A DAY IN THE LIFE OF CLAIRE APPLE AS TOLD TO KATHY MOLL
Nothing is as exciting as seeing collies doing what they were originally meant to do! What a thrill when the light bulb goes on, and a collie that has never seen livestock before innately recognizes its true calling! There’s not much that compares to seeing your beautiful collie fetching, flanking, heading and driving as herding dogs are supposed to do. It may take more than one introduction, but many collies still have what it takes to do farm work.
The trick once you discover your collie’s instinct for work is to carefully train and enhance the abilities to do chores and/or compete for herding titles. Find a good instructor who likes training upright breeds. The shepherd/handler and the collie must work together to get jobs done efficiently and smoothly. Your instructor can help you decide when you and your collie are ready for test level and trial level titles. The two most popular and accessible herding venues where we live in the southeast are AKC trials and AHBA trials (American Herding Breed Association). Links to both types of trials are at the end of this article.
I had always had an interest in herding, but until I retired from teaching, didn’t have time for anything other than instinct testing my collies. As soon as I was able, I found Claire Apple and began taking herding lessons! At the time, she lived close to me in Chapel Hill, and now she lives even closer. It became apparent early on that I didn’t have the talent it takes to be a good herding handler. In addition, my physical limitations, once I reached my 60s, were more and more apparent. So I let Claire take care of that part of my collie activities while I watched and learned, but stayed out of the way!
The main aim at any trial is to qualify, but Claire is usually not disappointed as long as the effort is a good one. Q’s are terrific, but the close calls are usually more instructive and make for a better handler and trainer!
So what is a day in the life of Claire Apple like at herding trials? When she travels with clients to trials, motel rooms are the norm; otherwise, she camps at the trial site, usually at someone’s farm. She’s up at dawn before the farm owner is up so that she can walk dogs, pick up, play ball or tug, and refresh obedience and flanking commands. Then she loads the dogs and is off to the nearest Sheetz or the like for coffee and breakfast! Some of the dogs get breakfast, some may only get treats, depending upon whether they do better with food or without and depending upon when their class or classes are scheduled to run.
Claire Apple at a trial.
Once folks arrive and start setting up, Claire makes the rounds to socialize, helps get things in order and picks up her numbers. The latter usually requires some loitering near the Trial Secretary’s table, a dangerous habit since she is often “volunteered” to work during classes in which she doesn’t have an entry.
As the trial gets underway, Claire, accompanied by one or two of the dogs, watches classes in which she isn’t entered or isn’t helping with scribing, timing or sorting stock. She watches the rapport between the dogs and handlers running the course, seeing what she can learn from each team.
When the class before the one in which she has entries is being judged, she walks dogs, collects her stock stick and goes to the handler’s meeting for that class. After hearing what the judge has to say, talking with the other exhibitors, trying the gate latches and pondering strategy, she may collect her first entry and head back to the course or wait a while if the class has a large entry. Depending on the particular dog’s pre-run ritual, she will go for a walk, have a play session or sit quietly with each.
Once the number ahead of hers is called, she stays alert. Some runs end early because the handler decides to “retire” or the judge “thank yous” the team, and she doesn’t want to keep the judge waiting. From the time the gate opens, she works to maintain her partnership with the dog and provide what is needed to get the course done. Claire usually has several plans in her head for particular situations because livestock have minds of their own as does the dog. She tries to be prepared for the unexpected.
Collies thrive on positive reinforcement and keeping things fun, as well as "problems" created for them to solve.
The decision to retire before the end of the course or continue when things take an unexpected turn will depend on the dog and how it views its work. After a nice performance, even if there’s no Q but a good effort, the dog gets a treat or toy and goes back to the set-up for a rest. Often there’s a next dog "on deck." Depending upon the number of dogs and the number of runs per dog, this pattern may be repeated up to 12 times at a trial.
After a long, but usually rewarding day, it’s time for food, fun and relaxation for both Claire and the dogs. The main aim at any trial is to qualify, but Claire is usually not disappointed as long as the effort is a good one. Q’s are terrific, but the close calls are usually more instructive and make for a better handler and trainer! Claire has many fond memories of our collies and herding trials, some very recent. For example, this summer our co-owned CH Charlie, RE, NAP, HSAdsc, NDD (several AHBA Level 3 titles) earned his first AKC Advanced herding title – HXAd.
However, four years ago when Claire showed DC Joy CD, RE, HSAdsc, HSBs, HXAds, VX, ROM to her HTCH (AHBA Herding CH) was the best! Claire and Joy teamed up in Berryville, Virginia. On Saturday, Joy was Reserve High in Trial with a 91 from Level 3 Arena class. On Sunday, Joy was High in Trial with a 96 from Level 3 Ranch class. Joy also earned Reserve High Combined for the weekend! We were so happy and proud! At the AKC trials, also in Berryville that weekend, Joy earned High Scoring Collie at the AKC trial from the HXAs class.
We’re looking forward to starting our co-owned smooth puppy, Bridhe, at herding events this fall. With AKC herding, no titles can be earned until the prospect is at least 9-months-old. Her first outing will be next month at the Collie Club of America Eastern Regional Herding Trials.
Bits of wisdom Claire has to share about herding with collies are these. Collies thrive on positive reinforcement and keeping things fun, as well as "problems" created for them to solve. “Take it slow and keep calm with a collie, even if you are frustrated; don't show it! Loose leash walking and recalls are a good way of preparing your dog for herding work and building respect. Black and white distinctions work best when problem solving. Gray areas cause collie anxiety rather than an opportunity for “figuring out a solution.”
> AKC trial information is accessible here
> AHBA trial information is accessible here
Claire Apple is a Barn Hunt Association and American Herding Breeds Association judge and a sheltie breeder. Her other favorite breed is collies; she co-owns four with Deep River’s Kathy Moll. Claire gives classes every day of the week on ducks and sheep and specializes in upright and even some non-herding breeds. She does limited conformation exhibiting as well as obedience, rally and agility, carting and barn hunt showing.