One of the questions that I get a lot from folks who send dogs for training relates to what we can expect from their dog after one month, two months, etc. It is a hard question to answer because just like people, all dogs learn at a different rate. To further complicate things, some dogs fit my training style better than others and those seem to train up much more quickly than those who don’t. I record a lot of video of dogs I am working and have recently compiled a bit of footage of a single dog’s progress over six months. Gus arrived for training when he was ten months old. Gus is a very soft dog to handle. A minor voice correction is very effective on him. He rarely requires more than a growl to back him off of stock. He is also the kind of dog that needs a handler to handle him. He will get a bit pushy and grip if allowed to make too many decisions on his own. Overall, he is a nice dog and he was a pleasure to train up.
First Week Of Training
When Gus arrived he was 10 months old. His owners had not received his registration papers yet and believed him to be at least one year, so I agreed to have a look at him. My first few times to work him were brutal...on my training sheep. He was extremely aggressive and after the second work, I sent a text to the owner to let him know that Gus was really aggressive and that he might need to make plans to come and pick him up, If he didn’t become more cooperative. We agreed to give him a few more days. Over the next 3-5 days, Gus began to cooperate and balance. I am certainly glad that I didn't give up on him after a few works, as he was a very fun dog to train.
Gus progressed through his first month quite well. What you will notice as you watch the video below is that the dog has learned a lot in 30 days time.
- He has a solid "lie down" and "walk on" command on him
- He is balancing sheep to me with very little pressure from me
- He gives ground as he balances, but still applies pressure as needed
- He consciously doesn't push sheep past me as I walk backward
- He is much more cooperative than just 30 days before
Gus progressed through his second month quite well and took to driving in a small pen more quickly than most dogs.
In the 40 days since the previous video, Gus has added the following to his skill set:
- Short (20-30 yards) outruns with controlled fetch
- Transition to driving away short distances at the conclusion of the fetch
- Inside flanks and off balances stops
Months 3 through 5
By the end of the 2nd month, Gus had mastered most of the skills needed to be useful working in pens and small spaces. My next step with him was to increase the distance of his outrun, distance he could reliably drive sheep away, begin cross-drives, etc. I don't have much video from that time frame, but the two videos below show that he progressed fairly quckly to becoming a useful farm dog to gather larger fields. When dogs reach this stage, I prefer to send them home to get a lot of experience and have their owner identify any issues that need correcting. It isn't uncommon for a dog to return for 1-2 months (as Gus did) for me to help resolve some issues.
I love to have folks come and pick up their dog to take it home. It’s an opportunity to see how much their dog has progressed. For me, it’s an ending, but for the dog and the owner, it is only the beginning. It can take a bit of time for the dog to understand the voice and/or whistle commands of the owner. This is basically a language and we must remember that to the dog, it isn't a word, its only a sound with a specific meaning. It can take weeks or even months for dogs to fully adjust to a new voice or whistles. The final video of Gus below is after he came back to me for a few minor corrections. Gus is now competing in a few sheepdog trials and helping move sheep and cattle for his owners.
I hope this post has been useful to help illustrate how my training system typically progresses. As always, I welcome your questions and thoughts.