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'America's Top Dog' offers intense canine, civilian challenges

Luaine Lee, Tribune News Service on

Published in Cats & Dogs News

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Police sergeant Mark Tappan and his partner were in pursuit of a criminal when they were confronted by a 10-foot wall. Tappan didn't scale the wall, but his partner did and injured himself badly, though he continued the chase until a second perpetrator was caught. Then Tappan's partner collapsed.

What's surprising about the story is Tappan's partner is his police dog, Mattis.

"The bad guy jumped off a retaining wall, and I thought the retaining wall was about 10 feet high, so I started to jump as well," recalls Tappan.

"Mattis was off-leash, running next to me, and I realized that the bad guy was still falling when I started to make the jump, and I caught myself. And my heart stopped because I saw my partner, in slow motion, floating through the air downward towards the bad guy. He landed on top of the bad guy, and he wasn't on a bite-command, so he just guarded the bad guy. We were able to take that guy into custody," remembers Tappan.

"I went down and did a quick check of Mattis to see if he was OK. He didn't have any structural problems, but then we got in a foot-chase with the other bad guy who had run, and we caught up to him.

"That guy gave up as soon as he saw Mattis, which was probably pretty smart, but then Mattis collapsed. ... From the initial fall, he had sustained a lacerated liver, and I had to rush him to get emergency surgery, and they opened him up," he says, lowering his eyes.

"It was the worst words you ever want to hear as a canine handler ... I love this dog so much. And the words, I remember and I'll never forget, was they told me, 'We need to get him in the surgery right away.' And so, that's a heart-stopping moment. And they were able to get him in and patch him up. And he was back to work within a month."

That kind of devotion and training will be highlighted in A&E's new competition show "America's Top Dog," premiering Jan. 8.

Both K-9 police dogs and "civilians" will compete in a series of "Ninja Warrior"-type challenges. "They're highly trained dogs and teams," explains showrunner Holly Wofford.

"They compete on three different rounds of competition, three different obstacle courses each hour ... So five teams in each episode. Over the course of these three rounds, we lose one or two in every round. And so ultimately we have our one winner. And they're deemed our 'Top Dog.' And in our final episode we bring back the top competitors, and they're competing for the title of 'America's Top Dog,'" she says.

The teams are tested on their speed, agility, ability to recognize scents and human-dog teamwork in a variety of extremely difficult courses.

The relationship between the trainer and his canine companion is unique, says trainer Amanda Caldron, who entered the race with her Shorty Bulldog, Minion. "There's no doubt about it that dogs have this intuition with us," she nods.

"You see it in every field that they work in, especially service dogs. But when we have all this adrenaline going, they know and they eat it up, and they work that much harder when they feel those stakes at hand, I believe."

Dog trainer Mark White says canine coaching is a perpetual endeavor.

"There's a lot of correlations between dogs and people," he says. "Like, Mark didn't go through a six-month (police) training academy 15 years ago, and he's just never done any training since then because he had that foundation. It's an ongoing process. There's in-service training. There's firearms qualifications. So it's an ongoing process to get better and fine-tuned, and it's the same exact thing for the dogs as well ... And so there's a lot of correlation between the dogs and the people in that sense."

Tappan found Mattis, a German shepherd, in a kennel in Alabama. "And it was kind of funny, too, because I'm a small guy. And so I wanted a small dog ... But, unfortunately, I started testing all the dogs and this beautiful guy gets out of the car, and I'm like, 'Nope, nope. No way. He's huge. He's too big for me.'

"And then he blew the test out of the water. And then the final thing (test) we do is just to see how they are in an engagement in the bite-suit ... And so, I put on a (suit) and I caught out all these different dogs and then I caught him and 'caught' means just get bit by him. And he absolutely crushed me. I was like, 'Oh, my gosh, I have to have this dog.' And then I just saw his control ... control is like obedience and how he wants to please you.

Tappan thinks "America's Top Dog" reveals more than the athletic abilities of the team; it also reveals the heart. "What I love about this show is it does highlight the relationship that everyone is talking about: This dog is with me all the time, 24/7. He's my best friend on the planet."



Everybody's favorite nanny returns for another season of politely offering parenting examples and advice in "Supernanny," arriving Wednesday on Lifetime. Jo Frost will draw on her years of experience helping parents solve the many challenges kids bring into the home.

Frost tells me she began when she was 17.

"I used to work in a maternity shop and I was at college, but I started babysitting in the evenings," she says. "I started then to professionally nanny full time, I was in sole charge when I was 18. I finished college and then I didn't go on to do anything else. I started to professionally help families, and I chose not to go to training for professional nannies.

"I just didn't want to be molded into any particular type of career and back then, Norland Nannies would never be on the floor with the children playing. They were very suited and booted and up here on the sofa," she says.

"The institutions for child care were not something that I cared to do because I felt the best training that I would have would be working in the field, working with different families, professionally nannying and consulting. So I became a professional nanny helping different families and became what they call a 'troubleshooter.'"


Those who've always been fascinated by the antics of James Bond or Jack Ryan or Jason Bourne will dig Bravo's new competition show, which ferrets out the most crafty and illusive spies. "Spy Game," premiering Jan. 20, pits 10 would-be agents against each other in a high stakes game of spy vs. spy.

The contestants live together in a secret cell and are charged with gathering intelligence on each other. They must prevail over a series of numbing challenges designed by three former agents: one from the CIA, one from the FBI and one from the Secret Service. The contestants that show the canniest skills at espionage activities will move forward in the game. But, alas, there can be only one winner in the clandestine caper, and they will take home $100,000.


Alert to all parents: If you want to watch a show the whole family can enjoy, try on "The Waltons," a vintage series that's being revived by MeTV Wednesday and will air every weekday at noon. It's the tale of the struggles of a rural family in Virginia during the Depression and into the era of World War II and on. The series ran for nine seasons beginning in 1972 and scooped up dozens of awards, which it richly deserved.

Richard Thomas starred as John-Boy, the oldest of seven children in the family. A peerless actor, Thomas went on to star in many other projects, but none of them ever eclipsed his performance in "The Waltons."

Thomas comments on why he thinks the series was unique.

"It was a show that honored the lives of people that were not -- at least on the surface -- exceptional," he says.

"They weren't powerful lawyers or doctors or cops or sexy young people or sexy old people. It wasn't geared in that respect to the marketplace, so people felt their own less romantic and simpler lives honored in a way that they didn't anywhere else.

"And I think they responded to that a lot. That was also a show in which a husband and wife equally raised the family, meaning the mother, the grandmother, the girl children -- those women were strong and wise, as well as foolish and frail. So you had something for everyone in the family. And you had something very rare in this country -- respect and veneration for the elderly. You had people who were 6 years old and 80 years old and it was not a cynical view of either age or youth -- although a lot of the flaws and foolishness of age and youth are portrayed."

(Luaine Lee is a California-based correspondent who covers entertainment for Tribune News Service.)

(c)2019 Luaine Lee

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.



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