QUESTION: My dog is generally working well but when I send her on an outrun to gather the sheep, she goes out too far. How can I stop my dog going too wide?
ANSWER: Going too wide is certainly one of the better faults a dog can have. Often getting the dog to give the stock more room is the problem, but of course, if the dog’s running out too wide, that in itself can mean the dog’s not working efficiently, so it should be addressed.
After its initial training, most problems which occur when training sheepdogs, happen because the dog is working too far away from the handler, or the handler is trying to move on too quickly.
If you’ve watched the early tutorials in the order they appear on the ‘Welcome Page’ (as we strongly advise) you’ll know that the closer the dog is, the more control you have over it.
If the dog goes too wide, it should be quite simple to call it in using either the dog’s everyday recall command, or some other command which will tell the dog you want it to come closer to you. Obviously you don’t actually want the dog to turn around and come back towards you, so give the command in a soft enough voice that the dog will hear, but not fully obey! Usually, the dog is so keen to go to the sheep or cattle that it will come in closer but continue running towards the stock, but on the very rare occasions when a dog actually looks as though it might come back towards me, I simply repeat the outrun command.
Once you get this balance right, the dog will soon get to learn that you want it to limit the width of its outrun.
When you’re training a dog to do outruns, ideally, we want the dog to be beside us when we send it off, but it’s worth bearing in mind that if you set the dog up behind you, it will usually go out wider. Often, the farther behind you the dog is when you send it to the stock, the wider it will go.
Conversely, if the dog is in front of you when you send it off, it’s outrun will usually be less wide. When you’re teaching a dog to drive the sheep, it can be difficult at first to get the dog to go wider. You’re usually sending the dog off from in front of you – and the dog rarely goes too wide from this position, so teaching the dog to drive at the same time as you teach it to outrun, may be beneficial.
Under normal training, if the dog ignores you when you call it in, you need to shorten the outrun, to reduce the distance the dog is working from you. Once you reduce the distance to one at which the dog obeys you, then you can VERY gradually increase the working distance again – calling the dog in as required.
It’s absolutely essential that you don’t shout at the dog or show displeasure when it goes too wide. Often dogs go wide to avoid pressure (either from the handler or the stock it’s working) so shouting at the poor dog is likely to make it want to go wider still! When you call it in, make coming towards you more like an invitation than a stern command!
Lastly, if the dog ignores you when you call it in, but obeys the same command when it’s working closer to you, it’s worth considering whether you might be trying to make progress too quickly. Going too wide is generally a confidence problem.
How to cope with a dog which flanks too wide is covered in Part Seven of our Sheepdog Training Tutorial Playlist – Bronwen and Scylla.
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