Imagine teaching your dog to do a somersault. How about balancing on two front paws? Or (here’s the real test) get Fido to climb up a ladder, and then back down again, all while an audience watches and cheers.
If that seems like an impossible feat, you haven’t seen the Menestrelli Dog Show. Sergey and Yanina Yazlovskie have spent the last 16 years performing a choreographed show with their nine dogs at circuses and amusement parks around the world. Their award-winning act even scored them an audition for America’s Got Talent.
“I come from a dynasty of dog trainers,” says Yanina, who followed in the footsteps of her parents and grandfather when she became a third generation circus performer.
While performing with dog shows in a traveling circus in Moldova, Yanina and Sergey, a clown, found love under the big tent. The couple married in 1998 and three years later began performing the dog show they call “Menestrelli.”
“Teaching a dog to do tricks requires a lot of effort and patience,” says Yanina. “The hardest part of our show is discipline because the dogs want to keep playing all the time, but they are expected to stay focused and behave like artists.”
The Yazlovskies’ nine dogs – one Pomeranian, one Jack Russell, and seven toy poodles – perform a series of tricks including somersaults, balancing on their two front paws, and forming a doggie conga line while standing on their hind legs.
But the highlight of the show is when the dogs climb up and back down a ladder, a special family trick passed down through generations. Yanina says they are able to elicit such great performances from their dogs because the animals truly enjoy what they do. “Every dog has got to love what it does,” says Yanina. “This way, the dog is happy to perform and do the tricks. For our dogs, performing and interacting with an audience are the happiest moments of their lives.”
Outside of performing, the Yazlovskies’ dogs are part of their family. They go to the beach and the dog park, and the couple’s children love to read books to them at home. “All day, every day, we spend with our dogs,” says Yanina. “They need us to read to them, to play ball with them, and to care for them every day.”
After performing abroad for so many years (sometimes putting on four shows a day for months at a time) Sergey and Yanina are now based out of Orlando, Florida. They still perform often for schools, senior centers, parties, and special events, and even made a recent appearance in St. Augustine. “The first time we brought our show to St. Augustine was when we performed at a shopping mall,” recalls Yanina. “The audience was really amazing. I hope we get to perform again in this beautiful town.”
As for training your own pets at home, Yanina has some advice to offer. “The most important things are patience, responsiveness, and understanding,” she says. “In response to our caring for them like parents would, the dogs are happy and eager to do anything to please us or make us happy.”