By Amelia Tarallo
Hometown Weekly Staff
How often do we get to enjoy a dog show from the comfort of our own homes? When I was little, I used to sit for hours watching the countless Animal Planet dog programs. Occasionally sprinkled among them was a program in which the dogs would do outrageous tricks. Sometimes, there were replays of the American Kennel Club ones, in which all the prim and proper canines make their way around the ring.
So when I took a look at my assignments and saw “dog comedy show” described, naturally, I had no idea what to expect.
From Monday, September 21, to Sunday, September 27, patrons of the Needham Library could click a link on the library website and watch the Tricky Dogs Show. The ringleader of this doggie circus is Rick Martin, a performer who has been doing this show for over 20 years.
The show begins with a circus-like montage, quirky tunes included, and a quick introductory card that provides the dogs' names (Chico, Pippy, Lucy, Cricket, and Peanut). I can’t help but watch and wonder as the dogs do flips and run and jump and balance on a barrel; my beagles could never do any of these tricks, and I’m somewhat grateful they can't, as I would feel obligated to give them a treat every time they did one.
Rick Martin, the pooches' handler - or as he’s referred to, their pet human - brings them in loaded in a small truck. They seem excited to get out and get to work. Each of the small dogs lines up, ready for their closeup. Peanut, a terrier mix; Chico, a Chihuahua mix; Pippy, a rat terrier; and Lucy, a Jack Russell terrier. Martin describes the eldest, Cricket, as “a genuine, ring-tailed fudgey pop.” Martin is joking, of course. Cricket is definitely some sort of Chihuahua mix. After their introduction, Martin gives the dogs a break by snapping his finger. The dogs jump off their platform, chasing after frisbees and balls like regular dogs.
After, he briefly demonstrates how he trains the dogs, using Chico as an example. Chico, the youngest of the crew, seems to have the energy of a caffeinated toddler, jumping around, rapidly wagging his tail, and rolling all over Martin. He’s got an expression that can only be described as a smile.
In between segments of the present day, Martin splices clips from his former shows, some with a different set of dogs. Crowds gather to see his dogs perform jaw-dropping tricks and stunts. With some catchy music playing, I watch as Lucy and Cricket walk on top of a barrel, moving it by themselves; Peanut climbing to the top of a ladder and jumping off; another dog on a skateboard; and a dog jumping through hoops.
Martin takes the time to explain how he trains the dogs to do each trick of the set. As I’m watching, I can't help but wonder how Martin teaches them to walk on a barrel, and jump off a ladder, both of which require a significant amount of balance. Martin has Lucy do her barrel trick. Lucy takes the trick a step further, doing a little turn as she makes the barrel move. Chico, who has been learning, is a little more hesitant but still wagging his tail. “They were actually walking backwards, and pushing the barrel forwards. As the barrel moves forward, they need to walk backwards,” explains Martin, referring to the more experienced dogs. Martin takes out a clicker and treats to encourage positive reinforcement and help Chico learn the trick. After he practices, Chico seems more than happy to jump back on the platform with his fellow canines.
As I watch the rest of the show, I’m fascinated by how the dogs are able to do these tricks, and how Martin can teach them. Maybe if I were a little more patient, I could get my own circus show together (so if writing doesn’t work out, I'd at least have a backup plan). But for now, I’ll stick with my regular, non-tricky beagles - and watch the Tricky Dogs Show when I'm looking for something extra.