Rescue animals put on doggone good fair show
For dog trainer Laura Moretz, shelter dogs are like potato chips.
You always want “just one more,” she said.
Moretz and fellow trainer David Gosch — along with 11 dogs — are in town with K9s in Flight, a Frisbee and dock-diving dog show.
The dogs, all of whom have gone “from homeless to high flying,” are entertaining crowds at the Indiana County Fair this week with acrobatic feats, catching Frisbees and diving for distance into a pool.
And along with the energetic show, the dogs carry a message about the importance of adopting shelter animals. All of the performing pooches were rescued or adopted.
“We’d much rather people adopt,” Moretz said. “There is such a plethora of unwanted dogs, through no fault of their own.”
K9s In Flight features three teams that tour nationally, Moretz said. The company is based in Georgia, with owner John Misita.
Moretz, of North Carolina, has been training Frisbee dogs for 16 years and with K9s for four.
But she never intended to make a career of it. Originally, she only wanted to wear out her high-energy Australian shepherd.
Throwing the tennis ball wasn’t enough.
The dog just “never wore out,” she said.
She discovered that by throwing a Frisbee, the dog could run farther, tire out and sleep better.
Then they entered a competition at a pet event, and it grew from there.
“I didn’t set out to do this,” Moretz said. “But I’m glad that’s where it led me.”
With Frisbee dogs, Moretz has had the opportunity to travel in Europe, Japan and Canada, and around the U.S.
But traveling with all those dogs can be challenging at times, coordinating pit stops and finding hotels that will accept that many dogs.
She wouldn’t trade it for anything, though.
“It’s the best job in the world,” she said. “You get to take your dogs to work. … People cheer for you.”
Through her work, Moretz trains the dogs to play Frisbee and dive from a deck.
The feats performed by the K9s in Flight are best suited for high-energy, athletic, excitable dogs — ones that might not necessarily make the best pets, Moretz said.
Training begins with play as a puppy, and the more serious work doesn’t come until the dog reaches 18 months.
Precautions are taken to ensure the dogs aren’t overworked, she said. There are multiple dogs, so they all aren’t performing at all of the shows. On her tour, she has eight dogs, and Gosch has three.
“The important thing is that they have a long, healthy life,” she said.
And most of all, they want the dogs to have fun.
“The hardest part is getting them to stop,” she said.
The dogs are trained that the Frisbee is the reward, because it is fun. During the show, Moretz walks through the steps of teaching a dog to catch the flying disk.
Most people get frustrated when trying to teach their dog, she said, because they take the wrong approach and begin by throwing the Frisbee as far as they can when the dog doesn’t even know how to catch yet.
First, the Frisbee should be rolled on ground for the dog to chase and bite. Next come tiny tosses. Finally, bigger throws.
She encouraged people to try it at home. Being active with a dog builds an important bond, Moretz said. And the activity helps with behavior problems, such as chewing and digging, which can all be corrected.
“A tired dog is a good dog,” she said.
Frisbee dogs and dock diving competitions are popular and well-received by crowds, Moretz said.
Frisbee dogs gained popularity in the 1970s, when a man named Alex Stein sneaked his dog onto the field at Dodger Stadium during a baseball game.
He wowed the crowd with the dog’s ability to catch the Frisbee — before he was arrested, she said.
Deck diving began in 1998 as a competition through dog food brand Purina, she said.
Showtimes for K9s in Flight at the fair are 3:30, 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. with the exception of Saturday, with an earlier time to be determined.
For more information, visit airmutts.com.
PHOTO: David Gosch, a dog trainer with K9s in Flight, knelt down as Hippie Chick, a 5-year-old Australian shepherd, leapt from his back to chase a Frisbee Tuesday at the county fair. (KAYLA GRUBE/Gazette)