Disc dog competition comes to Naperville's Nike Park Sept. 1-2
Mark Faragoi brags about his dog Riley like a proud doggy daddy.
"Any dog trick you can name, Riley can basically do it," the Plainfield resident said of his 7-year-old female border collie.
One of the pair's specialties is wowing onlookers with their fancy Frisbee maneuvers.
The duo is preparing to defend a prestigious title in the world of disc dog competition when the 2018 Ashley Whippet Invitational World Championship comes to Naperville's Nike Park Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 1-2.
Winners of the Open Toss-and-Catch championship at the 2017 contest, Faragoi and his talented canine have their sights set not only on making it a repeat victory, but on winning the Open Overall Championship, an honor that last year went to Kirby McIlveen and her dog, Torch.
"We're hoping for a Freestyle championship, too," said Faragoi.
He and Riley have won numerous titles for their impressive skills. Over the years, Faragoi and his dogs have been featured on several TV shows, including "The Late Show with David Letterman," "Fox and Friends" and "Inside Edition."
"I got into it 10 years ago with a different dog," he said.
His dog Luck, now retired from competition, is a 9-year-old Australian cattle dog.
Faragoi was intent on learning good human-to-dog communication, so he sought out dog training.
"Once you can communicate with your dogs and have them understand what you want, it becomes easier," he said. "You have to have total control over your dogs. It's all positive reinforcement. It's, 'If you do this, you get this.'"
Then he stumbled upon canine disc events, including exhibitions and competitions.
"I ran across Frisbee dogs and I was hooked," he said. "I thought, 'Oh, that is cool.' I attended one seminar. After that, I just kind of, you know, school of hard knocks. I've trained dogs before, but never to this level. I fell in love with the sport."
Nowadays, he teaches dog training seminars and works with fellow local dog club members.
"I help other players develop their skills. They're all my friends anyway. I like teaching and helping people out," he said.
One key to a good Frisbee performance is planning and practicing the routines, which are choreographed to music, he said.
"You want to highlight your dog's skills, have everything flow and be crowd pleasing," he said.
Too much practice can be a detriment.
"A lot of dogs get burned out. If it becomes more of a job than fun, they lose interest," he said.
Event organizer Tom Wehrli said about 50 human-and-dog teams are expected to compete this year. The event draws from all over the globe, with teams traveling to Naperville from Belgium, South Korea, Japan, China and the Netherlands.
"They can compete with up to four dogs in two different divisions," he said.
Though Wehrli no longer competes in Frisbee events with his dogs, his family currently shares their Naperville home with four dogs.
"We're on our 14th rescue animal in our family," he said.
Wehrli said Lizzy's Fund, a charity that raises money to help elderly dogs in need of veterinary care, will be at the event.
A last-chance qualifying event for the Sunday championship competition will be held on Saturday.
Frisbee dog luminaries will be on hand both days, he said. One of the judges will be Frisbee dog pioneer Eldon McIntire.
Alex Stein, who stunned sports fans in 1974 when he tossed a Frisbee onto the field at Los Angeles Dodgers Stadium and his dog Ashley Whippet caught it, is expected to be in the crowd. Stein's stunt brought the sport considerable limelight, Wehrli said.
"Before (Stein) got arrested, they allowed him to play for nine minutes with his dog," said Faragoi.
Faragoi said he and Riley are ready to meet the challenges and continue elevating the sport in a spirit of fun that's been captivating audiences for decades.
"Riley's at peak," he said.
Ashley Whippet Invitational World K-9 Frisbee ChampionshipsWhen: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 1 and 2
Where: Nike Park, 228 W. Diehl Road, Naperville