Purina Farms dog trainers Andrea Rigler and Sara Brueske, along with five talented dogs, gave the students at West County Elementary School a special treat on a recent Tuesday afternoon.
Acting as the emcee, Rigler started off the school’s assembly by introducing five-year-old Border Collie “Kickstart,” who wowed the students with her ability to seemingly defy gravity as Brueske, her owner and trainer, threw Frisbees for Kickstart to catch. No matter if Brueske threw them straight up in the air or over the distance of the school’s gymnasium, Kickstart rarely missed as she twisted, turned, leaped, ran and even used Brueske as a launching pad to fly straight up in the air and catch the discs.
The dog trainers also used the assembly as an opportunity to educate the kids about Purina Farms, rescue dogs and how best to care for their pets. After Kickstart’s performance, Rigler explained that during the winter months, the farm is closed but that its dog trainers travel around the region to schools to teach kids about pet care and rescue dogs.
“Most of the dogs you’re going to see in our show today have been adopted from shelters and rescue groups all across the country,” she said, “which means that they didn’t have a home at some point — they didn’t have a family. They needed someone to take them home and take really good care of them.”
She invited the students to visit the St. Louis farm this spring for Purina Farms’ “Springtime Village,” where all sorts of baby animals — cows, pigs, sheep and other farm animals — are available for them to see and pet. There will also be puppies and kittens at the event available for adoption.
Purina Farms also features a series of dog shows.
“And of course you also get to see our dog shows,” said Rigler. “You get to see dogs running agility, which is through an obstacle course. They go over jumps, through tunnels and over an A-frame; they weave through the weave poles really, really fast … And everybody’s favorite are the diving dogs … The diving dogs run down a 40-foot dock and at the end they leap into the air, catch a Frisbee, fly through the air and splash into the water. And everybody sitting (in the front) gets soaking wet.”
After the shows are over, she continued, members of the audience are welcome to meet the dog performers.
“So it’s really important that our dogs have a great experience meeting you and that you have a great experience meeting our dogs,” said Rigler.
Asking the kids for their input, Rigler explained that the best way to meet a new dog is to first ask the owner if it’s alright to approach the dog and to never just reach their hands out toward the dog to avoid frightening or intimidating a shy or timid dog.
“If that dog is a little bit nervous, you might be handing the dog a finger sandwich,” she said. “So what we always do is ask first. If the owner says it’s OK, we tap the side of our leg and invite the dog over and when we pet them, we make sure to pet them on their side, under their chin or on their chest. We never want to reach over the top of the head of the dog.”
She explained that although it’s normal to want to reach out and pet a dog’s head, most dogs do not appreciate such gestures and it tends to make them nervous. She also cautioned the kids against putting their faces near the face of a dog they don’t know.
Next up, Rigler and Brueske demonstrated how the students could begin to train their own dogs to catch Frisbees using the newest member of the Purina Farms Freestyle Flying Disc team, five-and-a-half-month-old Papillon named “Rush.”
In between performances, Rigler took a bit of time to ask the students if they knew the most important needs of all pets — twice daily feedings; clean, fresh water every day; daily exercise; grooming; and love and affection — high-fiving each student who gave a correct answer.
She also emphasized foods that should never be fed to dogs, including grapes and raisins, onions and, especially, dark chocolate.
Other dogs that performed included a Border Collie/American Staffordshire Terrier — nicknamed “Border Staffies” — who jumped rope with Brueske; a Belgian Malinois, who showed two students the fastest way to retrieve bean bags from a basket; and, the grand finale, “Zuma,” a Border Collie mixed breed.
“This next dog is a 5-year-old Border Collie mix rescue,” said Rigler. “She was found roaming the streets in St. Louis — didn’t have a home at all. But she is truly a homeless-to-high-flying story. She’s now one of the top Frisbee dogs in the world and one of the only dogs that can do a complete back flip.”
To the screams and applause of the student body, Zuma proceeded to delight the crowd with her amazing athleticism, jumping, leaping, flipping and racing to catch the discs thrown by her owner and trainer Brueske.
Amy Patterson is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-518-3616 or email@example.com.