Meet The Pros: Katie Bernardin, Conformation Handler
Q: We want to know more about your history and how you got to this level with your dog(s). Please provide a short biography.
A: Growing up I spent a great deal of time at my grandma and grandpa’s house. Both of my parents worked full-time jobs, which meant I got to hang out with my grandparents. My Grandma bred Miniature Schnauzers and competed in Obedience, while sending her others out to a handler, Carol Garmaker, in Nebraska to finish their championships. I spent a lot of weekends with Grandma and Carol, and always wanted to help and be a part of the action – whether it was scooping the runs or bathing the show dogs.
When I was seven, I was allowed to show a dog that had already finished his championship but was needed to hold the major. I was pretty much hooked after that. When I turned 10, I wanted to compete in Junior Showmanship, but Grandma wanted a smaller breed for me, so we got in touch with Robbie Loyd-EZ Goin Dachshunds, and she gave me a retired boy of hers for me to start with in Juniors.
I started helping out at shows more and more, and was given more responsibility which I took very seriously. Carol won two groups one weekend and let me show her Miniature Wirehaired Dachshund special in a Best In Show, and under Mr. Joe Gregory I won my first Best In Show! Carol suddenly passed away shortly after that, and in a haste to keep me occupied, Grandma and Robbie talked to Jeff and Lori Wilson (Paust now) and asked if I could start working on the weekends. I worked for them for many years, and learned so many valuable lessons, not only about the care of the shows, but about life.
After I graduated high school, I made the venture out East. I wanted to learn more about sporting dogs, as I have been drawn to the beauty of them. In 2004 I started working for Andrew Doyle. While there I was given more responsibility and was taught to trim and present sporting dogs. In 2009, Andrew passed away and I am forever grateful for the lessons I learned, the chances I was given, and the education I received. Although after his death I was in a very difficult place. I didn’t quite think I was ready to go out on my own and be a professional handler. I wanted to learn more and felt I needed more of an education. But after the encouragement of fellow competitors, acquaintances and friends, I took the leap and have never looked back. I am grateful for every client that took a chance on a young person, and every friend that pushed me to be better.
Q: Why do you feed Purina Pro Plan dog food?
A: We choose to feed Pro Plan because we believe in keeping our dogs in the best shape they need to be fueled by the best. Pro Plan has given us the results we expect, and every top dog we have shown has thrived on Pro Plan. We are blessed to be a part of the Pro Plan family.
Q: Why do you recommend Purina Pro Plan for show dogs like yours?
A: We recommend Pro Plan because of the results we have seen over the years. With sporting and working dogs, body condition and coat are optimal! We are big fans of Sport Performance 30/20 Salmon & Rice and Sensitive Skin & Stomach Salmon & Rice formulas. My husband, Adam Bernardin, also breeds Brussels Griffons, and for years I struggled to maintain their weight. I now feed Small Breed Sensitive Skin and Stomach formula, and I finally don’t have to cook for them, nor beg them to eat. They happily clean their plates and are at a great weight.
Q: Why are you passionate about what you do?
A: Since I was a little girl, I have dreamed about showing dogs. I know that sounds like a cliché, but it’s the truth. I used to cut the breeds I wanted out of the dog magazines. I watched every dog show I could on TV and I used to trim my stuffed animals. I have always been most comfortable around dogs. My Grandma used to joke that we were always the last ones to leave a dog show. Dogs are my life. Good or bad, they are always there for you, no matter what, no questions asked. They need nothing in return but your love.
Q: When it comes to your career in conformation, what are you most proud of?
A: In my years of working with dogs, I am most proud that my dogs are well taken care of and happy. Above all else, that is what is most important. The ribbons are awesome, but having your dogs give it their all every time they step into the ring is what it’s about. Having their trust and their love is why we do this.
Q: What advice would you give to others looking to reach your level of success?
A: My advice is to never stop learning. Never stop asking questions! No matter if you think you know it all, you definitely do not. Taking bits and pieces from everyone you encounter will make you a better dog handler and a better person. Also be a kind human; this is only a dog show. This sport is about the dogs, not the people. Don’t ever get wrapped up and forget we are here for our pets. Every dog we show is someone’s loved companion.
Q: What makes your dog(s) exceptional?
A: Adam and I really do our best to make sure all of the dogs we show are physically fit and mentally happy. Being on the road, more now due to Covid-19, is a hardship on all of us, especially the dogs. We do what we can to bring out the best in our show dogs. A healthy and balanced diet is of utmost importance, along with plenty of exercise and lots of love.
Q: What do you find most rewarding about the time you spend with your dog(s)?
A: The most rewarding part of our job is the time spent with our dogs. There is nothing better than watching them play in the paddock, getting dirty and just being dogs. I don’t know what we would do if we didn’t have dogs in our lives. Adam and I have 5 pets of our own and there’s nothing better than relaxing on an off day with them cuddled on your lap. We ask a lot of our show dogs – all they ask for in return is to be loved and cared for. Taking care of someone’s beloved pet is a huge responsibility that we do not take lightly. One of our favorite and most rewarding parts of our job is getting a new dog and watching them grow into what you knew they could be. When everything finally clicks and you see the potential you always knew was there, you just have to dig deep and work hard to find it. Or getting a new puppy for their first shows, and they walk into the ring like they already own it. There are so many examples I could give about why it is so rewarding, but at the end of the day, we get to spend it with dogs. There’s nothing more rewarding than that.
Q: If you could train or compete with your dog(s) anywhere in the world, where would you choose to go?
A: I would love to attend a World Show, because a lot of the breeds we show look very different than those everywhere else in the country. But it would be wonderful to experience this kind of show.
Q: What do you think it takes to get your dog(s) to perform at the highest level?
A: I have kind of touched on this already but getting your dogs into the best mental state and physical shape is the best thing you can do for them. Competing every weekend is very taxing on the dogs. We ask a lot of them every time we walk into the ring. When I showed Ty, the number one dog in the country in 2017, his biggest need was going home to shut down. Even if it was for a few days, he would go home to his mom’s and decompress. We truly believed he needed that time to go home and be a dog. If Ty and I were on the road by ourselves, as soon as we were finished, I would get take-out and go to the hotel room, close the blinds, turn off the lights and he would settle down and sleep. Sleep and rest is just as important to dogs as it is for humans. Our job is to figure out what each dog needs, and what will make each dog perform at their very best. Every dog is different!
Q: Of all the dogs you’ve had, which one has had the biggest impact on you and why?
A: Every dog we have shown has had an impact on us in some way or another. I have so many great dogs that have come into my life, and I’ve had the pleasure of being with for some time. Zack, the Bearded Collie, always taught us to have fun and laugh. He always made walking into the ring a joyful experience. Even on a really bad day, Zack could always put a smile on my face.
Another important dog was Ty, the Giant Schnauzer. He taught me so much, and while showing him I learned so much. Every time we walked into the ring, he knew he had a job to do and he did his absolute best – and he expected the same from me. One last one was my Irish Setter bitch, Sabrina. She came to me at a very difficult time in my life. She gave me unconditional love in a time I needed it the most. She was there when I wanted to laugh, and there when I needed to cry. Every dog that comes in our lives has changed us and taught us something.
Q: Please list any notable awards & accomplishments
A: Together as a team, Adam and I have both won Reserve Best In Show at Westminster in 2017 with Adrian and 2018 with Ty. Ty was the number one dog in the country in 2017 with 87 Best In Shows. Adrian, our Irish Setter dog, was a National Specialty winner and a top sporting dog in 2016. Adam has won 3 Irish Setter Nationals, 1 on Adrian and 2 on Emily. Emily won the group at Westminster in 2012, and finished 2010 as the number one sporting dog, and number three dog in the country with 50 Best In Shows. Together we have garnered more than 200 Best In Shows, 40 National Specialties, and many top dogs in their respective groups.
*This individual serves as a Purina ambassador.