30 dogs will perform in six events,
from high jump to hockey, in family-friendly show
By Andrea Holwegner, Times & Transcript
October 26, 2011 – When Lorraine Purnell brought her Old English Sheepdog to try out for President’s Choice® SuperDogs® , she envisioned a perfect performance from the well-trained 10 month old pup.
But Puff Daddy had a mind of his own.
The enthusiastic youngster was having so much fun he dashed repeatedly around the course despite his owner’s plea to stop.
Although Lorraine was a bit embarrassed by his uncontrollable performance, the judges loved Puff Daddy’s enthusiasm and today the six-year-old SuperDog® makes audiences laugh wherever he performs with the show.
“Sometimes we’ll stop the music during the show and he’ll just be running on his own,” laughs Amy White, the show’s director of operations and general manager. “If you look up in the audience, you can see kids literally holding their sides laughing because they enjoy seeing a dog just being a dog.”
And Puff Daddy will once again bring smiles to adults and kids alike at this Saturday’s SuperDogs® show at the Moncton Coliseum. Close to 30 dogs from across North America will jump, run, dance, play hockey and even perform magic.
SuperDogs® was founded 35 years ago and since then the show has grown to attract thousands of fans, regularly selling out at festivals, fairs and other events across the country.
This weekend’s show will feature six events including high jumping, a spin-off of Hockey Night in Canada called ‘face off,’ Frisbee, freestyle featuring several dancing dogs, a pole weaving competition, relay and individual racing.
The show was last held in Moncton in 2007, but has completely changed since then with all new dogs and events with the exception of high jumping. Yet even this event has taken on a new twist with the dogs jumping in a circle as the jumps increase in height.
“If you looked at what the first SuperDogs® show was and what it is now, no one could have ever dreamt that it would become such a huge attraction,” says Amy. “We are constantly taking old events and putting a new twist on them to make them more entertaining for audiences. And being dogs, you never know when one of those silly moments is going to happen. You can’t choreograph everything.”
The 45-minute show finishes with a “pat and chat” where audience members are invited to come onto the show floor and meet the cast members and their dogs.
“There are not a lot of performances where you get to meet the stars afterward,” says Amy. “I think the dogs love it just as much as the kids.”
Among the show’s crowd favourites are Leap, an Ibizan hound who is the world’s highest jumping dog and is known to leap to heights of 69”, and Pot Roast the bulldog who is best known as the “class clown” of the event despite also being a great athlete.
“Pot Roast will sometimes wreck the show by damaging things or knocking things over,” says Amy.
For example, in the middle of high jumping, possibly one of Pot Roast’s weaker events, he’ll knock down or steal the bars in attempt to gain the spotlight.
Another crowd pleaser is a Rottweiler who goes by the nickname Slinger or The Great Slingerini in a new segment of the show where she performs magic tricks. Here’s how it usually works: Without Slinger’s knowledge, an audience member chooses a numbered wooden dumbbell-like object and then pictures the number in his or her mind. Slinger is then asked to read the volunteer’s mind and seek out the correct dumbbell.
How does she do it? It’s a magical secret that she has preformed flawlessly except for one time earlier this year when they were using bags of dog food instead of dumbbells. The audience member had chosen a bag of adult management pet food from President’s Choice® , but apparently The Great Slingerini thought the cat food would make a much better choice for dinner.
“We all kind of stood there stunned,” says Slinger’s owner, Sue Trout. “We didn’t know quite what to do or say. I’m sure I was 10 shades of red I was so embarrassed. But the crowd laughed. That’s the kind of thing where she tried so you can’t get down on her for that.”
And none of the dogs in the show are ever punished for not performing correctly.
“All of the SuperDogs® are trained using positive training and the dogs are not in trouble if they make a mistake,” says Amy. “A dog trained with correction and punishment might do something, but not with the joy these dogs do. You wouldn’t see dogs performing with their tails wagging and smiles on their faces. So if they make a mistake, we just roll with it.”
Sue knows for a fact that Slinger not only enjoys, but looks forward to performing in SuperDogs® . “This is a dog who doesn’t want to get up ‘til noon,” she laughs. “Honestly, she will not get up until noon unless you drag her off the bed. But anything that has to do with SuperDogs® … that dog is right there raring to go no matter what time it is.”
Slinger is the only Rottweiler in the show and is a positive example of the breed that is more often the subject of negative publicity.
“There are a lot of good Rottweilers, but no one hears about the search and rescue Rottweilers who worked the Oklahoma City bombing or the 9/11 bombing. I like to put my dogs in the public spotlight and say, Hey, this is a truly loyal breed. When raised and bred right, they can be one of the best pets you’d ever, ever want to own and generally they’re fabulous with kids.”
Sue trains with Slinger six days a week although it may only be for 20 minutes or half an hour. But she also makes sure Slinger has lots of time to just be a dog.
“There’s a fine line between overworking and having them be dogs,” she says. “They sleep on my bed, eat my leftovers and spit on my car windows. That’s life and that’s the way they are supposed to be. I want my dogs to be happy.”
So how do these everyday dogs become SuperDogs®? Many begin with training in other dog sports such as flyball, dock diving, agility, disc, rally and obedience. If they’re successful and enjoy the challenge, they may try out for SuperDogs® at the show’s open auditions and casting calls.
“We’re looking for a dog who is not only a great athlete, but is comfortable around large crowds, music and lights,” says Amy. “You really do need a dog that is a showman.
“There are absolutely dogs that understand when the show is on and they will perform differently. They understand the audience cheers and applauding and they will play to that. The more people cheer and the louder people clap, the more fun these dogs have.”
Surprisingly some of the best SuperDogs® have come from shelters or Humane Societies. In fact, 40 per cent of the dogs in the show have been adopted or rescued.
“I used to work at the Toronto Humane Society and so many of the dogs ended up there because they had too much energy for what the person wanted them for,” says Amy. “But dogs like that are appealing to a Superdogs® cast member because we need dogs with endless energy that can run and jump, are willing to learn and have that sort of spunk.”
And that’s exactly what Superdogs® cast member Shari Hunter discovered when she adopted a border collie/whippet from a shelter in Ontario. The pup had already been with six families before Shari rescued her. Although she’s now a retired Superdog®at 14 years of age, Shari will never forget the day she tried out for the show in Aurora, Ontario.
“They had a new event consisting of five high jumps in a row. My little rescue, Sarah, cleared 10 bars at the very end. She had never seen that many bars that high in a row. And she attempted it without hesitation. It was absolutely amazing to watch.”
Her performance was rewarded with a trip to perform in SuperDogs® in Nashville two weeks later.
Today, Shari has two Australian shepherds and a Jack Russell terrier in the show who all eagerly perform in all the events.
“They love it,” she says. “As soon as they see me pack the car with the kennels they are at the door ready to go.”
Of course, it’s not just the dogs who have all the fun. “I think it’s a lot of fun for the audience too,” she adds. “You don’t often get to see so many different breeds of dogs performing.”
And you don’t have to be child to enjoy the SuperDogs® . “Many adults come without children and they are some of our biggest fans,” says Amy. “You can see them cheering for their dog and rooting their team on as much as if not more than some of the kids.”
Amy has four dogs in the show and despite participating for 12 years, she is always surprised and entertained by all the dogs — even her own. “I’ve seen Leap jump more times than I can count and I could still watch him forever,” she says.
She also enjoys watching her Vizsla named Groovy, who is the troublemaker in Face Off. “She is trained to be naughty,” explains Amy. “She’s sent to the penalty box and when she gives the referee a hard time, the audience gets behind her and that’s always fun.”
Although the event is for entertainment, Amy also hopes it may inspire other dog owners to spend a little more time with or increase their bond with their own pets.
“All dogs have the ability to learn and train and do this,” she says. “But so much rests on the relationships we have with our dogs and acknowledging that they are an important part of people’s families. It’s important to enjoy your time with them whether that’s on stage or in your backyard.”