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The Sheep Dog Trials are a fan favorite at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
The Sheep Dog Trials are a fan favorite at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
Photo by Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo

The Other Animals at RodeoHouston: Pig Races, Sheep Dogs and Disc Dogs

This little piggy pushed and shoved, this little piggy squealed, and this little piggy went wee, wee, wee all the way down the 150-foot track. The goal is the finish line where cookies, candies and other tasty treats await the wiggly, squirmy piglets. The daily pig races are over in the blink of an eye, but they are one of the cutest events at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™.

Also in the cute/talented animals category are the Sheep Dog Trials, always a fan favorite. It's sort of like herding cats, but with a much higher success rate as these working dogs are doing what they love. We've got one more chance to see those dogs herd sheep this Saturday before RodeoHouston comes to a close.

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This weekend also brings the return of Houston Disc Dogs. Trainer Pennie Mahon says she's working with Dee and Chris, a couple from Puerto Rico who travel in a motor home with their pack of ten performing dogs, all rescues. They're bringing Bliss, a high jump dog who can actually jump seven feet. "When you see it you're going to die. It's pretty amazing," says Mahon. Bliss also does a walking handstand completely on her front legs.

Even more amazing is that Bliss used to be a homeless dog running loose on the beaches and streets of Puerto Rico. "At the time they were just training dogs. [Dee and Chris thought], 'Oh my goodness. It's a cattle dog; this is going to be a match made in heaven. We're sure she's going to be a great Frisbee dog. What heeler isn't?'

"As it turns out, she hates the water and she has zero interest in playing Frisbee games," says Mahon. "But she was extremely food driven and willing to learn."

Mahon tells us that it takes a special kind of dog to do well at catching discs, racing through weave poles, and performing stunts in front of a noisy crowd. She says Heinz 57 mixes and herding breeds seem to excel, though she's seen cases where dogs are great at learning tricks but just hate being in the rodeo environment.

"They have to be 100 percent willing participants and really love what they’re doing, otherwise they won’t have fun. This is all voluntary," says Mahon. "It’s a lot of physical exertion. These dogs push themselves to their maximum abilities. It takes a certain temperament also to perform in front of a crowd."

During the Houston Disc Dogs performances this weekend, Mahon and her team will tell some of the origins stories for the performing dogs. Afterwards there's a meet and greet behind the Arena where the audience members exit the stands.

"That lasts for about 15 minutes. We pretty much have to walk the dogs away," says Mahon, who says she still advocates an "adopt, not shop" policy for folks looking to add a dog to their family. She also hopes that when people see average dogs do amazing things, and the relationships that are formed between animal and trainer, that they'll be motivated to go home and spend more time with their animals: interacting, training and forming those bonds.

Pig races are scheduled daily through March 17 at 10:30 and 11:30 a.m., as well as at 12:30, 1:30, 3:30, 4:30, 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. at The Junction. The Sheep Dog Trails are scheduled for March 16 at 11 a.m. Saturday at NRG Center, Main Arena. Performances of the Houston Disc Dogs are scheduled for March 14-17 at 4 p.m. Friday, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and 3 and 5 p.m. Sunday at NRG Center, Main Arena.

The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is scheduled through March 17 at Three NRG Park. For information, visit rodeohouston.com. Grounds passes gain access to all events on NRG Park, except for the rodeo and concert in NRG Stadium. $5 to $15, or $35 for the season.

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