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These rescue dogs are the stars of a traveling circus


The five frenetic canines who tumble, flip and twirl for an hour in Darren Peterson's travelling show, "Circus Chickendog" in Austin, Texas, didn't start learning tricks as puppies--each of them is a rescue dog.

You can teach old dogs new tricks, for sure. No problem there.
Darren Peterson, founder of Circus Chickendog

The cast of Circus Chickendog includes Moose and Mouse, litter mates from Hurricane Katrina; Coyote and Squirrel, papillions who were "not the right size" at an overcrowded breeder; and Skeeter, an owner surrender.

Darren Peterson adopted the dogs and using a training method call "free shaping" turned them into virtuosos. Free shaping works by capitalizing on a dogs natural instincts. If a dog likes to stand up on two legs a trainer using a clicker and treats can develop that behavior into a trick. "Stand!"

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Besides dog tricks, Peterson's show features juggling, unicycling and a scarlet macaw named Lauren. Peterson and his brother James have been touring the show for years, always looking for ways to push the boundaries of what's possible in dog training.

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Peterson got his start as a performer all the way back in college, when he left school with only 8 credits remaining to join the Royal Lichtenstein Circus.

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Peterson ended up going back to school to finish his degree in mathematics. He taught high school math for three years and worked as an editor of math text books, but during this time started training his original performance dog, Chicken Dog. Disc dog competitions led to more formal tricks and before long he was able to dedicate himself to Circus Chickendog full time.

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