With almost more fur than dog, the 11 mixed poodles somersault, conga and backflip across the stage, obviously enjoying the spotlight. They perform tricks, comedy routines and even show off the latest doggie fashion in a runway show — all with holiday cheer.
Now in its 26th year in the United States, the variety show at the Clark Center for the Performing Arts on Dec. 18 is put on by Richard Olate, 56, and his son Nicholas Olate, 22. Their Holiday Rescue Tour raises awareness and money for rescue dogs; many of their dogs were once shelter dogs.
A portion of the proceeds from the Arroyo Grande performance will be donated to the Arroyo Grande Veterinary Hospital.
“I think there’s a category that people put rescue dogs in, (they think of them as) stray dogs,” said Nicholas Olate. “But they’re still dogs at the end of the day, and they’re just as wonderful as if you get them in the store, or from a breeder ... Why not save one?”
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Richard Olate has a true Cinderella story, but with less singing birds and more stray poodles. He grew up a third-generation circus performer, one of 22 children poverty-stricken in Santiago, Chile. At the age of 12 he found a stray dog and began teaching it tricks. Soon the single dog became a pack of pups that Olate turned into a circus act with the help of his brother Jose. They brought it to the states in 1989.
“He’s saving the dogs, but they’re saving him as well. If it wasn’t for the dogs, he might not have made it out of poverty,” said Nicholas Olate.
Nicholas Olate began working with the dogs when he was around 5 years old, and began performing with his father when he was 15. The dogs have appeared on “The Tonight Show” with Jay Leno, at The Palazzo in Las Vegas and on Season 7 of “America’s Got Talent” — which they won, claiming a $1 million prize.
The Olates work with poodle mixes because of their light frame and agility. “They spring everywhere,” Nicholas Olate said, adding that the poodles don’t shed — a key detail when traveling with 22 dogs.
While the show features only 11 dogs, the Olates bring the whole dog troupe on the road with them. They built a custom dog trailer, kitted out with a bathtub, grooming table and kennels, to pull the dogs nationwide.
While most young adults might not be so keen on 24/7 dad time, Nicholas Olate said he considers himself fortunate to work so closely with his father.
“It’s been great being able to perform with him and learn everything from performing to general things about life to appreciation ... and morals and how to be as a man.”
He’s saving the dogs, but they’re saving him as well. If it wasn’t for the dogs, he might not have made it out of poverty.
Nicholas Olate said his dad is the primary dog trainer; his main training tool is positive reinforcement.
Richard Olate trains the dogs by showing them what he wants them to do and by being consistently upbeat, praising and kissing the dogs. “He found a way to make training like playtime; they get excited when he’s training them,” Nicholas Olate said.
The dogs only train when they’re trying to learn a new trick or a new routine, usually one or two months a year, Nicholas Olate said. They work with five or six dogs for about an hour and a half every day during the training period, making sure to let each dog rest afterwards. Letting them rest and giving them time to process what they’re learning is very important, he noted.
If Richard Olate has a new trick in mind, he’ll typically work with several dogs and see which one has the easiest natural ability to perform the trick, and then focus on teaching the trick to that dog. He’ll then begin the process again trying to find the dog most naturally suited to perform the next trick.
“When the dogs learn a trick, they don’t ever forget it,” Nicholas Olate said, laughing that often when the two return to work after a long break to find they’ve forgotten the routine, the dogs will always keep them in line.
When asked if the dogs ever misbehave onstage, he said, “Oh yeah, all the time. At the end of the day, they’re still puppies. Sometimes they’ll run around. Sometimes one will wander offstage.”
“In a sense I kind of feel like my dad was born to do dog training, because it seems like he understands dogs a lot more than anyone I’ve ever seen,” Nicholas Olate said. “He has a natural way communicating with the dogs.”
Danielle Ames: 805-781-7902
‘Olate Dogs — Holiday Rescue Tour’
7:30 p.m., Dec. 18
Clark Center for the Performing Arts, 487 Fair Oaks Ave, Arroyo Grande
$25-$40, $75 for platinum seats