Obstacle-course racing has gone to the dogs.
Premiering Jan. 8 at 9 p.m. ET/PT on A&E, America's Top Dog pits top K-9 police officers -- including fan favorites from A&E's Live PD -- and their handlers against a civilian canine/human team in three rounds of high-velocity competition testing speed, agility and teamwork.
In each episode, four police teams and one trained civilian team navigate a massive obstacle course that includes scented items hidden in a complex maze; taking down a "suspect" wearing a bite suit, and other challenges. Each week's winning team receives $10,000 and an additional $5,000 to donate to the animal charity of its choice.
In the final week of competition, the winners return to the finale course, seeking the title of America's Top Dog, along with an additional $25,000 prize.
The hosts are Fox NFL Sunday's Curt Menefee; and Nick White, an expert dog trainer who is also a former U.S. Marine and member of the Secret Service. Acting as a sideline reporter is motor-sports journalist Jamie Little, who has done similar duties at the 2019 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
Not long ago, Belgian Malinois Conan, a special-operations military working dog in the United States 1 SFOD-D (Delta Force), became famous after taking part in the Barisha raid in Syria, which led to the death of ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Conan chased al-Baghdadi into a tunnel, where the fleeing man detonated a suicide vest. Conan was injured but recovered and later was honored in a ceremony at the White House.
Many Military Working Dogs (MWDs) are Belgian Malinois. Bred to work on farms and handle livestock, they're prized as police and military dogs for their keen sense of smell, speed, intelligence, high energy and protective instincts. But many other kinds of dogs -- including Labrador retrievers and German shepherd dogs -- do similar work.
And, the civilian teams on America's Top Dog include many different breeds.
At a press event for the show this past summer at the biannual TV Critics Association Press Tour, host Menefee said:
Police K-9s tend to be Belgian Malinois and German Shepherds. But we also had some police dogs who were Dobermans. We had a variety of civilian dogs that were pitbulls, or even little bulldogs.
So, you see these dogs do these different tasks. and some of it is about the speed and agility, but some of it is just about the scent work and the smell and those kinds of things. You find the dogs that aren’t German shepherds or Belgian Malinois that can be just as good at that.
So, I think that’s one of the great things about the show it highlights that you may not be able to teach every dog everything, but you can teach every dog something.
The show is also about the bond that exists between humans and dogs, whether on patrol on city streets, in a war zone, or just playing tug-of-war on the living-room floor.
At the same event, White said:
One of the biggest things that you’ll see on our show is, a lot of it’s really about the teamwork and the bond that that handler shares with his dog. That’s what you guys will see is what really helps these teams get through the show successfully.
It's not so much about the training and the hours put in, but it’s just about the bond and love and the trust that the team has with the dog, and that’s what I really love about the show’s format.
Menefee also thinks the whole clan will love America's Top Dog:
You can sit down with your 8-year-old kid, with your 20-year-old kid, with your 90-year-old grandmother, and you have that same relationship with a dog in your life, if you're watching the show.
It shows that we talk about the handlers, and whether they're police officers or personal trainers, the bond that they have with that dog -- you can see the love that they have for one another as they go through these different obstacles.
Click here for the official site of America's Top Dog.
Kate O’Hare, a longtime entertainment journalist, is Social Media Manager at Family Theater Productions.