Sydney, a Queensland heeler mix, flies through the air catching a disc her owner, Donna Malmlov, threw as the two finished a last-minute practice on Friday night.
Sydney will join dozens of dogs from around the state in the Golden State Disc Dog Championship today and Sunday at Borchardt Elementary School.
This is the second time the event is being held in Lodi. The first was in 2006, when Donna Malmlov’s husband, Steve, won the state title with Foster, a Queensland heeler mix. This weekend, he will be competing with Rowdy, a 2-year-old Belgian malinois.
In 2007, Donna Malmlov was the first woman to win the title, with Sydney.
“We do this because our dogs love this and our sport is full of people who are crazy about their dogs too,” Malmlov said. “It’s a friendly sport. It’s not a dog-eat-dog sport — excuse the pun. We are a family.”
There are two main events the dogs will compete in. The first is the toss and fetch, which any dog and owner can enter, even if they have never tried it before.
“We would love for people to come out if they have seen it on TV, or maybe they have seen my dog and I practicing at a park, or if they have a dog that likes to catch Frisbees, and try it out,” she said.
Toss and fetch is where dogs have to catch as many discs as possible in a 1-minute time frame on a 40-foot field. Dogs get more points the further out they catch the discs and bonuses if all four paws are off the ground. On Sunday, the toss and fetch will be in a bullseye.
For the more advanced competitors, dogs and their owners perform 90-second choreographed routines, where the dogs catch Frisbees while vaulting off the owner’s hips, legs, chest and back.
“The judges are looking for simultaneous, fluid movements between the dog and handler,” Malmlov said.
The event is held once a year, and the location alternates between Lodi and Southern California.
Donna and Steve Malmlov are working to make Lodi the permanent home of the competition. The couple timed the event with the School Street Neon Wine Stroll, as a way for competitors to relax and socialize on Friday night.
“Lodi is a very dog-friendly community,” Malmlov said. “We have a great animal shelter, and a group that supports them — People Assisting Lodi Shelter — and great off-leash dog parks.”
She stressed that any dog that enjoys catching discs can participate. The event once had a dachshund whose owner stooped low to the ground so that the dog could jump off his back for a trick. For the last several years, another man has participated with pit bulls he has rehabilitated. A woman has a Dalmatian that always participates in the toss and fetch.
“She doesn’t catch all of them, but when she does, we go nuts because she tries so hard,” she said.
Malmlov started participating in the sport in 1999 with her dog Ashley, a Queensland heeler and Mexican hairless mix. She wanted to find a way for her dog, who is now 14, to stay active, so she went to a performance at the Grape Festival, and then went to a play day in Stockton.
“They said, ‘You have to get this dog in this sport, for the dog’s sake.’ It’s such a great outlet for a dog with this much energy,” Malmlov said.
Her husband was eventually drawn to the sport, and they have competed across the country.
“The thing is, it’s a growing sport. We have more and more people joining the sport all over the world,” she said.