Olate Dogs to showcase million-dollar backflips and more in Jim Thorpe
By Jim Radenhausen, Pocono Record Writer
Millions of viewers witnessed Olate Dogs’ high-energy, fast-paced tricks in 2012 during the seventh season of NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” Now, Pocono-area residents have the chance to see the “AGT”-winning act up close during a performance Saturday at Mauch Chunk Opera House, Jim Thorpe.
Based in Commerce, Texas, Olate Dogs features father and son Richard and Nicholas Olate, plus 11 pups: Willy, a mini-poodle mix; Cholo, a schnoodle (schnauzer/poodle mix) who famously “drove” a car on stage in the 2012 “AGT” finale; Benny and Bob, schnoodles; Maggie, Lili and Bella, labradoodles; Loca, a Yorkie/Poodle mix; Oso, a standard poodle; and Toby and Copo, poodle mixes. Joe, a poodle mix, and Sodi, a Maltese, are retired.
Aside from the aforementioned car-driving, Olate Dogs’ arsenal of tricks include: scooter-riding, an all-dog conga line, backflips, walking and jumping rope on hind legs, jumping tricks and the wheelbarrow, for which one dog walks on its front legs while another pushes from behind on its rear legs. Upon winning “AGT,” Olate Dogs snared $1 million and headlined the “America’s Got Talent Live in Las Vegas” stage show at The Palazzo in Las Vegas in 2012 and 2013.
Richard, a third-generation circus performer, developed his act on the streets of his native Chile, South America, when he was 12. More than 40 years later, Richard, along with wife, Rebecca, and Nicholas, rescue dogs from shelters and homes and train them to be part of their professional troupe. In addition to live shows — including performances with the Big Apple Circus and Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus — Olate Dogs has appeared in two short films: “Le Sauvetage (The Rescue)” and “Dog’s Best Friend.” The latter film, the second in the #RescueFilm series created by Peter McEvilley, celebrates rescue pets and promotes pet adoption.
Performing with his father since age 6, Nicholas — also a recording artist, releasing his first album “Think Big,” on Domo Records in 2013 — took on more responsibilities as he got older and now serves as Richard’s right-hand man in Olate Dogs. Prior to the act’s show in Jim Thorpe, Nicholas spoke to the Pocono Record about the “AGT” experience, the dog-training process and his music career, among other topics.
Q: Was your childhood filled with dogs galore?
A: Yeah, my earliest memories, when I was 2 to 3, was dogs always around. I’d get down on all fours and act like a dog, oddly enough.
Did you genuinely want in on the act, or was it just in your blood?
My family was originally from the circus. At that time, I went in there and sat around, played with dogs. I didn’t know anything about the routine. As the youngest, I was in there causing trouble, in the way. My mother and sister used to perform with us, as well. When we got to “AGT,” it was my father and myself. I love performing and I love dogs, but it’s not necessarily my calling. I have my own dreams/aspirations, too, hopefully.
Was the “AGT” audition process difficult?
It’s a lot harder for us than other acts. Dogs have to go to the bathroom, and you have to find a place to take them out. We had never really watched the show. We didn’t understand how big it was. In Orlando, they said, “Come in, we’ll make it quick, you can audition.” Dad didn’t really want to; he thought it was going to be a hassle. We passed through, went to the New York run and auditioned in front of the judges. It was a long, hectic day, and we were trying to find out where we can take out the dogs. We were ready to give up. We got on stage, and after we got a standing ovation, and the judges were saying nice things about us, we were like, “Okay, we’re gonna keep going.” Howard Stern was brutally honest; a lot think he comes off as mean.
Where do you get the dogs?
Generally, we get dogs from shelters. A lot of times, we have had people come up and say, “We have a dog, I’m not a dog person,” “I don’t have time to take care of a dog, do you guys want it?” We generally stick to poodle-mix dogs. They’re very acrobatic and light-framed. It’s not hard on their joints at all.
When training, do you use treats?
We don’t. Dad’s just super patient with them. His main goal is to have the dogs be happy and have fun. He finds a way to make it a game for them. If training them to walk around on hind legs, he’ll be holding the front paws, dancing around with them. Without them knowing, they’re developing balance and muscle memory. It’s probably a lot longer process than if we did train with treats. We don’t want them to think they have to do something so they can get some food. It’s better when it’s just playtime.
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