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Kathy Hubbard

If you’ve been checking out AKC’s most popular dog breeds, you’ve probably seen the French Bulldog and Labrador Retriever topping the list, and eagle-eyed viewers might’ve also noticed breeds like the Gordon Setter gaining popularity. The athletic Gordon Setter knows hows to make an impression in the competition ring. In fact, two of the three Gordon Setters who qualified to compete in the 2023 AKC Rally® National Championship (RNC) belong to owner-handler Kathy Hubbard of Dekalb, Illinois.

Competing for the second year in a row is 9-year-old “Jesse” (Blackthorn’s Highland Traveler CD PCD BN GN RA), who will compete in the AKC Rally® Advanced class. He scored in the top 25 qualifiers in the AKC Rally® Intermediate class at AKC RNC in 2022. 3-year-old “Gibson” (CH Bravo’s Clandestine Operation BN RI CGCA TKN) will be making his first appearance in this year’s competition, competing in the Rally Novice class.

Hubbard’s Gordon Setter Journey

In 1979, Hubbard and her husband got their first Gordon Setter from a breeder friend. Since then, they have owned 13 Gordon Setters, six purchased from breeders and seven from the Gordon Setter Club of America Rescue Program.

Hubbard began working with her club’s rescue program in 1998. Over the years, she has helped re-home more than 200 Gordon Setters, fostering many of them in her home. “I feel a real connection and a love of this breed, as well as a dedication to helping those Gordon Setters who have lost their homes and families onto a new and happy life.”

Kathy Hubbard

She believes that training is essential to bonding with her dogs, starting with basic obedience classes for manners and socialization. “Gordon Setters don’t handle repetition very well,” she explains. “So, it’s important to keep training sessions short and upbeat. Plus, it’s fun for them to have one-on-one time with me.”

For dogs that have the desire and aptitude, she’ll continue on with them to upper-level classes. She also provides her dogs with opportunities to participate in Barn Hunt or certified Therapy Dog work. At home, she strives to use consistent training practices, knowing that her dogs learn from each other. Jesse and Gibson attend formal training classes three days a week. “These classes focus on teamwork and accuracy of ring-ready skills, but also on keeping a positive work ethic and making training enjoyable for me and my dogs,” she says.

Get to Know Jesse and Gibson

Hubbard got Jesse when he was a puppy. He started training in basic obedience skills immediately. Jesse has worked hard in Obedience and AKC Rally competitions. In addition to receiving his Beginner Novice (BN), Preferred Novice (PCD), Novice (CD), and Graduate Novice (GN) Obedience titles, he has earned his Rally Advanced (RA) title.

Currently, Hubbard is training Jesse on off-lead work at the Open level. She hopes Jesse will earn his Open Obedience title before the end of 2023. “We just finished his Grad Novice title this year, and are working on doing more off-lead exercises,” she says. When Jesse isn’t training, he likes to hang around the house and cuddle. Sometimes, he can be a bit of a couch potato. “He just wants to snuggle up right next to you and be your pal,” she says.

Kathy Hubbard

Gibson is following closely in Jesse’s pawprints. The Gordon Setter received his AKC S.T.A.R Puppy certification, which involves learning how to communicate with your puppy and gives them an opportunity to socialize with other dogs, and he got his AKC Trick Dog Novice class certification by the time he was 7 months old. He also pass his Canine Good Citizen (CGC) and Canine Good Citizen Advanced (CGCA) tests early in his training career. “Getting him out in the Conformation ring as a six-month-old puppy really helped him get used to being in big spaces and developing confidence around a large group of people,” Hubbard says.

In 2022, Gibson finished his breed championship at 2-1/2 years old. “Now we’re concentrating on other sports like Rally and Obedience, and we’re hoping to begin working in Agility,” she says. Since Gibson is only 3, he’s more active than Jesse. “He tends to get into things and cause trouble with the other dogs,” Hubbard adds.

AKC Rally: Giving Dogs a Solid Foundation

Hubbard appreciates the foundation that AKC Rally gives her dogs. She notes that the sport was “developed from an obedience training practice that consisted of warm-up and freestyle exercises. These exercises taught skills that were needed for accuracy in the Obedience competition ring.”

Hubbard began training in the sport before AKC Rally competitions were officially instituted in 2005. Just three months after the sport was instituted, Hubbard received her first qualifying score toward her dog’s Rally Novice title. “Now I’m finding that it helps me in other avenues of training,” she says. “There’s a great deal of crossover between the skills needed in all levels of Obedience competitions and the exercises we learn in Rally. Rally helps to develop attention and focus because we can talk to our dogs and encourage them. It also helps the handler feel more comfortable in the ring.”

In addition to AKC Rally, many of Hubbard’s dogs have completed titles in Conformation and Obedience. In addition, they have been ranked nationally with the Gordon Setter Club of America and awarded recognition through that club. Hubbard has already owned and handled two Gordon Setters to their Conformation championships. “I’m very proud of training and handling my own dogs in all AKC sports, and I try to keep my dogs in competitions at least monthly,” she says.

Kathy Hubbard

She credits their successes to her trainers and her network of dog-training friends. Her primary trainer is Ronnie Bizer of Kanosak Canine Training in Maple Park, Illinois, an approved AKC judge for Regular and Non-Regular Obedience and AKC Rally classes. Having supportive friends in the dog sports world makes all the difference. “We encourage each other as we train, cheer on each other in competition, and commiserate with each other when we’ve had a bad day in the ring,” Hubbard says. “We work together to make our dogs the best that they can be.”

A real highlight of events like AKC RNC is seeing old friends and meeting new people. “I’m very proud of my dogs and of the Gordon Setter breed,” she says. “I’m glad to demonstrate to others their versatility and competency in the sport of Rally.”

What to Know as a Prospective Owner

Owning a Gordon Setter is a long-term commitment. “They remain active and very fun-loving well into a 12-year lifespan,” Hubbard says. A highly intelligent and intuitive breed, Gordon Setters “often train their owners to do their bidding before the owners even realize they’re being trained by the dog,” she adds.

“These dogs are bred to work, and they need a job that involves at least some physical and mental exercise with their owner each day,” she says. “They’ll return that attention 100-fold with their love and devotion to their family members.”