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Calista Sophia McKee with all her dogs and the ribbons they're won.
Photo by David Sombach

Calista Sophia McKee may be young, but she already has big ambitions in the dog sports world. The 14-year-old competes in a variety of dog sports with her seven dogs: two Papillons, a Border Collie, three All-American Dogs, and a Weimaraner. Six of these seven dogs are competing during events in the 2023 AKC National Championship Week. McKee previously called Florida home, but her family went on the road full-time earlier this year. They did it so that she could follow her dog sport dreams, especially in her favorite sport: Obedience. In addition to the 2023 AKC National Championship, McKee will also be competing at the 10th annual AKC Obedience Classic and the 12th annual AKC Juniors Obedience Showcase on December 16 and 17 in Orlando, FL.

Starting her Obedience Journey

McKee got her start in the sport of obedience after getting her dog “Skye” for her fifth birthday. They began obedience training together in 2017, when McKee was 8 years old and Skye was 3 years old. She first got involved in obedience through her local 4H club, then by participating in AKC dog shows.

Her deep love of the sport has only increased as her dogs’ skills have advanced. “I just got into high-level obedience with my newer dog,” she says. “Now, I have a high-level obedience dog, and she does scent articles, and retrieving, and she does jumping, and command discrimination, it’s so fun.” Scent articles, in particular, have become one of McKee’s favorite aspects of the sport. “[The skill] is really impressive when a dog does it correctly,” she says.

A New Goal: 50 States in 12 Months

McKee and her family are currently living on the road so that she could pursue her dream of competing in obedience in all fifty states during a 12-month period. The family started traveling to different competitions in July 2023. When they attend the AKC Obedience Classic in Florida, they’ll reach their 26th state. McKee’s family intends to reach their goal in Alaska in June 2024. For McKee, working to reach this goal has allowed to live her dream full-time. “I found it’s really fun to show dogs every weekend, compared to when I did it once a month or two times a month. It sounded really cool to show more consistently,” she says. All those entries are paying off, not only in obedience, but also AKC Rally, versatility, coursing, and herding.

Photo by Pix 'n Pages

Not only is McKee an accomplished trainer and competitor, but she’s also an academically gifted student. To make all this travel possible, McKee enrolled in online school, which allows her to complete her studies virtually from whichever state she’s traveled to compete in. Despite a hectic weekly show schedule, she has maintained a 4.0 grade point average. McKee says she especially appreciates how online school is self-paced, which has allowed her to work at an accelerated pace that gives her more time to train her dogs. This approach has also allowed McKee to get ahead in school, and she will be graduating from 8th grade early, in winter 2024.

Establishing Training Routines

In addition to pursuing her academic studies online, McKee also continues to train her dogs while on the road with virtual dog training coaching sessions. “We train every day, not every single dog gets trained every day. We do three [sessions] one day, and three the next day,” she says.

With the goal of always being competition-ready, McKee consistently trains her dogs to a higher obedience level than where they are currently competing. She says this allows her to be confident that her dogs will be ready to move up, as soon as they earn a title. The biggest training challenge that comes along with living on the road is finding spaces to train, particularly large open spaces where McKee can safely work with the dogs on off-leash healing patterns. Thankfully so far, her family says they’ve always been able to figure something out, even when a dog gets “the zoomies.”

Calista and Bo
Photo by Robert J Skibinski

Getting Competition-Ready

Because McKee has so many dogs, she needs to have a strategy to make sure she gets to the correct ring with the right dog ready to compete, especially for a big show like the AKC National Championship or AKC Obedience Classic. As the competition heats up, McKee says listening to music is part of her routine, which helps her to focus and reset between ring times.

Photo by Pix 'n Pages

During AKC National Championship Week, she will be showing her dogs up to a combined 14 times a day. To make this possible, she will need to warm up her dogs competing, while also getting another dog ready to compete in conformation and Juniors. “We will go and do Rally and obedience, then go and do conformation and Juniors, and then go back and do the rest of Rally and obedience,” she explains. McKee’s parents are also always happy to hold leashes and help make sure everyone is where they need to be.

McKee says she enjoys obedience because how it showcases the amazing bond that dogs and their owners can have. She is especially excited to step into the obedience ring during AKC National Championship Week. “It’s the biggest show I’ve ever been to, and I don’t think there’s anything not to be excited about for this show. It’s huge,” she exclaims. Most of all, McKee is grateful to have found such an encouraging group of obedience competitors around the country who have rooted her on and who she gets to meet during her travels.

The AKC National Championship, presented by Royal Canin, is the dog world’s biggest event of the year! Learn more about conformation and follow your favorite breeds at dog shows throughout the year. They might be competing for the coveted Best in Show title in December!