By Linda Rorem
One particularly dainty sable merle female Collie was among the more than two hundred who lived in cramped, ramshackle pens behind a barbed wire and tire fence at a kennel in Alaska. When the owners of the kennel decided to move their operations to Arizona, she and the others were stuffed into crates in a 10-by-40-foot semi trailer. Nine days later, her life changed. As the truck crossed from Canada into the U.S., vigilant U.S. border officials stopped the truck and discovered the dirty, matted, hungry dogs inside. The owners were arrested and tried for abuse. Volunteers from all over the country came to Montana and “Camp Collie” to help care for the dogs. When, at the conclusion of the proceedings, the dogs were released to carefully selected new homes, several of the “Montana Collies” came to live in Northern California, the sable merle girl among them. She was given the name "Camille" in honor of a lady who housed and fed some of the volunteers who had come from California to help out at Camp Collie.
Photo by Karen Hudson, Family Tails Photography
In her new home, Camille remained withdrawn. She spent long periods hiding in the back of her open crate. She was given lots of loving care and socialization, but progress was slow. After about a month in her new home, her owners took her to a friend's place where there were some sheep and ducks used for herding training. Also present were three of her “Camp Collie” relatives. At the sight of the other Collies at play, Camille brightened and quickly joined in. She was too busy having fun with her Collie friends to notice the sheep and ducks that day. But she came back another day and that time watched the other dogs taking turns herding sheep.
When it was Camille’s turn to try, she was hesitant at first. Soon, however, she showed interest in moving the sheep around. Despite her hesitance – wanting to be sure that what she was doing would meet with approval – it was clear that she liked this new experience.
Camille presented some challenges in herding training because of her background. A sensitive and gentle dog by nature, her prior experiences had exacerbated her sensitivity and left her woefully inhibited and lacking in self-confidence. Would this very non-assertive and passive girl be able to take charge of livestock and respond to the training needed in the development of a herding dog? She clearly didn’t want to get into any kind of trouble. Even with enthusiastic, self-confident beginner dogs, sometimes it can be difficult for them to understand that being given direction and not being allowed to chase with wild abandon doesn’t mean they are doing something wrong or are in trouble.
She was given the name "Camille" in honor of a lady who housed and fed some of the volunteers who had come from California to help out at Camp Collie.
To help Camille understand what was wanted, we started out working with very cooperative sheep that would move readily, yet calmly. While she was encouraged to move freely and show enthusiasm, at the same time she couldn’t, of course, be left to just charge at the sheep and chase. She had to learn to work under direction and in situations that at times could indeed become stressful.
As much as possible, I carefully set up situations that would cause the desired behaviors to occur, making doing the right things easy for her. When she performed the desired maneuver, such as changing direction to move around the sheep and keep them covered, I would label her movement with the appropriate command. She would learn to associate the word with the movement. To teach her to stop on command (she was getting obedience homework to sit/down/stay as well), I would lead the sheep to a corner or against the fence, settle them, and then ask her to stop. She could see the sheep weren’t getting away, so it was appropriate to obey a stop. From this base, she learned to take the stop command when asked in other situations.
The early training sessions were kept short, with guidance through “body English” and praise for the right moves. As time went on, the physical cues were lessened, and Camille came to rely more on the spoken commands. At the same time, she was learning how the sheep behaved. She wasn’t given too many commands overall, but guided more subtly so that she could work with as much initiative as appropriate and not just look to the handler for every move to make.
One annoying habit she soon showed was the love of her own voice. Some dogs will bark at first from excitement or to help boost themselves, but most will soon learn to become quieter. I assumed that this would be the case with Camille. But it became apparent that when she was feeling happy, she barked. And barked. And barked. We tried to gently discourage the barking, but in the end, just decided that it was going to be part of who she was. If we made too big a deal of it, she would think she was doing something wrong and would slow way down or even stop working. So because it was Camille, I just let it go. She still loves to indulge in a bark-session when she is particularly excited, but as time goes on, she has settled into a quieter mode of working.
So we simply took it as it came – if she wanted to work, fine. If not, she would be asked to complete one simple task – I would encourage her with an excited tone – and then we would stop. For any dog, several short lessons are usually better than one long one, anyway.
There were times when Camille would start out working eagerly, then seem to lose interest. Often in that case, I called her to me and gave her a tickle along the back that reassured her and excited her, and she would leap back into her work. There were days when she was really into it, but there were other days when herding the sheep or ducks didn’t seem as important to her. So we simply took it as it came – if she wanted to work, fine. If not, she would be asked to complete one simple task – I would encourage her with an excited tone – and then we would stop. For any dog, several short lessons are usually better than one long one, anyway.
I tried to make things clear-cut and positive, gauging when to add more challenges. A session would start with something familiar and easy, then something more difficult so she could improve her level of skill, and then end with something easy, all within a session that wasn’t too long. Camille made progress and showed signs of learning the commands, but often there was a lack of consistency.
Then the goats came – twelve little Nigerian Dwarf Goats who were experienced in working with dogs, all twelve of them calm and self-satisfied. I had been interested in trying the goats after working with some at a friend’s place. I liked how steady they were. And how small – thinking of how those big, heavy, woolly school sheep could bump into one’s knees.
The goats were great to work with. When the dog was covering them well, they stayed right with the handler. Occasionally one or two of them would try to leave the group and go another direction, so the dog couldn’t just stroll along, but needed to be actively guiding them. Sometimes they would stop and look right back at a dog, staring at it, testing its confidence. Camille hadn’t always been confident with the sheep and even with the ducks. If the stock went into a corner, making it difficult for her to go around them, for example, I would then go with her to help her move them from the corner. Gradually she was gaining confidence, but I wondered what would she do when a goat looked at her with that, “hey, you want something?” attitude.
Camille loved the goats from the first. Just seeing them being moved around caught her attention and she watched them intently. When I took her into the arena with them, she immediately raced around them, thrilled. She barked a bit, then settled down as she brought them to me. When one looked at her, she just paused and looked back. And the goat decided to be the one who would give ground.
One day when I went out in the field with her, some sheep were intermingled with the goats. Before I had a chance to set anything up, Camille went out to the mixed group, gathered up only the goats, and brought them to me. Sheep were okay, but they weren’t special like little goats! She would get the sheep if I asked, but left to her own devices, it was the goats who counted.
Because of her interest in the goats, we were able to make better progress. She never grew bored with the goats, and because of her positive experiences with them soon was responding to commands more smoothly, and her skill in handling the sheep, ducks and geese improved as well. For Camille, a visit to the ranch wasn’t complete without some work with the goats.
Not too long ago I took the goats across the road to the bigger field to work them in a new place with another dog. A couple of the goats in the group were individuals who liked to be troublemakers, splitting off from the other goats, trying to stare a dog down, or wandering away by themselves. The Border Collie I was working is a very talented dog, but the goats kept trying their tricks on her. She handled them fine, but the two troublemakers continually tried to slip away.
When Camille's turn came, rather than take the goats back across the road to the arenas where she regularly worked, I decided to let her try to work them in the big field. I wasn’t sure how well she’d be able to deal with them there. I had generally used the more cooperative goats with her, but this group contained the two trickiest ones. I thought, well, I could just keep them near the holding pens where the sheep were, rather than going too far out into the pasture. That way, if the naughty ones did make a break for it, they wouldn’t have too far to go.
One day when I went out in the field with her, some sheep were intermingled with the goats. Before I had a chance to set anything up, Camille went out to the mixed group, gathered up only the goats, and brought them to me. Sheep were okay, but they weren’t special like little goats!
So I collected Camille and brought her out. I sent her around the goats and started walking away from the pens. Camille went right to work, happy to be with the goats. She moved behind them with a slight side-to-side motion, keeping them grouped with me as I walked across the field. I went farther and farther from the pens. I turned one direction and then another. The goats stayed right with me. I let them settle and graze a little with Camille sitting attentively and watching. We did little outruns and even a little driving, which she is just starting to learn to do. Not a single goat, not even the notoriously independent red-and-white one named, "Fairy Moth," tried to run away or stop and graze when they were supposed to be moving. None of them tried any of their tricks. They all seemed to be as happy to walk around the field with Camille as she was to be working them. There was no doubt about it. Not only did Camille like the goats, but they were amenable to her sometimes-pushy but considerate approach. If Babe the Pig had secret words for sheep, Camille had secret words for the goats.
Camille has been doing a little trialing. She has the started duck titles in the programs of the American Kennel Club and the American Herding Breed Association, with a leg toward intermediate ducks in both AKC and AHBA. In AHBA she also has her Herding Ranch Dog I title on sheep, and a leg toward HRD II-s. Her most recent accomplishment is Herding Trial Arena Dog I (HTAD I) on goats. And when she earned the qualifying run that completed her title, she also collected the High in Trial in the goat classes.
Today, Canterbury Coquette Camille, CGC, OA, OAJ, STD-d, HRD I-s, HTD I-d, HTAD I-d, HRD I-g, HTAD I-g, Delta Pet Partner therapy dog, is a happy girl who loves to run and play, head up and tail flying. Her coat, dry and dull yellow when she first came off the truck, is now soft, richly colored and glorious. Camille continues to hone her herding techniques. She still likes to get into a barking session at times, but her periods of working quietly are increasing. And while she will work the sheep, ducks and geese too, she continues to make it clear that her little goats are her favorites.
| About Linda Rorem
Linda Rorem has long been interested in the herding breeds, their use
and history. Growing up, her family’s dogs included Collies, German
Shepherds, and an English Shepherd. In the late 1970s she acquired her
first Shetland Sheepdog, Pascha, and in the early 1980s began working
with him on sheep. She began trialing with Pascha in the Australian
Shepherd Club of America program, and since that time, two of her
Shelties, Cailie and Shaela (daughter of Pascha and Cailie), went on to
earn herding championships in all three title programs -- ASCA, AHBA and
AKC. Her Rough Collie, Chelsea, was the first Collie to earn the AKC’s
advanced herding title.
Linda helped in the development of the herding programs of the American
Working Collie Association (Rough and Smooth Collies), the American
Herding Breed Association (of which she was a founding member), and the
American Kennel Club, and has been a herding judge for AHBA and AKC. The
descendants of her original Shelties have earned a number of
championships and advanced titles in the different programs, and she has
also worked with friends’ dogs, trialing in ASCA, AHBA, AKC, and in a
few Border Collie trials. Breeds she has trained to advanced titles
include, in addition to the Shelties, two Rough Collies, a Briard,
German Shepherd, Samoyed, Border Collie, Australian Shepherd, and
Bearded Collie. In helping others with training, she has worked with a
wide variety of breeds.
Linda has written a number of articles, some of which are on her website
She enjoys practical farm and ranch work most of all, and in trials the
ranch courses are her favorites.