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Amanda Burkhart of Blacklick, Ohio, and her dogs Gengar, Absol, and Arcanine have always enjoyed throwing around a disc. But it wasn’t until someone saw a video of her playing disc online and invited her to a Toss and Fetch League that she really got into the sport of Disc Dog.

Gengar playing tug-o-war with the disc with Amanda.
©Kat Fahle

Burkhart and her two-year-old Border Collie Gengar, whom she got specifically to compete in this dog sport, have come a long way together. They recently competed in the AKC Disc Dog Challenge, presented by The Farmer’s Dog in Rock Hill, South Carolina. At the AKC Disc Dog Challenge, four Disc Dog and UpDog Challenge games were played, and you can watch the action on ESPN2 on Saturday, June 17.

Finding the Perfect Disc Dog Teammate

While earning her veterinary technician degree in college, Burkhart played Disc for fun. And before she got Gengar, she participated with her All-American Dog Absol and Australian Shepherd Arcanine, both now eight years old.

Gengar disc dog Border Collie
Amanda Burkhart

In 2016, the video she posted springboarded her into Disc Dogs with Absol, her first dog to compete in the sport. Absol has since been retired due to mild hip dysplasia. Burkhart says that, while Arcanine still likes to play Disc, he chooses when he wants to play and when he doesn’t. “I wanted a dog that wanted a little bit more, and that’s been Gengar for me.”

Getting Gengar to the Games

After deciding to retire Absol, Burkhart looked for another dog to compete with her. She found Gengar through a breeder, and he immediately took to the sport. Burkhart knew Disc’s ins and outs from playing with Absol, so she started doing foundation work and sports courses with Gengar as soon as she brought him home. “I’ve never raised a sport dog before,” she says. “[It’s] brand-new thing to me.”

Gengar leaping over a jump in Frizgility at the AKC Disc Dog Challenge.
©Kat Fahle

Her friend Tiffany, who owns one of Gengar’s littermates and is also involved in Disc Dog, helped Burkhart learn more. Tiffany also taught her about the different games within Disc Dog competitions, including Frizgility, Time Warp, Spaced Out, and Far Out. “It made it so much easier,” Burkhart says. “Once she gave us advice on how to play and all these different strategies, he got some really, really high points.”

A League of Her Own

Burkhart started her own Disc Dog club in 2022, hosting her own competitions. One she held this past Memorial Day had 171 entries, and the support she has in the Disc community has allowed her to do 150 to 170 runs a day.

You may have noticed a common thread of her dog’s names. “All three of my dogs are named after Pokémon,” she says, adding that’s the motif around which her club is based, too. “I decided to name my club Catch ‘Em All Canines,” she says, noting that her gear is also themed after the popular franchise.

Running her own club has deepened Burkhart’s involvement in the sport. “It’s also helped me build a community in our local area. I went from ‘I didn’t know anything,’ to learning from other people, to making my own club to teach other people.”

“Having my own club has been crazy, and I never thought that was something I would pursue myself,” she says. “It’s crazy how much one dog can change your life and get you introduced [to] new things you never thought possible.”

Competing With LS Syndrome

As a rehabilitation and sports medicine veterinary technician, Burkhart has a foundation in canine health. This knowledge helped her identify the signs of lumbosacral syndrome, also known as lumbosacral disease, in 1-year-old Gengar. According to Burkhart, the illness is similar to sciatica in humans. “Thankfully, I caught notice of his gait early on. We examined him a few times and couldn’t find anything wrong, and then eventually just happened to do the exam because his gait was really off. I’m more able to notice things because of my job, which has been really nice.”

Gengar running to catch the disc.
©Kat Fahle

Gengar was experiencing lower back pain that radiated down his leg, to the spot where the spine meets the pelvis. Since LS syndrome was caught early on and it’s a mild case, Burkhart utilizes treatments like laser therapy, underwater treadmill, and land-based exercises. Managing the condition in this way allows Gengar to be more comfortable.

“Eventually, it’ll cause something called stenosis of his vertebra,” Burkhart explains. “So essentially, there will be some bony changes to his vertebra, causing potentially some more signs probably later in life. So we just manage it, keeping his core muscles stronger so it helps support his back.”

Gengar continues his therapy while safely competing in sports like Disc. “How he plays, he doesn’t really jump,” Burkhart says. “It keeps his brain and body enriched, and I monitor things. Nothing makes him happier than playing Disc.”

Gotta Catch All the Discs

While Gengar will deal with LS syndrome for the rest of his life, it doesn’t hold him back. Burkhart says that Gengar is a great communicator on the field, which helps them be the standout Disc team they are. “He is overall a really fun dog,” she observes. “I’m just glad he’s been my way into learning new things and being [involved] in the sport.”

Amanda and Gengar at the AKC Disc Dog Challenge, presented by The Farmer’s Dog.
©Kat Fahle
Amanda and Gengar at the AKC Disc Dog Challenge, presented by The Farmer’s Dog.

As for the AKC Disc Dog Challenge and future competitions, Burkhart didn’t mention winning. Instead, she noted the “free friends” she made from participating in dog sports and her strengthened relationship with Gengar.

“My main goal is to keep him happy and comfortable, and he still competes really well. He is a seriously fun dog to watch because you can tell how much he just enjoys competing and being out there with me.”

Catch! The AKC Disc Dog Challenge will premiere on ESPN2 on Saturday, June 15 at 12PM ET. You won’t want to miss these high-flying dog teams in action.