Inside flanks – circle on command (1 of 2)

Inside flanks (or circling on command) are a milestone, taking your dog’s skill, and control of sheep and other livestock, to a higher level.


Photo of a sheepdog learning Inside flanks or circling on command.

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Video Highlights

A first step to advanced sheepdog training

Circling on command, can mark the difference between a dog being average, or excellent!
A dog spontaneously circling the sheep, is not good.
Teaching the dog to circle sheep in front of you, will increase its confidence.
A dog which can circle on command, will have far better control of its stock.
Watch a dog learning to circle sheep on command (but a bit too close to them).
Once the dog will circle on command, flanking it at a distance becomes easier.
Now watch a dog which hasn’t learned to circle the sheep on command.
Training a dog to circle sheep on command.

Time to ditch the stick…

Avoid carrying a training stick, when teaching a dog to circle sheep or cattle on command.
The dog circles the sheep first time!
The sheep are running off, so the dog brings them closer.
Going clockwise, the dog comes to about 90º, and then wants to go back to the point of balance.
She comes further in the ‘Away’ direction, but still goes back, then flanks behind the handler.
The dog circles the sheep, but next time, the sheep are too close, so she circles behind.
The reason we work this dog on both ‘Stand,’ and ‘Lie down’ commands.
Watch the ‘Stopping The Dog’ tutorial, for more on this.
Moving through the sheep, to encourage the dog to flank ‘Come bye’.
Using ‘That’ll do,’ to encourage the dog to flank around the sheep.
The dog goes the wrong way, and splits the sheep.
The dog brings the sheep back, and (with encouragement) circles them clockwise!
Wyn circles again – in the ‘Away’ direction.

Lots of excitement!

Rapidly repeating commands, encourages the dog to keep going.
A recall command (and lots of praise) can bring the dog closer when you need it.
The dog seems to be enjoying the lesson now!
The dog circles well in the clockwise direction, even with the sheep very close.
Watch the ‘Driving’ tutorials.
Attempting to get the dog to circle using only commands, and it works!
The dog won’t circle in the clockwise direction.
Insisting the dog flanks in the direction she’s commanded to.
Encouraging the dog to circle in the clockwise direction, even when it seems hopeless!
Success! But the dog doesn’t want to do it again!
Success again! But the dog nips a sheep on her way through!

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This is part one of a two-part tutorial

Dramatically improve your sheepdog or cattle dog’s work with this important two-part tutorial. Even if the dog’s already competent at driving, teaching inside flanks or circling on command will not necessarily be easy. Once the dog will circle the stock in front of you however, its confidence and control over sheep or cattle will improve considerably.

In part one of this tutorial, Andy demonstrates how he uses tricks, commands, encouragement and lots of excitement, to teach the dog its inside flanks and to circle the sheep in front of him in the open field.

Inside Flanks – Circle On Command 2 | (top ⇧)


14 responses to “Inside flanks – circle on command (1 of 2)”

  1. Leonard Aslett avatar
    Leonard Aslett

    How about more tutorials about loose eyed, or weekend dogs. Dogs are doing all the commands, but have no power,the sheep won’t hardly move off the dog. He knows his commands,but when he is downed ( inside flank) he turns and looks at me ,then it is harder to get him started again.He likes the work. Just doesn’t have much power

    1. The dog needs a bit more Grrrrr, doesn’t he Leonard!
      I would recommend two videos. First, watch “Sometimes Nice Is Not Enough“. That should be a big help to you. Also, it’s worth watching “How Can I Slow The Dog Down?” – but doing the OPPOSITE! You want to speed the dog up, and excite him, so do the opposite of what I recommend for slowing a dog down.
      Try to train with some ‘flightier’ sheep if you can. Some which are not used to being worked with dogs should run away better – and that will excite the dog. If you praise the dog when he’s excited, it will build his confidence.
      (It would be great to hear how you get on).

      1. Leonard Aslett avatar
        Leonard Aslett

        Thank you Andy, maybe it would be the same advice,(it would make sense) what are the tips you would give about dogs who have an interest, but you have to beg to get anything out of them

        1. Leonard Aslett avatar
          Leonard Aslett

          Thanks again Andy, took about 5 min.asking dog to me,then flank,praise.i know after awhile I start trying to MAKE, them do what I want.and take all the fun out for them

  2. Jane Hart avatar

    Hello, thanks for the tutorial. My dog is 2 and a half years old and has done quite a bit of driving. She still tends to go to tight when working at a distance though. How do you improve this? She is ok when working close to hand but them she seems to spiral closer. She is particularly bad if she is forced to work off balance and she is afraid of losing the sheep. If I go close to the sheep and make her flank around me then I can control the distance and the same when she is bringing the sheep to me, but it seems harder to improve things in driving. Best wishes,Jane

    1. Jane, read what you’ve written! You have almost answered the question yourself!
      If you’ve been watching our tutorials in the order they appear on the Welcome page, you’ll have heard me say this (on more than one occasion):
      REMEMBER! The closer you are to your dog, the more control you have over it.
      So obviously, until its confidence builds, the farther away the dog is working from you, the less control you have. All of this is covered in some depth in the Outrun tutorials.
      Work the dog at a distance you can reliably keep control of it, and then VERY GRADUALLY increase the distance. If the dog cuts-in or tries to hook the sheep back, reduce the distance enough to get good control, and then VERY GRADUALLY increase the distance again.
      The dog won’t improve much while you work it outside its ‘comfort zone’ so only increase the distances at a rate which the dog will barely notice.

      1. Jane Hart avatar
        Jane Hart

        Thanks for your reply. I didn’t explain myself very well; when the dog is opposite the handler and fetching sheep it’s easier to have an effect on him and stop him coming in too close, but when the dog is driving he is in front of you, so how do you persuade him to not cut in on flanks? Best wishes, Jane

        1. Keep the dog closer to you, Jane. If you can see it heading for the sheep instead of flanking, call it back, and as it comes back encourage it to go wider by walking in the direction you want it to go, and sending it off again. If it’s still coming in tight, do it again.
          You can walk in the direction you sent the dog, and call it towards you to get it out wider – something you can’t do when the dog’s on the opposite side of the sheep from you.
          If you can’t get this to work, go back to basic flanking practice. Once the dog accepts this, it will usually flank wider anyway.

  3. stephanie schwoerer avatar
    stephanie schwoerer

    Great information on teaching the dog to circle left and right. great tips thank you .

  4. James MacDougall avatar
    James MacDougall

    When driving sheep from a distance could you use the come by and away commands to position the dog correctly and then stop it before it goes round the sheep? or are you better just keeping these commands for gathering?

    1. Use the same commands, James. It can take a while for some dogs to understand that the same commands apply, but they get the ‘hang of it’ and it becomes second nature to them. It’s best to keep the number of commands the dog has to remember, to a minimum. Watch the Driving Tutorials.

  5. Gill Evans avatar

    Hi Andy,

    Just curious why you changed the dog’s command to Lie Down from Stand, (if it was already effective in stopping it)? It seems that stopping is the intention, not the position. The command used seems to vary from shepherd to shepherd. Is it to get a two-syllable command, so the dog has less chance of missing it? Is the stand position preferred because it is less strain on the dog’s joints when there’s so much repetition of the stop, or perhaps because it is less threatening to the sheep, so will keep them calmer?



    1. This is a curious one, Gill.
      Years ago, I used “Stand” because it was ideal for using in a short, sharp manner. In other words, to grab the dog’s attention. Over the years though, I’ve found that a longer, drawn-out command often works better than a short, sharp one. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, I try to avoid short sharp commands because they can actually excite the dog (especially when repeated rapidly) making it more difficult to control. Secondly, I’ve carefully observed dogs while I and others train them, and I’ve noticed that although a sharp command may be effective momentarily, once the command is no longer audible, some dogs seem to assume it’s OK to carry on as they were before the command sounded. For this reason, when a dog is proving difficult to stop, I drag the command out for much longer. I find this more effective in most cases.
      You should bear in mind that as the dog learns to work effectively, it will use the handler’s tone and the urgency in their voice, combined with the dog’s interpretation of the situation to decide how they react to the stop command. For example, many handlers (including me) use the stop command gently when they just want the dog to slow down a little – or they’ll use the same command more urgently and in an abrupt manner to actually stop the dog. This method gives an infinite variation in the intensity of the command – as interpreted by both dog and handler as a team.
      I changed to “Lie down” because if you drag it out over two or three seconds it doesn’t sound quite as strange as dragging out “S – T – A – N – D!”
      Although I use the “Lie down” command these days, I actually prefer the dog to stay on its feet because when faced with aggressive sheep, I think the dog will feel safer (and less vulnerable) standing on its feet, rather than lying down on the ground.

      1. Gill Evans avatar

        Thanks, Andy, that’s really useful. I can see why a dog would prefer to stand with strong sheep! My dog got some ‘not easy’ sheep for his second attempt recently, & changed his behaviour from quiet & relaxed with the first attempt a month ago (Hebridean sheep)- to very intense & pushy -pity it was my first handling experience! The ‘not easy’ sheep soon decided to co-operate with him. The trainer said he was a very powerful dog. I hope my dog will adjust back for quiet sheep!
        To my surprise, the rushing sheep made a very loud rustling noise as they whisked round, preventing me from hearing my trainer’s directions at times, so it must be the same for the dog, which I’ll bear in mind.
        I am reviewing a number of commands he is familiar with as a pet, as the usage isn’t the same for the sheepwork & the pet situations, which is temporarily confusing to both of us! eg. Lie Down has been exactly that at home, & also as a safety fast drop from free running, so having to accept a partial lie-down or stand sometimes when it’s used with sheep is an interesting variation i hope he won’t try applying to other commands! Gill

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