My introduction to working stock dogs was in 1982 while helping on a cattle ranch in central New Mexico. That was also the beginning of my love for the Australian Cattle Dog. It was 10 years later before I got involved with training dogs for herding trials. My first trial dog was also my first registered Australian Cattle Dog. She was Kylie's Ericka Shurcan Shine, who went on to be an AKC Herding Champion/Dual Champion, an AHBA Herding Trial Champion and an ASCA Working Trial Champion. Since that time I have trained and competed with not only Australian Cattle Dogs but also Border Collies, Kelpies, German Shepherds, Collies, Australian Shepherds, Shelties, Briards, Bouviers, Rottweilers and a number of other breeds. I have put numerous advanced titles, and several Herding Championships, on a wide variety of dogs and breeds and many of those dogs have earned multiple High In Trials and Reserve High In Trials including at the Australian Cattle Dog and German Shepherd National Specialties. I have experience with all of the herding venues and organizations including AKC, AHBA, ASCA and USBCHA and am a licensed herding judge for AKC and AHBA. My judging assignments have taken me to all corners of the country and allowed me to meet many wonderful people and dogs. Over the years I have bred a small number of Australian Cattle Dogs and the Kylie dogs and their offspring have earned their fair share of titles and awards including many Herding Champions in the various venues. Three generations of my dogs have earned the Register of Merit designation from the Australian Cattle Dog Club of America. My love of herding dogs and the sport of herding has led me to share as much as possible with others interested in the sport. My training philosophy is geared toward allowing the dog to work in a style that is natural both for it's breed and the individual dog. I enjoy seeing new dogs and handlers gain knowledge and confidence and become a working team.
1) Where did you get your first registered working acds?
My first registered ACD was my second ACD and was actually supposed to be a pet for my then husband. Her sire was an import from Maryheather Kennels in Australia and her dam was from Debbie Clark's Plateau Kennels. Although she wasn't intended to be she quickly became my dog and after putting a breed championship on her and several obedience titles, I decided to try our hand at competitive herding. She was a wonderful first dog for me to learn on in that she had great instincts but was biddable enough to allow for my mistakes and continue to work for me. She ended up being an AKC Dual Champion and also earning herding championship in both AHBA and ASCA. Her name was Kylie's Ericka Shurcan Shine and she was my foundation bitch.
A) What drew you to the breed?
My first year at New Mexico State University I became friends with a gal who's family had a cattle operation. They used "heelers" and from the very first time I saw those dogs work I knew that would be my breed. I was so wowed with their grit, intelligence and loyalty. I'd had dogs my whole life and never saw one like those dogs working on that ranch. I spent a lot of time during my 5 years in NM with my friend working her family's ranch and using those dogs. My very first ACD was an unregistered dog whose grandsire was one of the first I ever saw work.
B) Who were your mentors?
I've had several people who have helped me over the years but my first mentor was Steve Waltenburg. He and his wife Julie had Trail's End ACDs out in CA. At the time I started working Ericka there was only one person giving herding lessons in my area and while her methods seemed to work for her BCs they were not making any sense to Ericka. So I stopped going there and began a long distance, email and phone, training program with Steve. He was instrumental in my understanding of working ACDs and was hugely encouraging during all the rough times that come with learning a new skill and with the discouragements that are normal and unique to training herding dogs. Steve has retired from working dogs but remains a dear friend and someone I could call on even today for advise. For several years I worked a good bit with Kent and Lori Herbel and gained valuable insight from them. If something isn't working for you and your dog, Kent is one of the best diagnosticians out there. The trainer I've probably spent the most one on one training time with however is Larry Painter. His understanding of the working ACD is incomparable and his training philosophy is all about making true working dogs, not just an obedient dog that can do trial work.
2) What do you feel are the minimum standard working traits that a working acd needs to have naturally (not trained)?
They have to have the desire to work and work under pressure. They also have to be biddable and willing to take direction even if their instincts tell them something else.
3) What do you think is the most important trait and why?
I'm not sure you can separate the two traits, desire and biddability, and say one is more important. I guess you could make an argument that for a ranch dog desire would be most important or for a trial dog biddability, but I don't think you can have a truly outstanding dog in either situation without those two traits in combination.
4) Who was the best dog you owned and why?
I've been blessed to have quite a few really wonderful working dogs over the years. As far as the best .... I'm stuck on two. Ericka the dog I discussed earlier and a great grandson of hers, Kylie's Torres Strait. Kubin is the product of a linebreeding I did that takes him back to Ericka on both sides of his pedigree. I had sold Kubin as a pup, he was eventually returned to me when he was 7 years old. He proved over the subsequent years to be a tremendous working dog, with lots of natural instinct and a keen desire to work as a partner with me. He too is an AKC Dual Champion and also has his AHBA championship. Kubin has only been bred twice so for me to say he's a valuable sire for the breed would be presumptuous. The pups from his second litter are still young and time will tell if he passed along all of his working traits. His other litter is older but only one of them is in a working home, that I know of. However that dog is proving to be very much like Kubin, good instinct and stock sense and a strong desire to please his owner. So Ericka and Kubin would be my best so far, and I have to add the "so far" because I'm always trying to improve my line of dogs and my current main working dog, Yippee, could very well have her place in my list of bests. She's already an AKC Dual Champion and continues to impress me with her desire and instincts.
5) Who was the best dog you didn’t own and what did you like about that dog?
Again I don't think I can just pick one. There are two dogs that stand out in my memory as just amazing working dogs. The first was Steve Waltenburg's Kate. She was the grittiest little dog I think I've ever seen work cattle and the partnership she had with Steve produced some amazing trial runs over the years. The second dog was Larry Painter's Syd. The dog showed so much stock sense it was amazing to watch him handle a mob of cows.
6) If you no longer work ACDs or have added another breed, what were the factors that lead you to that decision?
I will never leave ACDs! The traits that drew me to the breed continue to hold me to them. About 15 years ago I did get a Kelpie because the breed fascinated me and I wanted the experience of working a strong eyed breed but had no desire to get a BC. That kelpie almost made me swear off the breed but after she turned 8 we became partners. After I lost her I got another Kelpie who is becoming a good partner much faster than my first one, thank goodness! LOL I think working and living with a breed that is so different from the ACD makes me a better trainer, handler and also judge.
7) What do you look for when picking a puppy?
When searching out a litter to get a pup from I'm looking for a pedigree that has proven working dogs or working lines in it. When I'm looking at an individual pup I'll first look for structural soundness. I want a dog that is built correctly and with a bit of leg under them so they can do their job and stay sound. Then I'm going to look at the confidence of the pup, how they react to new things, how they recover from a fright. Then I like to see them on stock. I want to see how they approach, are they keen, are they thinking. And finally I want a pup that looks like an ACD should look based on the breed standard.
8) What is your breeding philosophy?
Because I'm breeding for work the dogs I decide to breed obviously have to have proven their working abilities to me. But they also need to be correct and show breed type according to the standard so they can finish a conformation championship. Then as I look at the two dogs I want to breed do they compliment each other or are they at opposite ends of the breed spectrum. If you breed two very different looking dogs you aren't likely to get pups in the middle, you'll usually get some that look like each of the parents. I'm going to pick dogs that are strong where the mate needs strength, that goes for physical characteristics and working traits.
Yes I will line breed. If you have a dog that is really solid in the traits you are looking for, the best way to set those traits for future generations is with linebreeding.
B) How often do you outcross and how do you chose a dog to breed to?
If I've got a dog from a reasonably tight linebreeding, same dog or dogs in the first 2 generations, then I definitely outcross when choosing a mate for that dog. How I chose that mate is based on my breeding philosophy.
9) How do you bring up a puppy?
I treat my pups pretty much like I will treat them as an adult. They have basic rules that will be in place for their entire life so I teach them those from the very start. But while I do some training I also let my pups just be pups. They get a lot of time outside to exercise and they spend a lot of time with other adult dogs learning doggy social skills.
A) At what age do you start them on stock (sheep? Cattle?)
I will take a first look at the pup on stock at about 8 weeks. After that I will take them for very short exposure sessions every 4-6 weeks until they show me they are ready for some light training. Most of my pups are ready for some training by about 6 months and most are ready for serious training by 10-12 months. I start all my pups on sheep or goats. The age I introduce them to cattle depends on when I have access to cattle. I like for them to have at least a quick exposure to moving cattle while on a line by the time they are 6 months. I won't start actual training on cattle until they have a stop.
B) What training do you do before stockwork?
Most of what I do is basic manners stuff. They learn to walk on a line, with me, not taking me. They will learn "sit" and "lie down" both of which imply that means until I release them. And they will have a solid recall. The one thing I do that is specifically for stock work is to teach them how to properly respond to pressure. So for example when I lift that stock paddle they already know that means to move away from it, not to run up and bite it or roll over like they are dying.
10) What can breeders do to preserve working ability in the breed?
The number one thing...……..WORK their dogs so they know what that dog's genetic tendencies are! Of course that is easier said than done in a lot of cases. I think if breeders would make the commitment to at least put their breeding dogs into the hands of someone who really knows working ACDs for 30-60 days so they have a good idea of what working traits that dog is going to bring to the next generation that would go a long way to making sure the working instincts in the ACD stay strong.