How old does my Border Collie need to be before I send it for training?
I get that question several times per month. There is no simple answer. If you ask ten experienced dog trainers that question, you will get a lot of different answers. Being ready to begin training is more than physical size. It also includes other things such as mental maturity, attention span and the persistence to keep working when corrected. Many dogs show impressive instinct at a very young age. An example of that is a bitch that I imported from Wales in 2014. The video of her in this post shows her working at about 14 weeks of age. She was doing things by pure instinct at that age, but wasn't ready for training until at least eleven months because of her inabilty to accept correction. My preference has been to wait until about one-year of age to start training. Just like people, dogs mature at different rates, both mentally and physically. It is the final product that we are all interested in and dogs will take different paths and amounts of time to reach that final product.
We start kids in school in the US at about 7 years old. I suspect that part of the the reason for that is tradition, but it is also likely rooted in the fact that by that age, most are mentally mature enough to begin learning many new things that will be useful to them throughout their lives. They will learn much more quickly than when they were younger because their vocabulary and understanding of the world around them is much more robust than it was at three or four years of age. I think working young dogs is a similar situation. Start them as young as you wish, but remember that as they age, they develop a greater understanding of the world around them and that will help them focus on working stock as opposed to being overly distracted during those early training sessions.
I hope that I can remain open to new ideas related to how young training should begin. I have been giving some thought to starting dogs off a bit younger and will be trying more of that in the next year using a round pen and low pressure training as described by Tony Rofe in an audio interview by Paddy Fanning (Churchmountsheepdogs.com). As always, I welcome you thoughts and questions via email.