"[I] want to win the world finals this year, so that's my real purpose," said Hirai, who became the youngest competitor to capture the U.S. Disc Dog National title when he accomplished the feat in 2008 at 19. "... Of course [holding that record] is pressure for me. At the time I didn't think about it, I just wanted to win."
In the Super Open Freestyle division, Hirai is going to perform a choreographed routine filled with tricks and fluid movements and complete a toss and fetch portion in which throws are awarded points based on their distance and whether they are caught with the dog's four paws in the air.
"The Japanese have a very unique style," said Melissa Heeter, president of the event's organizer, WOOF! Sports USA, adding there are eight Japanese teams, consisting of a dog and its handler, being coached by Hirai's father, Yachi. "They use a lot of transitional moves and they're very innovative when they transition from trick to trick and very smooth in how they move around the field.
"[Shaun] does a one foot stall, where the dog jumps on his feet," she said, referring to a trick that took Hirai and Shack half a year to perfect. "[Shaun] lays on his back, then he puts his second foot up and the dog stair steps and the dog stands up on his hind legs in the stair step. That's his signature move. It's a very unique [and] beautiful move, the way he does it. It is a pretty amazing thing. They have only been playing for four years and they have really been coming a long way."
The U.S. Disc Dog National and World Finals is expected to draw more than 100 teams -- including Taylorsville resident Gary Morneault and his 3-year-old border collie, Mick -- from 14 countries to Dellinger Park on Oct. 16, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Oct. 17, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The final rounds of competition are expected to begin at 3:30 p.m. each day.
Even though the disc dog sport is relatively young, with residents of Germany, Hungary and Poland being introduced to it within the last 10 years, it is gaining in popularity, Heeter said.
"The sport is growing rapidly," she said. "Dog sports in general are just growing rapidly. So it's a pretty exciting thing for us because what's happened is the sport is now becoming worldwide -- our Frisbee dog sport in general, but then so is agility and so is herding and so are a lot of other dog sports. So these competitors are just jumping into one sport and then they'll see another sport and they might dabble in another one. So the dog sporting world is really taking a huge explosion."
Along with watching the competitions free of charge, area residents also will have several opportunities to participate in the disc action. Saturday from 9 a.m. to about 5 p.m., individuals and their canines can compete in the following four divisions: Division II Freestyle, Pro Toss and Fetch, Novice Toss and Fetch, and Junior Toss and Fetch. Registration will begin at Dellinger Park, 100 Pine Grove Road in Cartersville, at 7:30 a.m.
"What I hope is that they will understand that there are many more things to do with your dog than just have your dog go for walks," said Heeter, a Rydal resident. "Now walks are great but to lose weight, to be an athlete you need to get your heart rate up and so this is a good way to create a bond and a relationship with your dog and keep yourself fit.
"Playing with your dog is always a lot of fun. What happens is the dog and the person make a stronger bond and a stronger relationship by having a job together. So they become more like pals and more like companions when you work together."
Other activities will include duck herding instinct testing, dog agility exercises and a raffle for weekend passes to Callaway Gardens. The event also will serve as a fundraiser for the Etowah Valley Humane Society. In addition to on-site pet adoptions, the nonprofit also will benefit from the proceeds of food concession sales and Bartow County 4-H Club's Pet Show contests Saturday at 11 a.m.
For more information, visit www.usddn.com or call Heeter at 770-386-6184. The event also will be streamed live at www.woofsports.com.