Extraterrestrial Talent: The Four-Legged Kind

December 5, 2011  

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by Liz Collinsworth
lcollinswo@mail.smu.edu

The acronym UFO typically conjures imagery of aliens and spaceships. What do you think of when the phrase “world cup” is added alongside this extraterrestrial abbreviation? Perhaps now, you’re imagining an intergalactic experience of aliens playing soccer while orbiting the globe. Unfortunately, you’ve got it all wrong.

DISC DOG/PHOTO BY LIZ COLLINSWORTH/SHIFT MAGAZINE

The UFO World Cup is not a convention for outer space fanatics to gather. While pulling into a parking lot at what appears to be an average park, you find yourself surrounded by RVs with license plates from across the nation with bumper stickers reading “No kids, just dogs” and “WHYDOGSFLY.COM”. You then exit your vehicle to an orchestrated harmony of dogs barking and top-twenty music hits. As you approach the tents, outlining the once simplistic soccer field, your eyes fix on a rotating object floating across the sky. Within seconds a flying canine comes soaring nearly six feet off the ground, captures the object with its teeth and lands on all fours. The applause from the crowd confirms that what you just saw was not a figment of your imagination. You just witnessed a segment of the United Frisbee Dog Operations (UFO) World Cup.

Four-legged Aerobats

The Dallas Dog and Disc Club brings a new height, pun intended, to canine exercise and health and has inspired dog enthusiasts to join for the past 25 years. Frisbee dogs and owners have taken the game of fetch to a level of extreme sport and competition. You’ve heard of acrobats, but these dogs are aerobats judged on their ability to leap agilely, execute catches, entertain and demonstrate difficulty

Upon entering Heritage Fields Park in Plano, TX for the 2011 UFO World Cup finals, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I learned very quickly that to blend in with the crowd I should have done at least one of two things: brought a dog or brought a crate to cover up the fact that I was “without dog”. I soon became too distracted with the talent and show that I quickly forgot all about my neglect to bring a four-legged-friend with me. A soaring brindle Australlian cattle dog caught the corner of my eye as he leapt into the air after a hot pink disc traveling at a rate appearing to outrun the canine. For a moment it was as if the dog had wings. A deep bend in the knees of his back legs led him to project upward, over the heads of audience members, and ascend like a private jet skyrocketing gradually into the air and across the field after its target. Just when it appeared as though the frisbee had won the battle, the dog gripped the disc with his teeth and came to a choreographed landing which involved his immediate dropping of the disc to catch the next one already coming his way.  I found myself enveloped in this new found sport.

World Class Talent

I had never witnessed such a unique talent before. Sure, I knew that some dogs liked to catch Frisbees, but I was shocked at the precision and obedience of the competitors. Never before had I seen a dog jump so high. I was jealous of the fact that these animals could do back flips and I couldn’t, and was amazed at their ability to perform. I learned quickly that my favorite disc-dog maneuver was the vault. This move requires the owner to either bend over or kneel and throw a Frisbee above his head while the dog runs up the owner’s back and pushes off his shoulders to catch the disc. What was even more fascinating was when the dogs completed this task while the owners were standing, running up the bodies of men standing slightly over six feet tall in order to catch a spinning disc. “This year was the best one by far,” says competitor and winner Mike Hanson. “There were so many outcomes that could have let a number of people win, so it was fun to have the drama.” Hanson and his dog MaggEY won the first place title at this year’s finals and currently hold the Colorado state championship title two years running.

After escaping from the mesmerized trance of flying dogs, I decided to walk around the venue. Tents surrounded the performance field. Nothing more than a rope and a few banners separated the audience from the action. It was somewhat like family members gathering to watch their children play soccer on a Saturday morning. Everyone was cheering each other on, even competitors. Dogs were practicing

DISC DOG/PHOTO BY LIZ COLLINSWORTH/SHIFT MAGAZINE

their routines in nearby fields with their owners, club members were chatting and tailgating and even the announcer was cracking jokes over the loud speaker. Everyone was happy and content. It was as if this event were an everyday occurrence for them, as though the title “World Cup Finals” didn’t intimidate or daunt anyone. It was like a family reunion, with a little competition on the side. Dallas Dog & Disc Club member and chairman Lisa Ward says, “Club members treat each other like a big family and help other members improve in the sport even though they will be competing against them.” Ward’s comment immediately eliminated my apprehension of photographing the event, and made me feel welcome as though I was a member of this “family”. Ward believes that other club members will agree with her when she says that Disc Dogging “is a way of life”.

This year’s world finals were held in Dallas in honor of the Dallas Dog & Disc Club’s 25th anniversary. Competitors came from all over the U.S., Europe and Japan, making for one of the most diverse crowds to date in the history of the UFO World Cup. Competitors spend hours a day practicing with their dogs and spend a majority of their weekends at club events including frisbee demonstrations, practice sessions or competitions. Competitor John Klingstedt described an impressive move that he witnessed in one of the routines: “One of the competitors this weekend did a vertical joyride. While in a one-handed hand stand, he threw his Frisbee through his legs and the dog caught it!” I found myself enthralled with the talent and obvious passion involved in this sport that I knew nothing about previously. Ward is currently with the club for her seventh year and admits that she “became instantly hooked” after trying out Disc Dogging to  “channel [her dog’s] energy into something positive.” Club members have found a way to have fun with family and friends while allowing their dogs to reach their potential as athletes.

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