Learn how to get your dog to circle stock in both directions, with our Flank Sheep Both Ways FAQ.
QUESTION: “How can I make my dog go both ways around the sheep? She stops reasonably well, but insists on going anticlockwise all the time”.
WHY THIS HAPPENS. In a similar way to humans, many dogs are left or right “handed”. It’s all about the dog’s confidence. They simply feel more confident working in their favoured direction.
Once the dog discovers that nothing unpleasant happens to it when it goes one way around things (not just sheep) it will naturally prefer to go that way in future – especially if it thinks there’s any possibility of danger if it goes the opposite way.
The perceived danger is the result of the dog’s ancient hunting instinct. All dogs are descended from hunting animals, and in herding dogs the hunting instinct is still strong.
That’s good in some ways. Without it, dogs wouldn’t herd sheep in the way that we know it. But, it means that the dog’s instinct to avoid being trapped or attacked by the prey, is strong too.
This means that until their confidence builds, most dogs will try to avoid situations such as being between sheep and a nearby hedge or fence, for example. Even worse, in a corner – and thus ‘open to attack’. For this reason, we need to make the training as easy as possible for the dog, preferably out in the open, with sheep or stock which easily come away from fences and hedges.
Once the dog will circle stock in both directions freely in the open field, we then gradually (note: gradually) work the sheep closer to a hedge or fence – and eventually, into a corner. If you rush this though, the dog will refuse to go between the sheep and the fence, and you need to go back out into the open to re-build its confidence.
Sheep have instincts, too!
Just as the dog has instincts, sheep and other stock have instincts too. If they didn’t have an instinct to flock or herd together, we wouldn’t be able to control them with dogs. Sheep and other livestock have the instincts of animals which are preyed upon! For this reason, they naturally try to stick tightly together in flocks or herds. Their instinct is also, to find ANYWHERE to hide or huddle together tightly (such as corners, or fences). That is one of their methods of repelling the attentions of a predator.
“Get off the fence” is a great tutorial to help you understand the problem more fully, while “Why your dog should flank both ways” will demonstrate why it’s important for the dog to circle the sheep or other stock in both directions.
Get the dog flanking both ways
If the dog flanks reasonably well in one direction, but is hard to stop, then a good way to get it to flank the way it doesn’t like going (we’ll call it “the other way”) is to work the dog close to a hedge or fence of some kind, and then just as it’s coming round between the sheep and the fence, YOU put yourself in the gap that the dog’s coming through, then block it, and make it go back “the other way”.
It takes a little practice to get the timing right, but it’s well worth the effort. There are examples of this in “Get off the fence“.
If the dog flanks reasonably well in one direction only, but stops quite well, then a great way to encourage the dog to flank both ways is what we call “Walking backwards“.
In this exercise, you get the dog to stop on the opposite side of the sheep from yourself, and then you move backwards, encouraging the dog to bring the sheep up behind you AT THE PACE THAT YOU ARE MOVING BACKWARDS.
Some dogs take to it very quickly, others take longer. Trainers need the determination to make the dog obey commands. The “Backwards is the way forward” tutorial will teach your dog and awful lot about working better, but specifically, as the dog improves, you can start to move around from side to side while moving backwards, and in order to bring the sheep up behind you, the dog will learn to flank both ways. (I’ve never know it fail)!
Remember, you can always refer back to the flank sheep both ways FAQ if you need to, and there’s a great video about the importance of the dog flanking both ways in our Online Sheepdog Training Videos Library.