Teaching a dog to flank wider when driving sheep

Several subscribers to our online sheepdog training videos have recently asked us how to get a dog to flank wider when it's driving.

In the early stages of driving, a trainee dog will often get too close to the sheep when asked to flank because driving is stressful for it. The dog desperately wants to bring the sheep back to the handler, so when the handler gives a flanking command it can be taken as an excuse to go and get the sheep.

Teaching a dog to go out wider when it's flanking
It's important to teach the dog to go out wide when it circles the stock

Such is the dog's desperation that it will often flank very fast, and as tight to the sheep as possible. I suspect this is because the dog wants to get to the front of the sheep before the handler has a chance to stop it, but equally it could simply be because the dog regards the sheep it's driving to be escaping.

To get a dog to flank wider in the early stages of training is relatively simple - you just need to position yourself between the dog and the sheep, and wave or chase it out - but it's impossible to do this when the dog's driving because it's pushing the sheep away from you.

This picture illustrates one of the methods I use to get a dog to go wider when it's driving. I first get the dog to drive the sheep close to a large obstacle (in this case an old pond, but it could be a tree, bushes, or a building) then I flank the dog in the direction of the obstacle. The dog has to go out and around the obstacle and, as such, is going wider.

It's important to make certain the dog will flank the correct way in this situation. The exercise is pointless if the dog refuses to go the way it's commanded and chooses to go away from the obstacle - and you must remember to praise the dog with a gentle voice when it does go wider. By praising the dog when it's doing right, the dog will want to repeat its action (to earn more praise).

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2 thoughts on “Teaching a dog to flank wider when driving sheep”

  1. Hi Andy,I’ve been told I need to get my dog to square out on the flanks how do I do this.Any books with tips in any help will be much appreciated cheers Steve.

    1. Hello Steven. Without trying to dodge the question, it depends on what your advisor meant by “square out on the flanks”. If he/she was saying that your dog is too tight on the sheep, then several of the tutorials cover this (Give the Sheep Space, and the Outrun tutorials come to mind first). It may, however, have been a stylistic observation. Some dogs have a natural inclination to turn out square when flanked, but it isn’t something that we try to teach. So long as the dog is giving the sheep enough space to avoid hassling them, we’re happy, and a dog that turns out sufficiently will probably be pretty square anyway.

      Please get back in touch if the tutorials I’ve suggested don’t answer the question for you.

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