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Performing dogs go big after $1 million TV prize

By: SUE MANNING The Associated Press
April 26, 2014
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photo - In this photo taken on Tuesday, April 22, 2014, several of the Olate performing dogs, from left, Loca, Copo and Toby, practice during a training session in Sorrento, Fla. The Olates spend more than 11 months a year on the road performing and they have been tapped to star in short films bankrolled by Ellen DeGeneres' pet food company, one of which is set to screen at the Cannes Film Festival. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
In this photo taken on Tuesday, April 22, 2014, several of the Olate performing dogs, from left, Loca, Copo and Toby, practice during a training session in Sorrento, Fla. The Olates spend more than 11 months a year on the road performing and they have been tapped to star in short films bankrolled by Ellen DeGeneres' pet food company, one of which is set to screen at the Cannes Film Festival. (AP Photo/John Raoux) 

A million dollars will change you.

Since a father and son took their 10 flipping, twirling dogs from the center ring of a circus to the stage of a TV reality show, where they won NBC's "America's Got Talent," people pack their performances at large venues and they have been tapped to star in short films bankrolled by Ellen DeGeneres' pet food company, one of which is set to screen at the Cannes Film Festival.

Richard Olate, 56, son Nicholas, 21, and 10 poodle-mix dogs - most of them rescues - dazzled audiences and grabbed the "Talent" title in 2012 with their jumping, running, hiding, rolling and riding of dog-size cars and scooters.

In the fast-paced, trick-filled shows, the dogs use slides and jump ropes better than most kids and fall into a conga line in perfect sync; one does backflips flawlessly.

After winning the million-dollar prize, the troupe headlined a show at the Venetian resort and casino on the Las Vegas Strip for six months and started traveling in a cushy motorhome and trailer that pamper people and pooches.

"The dogs give us our life, so we make sure they are always in a good place," Nicholas Olate said of the dogs' new mode of travel, which has heating, air conditioning and showers. "Everything's decked out for their comfort."

The Olates, including wife and mom Rebecca, who serves as road and communications manager, spend more than 11 months a year on the road. They still play circuses, but with their fame they now take their performances to concert halls, NBA games and other large venues. A major draw is 6-year-old Lili, the family's only canine performer who can do a backflip and a key reason the Olates won "America's Got Talent," whose new season premieres May 27.

The act triumphed after 45 years of work by the elder Olate. Nicholas Olate says his father, the second youngest of 22 children born in Chile, was 10 when he adopted and started training strays. By 12, he was supporting his entire family with his dog shows. After a circus group saw the act, Richard Olate and the dogs were performing in the U.S.

For those who wonder if the dogs enjoy performing, you can tell how they feel by their body language, said Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, a San Diego veterinarian and author of pawcurious.com. "In my experience, high-energy dogs that are given an outlet for that energy are usually pretty darn happy," she said.

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