You could say Judith Kelly has spent a lifetime out of playing with dogs. In fact, she’s made two separate careers out of it – breeding and training sled dogs in her youth and now training herding dogs. It was at a sled competition, in fact, that she met her first Border Collie.
“This couple had a dairy farm before they started racing a sled team,” Judith recounted. “And they had their family pet running lead. I thought, some day I am going to have a dog like that. Someday, I am going to get involved in this other game, so to speak.”
Judith, four dogs and few sheep will demonstrate the popular hobby in front of a crowd at this weekend’s Celtic Festival in Marathon, Florida. The spectacles are set for Saturday, Jan. 11 at 8:30 a.m., 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
She is, of course, bring a few sheep from her facility — Asher Dell Farms located just outside Melbourne, Florida — where her flock numbers 50. The special breed are suited for Florida weather because are wool-less and have a higher metabolism. At the farm, the sheep meet new dogs every week. Judith holds a standing Saturday class for hobbyists from around that part of the state and special appointments during the work week. Border Collies, she said, are the gold standard for those interested in learning about the ancient practice of herding, but she trains a mish-mash of animals.
“I work with the all breeds. But there are many dogs that will herd including Shelties, German shepherds, Rottweilers and Samoyeds. You wouldn’t think of a Rottweiler as a herding dog, but it is,” she said. “Herding is a natural instinct. It’s not something that happens because your dog is smart. It’s in their gene pool.”
Recently, she’s been working with a new-to-her breed: the Pacardy Shepherd, a French breed. The dog belongs to a woman who rescued it off a city street in Atlanta, Georgia.
“It looks just like Benji,” Judith said.
In Marathon, Judith will give a brief lecture about the history of herding dogs staring with ancient practices up to modern-day techniques. She’ll cover how to start a puppy or young dog, what the dog learns and how to help shape the animal’s natural inclinations.
“It’s a heritage lesson that will appeal to both parents and children,” she said. “It’s similar to what I do at the farm.”
Judith and her dogs have been featured in books and television shows aired on the Disney Channel, National Geographic and Animal Planet. Quite often, she said, Border Collie magazines and calendars feature photographs of her dogs.