Herding CH Interview with Christine Carilli of Massachusetts
Interview by Collies Online
When did you first get interested in Herding events?
I think it was in '98 when I was first introduced to herding. I was working as a travel nurse and had taken a job in San Diego, California. I had been training my first Collie, Mac, in obedience (which he hated), and someone at our obedience training club gave me a flyer for a herding instinct test. Mac was bred by Gail Sanborn of Lee, New Hampshire, who had used her Collies to work cattle some time in the past, so I thought I'd see what he'd do. You could almost see that lightbulb go on over his head when he started working those sheep. We then started training with Terry Parrish for the next year, until I moved back east.
Pictured above: Chris Carilli's first collie, Mac.
Has your understanding of training changed since you first started? If so, how?
I don't think my understanding of herding training has changed. I've always trained with USBCHA "Border Collie people," although I've done clinics with many other folks who have different philosophies on herding training. I'm willing to try almost anything to see if it works.
Have you or do you compete in other performance venues, please name them and tell us why they appeal to you.
No, I quit doing obedience once we started herding, and unfortunately, I don't have the time or resources to do any other dog sport.
What part of the country to do you compete in? Are there any advantages (or disadvantages) related to the part of the country in which you train?
I've lived in Massachusetts for the past 11 years. I actually have to drive farther to train here than I did in California! There aren't as many trials or trainers in New England, although it seems to be getting better. Most of the trials in New England are ASCA or NEBCA/USBCHA (Border Collies).
Where do you do your herding training. What are the advantages to where you train? Is there anything you would change, if you could?
I've been training with Denise Leonard for the past 11 years. I live in the city, and my dogs get out to stock once a week (weather permitting in winter). The advantage to having a regular trainer is the consistency in training; and it's nice to have someone to bounce ideas off and who can provide me with the different types of sheep to work. If we want to slow things down, we'll work the entire flock of sheep. If I need to practice on light sheep to get ready for a trial, we work the lambs. When my lesson's done, I get to drive off and not worry about maintaining the livestock. That being said, I have wanted my own farm for some time now, so that I can train more often. It really slows our progress only working once a week.
How far do you travel for herding trials?
For AKC trials, I usually go to Pennsylvania or southern New Jersey, occasionally Virginia, and I make an annual trip to Florida. There are plenty of ASCA trials in New England. AHBA trials are my favorite, especially the ranch course, again, I have to drive to the mid-Atlantic or Virginia.
Tell us about your Collie or Collies that attained herding Championships.
I put an AKC HC on Mac, my first Collie. He set the bar pretty high for all dogs that have come after him. He was quite a handful, very willful and independent (and loud!). I hadn't been training with Terry very long, and she told me I could "go all the way" with him. I loved that dog more than just about anything. He was a real hard head though, very independent, really wanted to work livestock HIS way. He was a fetching fool, and if you didn't pay attention, he'd sneak under fences to go work sheep.
His son, Ace, has AKC and AHBA championships. Ace is a much more sensitive dog than his dad, so I've had to work hard at adjusting my handling. Occasionally, when he thinks I'm absolutely wrong about something, he'll mouth off and all I can do is laugh, because that comes from his father. Ace is better at driving and rating his stock than his dad, and unlike Mac, he LOVES working ducks.
Describe a "typical" herding training day.
My work schedule varies week to week (I'm an ED nurse), but I usually have lessons weekday late afternoon/early evening. I drive two hours each way to get to Denise's, so the whole process takes up six hours of a day. Boy, I can't wait to just walk out my back door to train my dogs!
When you started herding training do you intentionally set out to attain a herding title on your Collie?
When I first started training, I just wanted to have something I could DO with Mac. He really needed a job. Terry saw the potential in him pretty quickly, so we started trialing after five or six months of training.
How long did it take you to achieve the Herding Championship title on your Collie(s)?
It took me six years to complete the HC with Mac. The hardest part was getting his "major" win. At the time, there weren't many dogs competing in advanced, so we had multiple "minor" wins and lots of points when we finally finished. Ace took five years to achieve the HTCh and seven for the HC. I think it took us longer to finish the HC than with Mac because I had to alter my handling. Also, there are a lot more advanced dogs these days, I think the competition has gotten stiffer for the AKC trials.
What were some of the challenges that you encountered in your pursuit of the title?
Well, the vagaries of the AKC herding program have been challenging, especially when they changed to stock/course specific titles and the constant revisions to the rules. I was having a difficult time with A course with Mac, before I realized that I needed to course train him in order to improve our scores. Thankfully, my trainer fenced off a smaller area so I could build an A course to train on.
What were some of the key lessons that you learned along the way?
Be consistent, but don't be afraid to try new training methods. The biggest advice I could give to novices would be to WATCH YOUR STOCK! The sheep will tell you if the dog is correct. I'll give two examples:
Mac was a very loud dog, he would bark non-stop from the minute I set him up for the outrun. One day, at a trial on an advanced A course, I noticed the sheep did NOT want to set at the grain pan and the stock handlers were having a terrible time with them. I hadn't seen that other advanced folks were having this problem. Then, I looked down at Mac, who was sitting bolt upright, staring at the sheep and barking at them. DUH, no wonder the sheep wanted out of there! I had to think about what I could do, short of duct taping my dog's mouth shut. What I did do, from then on, was to have Mac lie down and roll over on his side. The sheep would hear him, but they wouldn't see him as they came out into the arena, so the set outs went much better after that!
Ace has a tendency to stop a few steps after he lifts the sheep. I would keep encouraging him to "walk up, WALK UP!" then the sheep would come past me at the cone, and we'd have a terrible time making the turn around the cone to drive to the Y chute. Again, I finally figured it out one day when Ace REFUSED to walk up, he was standing at the cross drive panel and barking. I then noted that the sheep were at my feet, standing quietly. My dog was absolutely correct, and I should have been looking at the sheep, not the dog!
What advice would you give others in pursuit of the coveted herding championship title?
Well, general advice for novices is to be consistent in getting your dog to livestock.
Find a trainer you who will work with you regularly. My trainers are my mentors -- without them, there would be no herding and no titles. Go to trials and watch the advanced runs. If you can't find a trainer, that's where to look for one.
For people who are working on their advanced titles or HC, it pays to go to different trials to find the ones where your dog can shine. You're going to have to spend some time strategizing, i.e., you have to decide which course/livestock your dog has the best chance of winning, so you can focus on that to get those HC points.