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Acrobatic dogs wow crowd at Clement Park

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Total Performance Disc Dogs perform during summer concert series

By Chris Ferguson

Clement Park has gone to the dogs. For one day, anyway.

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Foothills Park and Recreation hosted the Total Performance Disc Dogs club during the district’s Summer Concert Series on Friday.

Over a chorus of barking dogs and raucous music, Matt DiAno, a member of Total Performance Disc Dogs, shared what goes into the sport. Total Performance Disc Dogs is a group of dog-loving friends who perform all over Colorado. They specialize in Frisbee performances, but also present agility and herding performances as well.

Most of the members of Total Performance belong to the Colorado Disc Dogs, which hosts most of the state competitions and events. Total Performance has performed at University of Colorado and Denver Broncos football games, but also ventures outside Colorado to neighboring states.

The group wowed the public with acrobatic jumps, speed, agility and plenty of tongues and tails wagging. The group’s member also took time to teach the more than 100 children in attendance the benefits of owning pets, and the skills it takes to teach canines high-energy sports.

“These events are our favorite because we get to bring kids out to interact with the dogs and be part of the show,” DiAno said. “We try to do a show that is educational, entertaining, informative and teach kids about the dogs — not just go out there and let them watch us play.

“We like to bring them in and introduce them to dogs and (teach them) what dogs bring to your life, from companionships and a competition aspect.”

Of the dogs in the Total Performance club, roughly 80 percent are rescued from Colorado shelters, DiAno said. Most are border collies or mixed breeds. However, Friday’s show included a plucky little Jack Russell terrier who lived up to his name, Maverick.

DiAno said trainers use hand signals and vocal commands to get the dogs to navigate the proper routine. However, he said, it’s not unusual to have deaf canines compete — and excel — in the sport.

“A lot of it is, the dogs read your body language and body positioning,” DiAno said. “That’s kind of what we have to learn as trainers, because if you set up a whole different way, the dogs can do a different trick that you weren’t expecting, which risks injury. A lot of it becomes repetitive habit.”

During the show, team members showed the young audience members how to teach their own dogs to retrieve Frisbees. DiAno said almost any high-energy dog can compete, but the more intricate choreographed routines can take a dog’s lifetime to perfect. He said anyone considering teaching their own dogs the sport should only begin doing acrobatic jumps after the dog is 18 months old to prevent growth problems and injuries. Most dogs perform at their highest level between the ages of 2 and 7, he said. Some dogs can play up to about 12 or 13 years old, DiAno said.

Team member Mike Hanson brought his dog Maggey, the 2011 World Champion Frisbee Dog, while DiAno performed with his dog, Maggie, the 2007-2010 World Champion Frisbee Dog. Maggie, who is now retired from formal competitions, thrilled the Clement crowd by winning the “über-long distance throwing” competition. DiAno fired a Frisbee that went more than 60 yards, while Maggie tracked it with laser-like focus. DiAno said one team member’s dog has been known to track and catch a disc at more than 90 yards. Not to be left out, Jack Russell terrier Maverick, owned by team member AJ Brown, tracked a disc nearly 60 yards.

Colorado Disc Dogs will hold a “Quadruped” competition at 9 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 5, at Cornerstone Park, 5150 S. Windermere St. Registration begins at 8 a.m., and the event is open to newcomers.

For a schedule of events, rules, results and history, visit www.coloradodiscdogs.com.

Chris Ferguson is a news editor for Evergreen Newspapers. E-mail story tips to chris@evergreenco.com.