What’s a dog – a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever to be specific – doing on the sidelines of a college football game? That’s what you might be asking yourself if you’re at a University of California, Davis, football game in the fall.
Watch until the kickoff, and you’ll soon find out. He’s retrieving, of course.
Not a duck, though ‘Pint’ can certainly do that. And not a bumper, though he can handle that too. No, the beautiful hunting dog is dashing out onto the field to retrieve the tee. Yes, the tee. That little rubber thing on which the football rests before it’s kicked by the punter.
UC Davis Assistant Athletic Director for Marketing Scott Brayton got the idea from a season ticket holder who attended a college game in Boise, saw a dog retrieving the tee, then told Brayton about it. “We have one of the best veterinary schools in the world. It was a natural discussion point to contact the teaching hospital, he says. So, he reached out, and Danika Bannasch, D.V.M., Ph.D., an associate professor in genetics at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, answered the call with her 2-year-old dog, Ch. Aqueus Hop To It SH, WCX, NAJ.
Bannasch thought Pint would enjoy having a new job. “He knew how to retrieve. He’s an amazingly stable dog.” Yet, she was concerned about the lights, all the people and the noise. “He’s a young dog. We only practiced with the team once. I would expect him to go ‘Whoa, there’s a lot going on here.’”
She trained Pint to retrieve the tee in about two weeks. First, she “got him tugging on it and playing with it. They’re actually kind of hard to pick up because they’re larger at the base than at the top. I threw it for him to retrieve it…of course, he loves to retrieve.”
It really wasn’t that difficult, she says. Normally, Bannasch uses a whistle to send Pint to retrieve things he can’t see, but she wouldn’t be able to use a whistle in the game. “Uh, you really can’t blow that,” she was told. But retrieving the tee wouldn’t be “blind” once Pint knew where it could possibly be located. In hunting, “if you put something in the field more than once, it’s a permanent blind,” Bannasch explains. “All of that had been taught in a different context.”
Once Pint had learned to retrieve the tee at home, he had two chances to practice on the football field. “At the first practice, I thought he was going to lose his mind,” Bannasch says. The football looked “a lot like a duck in his mind,” she says. He kept wanting to go after the ball as it moved around the field.
So, at the first game where he would do his new job, Bannasch turned him away during the kickoff, so he couldn’t see the football. He would have retrieved the tee, but a coach on the other team forgot the Aggies had an official tee retriever, picked it up, and took it to the sideline.
At the next game, Pint “went because I sent him, but he wasn’t exactly sure where [the tee] was,” she says. “After that, he knew exactly where to go.”
Originally,Pint was only supposed to retrieve the tee after the opening kickoff. But he did such a good job, that in his last game of the 2012 season, he picked it up after every kick.
His owner need not have worried about Pint’s reaction to the frenzy of the game. It turned out that the young dog was completely comfortable in the college football game environment. “He’s perfectly happy to have everyone petting him. He is a very focused dog and that definitely helps.”
Bannasch once owned Dalmatians because she wanted a dog that would get along with her horses. Then she started getting into canine performance. “I was interested in getting into a breed in which the performance aspect was as important as breed structure. I hadn’t done field work before, but I had seen people working Labradors in the field. I thought it was really interesting. Now it’s completely overtaken my life.” She chose Tollers, as the dogs are referred to by fanciers, after spending time with one her graduate student had.
This isn’t the first time one of Bannasch’s dogs has assisted the university. Pint’s grandmother, Kefi, pulled the veil off the sign announcing a new building on campus for research laboratories, VetMed3C. An experience Bannasch had with Kefi is partly what made her want to assist the teaching hospital in getting the recognition she feels it deserves. The dog got hold of some diet pills with caffeine in them, she explains. “The head of the dialysis team suggested trying dialysis to remove the caffeine.” And it worked.
Brayton is happy with Pint’s performances in the first season. “Pint’s fantastic,” he says. “It’s a really fun partnership.”
Although he’s a dog lover, he says he can’t seem to train his own dogs at all. Because Bannasch is so experienced with training different behaviors, the project’s been successful, he says. “She’s just been such a delight to work with.” He’s “just impressed” that Pint can do his retrieve with 10,000 people watching and cheering from the stands. “It’s a kick.”
The university just hired a new head football coach, Ron Gould, away from UC Berkeley. So, Pint’s participation in the coming season is dependent on Gould’s buy-in, Brayton says. His department’s also doing a survey of season ticket holders. “We hope that all of our Aggie fans will understand why we’re doing what we’re doing and get a chance to see Pint in action.”
Regardless, Bannasch thinks “it’s great for the school. I’m very proud of UC Davis. Now I feel like people would be disappointed if he wasn’t there.”
She, her husband, and 6-year-old son will be more than happy to stand at the sidelines with Pint in the coming season. Her son, she says, think he’s “in charge of the dog. It’s kind of a family thing, and we’re all there enjoying the game.”
Pint does too. “The people just go nuts over him. They just love having him there. After the game, the kids want to pet him. He had a cheering section.”
Pint also, has his own Facebook page. Check it out here.
If you can’t make it to Northern California to see Pint in action this fall, you can watch a video of him instead.