Sarah Brown is only nineteen years old but in a relatively short time she and her Nederlandse Kooikerhondje dog Charlie (BISS CH Foothills Charlie Brown CGC TKP “Charlie”) have already accomplished a lot. Nederlandse Kooikerhondje might have a hard name to pronounce, but these animated orange and white dogs are easily recognizable in the Sporting group! Originally from the Netherlands, Nederlandse Kooikerhondje were bred to lure ducks into a cage for the hunter to bring them to market and now excel at a variety of canine sports. In April 2019, when Sarah was seventeen, she handled Charlie as he won Best of Breed at the first official Nederlandse Kooikerhondjes national specialty.
Although she has loved animals all her life Sarah didn’t start showing dogs until she was a teenager. Sarah actually credits her high school with getting her involved in the sport. “I went to Norfolk County Agricultural High School, an amazing school that has an extensive animal program. I majored in Canine Science, and from there learned everything there is to know about the world of dogs.”
Sarah explained that in addition to high school coursework focused on grooming and training as part of the curriculum, she learned about behavior, canine anatomy, health, breeding genetics, and even showing. “We actually had a mock Conformation and Obedience dog show at the school every winter and spring, as well as an entire unit on dog sports” explained Sarah who at that point was hooked on dog sports. Sarah attended her first dog show when she was sixteen and one year later was winning a national specialty!
Finding Nederlandse Kooikerhondjes
Nederlandse Kooikerhondjes — or Kooikers as they are often called by those who love the breed — are considered a rare breed only having been AKC-recognized since 2018. Sarah fell in love with these dogs by doing her homework, literally. “I was determined to find the perfect dog breed for me after I had recently fallen in love with training dogs at my school. I obsessed over it for days, putting together a massive spreadsheet that had every single AKC-recognized breed (plus the miscellaneous group, which Kooikerhondjes were in at the time). I researched each one’s size, energy level, grooming needs, their trainability, and more until I ended up with a refined selection of dogs that I was interested in.” From that initial research, Sarah did even more research and narrowed her list of possible breeds she wanted to own down. “The breed that came out on top time and again was the Nederlandse Kooikerhondje- a breed that I previously didn’t even know existed.” After falling in love with the breed Sarah did more research and eventually got into contact with breeders which led to her bringing Charlie home and the two began training and showing.
The year 2019 marked the first breed specialty for the Nederlandse Kooikerhondjes. As an owner-handler, Sarah handled Charlie at the specialty, where he won Best of Breed.
“It was kind of like the feeling when you’re on a rollercoaster and the big drop is coming up,” Sarah says. “Heart pounding, butterflies in your stomach, so much excitement that you can’t focus on anything else. It felt like I was stuck in a dream, and the fact that I got to experience it all with my best friend by my side wagging his tail is something I will never forget. It will forever hold a spot in my heart as one of my favorite memories.” After the national specialty, Charlie then went on to finish his championship in June 2019 and he finished in the top 5 for Nederlandse Kooikerhondjes in 2019, which earned Sarah and Charlie an invite to Westminster. They received a second invite to Westminster for winning the breed specialty. In addition to his success in the conformation ring, Charlie has also earned his CGC title, as well as Trick Dog Titles.
Sarah and Charlie competed at Westminster for the first time in 2020. Sarah describes the experience as amazing, regardless of how Charlie did: “Charlie didn’t place, but that isn’t the thing that pops into my mind when I think about that show. I think about the excitement I felt on that green carpet, the happiness emanating from my dog, and the sense of community that the entire show had to it.”
Which, after all, is what dog shows are all about. Sarah and Charlie had already had a lot of success in the breed ring, but Sarah felt Charlie actually seemed to fall in love with competing on Westminster’s green carpet. She explains: “One of my absolute favorite moments in competing with him was seeing the moment that he fell in love with showing. He was never the biggest fan of all the noise and commotion of dog shows, but earlier this year at Westminster, he was acting as if it was the best day of his life. Maybe I should have been upset that he was jumping up on me like he wanted to play and trying to run around the ring instead of gaiting, but all I saw was a dog that was having the time of his life. He had a big smile on his face, and a sparkle in his eye that I hadn’t seen with him before.”
Even though Charlie didn’t actually win at Westminster, Sarah explains that seeing her dog have fun in the ring “was more meaningful than any ribbon could ever be.”
Encouragement to other Junior Handlers
For kids and teens interested in showing dogs, it can feel overwhelming and hard to know where to start. Sarah encourages any youth interested in the sport to “go for it!” Sarah offers these tips she and Charlie learned along the way that she hopes will help other teens interested in getting involved with dog shows:
1. Find a mentor to help guide you. Whether that’s someone in your own breed, or a knowledgeable dog person in general.
2. Find a training center where you can go practice. Not only will you learn a lot from the teachers, but it will also help you meet people in the show community!
3. Have fun. I know everyone says it, but honestly- don’t take it so seriously. We’re all just a bunch of crazy people trotting around a ring in hopes of getting a five-cent ribbon. Your dog will sense your stress, so try to relax and enjoy yourself!
These strategies have certainly worked for Sarah and her dogs, who not only win big but have a lot of fun at the same time.
After returning home from Westminster, Sarah and Charlie have continued to compete in Conformation together. Sara’s future plans include earning Charlie’s Grand Championship, as well as Obedience and Agility titles. In addition, Sarah and Charlie currently train in Obedience, Rally, Agility, and she hopes to try Barn Hunt with him in the near future. Sarah also has a puppy at home Nederlandse Kooikerhondje, “Lucy” Carousel Golden Gate Call Me Irresistible @ Lokken NTD. Lucy will be competing in Conformation, and at eight months old has begun titling in Tricks and has already shown a lot of drive and aptitude for the sport of Obedience. Sarah looks forward to competing with Lucy in both Obedience and Rally in the future, and also plans to keep exploring new sports with both dogs to find what they love and excel at noting “whatever we end up doing together, I know it’s going to be fun!”