By John Benson
To the dogs is where entertainers Joan and Scott Houghton decided to go with their traveling comedy act over a decade ago.
Now the two spend their days touring the nation as part of Mutts Gone Nuts!, which makes its I-X Indoor Amusement Park debut now through April 14 at the Cleveland venue.
“It’s a comedy act where all of the dogs that perform were pulled from animal shelters and rescue groups,” Houghton said. “We use all positive training methods. In the show, we promote the idea that you don’t have to be mean to dogs to do things. We’ve never had a problem with PETA or any activists. The people who watch our show will say it’s so clear the dogs really love what they’re doing. These are our family members. They live with us in the house.”
Each of the seven dogs was carefully selected for their temperament and their ability to handle the rigors of performing and traveling. Houghton said they’re mostly mutts, but the group does include a hound, a Parson Russell Terrier, an American eskimo dog, a Border Collie and Jack Russell. The show includes a tight-wire act, a Frisbee-catching dog and plenty of hi-jinx.
Houghton said much of the comedy routine is used to promote animal shelters and rescue venues, and even inspire the public to train a dog or two.
“I always tell people to find a good book on positive reinforcement,” Houghton said. “You don’t ever need to use any type of prawn collars or shock collars. Those are all antiquated methods of training. You want your dog to trust you, so administering pain is not the way to do it. We reward the behaviors we want either with praise or treats. You have to find your dogs’ currency — what motivates them.
“I have a collie, and I could hold a piece of steak up and a Frisbee, and he’d go for the Frisbee every time. He’s a toy-driven dog.”
Speaking of big toys and having fun, the 24th annual I-X Indoor Amusement Park offers both. New this year are Mutts Gone Nuts!, a white-water ride and a soaring eagle zipline. There also are more than 20 acres of rides, games, food and attractions. Themed weekends scheduled this year include spring break Christian jam weekend (April 6 and 7) and La Fiesta Latina (April 13 and 14).
Entertaining a diverse group of audiences is what this traveling comedy canine act is all about. As for the transition from slapstick comedy performers to a dog show, Houghton said that was seamless.
“We were entertainers for 20 years before we decided to do a dog act,” Houghton said. “We were looking for a show that wasn’t as strenuous and physical. Prior to this we were doing a comedy slapstick act. We did it all over. We toured with Lee Greenwood for a few years and used to open for headliners like Kenny Rogers.”
When asked which of the two comedy shows was funnier, she said, laughing, “I like this show better. And you never know what’s going to happen with dogs.”