying a training stick in either hand. So I’ve become more proficient in using my left hand. While it has been beneficial for most of my dogs, this particular pup is still having problems. I have not done much work on stock other than balancing and getting a quiet responsible start and stop. I haven’t done much using a stick until now. But it sure didn’t take long to create this.

I think (not applying pressure in the right spot) is the problem but I can’t seem to find the right spot. I am working toward the shoulde . . .too far behind pulls him toward the sheep. It must be an awfully small spot because if I move just a bit forward, he flips out away from the stock . . .but just on that one side. The “go bye” flank is perfect for this level of work and stock.

Yes, this pup is extremely sensitive to my body position and language…he’s very in tune with me. And he is very precise in his balance.

I am behind his eye but what he is doing is flipping to the outside . . .away from me .. . away from pressure and then reversing his flank. On the “away” when he cuts short and I apply pressure to keep him going he turns away from the sheep, makes an arc over the top and comes back and flanks “go bye”. He has avoided pressure and still gets to go the other way. I’ve worked hard to meet him when he comes back in on the “go bye” direction and send him back to the “away”. I know it’s hard to “see” but what he’s doing looks like an oval on the top.

…of course he should respond to (avoid) pressure. But how do I find the right spot if I can’t seem to get him to handle the pressure *at all* on this side? It seems like that zone is really small and I just can’t seem to find it. I think in the process of trying to find it, I’ve created this cute little loop de loop flip off the top. He’s rather elegant while doing it and still manages to control the stock. <sigh>

Marsha
I’m having the exact same problem with my BC. ( shhh, don’t tell anyone)! Through the help of friends watching me attempt to train her, they have noticed that I am more free sending my dog on the “go bye.” When I send her a “way to me” my body pressure is totally different, at the point where I need to push her out on her flank.

Melinda
Maybe I should get Mike to video me while I’m working the dogs. . .So in my way of thinking, kind of an opposite proof option to (use both to get best result?) I picture a move by me, backing to draw the sheep to me, moving towards the rear flank of the dog in a way to encourage him on out to cover…you of course have to correct when they choose to cut in.

I think this (not applying pressure in the right spot) is the problem but I can’t seem to find the right spot. I am working toward the shoulder…too far behind pulls him toward the sheep. It must be an awfully small spot because if I move just a bit forward, he flips out away from the stock…but just on that one side. The “go bye” flank is perfect for this level of work and stock.

I am behind his eye but what he is doing is flipping to the outside…away from me…away from pressure and then reversing his flank. On the “away” when he cuts short and I apply pressure to keep him going he turns away from the sheep, makes an arc over the top and comes back and flanks “go bye”. He has avoided pressure and still gets to go the other way. I’ve worked hard to meet him when he comesback in on the “go bye” direction and send him back to the “away”. I know it’s hard to “see” but what he’s doing looks like an oval on the top.

Tenley
I understand what you are trying to convey about the dog’s path. But there has to be a reason the dog reverses especially if he is a very balance oriented dog as you say. He wouldn’t reverse if you were applying pressure in the correct spot. I suggest that you bump the dog out and then take a conscious step to get behind the dog to reinforce the flank you want so that he doesn’t reverse his flank. I would not allow the dog to reverse no matter what. You might be correct in your thought that the dog is bumping and reversing to get out of the pressure but what if you apply pressure and meet him when he reverses? Then he meets pressure again and must stay or continue on the correct flank.

You can’t keep him from avoiding pressure but you can apply more pressure to keep him from flipping out or apply pressure behind him when he does flip out. Make it very uncomfortable for him to reverse (be in the wrong place) and more comfortable for him to bump out but stay on the same flank (be in the right place). You close one door but give him lots of other options that are easier to take. The idea of videoing yourself is a very good one and hopefully you will see where you are going wrong.

Melinda
update: I worked Opie this evening and thought very hard about all the suggestions you guys have given me. I gave him a larger group . . . 7 ewes of similar type as described before . . . groupy, moderately heavy but not knee knockers. We did a few passes in the round pen and then I took him out into the lot (180 x 270) and worked there. Lots of send, stop at the top and balance work, small turns and square flanks. I thought about what Anne said and let him lose them a few times and he was more thoughtful about it after that. I thought about Tenley’s suggestions on where I was applying pressure and so I focused carefully on EXACTLY where on his body I needed to apply pressure and he was more responsive. I think it helped me be more focused and control my body language much better. Linda’s suggestion to call his name at the critical moment kept him from flipping out off the pressure which it seems has become a habit. We got some really nice work done, he was square on the top, came around much better on the away and while it is not fixed, it is by far better. I even got lots of work done on straight walk ups and he’s starting to settle and rate much better.

Thanks so much. I have put off seriously starting him for various reasons but he is my dream pup. It’s very important to me that we get this right. It’s time to get busy. No matter what, this evening was very enjoyable and we got a lot accomplished.

thanks guys…
this article’s contents originally appeared in the Yahoo discussion board Aussie-Herders