From Letters to Books

With the Internet only a click away, it is difficult to imagine a time in our history when access to information was difficult to come by. As were establishing the Australian Shepherd from an obscure breed of dogs into mainstream popularity and developing our Las Rocosa bloodlines in the 1950s — there were no videos or DVD’s (they hadn’t been invented yet), many books were not yet in print or available and training clinics were very few and far between. As a point of reference, one of the common causes of death in dogs was distemper, DNA wasn’t discovered until 1953 and organizations such as OFA and CERF didn’t exist.

My mother, who has always been a big advocate of education made sure that if there was a seminar reachable, we attended it. If there was a book obtainable, she ordered it and we all took turns reading and discussing it. We were learning together.

One of the first training books my parents gave me as a little girl was the Purina Farm Dog Book. It had pictures of Carl Bradford — who was the Ohio State University Research Center Shepherd — working his beautiful Border Collies. National Geographic Book of Dogs also had wonderful pictures of his dogs herding sheep and ducks. It was so enjoyable to see his of his dogs moving ducks around miniature white fence obstacles. That is what I wanted to do with my dogs. I finally got the opportunity to meet Mr. Bradford when I was in Ohio for a judging assignment. It was an enjoyable visit.

From the time I was a child, we used our dogs to fetch stock out of pastures or for any other job we needed them to do. While growing up – it was not unusual to see someone send an Aussie ¼ to a ½ mile away to gather a group of animals and bring them into the corrals. We didn’t have to train them for work. It was natural for them to go out and bring the stock in…it was pure instinct. The pups learned as they went along doing chores. They delighted in pleasing us and were eager to gain our approval which was their desired reward.

It wasn’t until my parents met Lewis Pence, a sheep shearer and Border Collie trainer from Ohio that we learned how to teach a dog to “fetch” sheep and other skills to develop successful trial dogs. They had traveled to Texas in the late 1960s to attend the open sheepdog or Border Collie trials and the Catahoula Leopard Cowdog Trials. We were helping create a working dog program, some type of Stockdog Certification to preserve the working instinct in Australian Shepherds.

They met other men who had been to Scotland and learned this type of handling and training, but would not teach it to others. Lewis Pence was a very unselfish man who was willing to share his knowledge with anyone who asked. He wasn’t afraid of the competition. Lewis was also one of the few men who actually trained his own dogs — unlike many of the others who were importing trained Border Collies, but didn’t know how to train themselves. We also discovered that most of the other trainers we met at that time were unable to handle any breed that didn’t react like their own dogs.

There was a lot of trial and error on our part, but we learned and succeeded in creating a viable Stock Dog Program for ASCA that also gave way to the AKC Herding Program. Through the years, many people have called and written letters to my family inquiring about training as well as breeding and raising Australian Shepherds. We have talked with hundreds of people and wrote even more letters. It was only natural that the most frequently asked questions eventually became articles, and the articles led to writing, All About Aussies: Australian Shepherds from A to Z. The first edition was published in 1985.

Even though my name is listed as the author, I could never have written the book without the input from my entire family who helped develop a bloodline of distinction and collectively has conducted seminars throughout North America as well as in Europe and the British Isles. Together, “we” wrote a book — backed by our many miles and years of experience — to give others a resource that was not available when we got started.

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