Decker is advancing in herding suddenly, by leaps and bounds.  He almost knows his flank commands now.  A few days ago, when I was working him, I noticed that he was starting to learn his flanks.  Thank God!  I like to move on too, and not to teach the same thing day after day.

I remember when Tam, my 2 1/2 year old was on the verge of knowing her flanks.  And by the time a couple of more weeks passed, she had them down.  Then proofing was at play.  I like to set up my dogs, when proofing, to be harder for them to take a flank that I have asked for.  I try to keep the flank command the opposite of what my dog wants to do.  This allows them not to rely just on their instinct and they have to tune into me, to see what I am asking for.

So for example, if the sheep are in front of me, and on my left side, with the dog further out, I might send the dog on a come-by, instead of a natural away flank.  The dogs don't normally want to do this because this goes against the instinct of the shorter distance to keeping or bringing the sheep to me.  But, the obedience needed for them to complete the task, will allow for success in the future.  

Going against the grain, and making the dogs do things off balance, enables the trainer to move further down the road to having a completed trial or working dog.  There are many times in real life that off balance work is needed.  And fetching all of the time is not always safe for the sheep man.  

When Kate, my 6 year old was young, I had her fetch my seep, which included a large ram, over to my neighbors to graze some vegetation down.  I did this on a daily basis.  After about two weeks of doing this, I noticed that the ram's body language was changing.  I would glance at him, and his head was cocked slightly to the side, and he was looking at me.  I started getting nervous having Kate fetch the sheep because of the ram.  He was getting itchy to ram something, and I didn't want it to be me!

I finally had Kate drive (push) the sheep, with me behind her, directing her movement, thus the sheep movement.  This was sure safer for me, as I was no longer in the line of ramming site!

When shedding or penning sheep, or even driving through panels or gates at trials, off balance work is used.  At field trials, the larger group of points goes to the outwork, as it is the first and foremost use of a dog, the gather, lift and fetch.  And a nice smooth dog, who has control of his sheep whether fetching or driving, is a beautiful site to see.

So Decker is starting to relax while working his sheep, and I am glad to see him pick up on the flanks.  I am just starting to enjoy teaching him.  He has been challenging, and frustrating a lot, but he sure enjoys the sport.

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