Search Menu

Linda Shoenberger considers it a blessing each time she gets to play Disc Dog with her Australian Shepherd, “Watson,” who is named after the fictional character created by Arthur Conan Doyle. On separate occasions, she and Watson experienced what could’ve been career-ending injuries. In 2016, Shoenberger, who is a licensed massage therapist, was getting a massage when her colleague accidentally pulled too hard and tore a tendon in her right bicep.

Shoenberger who lives in Sarasota, FL had to continue working all while enduring months of nerve pain and numbness. Her tendon never healed properly, and she developed arthritis. Some days she can’t lift her arm over her head. But on other days, she’s warming up for Disc Dog.

Watson’s ordeal began when she was 6 months old and she jumped off Shoenberger’s husband’s lap and landed on a dog lying at his feet. “That dog shot out and Watson’s body went one way, and her left rear leg went the other way,” Shoenberger says. A vet visit confirmed that Watson had suffered a cruciate tear in her left hind leg but was too young for surgery. After three months of crate rest, Watson healed and taught herself to play Frisbee.

Shoenberger is honored to compete with Watson at the AKC Disc Dog Challenge in Asheville, North Carolina. “It’s something I never thought we would be doing, so that’s pretty exciting,” she says.

Watson’s Determination to Play Disc Dog

“One day I was playing with my older dog and threw the disc to him,” Shoenberger says. “Watson came out of nowhere, caught the disc, and took off. We’ve been playing ever since, and she’s totally disc-obsessed.”

At 2 years old, Watson won Time Warp against a group of strong competitors. “I happened to have had a really good day throwing,” she says. “Watson was like a catching machine and caught every single throw. Her score was 75, and it was probably our highest score ever.”

That same year, they were playing in a Toss and Fetch league when Watson re-injured her knee. She was running in a straight line when she stopped short and couldn’t move. “I carried her off the field and a friend of mine who is a vet tech looked at her and said, ‘I think that’s her knee again, the same left cruciate,'” she recalls.

The veterinarian performed X-rays and concluded that her injury was serious enough to retire her from Disc Dog. “I was crushed for me, but I was more upset for her because she lives for playing Frisbee,” she says. He recommended getting a second opinion from an orthopedic surgeon, who gave her a more hopeful prognosis.

“He thought her tear was partial, not complete, and said, ‘Don’t rule out this ending her career. Let’s rest her and see how she does,'” she says. Watson spent six weeks on crate rest in addition to laser treatments and massage therapy. She recovered and was back to playing Frisbee by the end of the year.

Linda Shoenberger and Elementary My Dear Watson (Watson)
Walcutt Sharp Shots

Shoenberger’s Journey With Australian Shepherds

Shoenberger’s love for Australian Shepherds began in high school when she and her brother rescued an Aussie puppy who was abandoned by their original owner. “I fell in love with them and have had them ever since,” she says. “My husband brings home misfit dogs that nobody wants. He brought Watson home, and she’s a rescue dog.”

Shoenberger grew up playing Frisbee but wasn’t acquainted with dog sports. After her dad passed away in 2014, she learned about dock diving and Disc Dog. “I started my Aussie, who was 8 months old, in dock diving,” she says. But before they got to try Disc Dog, Shoenberger injured her shoulder.

Her son stepped in to play Disc Dog with her older dog until she could take over with her Australian Shepherd, “Malachi,” in 2017. “That’s when I was able to start throwing again,” she says. “Then Watson came along, and I started playing with the two of them.”

Malachi is 10 years old and semi-retired. He has severe noise phobia and anxiety and only goes places where he feels comfortable. Aside from Watson and Malachi, she has a third Australian Shepherd and 10 rescue dogs.

Linda Shoenberger and Elementary My Dear Watson (Watson)
Walcutt Sharp Shots

Thriving In the Sport They Love

Even though Watson has been cleared to participate in Disc Dog, Shoenberger worries about her having another injury. “I am very overprotective of her and know that every time we walk on the field, it’s a blessing because it could be the last,” she says. “I try not to think that way, but I’m grateful for each game I get to play with her.”

Watson has a habit of making sharp turns, putting stress on her knees. “I limit her to certain games because I want her to be able to play longer,” she says. “Watson doesn’t play many crossover games. The idea of her going over jumps and running through tunnels makes me nervous.”

Shoenberger has also adjusted her technique by learning to make left-handed throws. However, she doesn’t get as much distance compared to using her right arm. Plus, she needs to warm up a lot before a game.

Recently, she and Watson started doing musical freestyle. “It’s something I thought I would have never done in a million years, first of all, because I was chicken,” she says. “It’s been a challenge because Watson doesn’t do flips or vaults or anything fancy, but we’ve made up for it in her accuracy because that dog can catch anything.”

Shoenberger’s friends in the Disc Dog community encouraged her to try freestyle. “We took first place in the novice division of freestyle, both in performance and criterion the first time we did it,” she says. “It’s been the most fun thing I’ve ever done in my life.”

Elementary My Dear Watson (Watson)
Walcutt Sharp Shots

Getting to Know the Australian Shepherd

If you’re thinking of getting an Australian Shepherd, Shoenberger recommends doing your homework. “They need to have a job and room to run. I have three Aussies, and they keep me on my toes,” she explains.

Living in Florida, the dogs tend to overheat during summertime, so they cut back on competing. “We try to get together sometimes in the early morning for half a day once or twice a month,” she says. In colder months, they compete in as many AKC UpDog events as they can.

As for their personalities, Malachi is “typical of an Aussie,” she says. He comes across as aloof and is very attached to his humans. Watson is cautious around new people, but she’s very friendly and affectionate. She’s a “big snuggle bunny” and insists on belly rubs.

“Watson climbs right up in my lap and turns over and wants me to scratch her belly until I make her get down,” she says. “She’s calm and laid back but the minute we walk out the door, she’s looking for a disc or toy, and she wants me to throw it.” She’s just full of energy and loves to run.

It’s All About Fun With Your Dog

“The biggest lesson I have learned, and I don’t know if it’s injury-related or comes with age, is that you can’t take anything too seriously,” she says. “Watson is still healthy and playing, and I can still lift my arm to throw a disc,” she adds. Her advice is to have fun with your dog and not worry about your score. She plans to continue working with Watson and improving their freestyle routine. Winning is fun, but that’s not their priority.

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.

Related article: Heart Dog Stardust Competes in AKC Disc Dog Challenge
Get Your Free AKC eBook

Canine Good Citizen (CGC)

This program is recognized as the gold standard for dog behavior. In CGC, dogs who pass the 10 step CGC test can earn a certificate and/or the official AKC CGC title.
*Turn off pop-up blocker to download
*Turn off pop-up blocker to download