Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Remembering flank commands

A lot of people have a very hard time internalizing the commands for flanking. You'll hear it from novice handlers quite often --

"Come bye, oops, sorry, i mean AWAY!"
or
"Come bye, come bye, COME BYE! Oh wait, you're right, i mean AWAY".

I know i certainly had a very difficult time with this because i'm one of those people who just never has been able to tell left from right without a physical cue (looking at the back of my hand to see if the thumb and forefinger make an L for left). When I was first starting out, I went to lessons with a particular person who'd be standing on the sidelines telling me to go left or right to cue me for come bye or away - now i had 4 things instead 2 that i couldn't pull out of my brain with any speed and to get confused on! To this day, if you come to my place for lessons, you'll rarely hear "go left" or "go right" from me. I tend to use landmarks - "go towards the barn", "aim towards the porta-potty".

Early on, i found a physical cue to help me remember my flank commands. Hold your arms out in front of you parallel to the ground. Now point your index fingers at each other. You should have a nice circle made with your arms, and your fingers are pointing clockwise (come bye) and counter-clockwise (away to me). Picture sheep in the center of the circle and your arms are your dog's path around them.. You can tell which direction your dog is going, or which direction you want him to go, if you refer to which direction you're pointing. This works for any position your dog is relative to the sheep, whether driving or fetching. Now for the "trick". Look at your wrist and note where your watch is (if you don't wear a watch, get to Walmart right now!). If you wear your watch on your right wrist, the phrase you will want to remember is "aWay aWatch". If you wear it on the left wrist, it's "Come bye Clock". The feel of the watch on your wrist should give you a physical cue and a very, very quick way to check yourself on your commands (WW and CC).

I've also had a couple of people hold something in one hand or wear one glove until they get the feel for the commands if they weren’t watch-wearing people. A watch is a lot less Michael Jackson-ish on the trial field though, and you'll probably want to start timing your runs at some point in your trial career anyway, so you might as well get started wearing one now.

I'm sure different people's brains learn things in different ways, so this may or may not work for you, but it sure did for me. I know to this day i feel a little lost without a watch on if i'm working dogs. Good luck and let me know if this helps.

If you have a question or topic for a future training article, email me at shooflyF at yahoo.com



8 comments:

Laura said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you! I cannot wait to try this, Robin! I will report back...

Craig, especially, thanks you in advance, though Taz does, too, since I think part of why he now hesitates is that he was pretty used to taking my verbal flank commands as "suggestions," but really using my body language as his cue for which way I really wanted him to go. When I began driving in earnest with him is when he began hesitating, and I think the hesitation is partly because I sometimes give him the incorrect verbal but he can no longer cue off my body language as a guide. So he's just not sure anymore what I want. The sooner I can get past this ridiculous mixing up sides, the better it will be for everyone in multiple ways...

Robin French said...

You're welcome, hope it helps!

CharlieDog said...

I used to be in the army, and we had to learn *quick* our right from left. A buddy told me to keep a rock in one hand, or in one pocket, (a small rock, but big enough to feel the weight) and remember which side that was. Since your hands have to be cupped when marching anyway, I got used to holding a small rock in my left hand, between my thumb and where my forefinger is attached to my hand (can't remember the name, haha) but if I ever need to remember which is left or right, I just touch my thumbs to those spots, and I remember which is which.

Robin French said...

Yes, same concept. Ain't muscle memory a great thing?

Anonymous said...

That is a VERY handsome and talented dog in that tub! :-)

Robin French said...

Yes it is! For those who don't know, that's Joan Stout's grand old Rip dog, missed by all who knew him.

carson-crazies said...

Excellent advice. My problem is moreso remembering which whistle goes with which flank, but I do find myself on occasion asking for the wrong flank. Now I guess I need to go buy a watch. Well, either that or put a battery in one of the million I have already.

Robin French said...

Actually, you can use the same system to remember the whistle commands. Think of the whistle for your watchside arm (right) as Wee ooo, or ooo Wee and use the W sound as your cue. You really only have to get completely solid on one side because eventually your muscle memory will take over and it'll just feel wrong to give the wrong whistle, without having to think on it.