The AKC's Youngest Triple Threat
By Brenna Fender
For many agility competitors, a MACH is an end-goal, and earning that championship is an honor that’s hard to top. For one team, though, the MACH was the third of three major dog sport accomplishments. And if that wasn’t amazing enough, Kim Berkley and her English Springer Spaniel, CH OTCH MACH Polesitter’s Danica Dazzles UDX3 OM6 VER RE OF (Dani), finished the third of her three championships, the MACH, at only two-and-a-half-years of age, making her the youngest dog to have earned this AKC triple championship. Dani racked up other accomplishments on the way, including being ranked as the number one AKC obedience Springer Spaniel in 2010.
Accomplishing three top titles in a several avenues of competition is certainly an amazing feat. But Kim has done a lot more than that. She has two other dogs that have been very successful recently as well. Debbie Stover, who both trains and works with Berkley, says, “Kim tends to be modest, but when you think of all she’s accomplished over the past few years, it’s fairly amazing. Three MACH dogs in just over a year. Three OTCH dogs in 20 months. The youngest CH OTCH MACH in AKC history.” Amazing is an understatement.
With so much success in so many areas, it’s clear that Kim Berkley knows a thing or two about cross training, and about how to move quickly through what takes many of us years to train. How does she do it? I asked Kim some questions to find out.
Brenna Fender (BF): Where did Dani come from and how did you choose her?
Kim Berkley (KB): Dani came from breeder Mike Bockhorn, Polesitter English Springer Spaniels, from Collinsville, Illinois. I have helped Mike with his Springers for a few years, but had never thought of owning one. After my Golden finished her OTCH, I was thinking of getting another dog. (I needed a project). Wendy Culbertson had seen the litter and told Mike she thought I should have Dani. So he brought her over and I fell in love with her. Mike and Wendy knew I was looking for a challenge, and they both saw extra something in [Dani]!
BF: Was Dani bred to be a multi-sport dog in specific? Were her parents multi-titled?
KB: No, she was bred as a conformation dog; there are no performance dogs in her background. Her sire started his obedience and agility career at nine years of age and he now has his Beginner Novice title and two legs towards his Novice Jumpers Preferred title!
BF: Did you know that you wanted to do so many different things with her when you got her?
KB: Yes, I had high hopes for Dani from the start. When I got her in 2009, I was just finishing putting OTCHs on two of my other dogs, Lucy (a Golden Retriever) and Huntleigh (a black Lab). My first competition dog, Bruno (a Miniature Poodle), finished his OTCH in September 2006, but his agility career ended with just 497 MACH points and 25 QQs.) I was also showing Lucy and Hunt in agility, and they finished their MACHs in July of last year. They got their MACHs in the same weekend. That was some weekend!
So Dani had big footsteps to follow in, but I knew from the beginning that she was special. Mike, her breeder, teased me, saying he wanted her to be the first CH OTCH MACH English Springer Spaniel. Actually, I was able to do a little better than that: Dani is the youngest CH OTCH MACH of any breed in AKC history!
BF: Tell me more about your other talented dogs and some of their accomplishments.
KB: Lucy, my Golden, has had two invitations to the AKC National Obedience Invitational (NOI), and of course invitations to the NOI are very competitive in her breed. She now has her MACH2, and she just received the Golden Retriever Club of America’s TAG (Top Agility Golden) award for being one of the top 20 agility Goldens nationally. She’s in the Golden Retriever Hall of Fame for agility and obedience. Huntleigh, my Lab, who finished his OTCH in 2009 and his MACH in July 2010, is the #1 ranked obedience Lab for this year’s NOI. As Dani is the #1 ranked obedience Springer, we are really looking forward to making the trip to Orlando this year. It will be very exciting, and such an honor, to be able to show both dogs there! [At home I also have] Bruno, my OTCH poodle, who’s 12; and AJ, Dani’s younger brother, who's 10 months old.
BF: Dani went from Novice to OTCH in a very short period of time. Can you describe how you did this? Was there a particular method you used?
KB: I use lots of positive reinforcement (treats, praise, and toys) to explain what and how I want the skills performed. I want my dog to be really clear when she’s done it right. But it's just as important for dogs to know when they’re wrong, so I have a marker word for “wrong” as well as for “right.” When my dog makes a mistake, I go back and fix it, then praise her for doing it right and reward her with food or play.
Dogs need to understand clearly what’s expected on each skill. I keep things very black and white. But that doesn’t mean I get upset when she makes a mistake. On the contrary, that’s an opportunity to explain it better, to show her how to do it right.
It’s so important to keep training upbeat and interesting. Don’t drill dogs until they’re bored. Some people tend to test too much, too, instead of just training the skills properly. If the dog is slowing down, it’s often because they don’t really understand what they’re supposed to do, and they’re trying to figure it out. So teach it right, and don’t settle for letting them do it tentatively. The other big reason for lackadaisical performance is that the dog is bored. I train my dogs to do things at the speed I expect in the ring. But I don’t repeat things so often that they get bored to death. You want energy and drive in the ring. When it stops being fun for the dog, you’re never going to get their best performance. It doesn’t have to be that way.
BF: When did you start agility, and how long did it take to go from Novice to MACH?
KB: I started Dani showing in novice agility when she was 15 months, but once she’d completed her excellent titles, we turned our attention, temporarily, to obedience so that she could finish her OTCH. With that out of the way, we focused on agility again starting in March of this year. Her first MACH points had come in August of last year, and she finished her MACH on August 26th of this year.
BF: Do you use a particular handling or training method(s) that contributed to your success in agility?
KB: I learned most of what I know about agility from Joan Meyer.
BF: Where do you train?
KB: I own a training facility, Dog Sports at Kim’s, in Caseyville, Illinois.
BF: How often do you train and for how long?
KB: We put in lots of training here and there. All my dogs are well socialized with lots of people, and new dogs are coming through all the time. I do try to mix things up and keep things interesting.
BF: What sports are you competing in now?
KB: We still compete in both agility and obedience, and I’m working with a hunting trainer toward Dani’s hunting titles. She loves the birds, jumping, and swimming!
BF: Can you share the secret to your success?
KB: I work hard to keep training fun. This has been especially important with Dani. Labs and Goldens are field-bred dogs who can handle a lot of repetition. They never want to stop. I like for Dani to have the same attitude, so I try to make her ask me to play rather than the other way around. Being around high-drive dogs has helped her want to be like them. She has always wanted to do what her big sister Lucy was doing. If Dani could talk, she would say she could do it faster and better!
BF: Do you have any tips for doing several different sports with the same dog, and achieving high-level titles in such a short period of time?
KB: I teach agility in small sequences to give the dog lots of confidence. This also helps in recognizing the variety of scenarios we encounter at trials. It’s important to be very black and white about the behaviors you want; life’s a lot easier when you don’t have to fix what you’ve taught. And try to keep the dog thinking that training is just a big game. It needs to be the best part of their life!
BF: What are your future goals with Dani?
KB: I would like to finish her Versatility title, which means she needs to earn her hunting titles. We’ll focus on that in the spring. I plan to continue to show her competitively in obedience, and if I can get to enough agility trials, I’d love to take her to the AKC Agility Invitational. She makes me smile all the time, and I am very proud of her. From following in Huntleigh and Lucy’s footsteps, she’s created some pretty big ones of her own! I hope her brother, AJ, can follow in hers.
BF: I’m sure that we’ll be reading about AJ’s successes soon!