Why some of the world's most acrobatic dogs are coming to Naperville

  • Feats of timing and skill featuring dogs and discs will be on display Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 during the annual Ashley Whippet Invitational World Championships at Nike Sports Complex in Naperville.

    Feats of timing and skill featuring dogs and discs will be on display Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 during the annual Ashley Whippet Invitational World Championships at Nike Sports Complex in Naperville. Daily Herald file photo

  • Competitors are expected to come from across the United States and six other countries Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 to the Ashley Whippet Invitational World Championships, an elite event in the world of dog disc training.

    Competitors are expected to come from across the United States and six other countries Aug. 31 and Sept. 1 to the Ashley Whippet Invitational World Championships, an elite event in the world of dog disc training. Daily Herald file photo September 2017

 
 
Updated 8/5/2019 1:46 PM

The World Series of dog disc competitions comes to Naperville each year.

But unlike baseball's World Series, the Ashley Whippet Invitational World Championships doesn't make fans pay an arm, a leg and a firstborn to get in. It's free, and organizers are promoting it as a fun way to watch acrobatic dogs of all kinds and enthusiastic owners of all ages put on feats of timing and skill.

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The competition begins at 9:30 a.m. and it runs Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, at Nike Sports Complex, 288 W. Diehl Road.

The first day is a "last-chance" qualifier for the real World Championships on Sunday.

On both days, dogs and their humans compete in freestyle and toss-and-catch divisions.

With at least 60 teams from seven countries expected, the event is a major one each year for dog disc enthusiasts, said Tom Wehrli, who coordinates the competition and operates an Ashley Whippet museum of dog disc memorabilia at his Naperville home.

"They take a deep breath. I tell them a joke, maybe, before they go on the field," Wehrli said, of the competitors -- including one 14-year-old -- who are always eager to perform on the world stage. "It loosens them up a little bit."

A classic among Wehrli's jokes is a spinoff of the line, "don't sweat the small stuff."

"Don't sweat the petty stuff," he begins. The dog-related part comes next. "Pet the sweaty stuff," Wehrli concludes. Drumroll, please.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

All kidding aside, the World Championships is serious business for participants who fly in from Amsterdam, Canada, Germany, Hungary, Israel and Japan -- not to mention the rest of the United States -- to throw, catch and aim for glory.

"I don't think people really grasp that it's the culmination of an international thing," said Greg Gordon, owner of Dog Patch Pet & Feed in Naperville and a longtime sponsor and spectator of the Ashley Whippet Invitational. "These are big players in the world of Frisbee dogs."

Gordon said he occasionally sells discs to shoppers looking for something fun to do with their pets. But he doesn't carry the high-end stuff competitors in the World Championships use as they throw and catch for style and distance. Still, as a fan, he enjoys the freestyle competition, calling it "amazingly fun to watch."

Wehrli, who has performed in numerous halftime shows with his dogs and discs -- but doesn't compete in the World Championships -- agreed. Freestyle is where it's at.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It's awesome to see," he said. "People just can't get enough of that."

Fans can get free admission to the competition and can buy food from vendors. They'll be able to park themselves in bleachers set up specifically for the event to line the fields where the dogs and their owners will perform.

Wehrli said 80 percent of participating animals are rescues, and he's happy to promote the practice of giving dogs from shelters a "forever home." But one cautionary note with shelter pets, he said, is many of them need consistent exercise in order to show good behavior.

"Any activity you can have with your dog to get that energy release is huge," Wehrli said.

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