Canine Disc History
An excerpt from Disc Dogs! The Complete Guide by Peter Bloeme and Jeff Perry, Co-founders of Hyperflite, Inc.
No one actually knows the identity of the first person to throw a disc to a canine, but the credit for first popularizing this activity must go to Alex Stein, owner and trainer of the legendary three-time world canine disc champion, Ashley Whippet. Besides being his registered name, Ashley actually was a Whippet; a breed that looks like a small Greyhound — sleek, smooth, short-haired, athletic and very fast.
Ashley was born in Oxford, Ohio on October 2, 1971. Stein received him as a gift and took him everywhere. He soon discovered that he had no ordinary run-of-the-mill dog! Ashley would chase, leap, spin in the air and catch just about any disc thrown (which at the time were large diameter Super Pro Frisbee discs).
Stein had the intuition that Ashley could make it in show business, so he boldly moved from Cleveland, Ohio to Hollywood, California; the land of opportunity for the unusual.
When he called the various talent agencies, he told them he had a dog that ran 35 miles-per-hour, jumped nine feet, spun in the air and caught flying discs. They answered, “You have a dog that can run how fast, jump how high and catch what?” then hung up. But Stein didn’t give up; he approached Wham-O, a maker of Frisbee discs.
At first, Wham-O showed little interest, so Stein dreamed up a way to attract their attention. He wanted to demonstrate that Ashley was attention-grabbing, exciting, newsworthy and entertaining. Fortunately for the sport, both Stein and Ashley had great courage and determination.
So in August of 1974, Stein smuggled Ashley into Dodger Stadium during a nationally televised baseball game. Between the seventh and eighth innings, the duo borrowed the outfield from the major leaguers and performed for eight minutes before Stein was arrested. Their debut almost turned catastrophic when, during the arrest, Ashley disappeared.
Irv Lander, then Director of the International Frisbee Association, happened to be at the game and bailed Stein out of jail. For three days, both men were sick with worry at the thought that Ashley might be lost forever. Fortunately, a boy who had seen the performance found Ashley roaming the stadium parking lot, took him home and cared for him until his parents could get in touch with Stein.
The crowd at Dodger Stadium loved the impromptu show and their exploits brought the pair national publicity.
After that memorable baseball game, Stein and Ashley became legendary among disc dog aficionados, performing at Super Bowl XII, The Tonight Show, Merv Griffin, Late Night with David Letterman and even at the White House for Amy Carter. Then, when competition began for canines, Ashley ran away with three world titles.
Why Ashley was so talented no one knows. Whippets, in general, are not renowned disc dogs. Still, we have never seen a dog more beautiful and graceful, as fast or as high a leaper as Ashley was. After an action packed life of entertaining millions and popularizing an exciting activity for owners and their dogs, Ashley Whippet passed away on March 11, 1985 at the age of 14.
In his lifetime, Ashley set the standards for the sport. Yet he was just the beginning. People often ask us who is, or was, the greatest disc dog. We can’t compare Ashley or other great dogs of the past with the champions of today because of the sport’s rapid growth and development. New tricks, rules and training methods have all added variables that make comparisons impossible.
Alex Stein toured for a number of years with Ashley’s pups, Ashley Jr., Ashley III, and Lady Ashley as a member of the Ashley Whippet Invitational Celebrity Touring Team. Several years ago he settled down, got married, and had a daughter. Recently he moved his family to Stowe, Vermont and opened Edelweiss, a Deli/Convenience Store (2251 Mountain Rd, Stowe, Vermont 05672). If you’re in the area, be sure to stop by. The food is excellent and there is no better storyteller of the days of old than Stein who is always willing to serve up another one.
Thanks to the legendary exploits of Stein and Ashley, disc dog competitions are flourishing. At least five canine competition series, employing a variety of competitive formats, exist today including those staged by a veritable alphabet soup of organizations such as the AWI, FDDO, Skyhoundz, UFO, and USDDN. Today, the Hyperflite Skyhoundz Canine Disc Championship Series is the largest and most well-attended canine disc competition series in the world featuring approximately 150 competitions. In the Skyhoundz Series teams compete for World Championship titles in four distinct divisions — MicroDog, Pairs Freestyle, Open and Sport. For those fortunate enough to qualify for the World Championship, a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience awaits. To find out whether a Skyhoundz competition is being held near you, or to learn more about canine disc sports, please visit, www.skyhoundz.com.