Rutland pup wants to be ‘Top Dog’ | News

A Rutland woman will be seen on an A&E show scheduled to air Tuesday and viewers who check it out should expect to see a Riot.

Lauren Cabanaw, of Rutland, and her working dog, Riot, are competing on “America’s Top Dog.” A statement from A&E said, dogs pursue the title “alongside their handlers on a massive canine obstacle course over two rounds of competition that test their speed, agility, teamwork and trust.”

Cabanaw, a dog trainer and behaviorist at Maven Dog Training in Pittsford, and Riot do “search and rescue” missions in the Rutland area on a volunteer basis, but there’s a twist to this “tail.”

“I got him for search and rescue work for humans. That’s what this breed is being used for quite often now. Then I realized, after we started training, there were not a lot of missing people, but there are a lot of missing dogs, so that’s why we switched up gears and started training for that,” she said.

Riot is an Australian coolie that Cabanaw has had for about 3½ years. She said she decided to enter “America’s Top Dog,” which is in its second season now, after a friend in the dog community sent her a notice of a casting call for the show.

“It took several months of interviews, auditioning, stuff like that, after I applied but (while) it was lengthy, it was worth it,” she said.

There was a chance to practice on the course before they recorded Riot’s scenes.

“It didn’t seem quite real at that time. It was still like, ‘Oh, this is an obstacle course. We can do this. This isn’t too troubling.’ Then, when we went to film a couple nights later, the show lights are on, it’s the middle of the night … Nerves set in for sure,” she said.

There were rabbits and deer around, but Cabanaw spends a lot of time in the Vermont woods. However, the rattlesnakes, for which there was a handler, were more intimidating.

“It was a really unique experience that I never, ever, ever thought I would be a part of because living in Vermont, you just don’t experience that sort of thing,” she said.

While they have taken part in competitions before, Cabanaw said she and Riot had to perform this time with cameras everywhere and interviews taking place. She said Riot, who is one of three dogs owned by Cabanaw, didn’t like being followed by a cameraman.

“But once we started the obstacle course during filming, he snapped right into gear and realized there was a job to be had and fun to be had,” she said.

Describing her dog, Cabanaw said Riot “lives up to his name every day with all the energy he has.”

“He’s quite the character. Outgoing, silly, very friendly with dogs, people. Not so much with cats. I’m afraid of cats, he’s afraid of cats,” she said.

While working, however, Riot is serious, intense and tenacious, Cabanaw added.

Cabanaw said she has fond memories of the first search mission Riot took on.

“He was young. I didn’t expect him to be able to do it. We just gave it a shot, and the results were pretty incredible,” she said.

Riot was 8 months old at the time, and had been training for search missions looking for humans since he was 3 months old. but Cabanaw said someone she knew told her a dog had gotten loose in Rutland and a big storm was on the way, so she decided to see if Riot and she could help.

The missing dog had gotten out of a car and “just bolted,” according to Cabanaw. The panicked owner only had a leash to help Riot get the scent of the missing dog.

“I was, like, ‘Well, let’s try.’ Riot took a sniff of it, and I told him to get to work. He took off. I had him on a 50-foot long-line. … I think it was close to 10 miles that day. I ran, in 80-degree weather, in skinny jeans, you could tell I was not ready for it. Suddenly, he stopped. He laid down. That was his indicator,” she said.

Cabanaw called the owner. When he got to their location about 15 minutes later, he got out of his car and called his dog’s name. The dog sprinted out of the woods, Cabanaw recalls.

“He hugged that dog so tight and then, almost immediately, it started pouring rain. It was good timing. That dog would not have been safe. The storm that night was really bad. There was a lot of wind damage. That was when I knew, we had to do that sort of thing,” she said.

Since then, Riot and Cabanaw have been on numerous searches. She said most times they find the dog or give the owners an area to search.

“We have a pretty good success rate,” she said.

“America’s Top Dog” is hosted by sports broadcaster Curt Menefee and actor and comedian David Koechner, who appeared in “Anchorman,” and “The Office,” while reporter Rachel Bonnetta catches up with the teams down on the course.

In the second season, dogs in three classes, working dogs, K-9 units who partner with police and “underdogs” compete against each other. The winner in each of the three classes compete against each other to determine who will go on to the next round.

Each week, the winning team will receive a $10,000 cash prize as well as an additional $5,000 to donate to the animal charity of their choice.

In the final week of competition, the winning teams return to compete for the title of “America’s Top Dog” and an additional $25,000.

Cabanaw said there will be a live viewing of the show on Tuesday at Maven, which has a website at and a Facebook page. There is no admission fee, but Cabanaw said she is asking those planning to attend to RSVP through the Facebook site for planning purposes and that unvaccinated people wear a face mask.

Visit to watch a promotional video for the appearance of Cabanaw and Riot on “Top Dog,” which airs on A&E on July 20 at 8 p.m.


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