There will be dogs aplenty performing and competing at the National Western Stock Show this year, but even in a field where smart animals are routine, 6-year-old Hero is a show stopper.
A border collie who can walk on his front legs, jump rope and dance, Hero is a dervish on stage spinning and jumping on command, landing on trainer Sara Carson’s back and balancing on the bottom of the trainer’s upturned feet.
Hero has been featured in commercials for Petco, the Pet Network, and this year he and Carson placed fifth in America’s Got Talent’s 12th season.
He is one of four border collies in Carson’s Super Collies act. He will be the only one of the four to appear at the Stock Show.
Carson, 23, and Hero will perform in the NWSS Xtreme Dog Show, a family friendly event that features dogs doing tricks, aerial stunts and comedy antics. The show is at 3 p.m. on Jan. 15, and at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 16.
But they won’t be the only dogs appearing at the show. Stock dog trials, featuring dogs that herd cattle and sheep, are scheduled from Jan. 18 through Jan. 21.
Most of those about 100 or so dogs are border collies, as well, said Bob Wagner, NWSS stock dog superintendent.
They are motivated by the same drive to work that makes Carson’s collies eager to learn and go through their paces. But, Wagner said, “that’s kind of a different skill set.”
Speaking in a telephone interview from Reno, where she and her dogs were appearing at the Eldorado Theater’s Christmas Extravaganza, Carson said she and the dogs get a lot of attention.
“We drive around and Hero and I are on the side of the bus and we’re on signs all over the mall. It is a very cool feeling.”
Carson grew up in Ontario, Canada. She trained her first dog, a cocker spaniel named Maple, when she was 13. “I wasn’t a person type of person, so I hung out with my dog all the time.”
She learned the basics of dog training by watching YouTube videos, she said. “With my spaniel I spent a lot of time everyday. I would train or hike, or take her to the beach.
“I started pretty simple and then fell into the dog sport world and did agility dog training.”
When Maple got too old compete, Carson got her first border collie while she was studying at Canadore College in Ontario.
“They are working dogs so they love to have a job,” Carson said of her animals, Hero, Marvel, 2, Loki, 1, and Stark, four months.
Stark is not yet part of the act. “He does get to come to the theater and hang out with the crew and wander around the casino,” she said.
All of her dogs except Hero are rescue animals that she got from owners who couldn’t control them.
“Right now, I’m getting dogs that are too crazy to be living in a family home. People see videos like mine and think “I want a border collie. They’re so smart, they’re so cute, they do tricks. And then they find out they are a full-time job.”
In 2012, when Hero was 14 months old, and Carson had a dog training business, they appeared on The Late Show with David Letterman in the host’s Stupid Pet Trick’s segment.
Carson held a bubble wand in front of Hero whose bark sent a soap-bubble floating across the studio.
Not long after that appearance, Carson made a part-time move to the United States to make appearances with her dogs. Three years ago she made the move full-time and now lives in Los Angeles.
Border collies and other herding dogs like to stay busy, but she only trains her crew about 5 to 10 minutes a day.
The dogs can usually learn a trick within a week. However, it can take a year for them to master something like a walking handstand.
Puppies are easiest to mold, she said. Marvel was already 8-months old when Carson got her and she was far more difficult to train than the dogs that were adopted when they were pups.
People who want to get rid of their dogs sometimes contact her.
“I can’t take all of the dogs, but I have a large social media following and I do manage to find homes for all of them,” she said.
Any dog can be trained, regardless of its age, she said. Carson has developed a free tutorial app, called Puppr, that can be downloaded on iPhones or Android devices.
Training to the level reached by her Super Collies is difficult — even for Carson.
“They continue to challenge me,” she said. “I’m not an expert in all training fields. Nobody can be a true professional in everything.”