Local business owner and agility coach Catherine Laria has worked and trained Border Collies since 2001. She participates in many dog sports including Agility, Obedience, Dock Diving, Rally, and Sheep Herding. K9 Country Club has become known as one of the finest boarding facilities in Central Texas and the most competitive agility training center. Read the interview below to learn more about Catherine and her journey to where she is in 2015.
Interview Questions & Answers
When did you begin competing in agility and what led you there?
In 1999. I recently split up with the guy I moved to Texas for and my girlfriend and I felt it would be a good opportunity to meet men who loved dogs…. Shows you how clueless we were about this sport in America 😉
How did you come to developing and opening K9 Country Club?
My background work was in Golf Country Clubs (marketing, sales & entertainment). In my spare time I worked for a local Animal Shelter. I was working with the manager to take over when she left but in the end that didn’t work out so I decided to do something on my own. My first idea was to just do obedience training but then my personal dogs had a negative experience when they boarded and so I decided I wanted a place where people’s pets would be treated better.
What challenges have you faced along the way that may surprise people?
How to birth livestock!
When did you start teaching and how did that come about?
I started over 25 years ago with small local neighborhood classes. Because I enjoyed it and had a knack for it, people tended to come around and watch or listen. There was nothing professional or organized, no credentials, just stuff that seemed to work and made sense to me, the dogs, and their owners.
As a coach, what do you find most rewarding about your job? Alternately, most challenging?
My favorite thing to witness as a coach is seeing the light bulb turn on with a student. I see it much quicker with the dog so it’s very rewarding when the student experiences it.
The most challenging is finding the time to train my own dogs instead of always working with others.
What would you consider your biggest accomplishment to date?
One might think this year’s USDAA Nationals. It was definitely the biggest one of my career thus far. But actually it is developing my own Whirlwind Border Collie line. Because truly without those dogs, my life wouldn’t be the same
How do you feel the sport of dog agility has changed through the years?
Agility in my experience is cyclical. Things that we did 20 years ago went away, people came up with different words or systems, then that fades and they old ways come creeping back. But it has changed for the better for sure. It is bigger, more organized, has a huge opportunity for people to travel the country and even the world if they choose. There is so much marketing around it now that anyone anywhere on the planet can find a way to do something active with their dog, and find a community of people to share that with, and I think that’s a good thing.
How have your dogs and training methods changed throughout the years?
My first dog was a husky mix, so my training was a lot of bribery. My first border collie was a mix. She was slow and my training Intel was minimal. So I just ran around the whole course cheerleading her on. If the course was 153 yards I ran 187! My next two border collies were my turning point. My male was tough and pushy and the soft female was my herding dog (I was taking up herding at that time as well). I was very hard on my agility dog. Lots of scolding was incorporated in the tugging and praise. He never told me that was a bad idea so that’s how it went. His son was the same so that’s how I continued to train. Then he had a daughter and the first time I scolded her she was like “NOPE” Bizzy don’t play dat!” and shut down. I quickly had to learn that all BCs are not the same (even if related) and I had to develop my agility training skills. I have now worked with so many styles of dogs I feel very comfortable helping anyone with their partner.
What do you wish your students would take away most importantly from their lessons?
There is usually never a one-time fix for something. Dogs just don’t wake up magically knowing how to run a course. There is work to be done between lessons.
What do you hope to achieve in competition, short and long range?
I want to win a National Championship. Long term, I want to be able to continue to compete at the level we have developed with any dog I am able to train. And I would love to start traveling to other places to help them develop their training skills.
How would you describe your strengths as a trainer, competitor and business owner?
I think my biggest strength as a trainer is my eye. I like to watch the dog as much as the handler to see what they are telling us while they are running. Some people are really good at training how to look for lines, or how to do foot work, or how to move around a course. I am very good at helping handlers see what their dog is trying to tell them while they are running. I am also pretty good at teaching the games and strategy behind them.
As a competitor, I am very aware that for most people (not all but most) the skills are not the whole package. In this sport there is the mental game as well. I work on my mental game as much as my skills training, if not more.
As a business owner, my biggest strength is my creativity and frugalness.
What advice would you give people just starting to compete at agility trials?
Be a student of the sport. If you really want to do this, get with someone whose done it a while and let them help you develop your goals. It could save you a lot of time. Your goals will help determine what trainer you want to go to, how much you want to invest, what type of dog you want to get, etc. Of course goals can change, but it’s a good place to start.
And stay connected to good resources, like this blog.
If you have an idea for an interview, let me know.