The Real Time Canine II

After spending 2 years writing the Real Time Canine, the adventure continues with The Real Time Canine II. Read along as I look for just the right puppy to continue the experience. After false starts with Tim and Jed, I am currently training young Tam, and Spot, which are both off to a strong start. Please visit the RTC II to read about training sessions as they occur.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Out Flank 'Em

I was asked recently how I open up flanks on a dog that doesn't flank correctly. The problem with the question is that it's far too vague. And the problem with any answer to it is that it's probably impossible to convey the timing, voice intonation and body posture that I use, via the written word. I can describe the exercises, but I can't convey the ability to use them effectively. Anyway, here's some things I would consider before I started messing with a dog's flanks. What size is the field or pen I'm working in? Some dogs tend to run tight in a small or narrow place, but given a chance will widen out on their own where they can. Make sure that you give the dog a go in big field before you decide to widen his flanks. I have a dog that was naturally wide, especially on his come-bye side. We were in Calgary one year for the Stampede and my friend, Bobby Henderson, was watching the dog trial, having been in town to judge a trial. He mentioned to me before my run to be careful that my dog didn't run tight. I said thanks, but didn't think much about it because I planned to send left where I knew my dog would run wide. It's a small arena and you don't have time to fiddle around. I sent my dog, then looked down because I fumbled my whistle. When I looked up, my dog was running straight up the middle of the arena. How long have I had him? If someone else started or trained him, and the answer is "not long", I would let him become accustomed to me with training that was pressure free and fun for the dog. I would encourage this dog to get comfortable and see if things changed after he did. How long would I wait? Depends completely on the dog and the trick is our ability to "read" them. Some of us are better at that than others of us. How old is he? Youngsters change often as they mature in training. If you kick a youngster out that's just overexuberant in his early desire to influence sheep, but he is naturally a wide-running dog, you could end up with a dog that's way too wide. It's much, much easier and likely to widen a tight dog than vice versa. If my youngster was tight in the beginning, I might gently suggest to him another way, but I would be oh, so careful until he was older. For how old, see the paragraph above. What's in his breeding? Some lines are predisposed to work one way or another. If I know that running tight or flanking incorrectly runs in the bloodlines, it's a clue and I'll train that dog with the thought in mind to overcome whatever is typical. Maybe I'll just be a little more vigilant about it and look for telltale signs of his predisposition so I can prevent it before it starts. Life is much easier if you start your youngster right in the first place. As far as flanks are concerned, that means making his first step out. I do this by flanking the dog from behind me slightly. Sometimes I'll call them back to me when they start wrong and speak to them. I'll put sheep against a fence and flank the dog back and forth and use my body pressure and my voice whenever he starts wrong. With this and with everything, consistency is the key. Every time I flank the dog I have a chance to make it correct, whether I take it or not. I use my voice, my body and the sheep to teach or correct a dog's flanks. Flanks generally carry over to the outrun, so getting them right covers a lot. It doesn't make any sense to get all worked up over a dog's outrun without addressing the same problems with his flanks. Consistency is probably the most important element to me when I teach a dog anything and, whether I'm fixing or teaching, it has to be correct each and every time until I completely trust that the lesson is learned. Then I might let him slide a little here and there, but will stop and tune him up if he digresses too far. Everything is done at hand initially. Let's say the dog starts correctly, but pulls in at some point on his way to the top. I'll flank that dog then move through the sheep at the point he pulls in and push him out with the pressure of my body and at the same time I'll speak to him. I'll use the same words whenever the dog needs reminding. Eventually, I'll get to the point where I can just speak to him if he's tight. I say "back" or "get back" and that will become "way back" or "come back" if I need a wider flank than usual at some point, like at the pen or in the shed ring. An exercise that you have to be really careful with is squaring a dog up along the fence. It's easy to go too far with this one, so it should come with some sort of "don't try this at home" warning. Let's say the sheep are along a fence, which is to their right and to your right. The dog is at the top beside the fence facing the sheep and you. The fence is to the dog's left. I will flank that dog come-bye into the fence and when he tries to make a hole and come between the sheep and the fence, I'll give him a voice correction strong enough to stop him. The idea is to make him flank at a 90 degree angle straight into the fence, which should cause the sheep to come away from it, and allow the dog to be off his sheep when he comes through. It's easy to tell if the dog is flanking squarely when he's turning into the fence. To accomplish this you may have to correct him to the point where he turns tail on his sheep and heads up the fence the other way in an attempt to be square. This is where you have to be careful. Turning tail is never a good idea and you don't want to end up with a dog that overflanks and gives ground, because that dog will lose his sheep on a trial field. The instant the dog is flanking squarely, I stop correcting, but you'll probably have to do this on more than a few occasions before it becomes a pattern for him. If he's a good dog, it won't take long and you'll never have to do it again. In a small pen I'm close enough to keep pressure with my body on a dog all the way around the flank. It's easy in there to see if the dog is correct, because he has to be completely against the fence all the way around. It's easy to correct him in there, because if he's not up against the fence at any point, he gets a correction. My small pen is 4 feet high and one of my dogs jumped out of the pen in an attempt to get wider. It's a lot of pressure, so be careful. Sometimes I just stop the dog where he is tight, speak to him and walk towards him until he turns tail and moves away from his sheep. All dogs are different and I use these aids in random order I'll suggest a couple other ideas. Knowing when to release pressure is more important than knowing when to apply it. When in doubt, release the pressure. The quicker you release pressure after making a correction, the quicker your dog will learn the lesson. It absolutely makes me crazy when hands use a recall to widen an inside flank. I suggest you never, ever do that and if you're working with someone who tells you it's ok, find somebody else. They're either ignorant, lazy or both. If your dog is tight on the inside, stop him, walk in between him and his sheep and push him out. The same voice correction will work here just as well. It's much classier to see a dog flanking correctly on the drive, than to see a hand use a recall to widen an inside flank to make a panel. I use all of the aids described here in a random order and in a frequency and for a period of time that depends on the dog. Go easy on the dogs. Give them the benefit of the doubt, don't try to control their every step, be consistent and use praise liberally when they deserve it.

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