Veterinarian at AAHA-accredited hospital tricks her way to a national championship
Meet the 2019 National Stunt Dog Champions: Maggie Weston, DVM, and her 15-month-old Australian shepherd, Skye.
Weston, a veterinarian at AAHA-accredited New Frontier Animal Medical Center in Sierra Vista, Arizona, says she got involved in dog sports after she graduated from veterinary school nine years ago “and discovered I had a little bit more free time.”
She started off by entering agility competitions. Then, three years ago, she discovered Trick Dog, a new dog sport officially recognized by the American Kennel Club.
Weston started off by taking an introductory Trick Dog class, which involved teaching dogs to do tricks such as putting balls through hoops, Easter eggs in a basket, and leaping over her head.
Weston says Trick Dog was a game changer. “I just loved it, the dog loved it, it improved our bond, it was just awesome.” She was hooked and went on to take four more Trick Dog classes through an organization called Do More With Your Dog (DMWYD).
DMWYD offers five levels of Trick Dog training, from novice to champion. Your train your dog at home by teaching her a preset number of tricks in each level.
When you successfully complete a level, you film it and send the video to DMWYD, where a certified Trick Dog instructor reviews it; if they decide you’ve met the requirements, they award you a title, starting with Trick Dog Novice and going all the way up to Trick Dog Champion.
Weston’s only quibble: “It’s kind of a very solitary thing to do cause it’s pretty much just you and your dog in your living room.”
Then, a year-and-a-half ago, DMWYD created a new dog sport called Stunt Dog.
Weston was delighted. “Basically, you perform the same tricks you learn in Trick Dog, but in front of a live audience,” she says. For her, the most important part is “getting out of your living room and showing people who you are.”
Like Trick Dog, Stunt Dog has five different levels that correspond with the five Trick Dog levels, and to qualify for a Stunt Dog competition, you have to earn the corresponding Trick Dog titles first.
“It gets complicated,” Weston concedes. But she and Skye fulfilled the requirements and earned an invite to the 2019 Stunt Dog National Championships, held two weeks ago at the annual Trick Dog Exposition at Purina Farms in Gray Summit, Missouri.
Weston explains how Stunt Dog differs from other dog sport competitions: “In a lot of other dog sports, it’s all about what the dog does. In [Stunt Dog], what the trainer does is just as important as what the dog does.” Weston says Stunt Dog is based on a combination of showmanship and creativity: The trainer has to put together a seven-minute performance with a narrative that showcases all the tricks the dog can do, “but in a way tells a story and is entertaining.”
“It’s really fast-paced, with lots of tricks preformed at breakneck pace,” Weston says. “It’s really fun. There’s lots of applause and laughter.”
Weston and Skye went up against six other teams of dogs and trainers in this year’s championship finals—and won. (Check out their winning routine in the video below.)
What’s next for the new national champs? Not much, competition-wise: The sport is so new, Weston says, “We’ve gotten all the titles you can get.”
But Weston says she and Skye plan to keep at it because there are still rewards to be had: “I love stepping out of what I do as a veterinarian because it’s so science based and so heavy. You’re dealing with all the different clients’ emotions, grief, sick puppies, and old dogs. I love stepping outside of that box and just be able to let loose.” She’ll be doing shows and demos at local dog events for churches and nursing homes.
And if there’s a lesson to be had for her fellow veterinary professionals, she says it’s this: “Get out and express your creative side!”
Photo credit: © Anna Craig