VALPARAISO — The dog breed name — Nederlandse Kooikerhondje — might be hard to pronounce, but local physician Cheryl Short finds the lively red and white dogs easy to love.
Short, an OB/GYN physician in Porter County since 1995, has been breeding and showing Kooikerhondjes — pronounced KOY-ker-HUND-ches — for the past five years.
A few years ago, Short began looking for “a hobby or distraction” outside of work, to create more work-life balance, she said.
“I love my work,” Short said. “But with the advent of electronic medical records, I found myself working more and more but losing some of the prior satisfaction I had with my patient interactions. Medical practice in today's environment is a demanding job.”
Short heard about Kooikerhondjes on the Animal Planet television program, “Dogs 101,” when she was assisting a patient, who had the TV on in her hospital room, during labor.
Short later watched the entire program and really “liked the look” of the dogs. She researched the rare breed and then purchased her first dog in 2010 from one of the only two breeders in the United States.
Short now owns four “Kooikers,” as they are sometimes called, including Kallie, 8; Kylan, 6; Bessie, 1; and Bree, 4, whom she breeds.
The dogs originated in the Netherlands in the 15th century and were bred to lure ducks into a “de koi,” from which the ducks were collected and brought to market. “Koi” translated means “cage,” and “hond” is Dutch for “dog.
The dogs’ long, silky red and white coat repels water and dirt, and they have a feathered tail and dark tipped hair on their ears known as “earrings.”
Because they are so trainable, Kooikers are well-suited to showing and agility training, Short said. The breed was first recognized by the American Kennel Club in January 2018 as a member of the Sporting dogs division.
Training leads to bonding
Short’s dogs competed in the AKC Eukanuba National Agility Invitational in 2017 and 2018, and Bree and Bessie will show at Westminster Kennel Club dog show this February.
Short said training and showing is a good way to bond with the dogs.
“It’s a good test to see how you handle your dog and how your dog responds,” Short said. “Teamwork leads to your success or failure. You know what you do wrong when you do it.”
Short also travels every summer to Sweden with the breed’s Dutch parent club for a one- to two-week camp, and she attends an annual show where the dogs are judged on conformation — appearance, structure, and form.
Aside from being easy to train, the dogs are a lot of fun and “great people dogs,” Short said.
They are alert, attentive and lively, and are happy to be active, especially outside. They also work well inside, because they are not “barky,” but they will alert if someone comes to door, Short said.
“They are used to working alone and pack well together, but don’t necessarily like other dogs,” Short said. “They like their space. They wouldn’t bite, but they would growl. Most dog people know that.”
Kooikers have a high prey drive and can be noise sensitive, so breeders work on noise sensitivity training with puppies to help them get used to loud noises, like fireworks, gunshots and train whistles.
Short’s husband, David Mattix, is retired, so he keeps the dogs company while she is at work.
“For fun, we like walking and hiking,” Short said. “We spend a lot of time outside with them, because they are good outdoor dogs.”
Short said adding her four Kooikerhondjes to the family also has “reshaped” her approach to her medical practice.
“Being with my dogs has given me a healthy outlet from the stress of a busy medical practice and has allowed me to be a better physician,” Short said.
“It’s been a good, healthy hobby. It makes you be active. When you’re with your dogs you have to focus on your dogs. It’s a good way to get my mind off work, and they’re a lot of fun.”