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You may not have heard of a Nederlandse Kooikerhondje, and even if you have, you might not know how to pronounce the breed’s name. So if you see 7-year-old GCH CH MACH Cirtap’s Hertogin Senna V Tira-C MXB MJG XF T2B FCAT TKN (known as “Senna”) compete at the 2023 AKC Agility Premier Cup in Columbus, Ohio, you might not realize that a rare breed is competing right before your eyes. But owner-handler Liz Barshack says that’s no reason to count this agile dog out of the competition.

Getting Involved with Kooikers

In 2004, Barshack’s Vizsla, “Ruby,” got her owner started in dog sports. Though Barshack got Ruby to be her running partner, they also took Obedience classes together. It was at one of these classes that the instructor noted that Ruby was very smart and active, and recommended that they try agility.

“As soon as you get that first ribbon, you just keep going,” Barshack says. Soon after, she got her first Nederlandse Kooikerhondje, River, as a companion for Ruby, and they began doing dog sports together as well. River was successful in agility, earning his MACH and MACH2 before the breed was even fully AKC-recognized.

But the story of how she discovered the breed was pretty straightforward. It was through AKC’s Breed of the Day feature that she found Kooikers. “I was actually on the AKC website, and saw a little dog up in the right-hand corner,” she says. “It turned out it was a Kooiker. I started researching the breed, and it turned out there aren’t many in the United States, [but] I like having something different.”

The more research she did, the more the breed appealed to her. “I just liked that they were a little smaller than my Vizsla, and the grooming requirements were very easy. They are smart, active dogs, and I always liked sporting breeds.”

Adding an Agility Prodigy to the Mix

Barshack ended up getting Senna from the same breeder as River, though they weren’t related. And despite Senna’s Agility success today, Barshack didn’t originally get her for the sport. She’d initially planned to breed Senna to River.

“It’s interesting, her dad was a really well-known agility dog in Germany. He was competing against other world team people, and doing really well. When I found out my breeder was using him for her next litter, I thought I really needed one of those puppies.”

Despite Senna’s promising Agility heritage, Barshack didn’t put full emphasis on the sport right away. “I took it kind of slow with her, to be honest. Mostly, I just wanted her to be a happy puppy and build a relationship with her,” Barshack says. “If Agility worked out, it worked out. If not, that’s okay. But she loves it.”

An Impressive Agility Competitor


Senna is now halfway to her MACH2 and is the only Nederlandse Kooikerkondje competing in this year’s AKC Agility Premier Cup. Barshack says that they don’t trial very often for a few reasons. Senna is an intact bitch, so they don’t go to competitions when she’s in season, and an injury a few years back took her out of trials for a little while. Barshack also worked with Senna to get her titles in Conformation, including her Grand Championship, a process that also took time away from agility.

“I tried to balance it out. Not a lot of trialing, but she shows up when she needs to. She’s just always been fast and pretty consistent,” Barshack says.

Multi-Sport Dog

Aside from Agility and Conformation, Senna also participates in other dog sports, like Diving and Fast CAT. Although she doesn’t jump very far, in Diving, Barshack says she has fun participating. Senna especially enjoys Fast CAT because she likes to run. Senna competed in Fast CAT Invitationals the past two years. “She’s fast for her breed, I should say. She can hold her own with the other dogs, but she’s smaller,” Barshack says, noting that Senna is about 15-3/4 inches tall, compared to the typical 18 inches of many other dogs in her height class.


The Kooiker also likes Dock Diving. And although she doesn’t jump very far, Barshack says she has fun participating.

Breeding the Next Generations of Kooikers

Unfortunately, both River and Barshack’s Vizsla, Ruby, have since passed away. But Barshack has added more dogs to the family—a 12-year-old Border Collie and Senna’s daughter, “Fiia,” whom Barshack bred herself.

“She’s got a lot of drive. She loves to run and bark and loves to tug. She’s super-smart,” Barshack says of Fiia. “Whether she likes the environment of agility, I don’t know, but we’ll see. I’m just taking it slow with her and letting her find her way.”

Barshack says she always wanted to get into breeding, and hopes to someday be a breed judge herself. Nederlandse Kooikerlandjes were the breed that pushed her to start breeding.

“I’ve always wanted to raise a litter and breed. I just think with Kooikers in particular, I like that we can introduce different genetics. We have more options now than we used to – it’s about being a preservation breeder, to help the breed along.

Advice When Looking for Nederlandse Kooikerhondjes

Barshack emphasizes that although they are very cute dogs, there is more to Kooikers than meets the eye.

“There are pros and cons. They do have a high prey drive, which is probably why some of them are really good at Fast CAT and Barn Hunt and things like that, but they can take off after a bird or a squirrel. They are sensitive, but I really like them.”

She says potential buyers should get to know breeders and what they’ve done with their dogs prior to breeding them. “Make sure health testing is done. See what titles the dog has earned,” Barshack says. “Really do your research, and ask a lot of questions.”

A Breed Ambassador at the AKC Agility Premier Cup


Senna is often the only Kooiker at agility competitions, and she’s the only Nederlandse Kooikerhondje at the AKC Agility Premier Cup. With Kooikers being a rarer breed, it’s a bit harder to find other owners, but Barshack says that they all seem to meet somehow. Senna’s cousins live with Barshack’s good friend in Tennessee, and are some of the top dogs in Flyball. They have helped put Kooikers on the map across different dog sports, just as Senna has done with Agility.

But despite the breed not being one that people see every day, people tend to recognize Senna at events and know what breed she is. Though she’s not as outgoing as River was, she warms up to people at events quickly. “She’s just a special dog, is all I can say,” Barshack shares.

Looking ahead to the AKC Agility Premier Cup, Barshack hopes she and Senna will have two clean runs. “I’m hoping that we’ll be more consistent, but fast enough to make the final. We’ll see that happens.”

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