Have you ever seen a dog sword fight? Stop what you’re doing -- if you’re a dog lover, or if you could use a sincerely good smile -- I repeat, stop what you’re doing and watch this video:
We definitely needed a work break when we first saw this, and since then we got the chance to talk with Sara Carson, the dog trainer shown in the video. As you learn, she's performing with her 5-year-old border collie, Hero, who is the oldest of her three dogs (all of who do cool tricks). At 21, Sara has already been seen all over national TV from David Letterman to Ellen and now on America’s Got Talent, but her end goal isn't show business. Her passion is in bringing smiles to other people's faces by dedicating her life to teaching all of us dog lovers how to do cool tricks with our 4-legged BFF’s.
Before we get into the amazing work Sara does, she needs our help! She’s made it into the America’s Got Talent LIVE quarterfinals! It’s airing on Tuesday, August 29th on NBC at 8pm Eastern/7 Central time, and while she can’t reveal exactly what she’ll be doing, she’s told us, “we’re doing a few things that have never been done before that we’re just teaching ourselves for the show.” So if you liked what you saw in the video above, tune in and watch the live episode for some sure-to-be epic tricks. Viewer votes are what will decide if she gets to the next round or not -- so get that phone out, get in front of a TV, and vote for Sara and Hero!
Sara and Hero five years ago...don't we all wish we had high school photos like this??
Being the latest AGT star is pretty cool, but Sara spends the majority of her time traveling around the country with all three of her dogs (in battery-powered, air-conditioned kennels -- awesome!) doing live performances and giving workshops to teach anyone how to train dogs in basic obedience or amazing tricks. “It’s really rewarding,” she says. “It’s amazing to watch the bond strengthen between people and their dogs.” She and her pups are called The Super Collies -- a fitting name given that Sara seems to have a superpower for dog training.
Hero demonstrates his superhero skills at a dock diving event
For those of you who might not be in an area where Sara’s giving a workshop or training, you’ve still got options. She does free, online workshops on social media where you can join in and work with your pup from your living room. She also has an online program for puppies and new dog owners called “Super Start” that helps you develop a great base for obedience and tricks from the beginning of your relationship.
Even more exciting, she just launched a mobile app called “Puppr” that walks you through basic positive reinforcement training techniques and gets you well on your way to have a superhero pup. It’s free, and it’s organized into easy lessons depending on what you want to work on. You can choose from basic obedience to circus stunts to having your dog learn how to open and close doors for you. Pretty cool stuff. [Disclaimer: my 8- and 10-year-old nephews are obsessed with Sara, and we downloaded her app to see if we could get their rambunctious rescue mutt, Ernie, to learn something. Teaching him how to respond to clicker training was a breeze, and we’re already learning how to teach him tricks. The best part is how engaged the kids are in learning Sara’s training techniques.]
Sara's three highly skilled instructors, The Super Collies
The other good news: you don’t have to quit your day job to teach your dog useful or silly tricks. Sara recommends training in short sessions, even just 5-10 minutes a day. “You make it fun and engaging and always different,” she suggests. “They need to enjoy it enough so it’s not a chore. It’s a game but it’s their job at the same time. When you go to work you get paid.”
All of Sara’s dogs are highly food motivated, and instead of just working with treats she often uses their meals during training sessions (Pro tip: this will help your dog maintain a healthy weight, especially if you’re going to reward most of the time). As they get better and better, another good tip is not to reward them every time. This continues to make it fun and unpredictable, so they eventually get the reward, but not every time you do a trick with them. For those of you watching Sara on AGT, she shared a little secret with us. “If you pay really close attention to one of my hands, there’s a treat in one.”
If you’re just getting started, Sara recommends teaching your dog how to spin left and right (my nephews and I chose this as our first trick from the Puppr app). “It helps the dog understand their bodies and develop body awareness," she says. "And it’s also a really fun and easy first trick.”
Sara's crew with one of her first mentors, Zak George from Animal Planet
Sara got the bug for dog training when she was just 8-years-old and her family got their first dog, a cocker spaniel. “I watched some Youtube videos -- Zak George [from Animal Planet’s Super Fetch] has incredible tutorials, and I went from there.” By the time she was 16, she had learned agility and freestyle training, and that’s when she got Hero. She applied to be on David Letterman’s Stupid Dog Tricks, and before she turned 17 she was being flown to New York with 14-month-old Hero. Being from Ontario, Canada, “I didn’t know how big of an opportunity it was until I was standing on stage talking to [Letterman]. I actually was more excited about the fact that they were flying me to New York.” Hero blew bubbles on the show, and from there, The Super Collies have been taking off. Sara’s crew also includes Marvel, a border collie rescue from San Francisco, and Loki, a rescue from Oklahoma who’s still not even two but has been performing live regularly since he was six months old. Loki’s allergic to beef, which has made training challenging. Sara found Nulo, a Texas-based, limited ingredient dog food and treat company, to address his sensitivities -- and they in turn saw how awesome her work is and decided to sponsor her.
Sara and her dogs teach us all that no dream is out of reach.
From a curious 8-year-old girl to an enthusiastic and highly talented 21-year-old, Sara is living proof that if we put our mind to something, we can achieve anything. At 16, when she decided to go into training professionally, almost everyone told her she wouldn’t succeed. She recently wrote on an Instagram post, “I have worked with dogs for the past 12 years and was constantly told I was wasting my time or I wasn't going to go anywhere with it.”
A lot of those feelings came out after her America’s Got Talent performance with Hero, when some of the judges were unimpressed with their performance. “It was hard to hear such negative comments,” Sara remembers of being on stage. “My entire life I’d had so many negative comments from people. That’s why I started crying and bawling my eyes out -- because I worked so hard to get there and it was airing in front of 53 million people. And that’s when Simon came up on stage.” With the entire TV audience cheering him on, Simon Cowell convinced the other judges to vote Sara through to the live show coming up on August 29th. “I’m pretty nervous about it,” Sara says of the upcoming performance. “But even if we don’t get through this round, this is the spot I wanted to make it to. I wanted to make it to one live show, so regardless of the outcome I feel blessed for the opportunity.”
So what’s next for Sara and The Super Collies after America’s Got Talent? “I’m coming out with a freestyle program to teach you how to dance with your dog,” she says. So follow her on Facebook, follow her on Instagram, sign up for her newsletter, and download the Puppr app. They’re full of resources that teach you everything you need to know about training your dog...not to mention teaching your dog how to do a handstand. But the real payoff is the bond you’ll be developing with your dog -- there’s nothing like spending time with your best friend doing something you both love.
Oh, and if you haven’t seen this clip of Sara and Hero freestyle dancing, check it out. We promise it’ll make your day.