Aerial acrobatic maneuvers and Frisbee games usually don’t go hand-in-hand — unless, of course, your tossing partner is a trained stunt dog.
Spectator at this weekend’s LibertyFest were treated to a thrilling performance by the world-famous Disc-Connected K-9’s. The professional pups didn’t disappoint as they defied gravity in pursuit of stellar midair catches.
The Disc-Connected K9’s have provided Frisbee dog entertainment around the world and spend roughly 40 weeks or more each year on the road.
Eight of their dogs are world Frisbee dog championship finalists. One of their team members, "Harley Davidson," was the 2008 Ashley Whippet Invitational World Disc Dog Champion.
Harley was on hand Friday evening during the teams’ second performance at LibertyFest, much to the delight of children in the crowd and Harley’s handler, Lawrence Frederick.
According to Frederick’s wife Jodi, Frederick was 12 years old when he started playing Frisbee.
She said he’s been at it for more than 40 years now and was a freestyle champion and world champion during his heydays.
"As he got a little bit older and the joints started hurting and aching, that’s also the same time Frisbee dogging was starting to get popular," she said. "He thought ‘That looks like a lot of fun. I think I can do that.’ About 20 years ago, he got his first dog and he never looked back."
Jodi Frederick said her husband is one of the top two Frisbee dog handlers in the world.
He watched dog trainers to see what techniques they used and read countless books on the subject. Frederick eventually developed his own technique and his wife said he has a "dog whisperer’s" voice.
Every dog goes through basic obedience training before they begin specialized Frisbee training.
Jodi Frederick said every morning the dogs-in-training are taken into the Fredericks’ bedroom, one at a time, where they undergo five minutes of routine commands like sit, stay and roll over.
Once the dog masters those skills, it begins Frisbee training.
Frederick said certain breeds are more inclined to do well in the sport.
"If a dog doesn’t have prey drive like going after their toys or being interested in their toys, they’re not probably going to go after a Frisbee," she said. "But any dog that has prey drive can be taught to play Frisbee."
Lawrence Frederick also uses the sport to educate people about adopting homeless dogs. All his current dogs are from rescue organizations.
"His first dog was not a rescue dog," Jodi Frederick said. "As he got to know more about rescue organizations and learning about how many homeless dogs were out there, he decided his next dog would come from a shelter. The dogs bend over backwards and they do anything you ask because they are so appreciative of having a new home and having someone to love, nurture and take care of them. After that, every single dog has been a rescue dog. What you put in is what you get out."
Jodi Frederick said she was a dog lover before she met her husband of four years online.
"What was so funny is that we lived five miles apart and we never ran into each other," she said. "We had mutual friends and they just never thought of introducing us. I’ve always had dogs and after our second date he asked me, ‘What would you like to do?’ and I said, ‘I want to meet your dogs,’ and he thought, ‘Hey, I like this girl.’"
The couple shares a passion for dogs and Frisbee. They continue to train and rescue dogs as they cross the globe, showcasing their canines’ talent.
Not all of their rescue dogs end up on the team, but all have been given new, loving homes.
During Friday evening’s performance, the trainers introduced their newest team member, Jaxson.
Jaxson had been wandering the streets of Hialeah, Fla., for several days before a police officer stopped and picked up the dog.
He amused the crowd with somersault catches and even chased the Frisbee outside the ring when it caught a little breeze and soared farther than the boundary line.
"Jaxson came off the street," Frederick said. "He didn’t know how to sit. When we would give him food he would take it and run. He was scared to death of his own shadow."
But Jodi thinks Jaxson could now be a world contender and he’s only been trained for six months.
"He’s trying to show everyone you don’t need to be a border collie to play Frisbee," she said.
The Disc-Connected K9’s offer Frisbee training at their facility in Jacksonville.
"When you are playing Frisbee with your dog, you always want to be in command of the play," Jodi Frederick said. "You always want to stop before the dog gets tired. So until a dog is conditioned, you want to go 5-10 minutes max."