Stray Shih Tzu survives the Arctic to perform in SuperDogs show

by Alycia Joy

November 21, 2009

The audience waits in anticipation for athletes of every size and shape to take the stage.  This particular stage is built to test the speed, agility, and power of each of its determined competitors.  While none of these athletes will wear a medal or hoist a trophy over their heads at the end of the show, they will get a delicious dog treat and pat on the head.  These, after all, are the President’s Choice SuperDogs.

Performing their energetic show at the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair on Nov. 12, the SuperDogs were running, jumping, and dancing into the hearts of the audience.  The SuperDogs have been entertaining crowds across North America for 40 years.

Royal blue carpet covers the floor where the dogs showed off their mightiest tricks.  Multicoloured SuperDogs banners cascaded over the walls, urging you to cheer for your favourite.  Tunnels, jumps, and barrels tested the athleticism of each dog.

After the last dog has said its goodbyes, trainer and SuperDogs performance team member  Ashley Stirling,  said there is one message the audience should take home with them.

“The performance draws the people out, but really what we’re trying to convey is how important it is to have fun with your dog, to get out there and work with your dog,” Stirling said.  “We all endorse positive training methods, which means we reward our dogs and we train them through encouragement.”

Stirling and her dog Teague, 2, a Nova Scotia Duck tolling Retriever, have been with the SuperDogs show since August.  Stirling said any dog can be a SuperDog.

“These aren’t necessarily rare breads, these are our everyday pets that we have at home that we just love, and love to play with, and we’re just coming out and showing everybody how much we love our dogs and what we like to do with them.”

Although many of the SuperDogs may not be rare breads, many of them have rare stories.

Kevin Hodgins, a trainer and member of the President’s Choice SuperDogs performance team, said that many of the SuperDogs are actually rescue dogs.  This is the case with his Shih Tzu-Poodle-Husky mix, Kenzie.

Kenzie comes from a place called Jean Marie River in the Northwest Territories.  For four months he ran wild on the land, stealing and scavenging to stay alive.  One week before the annual dog cull in the Arctic, a time of the year when they remove all stray and non-working dogs to prevent disease, Kenzie jumped into Hodgins’ car while he was at a gas station with his wife.

“He was on the driver’s floor, curled up in a ball, licky licky licky, all fun fun, and wouldn’t get out, Hodgins said.  “I tried to take him out, but he wouldn’t get out of the car. He had his paws pressed against the seat and the door.  I’m trying to pull him out, and he’s pushing to stay in.”

Since his arrival in Ontario, there has been no turning back for Kenzie.  In a mere 10 months, he was chosen to become a member of the President’s Choice SuperDogs team.

Kenzie did progressive family dog and agility course training, in order to prepare for the obstacles that you see at the SuperDogs show.  These include jumps over bars, barrel races, and challenging relay courses, which often include tunnels.

Hodgins is a believer that old dogs can learn new tricks.  He said there are SuperDogs on the team that are 10 and 11-years-old.

“It’s all about people spending the time to work with the animal, and show them that love and enthusiasm and encouragement,” Hodgins said.   “It’s the positive energy and support, and showing them and offering them stages of what to do for the next stages of learning.”  He said it’s important to start with the basic tricks and build from there.

Audience members at the show thought it was great.

“It was really good, the dogs were really well trained,” said Ryann 11, and Cassiey, 12.  The first thing they asked when they came out of the show was, “Can we get one of those tubes, and the jumps, so we can train our dogs?”

President’s Choice is pushing to expand the SuperDogs show.  They are planning to perform in 35 shows this upcoming year across North America.  Hodgins said that this was a four or five times increase in shows since last year.  The SuperDogs team has over 150 members in North America and some overseas.

While your dog may never perform on the President’s Choice SuperDogs team, Hodgins, along with SuperDogs team members, believes that every dog is a SuperDog.

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