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Jumping for joy: California dogs go for a state title in disc competition

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Posted: Saturday, October 20, 2012 7:17 pm | Updated: 9:01 pm, Sun Oct 21, 2012.

Scotty the rescue dog was figeting madly in his owner’s lap. A slew of other dogs were running, playing and jumping off of their owner’s backs, leaping for bright discs. But Scotty was securely leashed to a chair on the sidelines of the Golden State Disc Dog Championship, held at Borchardt Elementary School this weekend. 

“We’re dog lovers, so we wanted to come out and watch,” said Valerie Calderon, of Lodi. She was joined by her eight year old granddaughter, Maya. Both were lounging in lawn chairs watching energetic canines bolt for discs during the freestyle session.

Robbie Shyken, of Modesto, was performing in the arena with his dog Taz. In 90 seconds, the dog caught dozens of discs thrown overhand, underhand and even flipped in a butterfly toss. Taz was especially adept at clambering onto Shyken’s wiry frame and flying off to grab a disc from midair. After the session, Shyken’s white T-shirt was patterned with dirty paw prints.

Twenty four freestyle teams competed on Saturday in trick routines set to music. Later, they would get a chance to compete in the toss and fetch session.

Forty feet was marked out across the field in 10 feet increments. Dogs earn more points the farther out the disc is thrown, and an extra half point if they catch the disc with all four paws in midair. There’s a division for newbies and another for more experienced teams.

Judges have a ringside seat, keeping an eye on the number of discs caught, but also how they’re thrown.

“They can tell if the handler is throwing the disc where the dog can get it. And they watch the dog to see the drive for the disc, the extra effort,” said Donna Malmlov, a experienced Lodi competitor.

She is the first woman to win the state title, in 2007, with her Queensland heeler mix, Sydney. Her husband Steve Malmlov was competing too, with Rowdy, a Belgian malinois. Both competed in the freestyle event and the toss and fetch in the pro division.

Donna Malmlov says most people don’t realize organized disc dogs are such an established sport.

“People say, ‘There’s a club for this?’ I tell them there’s a whole world for this,” she said.

Competitive teams traveled from as far as Seattle, Wash., to participate. They set up tents, coolers and rows of portable dog kennels to camp out for the day. They’d be back on Sunday, too, for the rest of the rounds. If the weekend’s winner was from California, they’d earn the California State Championship title. If not, they earn Best in the West status.

One novice team from Lodi was waiting for their round in a shady pop up tent. Bob Huddleston and Sweedy Pie, a six-year-old border collie practice at Lakewood Elementary School each night after dinner.

Huddleston got his start in the sport when his daughter left for college in Oregon and left him with an energetic herding dog.

“With a dog like this, you can’t just put her on a leash and walk her around the park. You’ve got to let her run until her tongue is hanging out or she’ll go nuts,” he said. So he threw a few discs. Sweedy caught them. The team was born. They’ve been competing for 15 months, and Huddleston thinks they’re ready to move to the higher division.

The dog isn’t competing, though. She’s having fun.

“This is play,” he said. “We’re out with great people, who share our values. We love our dogs.”

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

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