SIDNEY – Danielle O’Neill may be the lead handler of Team Zoom, but she doesn’t call all the shots; the team’s dogs each have a say in crafting their performances.
“We let the dog choose the job,” O’Neill said. “It’s my job as the handler to find what makes that dog happy because we want the dog to like their job. And if they stop liking their job, it’s time for them to retire, whether they’re 4 years old or 14.”
O’Neill and fellow handler Rayna Stout are in Sidney this week along with 14 performance dogs for Team Zoom’s shows at the Shelby County Fair. They have 20 performances throughout the week, combining agility, stunts, tricks and comedy in the 30 minute shows.
Five to eight dogs showcase their talents during each unique performance with skills such as catching Frisbees, jumping rope, jumping through hula hoops, somersaulting, flipping through the air, running through an obstacle course and climbing a ladder.
“Legend really loves to do Frisbee and loves agility,” O’Neill said. “AWOL loves to do weird things with his mouth, like he likes to hold things and so he holds the jump rope; he helps out with things like that. Wombat loves to make the crowd happy so he does a little skit that makes everyone laugh. Every dog has the thing that they like the most so what I do is I take that raw talent and then I just twerk it a little bit here and there and tweak it to make it funny and make it interesting.
“It’s all about everyone having fun is the main thing – dogs, people and me.”
Team Zoom is a Dayton-based group comprised of four handlers each with a number of dogs. The other half of the team is at the Seneca County Fair this week.
O’Neill and her husband, who competes in herding, have 20 dogs including eight that perform with her in states east of the Rocky Mountains.
“You just get into a rhythm,” O’Neill said of having 20 dogs, which she described as simultaneously being her coworkers, pets and family. “You know, it’s just like you get up, you potty dogs, you feed dogs and you have your coffee then you go out and you start letting dogs out and you start training dogs. It’s a job. And just like anything else, there are good days and there are other days where you want to rip your hair out.”
O’Neill has a wide variety of canines including a Malinois, Dutch Shepherd, Labrador and Koolie, but her favorite breed to work with is the Border Collie.
“They want to work; they want to please,” O’Neill said of the Border Collies. “I love their drive. I like their intensity. I like naughty dogs, naughty meaning they’ll do anything to get the job done.
“And they’re not super sensitive with crowds and things like that. And they’re silly. So I like that personality about them.”
Between the four trainers, O’Neill estimated about half of the Team Zoom dogs are rescues while the other half were purchased from responsible breeders.
Some, she said, are out-of-the-box dogs – ready to learn tricks and perform right away. Others she described as project dogs who need lots of time and attention before they’re ready to perform.
O’Neill’s current project dog is Oz, who had four homes before she adopted him. They spent six months bonding before he started learning tricks.
“His favorite trick to do was an army crawl so I just made a boot camp skit,” O’Neill said.
While some tricks only take a couple days for the dogs to learn, others can take months or even years to master. And even then, the dogs sometimes decide not to cooperate during shows.
“Our dogs sometimes flip us the fuzzy paw, too,” O’Neill said. “You know, they’re still dogs, and sometimes they’re just like, ‘Nope, I don’t want to do it.’”
Team Zoom will perform at 4, 6:30 and 9 p.m. Friday and at 3 and 5:30 p.m. Saturday at the Fair to close out its week in Sidney. Each show concludes with a meet-and-greet session with the trainers and a couple of the dogs.
For more information about Team Zoom, visit its website at https://www.teamzoom.biz/.
Reach the writer at [email protected] or 937-538-4824.