How often (to train) and how long for?

How often to train a sheepdog and for how long? Lesson frequency and duration.

Subtitles: French*, Spanish* or English, click CC on viewer (*translation errors).



A sheepdog being trained to work sheep

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Video Highlights

Training a puppy on sheep.
Signs that the dog needs a break from training.
Don’t give up too easily!
‘Recharging the batteries’.
Training young adult dogs.
When a dog gets tired, but more aggressive.
As the dog’s confidence builds.
New challenges keep training fresh.

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Sheepdog training lesson frequency and duration

We’re often asked about the frequency and duration of sheepdog training sessions, this is because there doesn’t seem to be much information available on the subject.
There are no hard and fast rules, but it’s important to observe your dog’s behaviour and make sure you stop each session before the dog becomes too physically, or mentally, tired.

In this short video tutorial, Andy gives some valuable guidelines to help you recognise when your dog’s had enough! Generally speaking, puppy training sessions should be very brief, while older, more experienced dogs can work for much longer periods.

A typical sign that the sheepdog training lesson should possibly end is when the dog has been doing well, and then the quality of its work begins to go backwards. The dog apparently losing interest and sniffing around might be another. The frequency of training sessions should depend on the handler or trainer’s available time, and how keen the dog is to work. Try to throw some variation into each session, to keep the lessons fresh and interesting for the dog, but don’t overdo the new challenges and expect the dog to progress too quickly.

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10 responses to “How often (to train) and how long for?”

  1. Mindy Mills avatar
    Mindy Mills

    Andy and Gil..
    Once again just a word of thanks for great tutorials. I am learning a lot which is really going to help Stuart ( the ES) keep on learning. He knows his commands quite well including ‘get out’ to move further away from the sheep. He is still overly enthusiastic and works too fast causing the sheep to panic. Any advice on putting things in ‘slow motion’?

    1. Thank you for the feedback, Mindy – it’s great to know you’re finding the tutorials useful.
      Slowing the dog down won’t happen quickly. It’s caused by the ‘thrill of the chase’ and the novelty of being close to sheep. The more you work the dog on stock, provided you show good, calm leadership and praise the dog when it’s working steadily, its pace will slow down.
      There’s a specific category for this, it’s called Pace (Slowing). It’s worth looking at the categories when you have a specific problem like this. I also wrote a blog about training your dog to slow down.

  2. Isabelle Simonsen avatar
    Isabelle Simonsen

    Hi! I think the tutorials are brilliant and I am really happy I found your website.

    I have a question regarding my 14 month old male Border Collie. He has started training on sheep (had about 8 sessions or so) and listens well to my lie down command and flanks to both left and right and seems to have a really good understanding of the balance. He barks and seems to still be doing the «chase» young dogs do though. Should I take a break from herding to let him mature a bit or just Continue training and hopefully he will calm down and start the «border collie crawl» soon?

    1. Thanks for the positive feedback, Isabelle. Your fourteen month old should be plenty mature enough to begin training with stock. Barking’s a sign of excitement (or lack of confidence) but if by “chase” you mean he’s running at the sheep, that’s a really good sign. It means he has the makings of a good sheepdog, but of course, you must get him under control (and protect the sheep). Watch the tutorials in the Starting category for much more on this.
      The more time you and the dog spend in close (controlled) proximity with sheep, the sooner he’ll stop being so excited by them, and his work will improve immensely.

      1. Isabelle Simonsen avatar
        Isabelle Simonsen

        We train in a pen with a few sheep and he never gripps the sheep and generally does everything correct except for the barking. I guess its a sign of excitement as he has no problems with confidence. His tail is high and he is a bit bumpy so I guess more training and time will help him calm down like you said. (Did watch the starting tutorials, they are really helpful). I was just a bit concerned since he is doing everything else correctly but the barking consist.

  3. Janine Newby avatar
    Janine Newby

    Hi Andy! thank you again for the wonderful videos. I’m new to herding and I don’t have any sheep. I am starting to work my dogs at a training facility with a trainer but I will most likely not be able to go more than once a week or once every two weeks. I have access to sheep an additional two times a month for practice….is this enough to see progress? Are there things I can be doing at home to help? We are working on basic obedience and doing some trick training for fun (and to keep busy border brains happy). I have two rescue borders, both about a year and a half old that I’ve had for about a year. (so many working dogs end up in shelters here at about 6 months old when their owners realize they can’t handle the drive of a working dog!!!)

    1. At 18 months, the dogs should be plenty mature enough to start training, Janine, and a couple of times a month is OK. If you watch the videos in the “Starting” category you’ll see that we start ours off very young if we can.
      What you can do at home is get a really good bond with your dog and teach it to respect you – as on this link which I provided when I replied to your earlier question.
      Perfect the lead training and that will go a long way towards gaining your dog’s respect.

  4. Kathy Bielek avatar
    Kathy Bielek

    Hi Andy,
    Thank you for all the wonderful tutorials – they are such a great help!! I have lots of questions, though, including what’s the difference between training and working? We have a small flock of very ‘heavy’ Katahdin hair sheep (30 ewes) and a 13 month old Border Collie. She’s from a working line, is very sensitive, biddable and gentle, and on sheep is always thinking, intense and determined. She’s our only working dog, and I’m a very inexperienced handler. We had a rescue Border Collie for 8 yrs and a Cattle Dog x Shepherd mix for 2 yrs and both became very helpful, in spite of learning together. But I’ve never properly trained a herding dog and I’m afraid I’ll somehow ruin Pippin. I have chores that have to be done daily (and those change of course, throughout the year). Since I do nearly all the sheep work alone, I depend on my dog for help. Are the times you suggest for training only, or does that include time working as well? Here’s what we’ve been doing: at 5 months of age, Pippin started helping me move ewes and lambs between paddocks while on lead, because I needed her. After weaning last July, I started training Pippin off lead on small groups of 4 month old replacement ewe lambs in a round pen – Pippin was about 7 months old. Then later in the summer she helped move the ewe lambs as we rotationally grazed (off lead). By late fall Pip was helping to move even the mature ewes (off lead) between paddocks and back to the barn. Most recently she’s been holding the ewes back while I feed hay in feeders in the pasture. In between we’ve trained by practicing outruns, flanks, figure eights around the pasture, etc. If it’s a task Pip hasn’t done before or if I feel she’s out of her depth, I’ll work her on lead. Does that count as training time? Is that appropriate? She does work pretty much every day, although the time varies from 5 to 20 minutes. On several occasions we’ve gone all day, although she had long down times while I worked sheep in the barn. Am I asking too much of her at this age? She seems to handle it well, and always hates to stop. Am I confusing her by asking her to do things we haven’t ‘trained’ on yet? Are we setting up bad habits by asking her to do tasks that she hasn’t completely mastered yet? Maybe the big question is, how do I incorporate all the individual training lessons into working with the flock? How do we transition from lessons to “working”?
    Thanks so much for all your work! It’s been a huge help to Pippin and me!!

    1. Without actually seeing what you’re doing, Kathy, it sounds as though you’re doing just what I would do.

      As I’m sure you’re aware, I train sheepdogs and sell them as part of our living, and we’re forever being asked for a “fully trained” dog.
      What exactly is a fully trained dog? I don’t know. Dogs are learning from us from the moment they set eyes on us, and they never stop learning. One man’s fully trained dog could be a dog which will outrun fifty yards and bring the sheep into a yard. Another man will want a dog that can do huge outruns, “look backs”, shedding, singling, driving etc etc – and every handler expects a different standard of work.

      So much of what we want the dog to do is picked up along the way – and the stop (don’t tell anyone but I’m working on another Stop tutorial as we speak) is a typical example. Continually shouting at the dog to stop will seem pointless to the dog – but on a day when you need the sheep in the yard and the dog’s pushing them too hard, the dog will usually see that once it begins to do as you say, the sheep go in, and you’re pleased. When we sell dogs, quite often they’re not yet skilled enough for the task the new owner has in mind, but the dog will soon learn that (for example) in this field, the sheep are likely to be under that tree in the top corner, and they must be brought through two more fields into the barn, so each time it has to gather that field, things should go a little better.
      This takes guidance though. If it’s doing something wrong, the dog won’t learn how you want things done unless you intervene and set it up correctly next time. If things go wrong, it’s usually because the dog’s working too far away for its current skill level.

      You’re not confusing your dog by trying new tasks as long as you do what you can to give the dog a really good chance of success – and don’t even attempt the task if the dog’s clearly nowhere near ready. When I work my dogs I always treat work as a training session if I can, but of course, there isn’t always time to go back and try something again.

      Lastly, thank you for your kind words about our training tutorials – and good luck with training Pippin!

      1. Kathy Bielek avatar
        Kathy Bielek

        Thanks, Andy, that’s very helpful. As you indicate, Pippin seems to be learning constantly, whether I call it a “training session” or “working.” It also seems that she is learning faster than she did at the beginning. Maybe because she’s older and has more experience to draw from? She’s even starting to anticipate needs when we’re working – often quite helpful, but occasionally not so much. She corrects very easily though and is overall a delight to work with. Thanks again for your excellent tutorials. They are quite useful!

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