It takes many months of training for a sheep dog to learn his “trade”, and although trainers start dogs young, exposing them to sheep and the sights and sounds of herding, a dog must be mature enough to have control and respond to off-leash commands before they can be started herding sheep. A sheep dog will respond to his handler's cues, either hand signals or auditory signals, sometimes whistles, or verbal commands, to go to the right, to the left, gather a flock, direct and drive a flock, stop and hold a flock, and leave off or back away from the sheep. These are complex behaviors, and for an excited sheepdog, learning to respond to direction and cues from their handler takes maturity, discipline, and experience. When your sheep dog learns to gather and bring sheep in for you, to the location you direct, without overly stressing the sheep or losing control, you have a working sheep dog that is an asset to your operation.
You should ensure you have a dog with the aptitude and ability to herd sheep before initiating training. There are 25 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club as herding breeds. Dogs that are too aggressive or have physical limitations that affect their agility or stamina or orthopedic conditions may not be appropriate, as quick responses and movements are required. Prior to work with sheep, herding dogs should know basic obedience commands such as come, sit, and stay. Herding dogs are often initially taught control around livestock with the use of a long lead line. Having another experienced herding dog to assist with modeling behavior is an asset.