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Off to an Early Start, or Not?

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Hi Amanda:


I have a 6 month old male pup who has been around sheep since about 3 months. (Really just tagging along with my older dog and being tied at the fence.) For the first few months he could have cared less about the sheep, but during the last month or so he has turned on and become REAL keen. I decided to let him start working. His maturity level away from the farm sometimes exceeds that of my 2 year old dog and so I felt he could take the pressure of training.


I have been keeping his sessions short and real upbeat. In three sessions I had him going both ways, taking a down on balance and walking up (he naturally seems to be tucking the sheep in for me and I haven't started putting any short flank commands on him yet). I felt like I had struck gold with this dog!


Last time I worked him in he seemed a bit less eager and a bit less certain. It has started to make me question if I have started him too early. After seeing this, I cut the session short, kept the praise level high, and went home (... to kick myself over ruining a good dog).


I know there are as many opinions on when to start a pup as there are ways to take your morning coffee. I have also heard that one the dog is started taking months and months off is a "bad" thing. This is the first "real" dog I have started and I really like what I've been seeing. I don't want to mess it up!


I'd like to hear how you decide:

If your pup is ready for training or not?

What you do if a pups enthusasiam seems to wane a bit in the early stages?


Thanks in advance,





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First of all, I do not think you have done him any damage. I like to start pups if they show the inclination. Having said that, what I do with them is mostly affirming the ideas of what they want to do, so very little pressure. I give words to what they are already doing or quite likely to do. I don't mind doing little things with a six month old. I make sure the sheep I use are easy and preferably slow. Such young dogs really are not ready for major responsibilities and no one should demand any of them. Kinda like a kindergarten kid--there is only so much they can manage. Pleasing a young dog however, is always rewarding, both you and the dog.

The losing interest would make me put him away immediately. Just wait. Dogs have to be enthusiastic to learn. Sometimes they can do like an obstreperous teen and buck, a rebellion to authority. Being mature can help them figure it out--the steps to life fulfillment for the motivated Border Collie. Try him every couple of weeks to take stock of his mindset. Start again when his eagerness returns.
Good dogs survive all kinds of gaffs and still become serious, sophisticated, canine citizens. If he wanted to start, no problem. Now he would rather not, no problem. Everything comes to she who waits,

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