The Purina Dog Chow Incredible Dog Team will be performing six times at Marion Square this weekend. Each high-energy, 20-minute show will feature five Australian Shepherds performing tricks including flips, vaults, and jumps up to 10 feet.
“All the dogs performing were rescued from shelters because they were too hyperactive for families to keep them,” says the dogs’ owner and team presenter John Casey, who got started in the dog training business in 1990 after seeing a friend in a show in Cincinnati. “I was dating a girl at the time who really wanted a dog. I was totally against it, but needless to say, we got one and after that I just knew [dog training] was something I had to do. “Casey was recruited by Purina in 2000 and has been traveling with the team ever since, doing over 60 performances last year alone.
While jet-setting from Charleston to Hawaii to Cincinnati and back may sound glamorous, traveling with five canines can be exhausting for the trainer. The animals, on the other hand, are all treated like pop stars and fly only first class. “Purina buys them their own seats,” says Casey, sounding a bit amazed himself.
He’s quick to clarify, however, that training a team full of agile pups has its perks, as well. “I got to throw out the first pitch at a St. Louis Cardinals game to one of my dogs, who was on the pitchers mound. That was pretty cool,” says Casey.
It’s not the tricks and travel that really get to the humble trainer, but the crowd response. “The best thing is when people come up to me after they’ve seen my show and say ‘we saw your show last year and we decided to rescue a dog.'” It’s moments like these when Casey feels his program is making some kind of positive impact on the stray dog overpopulation problem: “That’s the real reward.” —KL
John Casey’s basic steps to teaching your dog to fetch:
1. Use a retractable leash that stretches about 20 feet. Then roll a Frisbee on the ground away from them and let them chase it.
2. Praise them when they return it to you. This will teach them how to retrieve. Don’t chase after the dog to get the Frisbee back — if you do this, the game will become “chase,” not retrieve.
3. Take the Frisbee and drop it from your hand so they’ll know to catch it.
4. For young dogs, one trick is to use the Frisbee as their food dish. Fill it with dog chow, then when you go to use it as a Frisbee, it’s guaranteed they’ll go after it.
Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at 12 & 4 p.m. (Marion Square)