Christopher Cruz, a dog trainer from Puerto Rico, hurls a frisbee through the air. With incredible speed his Dutch Shepherd, Poison Ivy, zooms in pursuit. She moves so quickly that her lean body becomes a blur. Ivy leaps! Over 6 feet off the ground and snatches the frisbee out of midair and the crowd surges with excitement. This is Xtreme Dogs.
“I found my passion through training my dogs. My favorite part of this is that we get to show people our bond, the relationship, and the communication that we have created with our dogs,” said Christopher Cruz, a dog trainer with Xtreme Dogs. “You get what you give. Anybody can create that relationship with their dog as long as they are willing to put in the time. Ain’t that right Ivy?”
This past Tuesday the National Western Stock Show invited Xtreme Dogs to showcase the amazing athletic feats of these animals and also the special relationship between trainer and canine. The Xtreme Dogs performance is a hallmark family activity in the National Western Stock Show. Mom, dad, and the kids can be sure to witness some of the most impressive and unlikely behavior ever witnessed from a dog. Rest assured; these dogs are not just the average stay at home pets. These dogs are champions, athletes, performers, Hollywood TV stars, and heroic service animals.
Deirani Collazo is the lead trainer of Xtreme Dogs which is a traveling dog show production group bringing together trainers and their dogs from all over the world to perform and compete.
“Our main goal is to showcase the bond between handler and dog and show people how incredible this relationship can be,” said Collazo.
The dogs have a wide range of activities and athletic performances from disc, agility, tricks, racing, and even water sports. Collazo took the main stage towards the end of the show to perform a freestyle with her Border Collie, Rogue. The two danced in perfect synchronization. Rogue weaved in between her legs, leaped up onto her shoulders, and would catch discs while jumping up and over Collazo’s head.
While the performance looks almost effortless, the process to train a dog to perform in such a manner is a long and committed journey. With thousands of people in the audience cheering and multi-colored spotlights bouncing around the arena, it would seem inevitable that a dog would get distracted. Yet through almost inaudible vocal cues and subtle body movements, Collazo and the rest of the trainers are able to instill perfect discipline in their animals.
It’s basically getting to know your dog and finding out what your dog likes. It could be toys, food, affection, and then you know, using those things to teach the dog behaviors. The more you praise the dog for behavior that you want, the more likely it is to be repeated.”
It sounds simple, but this is a full-time job for these trainers. These dogs are their lives.
“We want to show people that no matter what you know, either adopted or purchased, any dog can be amazing. If you put in the time and energy it requires with patience and love, you could have an amazing incredible partner for life,” said Collazo.
Alex McNeil is an outdoorsman and dog trainer of fifteen years from Calgary. He is the owner of Bleve, a five-year-old female German Shepherd. Bleve sits right on McNeil’s hip. Her eyes never leaving him. When she’s not in a dog show, she’s up in the Canadian Rockies doing search and rescue and has just recently began filming a role in the new HBO show, “The Last of Us.”
“She has a full role with Pedro Pascal (Joel) and Bella Ramsey (Ella). I can’t tell you exactly what she’s doing, but it will be later on in the season of the show,” said McNeil.
Through this bond the two have created, they are able to perform seemingly impossible search and rescue jobs to bring peace to victims’ families. Bleve and McNeil are equipped to spend days in the backcountry looking for lost hikers, climbers, skiers, and more. Using Bleve’s exquisite sense of smell, they can look for bodies buried in snow, underwater, and in all kinds of hard-to-reach places.
“We do cadaver. The training is constant, we are always training. But they have such good noses that it is imprinted on them, she will remember that scent forever,” said McNeil. “Her deepest find is 350 feet. We are on a boat doing grid searches and when she picks up molecules from the cadaver floating through the water column she will start barking.”
The most important aspect of the Xtreme Dogs show to the trainers is showing off the relationship they have established with their animals. They showcase what a dog is capable of but also why they are man’s best friend; they are willing to give anything to their owners if the owner is willing to give everything back.
Poison Ivy had a collar with a tag that read, “Ready When You Are.” Which summarized her demeanor perfectly. She never left Cruz’s side and was ready to do anything he asked of her in a second’s notice. Not begrudgingly, but with love and excitement in her eyes.
“I am super grateful and blessed for everything that dogs have taught me. To be more confident, to be more assertive, to be disciplined, to just be a leader, you know?” said Cruz.