The last time Jonathan Offi brought his Canines in the Clouds show to the Washington Town & Country Fair, his cattle dog mix Hydro set a World Record for clearing 84 inches in the Big Air Box Jump.
If you saw that feat back in 2015 and were impressed, you won’t want to miss the newest stunt Offi’s dogs are performing for crowds — the 16-foot Wall Climb.
Think of the American Ninja Warriors Warped Wall obstacle, only for dogs.
Set at an 85-degree angle so that it is almost vertical, the wall is made of steel and wood with an anti-fatigue mat so the dogs’ nails can get a grip as they run up the wall. Their goal is to grab the toy at the top.
Offi said all of his dogs play around with this stunt, but only a couple of them are comfortable enough with it and have the ability to attempt it for real.
His dogs started performing the stunt about a year ago.
“It’s just another activity to showcase something that the dogs love . . . and the crowd has had a really great response,” said Offi.
In addition to the Wall Climb, Offi’s dogs will perform Frisbee stunts and dock diving, just like when they were here in 2015.
In everything they do, Offi’s dogs get big air, which is why he calls the show Canines in the Clouds. He describes the dogs as “extreme canine athletes.”
Offi and his dogs will perform three shows a day all five days of the Fair — at 1, 4 and 6:30 p.m. Shows will be held on the concrete pad near the north (shuttle) gate. Offi will lay a blanket of artifical turf over the concrete.
Offi will rotate which dogs perform in which show, allowing them to rest and also ensuring that no two shows are identical.
Each show ends with an opportunity for the audience to get up close and personal with the dogs, meeting and greeting the stars of the show.
All Rescue Dogs
Offi’s team currently includes 12 dogs — all rescues from shelters or rescue groups across the country. Seven or eight are expected to perform at the Fair.
The team includes all of the same dogs from 2015, said Offi, noting his dogs have remained healthy and strong enough to be able to do their stunts. Hydro, who is the team leader, is probably 8 1/2 years old, he noted.
Using rescue dogs, some of whom are purebreds and some of whom are mixed, allows Offi to showcase the abilities of these particular dogs. Breeds represented on his team include:
Golden retriever, Australian cattle dog, Belgian malinois (a shepherd from Belgium instead of Germany), Border collie, German short-haired pointer mix (hunting breed) and pit bull mixes with possibly some Catahoula and mastiff.
Offi has trained each of the dogs to perform.
“These are the activities I use to keep the dogs healthy and happy,” he said.
Offi and his world famous team of dogs have been featured on Animal Planet’s “Pit Bulls and Parolees” and “Who Let the Dogs Out,” with David Letterman, as well as on ESPN, ABC, NBC and Univision for a variety of other TV programs.
Offi is a professional dog trainer and an animal behavior expert specializing in problem cases and powerful breeds. He has rescued, rehabilitated and rehomed more than 150 dogs.
These days, Offi travels the country, from California to Maine, with his dogs performing at fairs and festivals in warm weather months and for halftime shows for college basketball and NBA teams throughout the winter.
He has a trailer to carry all of his equipment, while he and the dogs travel in a 30-foot motor home.
Offi, who had previously had a home base in Fenton, now operates out of the St. Clair area.
Saw an Opportunity
Offi got into the canine performance and competition world in 2009 when he noticed an opportunity.
His pet pit bull, Aztec, was already a Frisbee dog, just playing in the park as a hobby, and he knew the dog would naturally take to the training to be a competitor.
And because no one in the competition world was working with pit bulls, Offi knew his dog could be a real ambassador for the breed, helping change people’s perception of the dog.
“If I walk my pit bulls around the park on leashes, people are always intimidated,” Offi told The Missourian back in 2015. “But if I take them to the center and begin throwing Frisbees to the dogs, people come to me.”
That first year, Offi and Aztec won the California state championships after just seven months of training.
In 2010, Aztec placed third in the Purina Pro Plan Incredible Dog Challenge western regionals, and in 2011 he placed first, moving him forward to compete in the finals at Purina Farms in Gray Summit, where he took first place in the freestyle flying disc competition.
‘Find a Dog That Fits Your Lifestyle’
In addition to using his high-flying dog show to entertain and inspire people, Offi said another of his goals is to educate people about the value of rescue dogs, pit bulls in particular.
“Half of my pack is pit bull mixes,” he said. “They range from 33 to 69 pounds. People who look at them would call them all pit bull, but they probably have something else mixed in with them.”
By having a team of different breeds performing and working together, Offi wants to prove to people that pit bulls can get along with other dogs and dispell any myths or correct any misinformation they have.
“But our biggest message in each show is really reminding people to get a dog that matches their lifestyle,” said Offi. “That’s why all of my dogs ended up in a shelter or needing a special home,” because somebody got a dog that didn’t match their lifestyle.
“Some of my dogs are purebred, and somebody probably paid a lot of money for them, but it was just too much dog, and they didn’t know what they were getting into or whatever the situation,” he said.
So with his shows, Offi tries to encourage people who are wanting to add a dog to their family, first, to consider getting a rescue, but second, no matter where they get a dog, get one that matches their lifestyle.