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Prepare for a 'dog gone' fun time at the circus, trainer says

When the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus opens its first show of the week tonight in Greenville, Upstate audiences can expect to see elephants perform one last time before the pachyderms move to the Ringling Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida.

Elephants aren’t the only animals that will be in the spotlight for the show, aptly titled “Legends.” There will be lions, tigers, horses, and, yes, dogs, too.

“This year with the dogs, we have pigs performing at the same time,” said Hans Klose, who trains the circus’s canine troupe, in a recent phone interview. “My pigs are over 500 pounds. They do tricks with the dogs. It kind of brings a new twist to the dog act performance.”

Klose grew up with parents who were performers in the circus, but he decided to try something different for a career. It didn’t take long for him to realize he enjoyed the excitement of circus life over an office. He joined his family’s canine act, and now, he and his wife, Mariya, a former Russian acrobat, run the show’s furry troupe together.

“I find that when kids come to the show, they really relate to the dog act because they have pet dogs at home,” he said. “They say, ‘Oh, I want to go home and see if I can train my dog to do those tricks.’ Kids really love it.”

As for the dogs in his act, Klose speaks fondly of the animals in his care, pointing out that he owns 21 dogs, including those retired from performing. Only 13 perform in the show. All of the dogs, except for the poodles in the act, were rescued from shelters around the country.

“These dogs are my life,” he said. “They are part of my family. I spend several hours a day with them, grooming, feeding and taking care of them. It’s like they are my children.”

Audiences can expect to see his dogs perform with lamas, slide down slides, jump, do somersaults, and stand on two legs. There’s even a little dog named Spiderman that can climb a wall in its pen.

Klose said it can take anywhere from three months to a year to train a dog for his act. He uses hot dogs as rewards, which the animals love.

“When I first get a dog, it’s a learning process to see what the dog is capable of doing and what it enjoys doing,” he said. “Some tricks, we can get a dog into the show in three months. Some take upwards of a year.”

He decided to add pigs to his act because pigs train similarly to dogs.

“They’re very treat-oriented,” he said. “They’re extremely intelligent and extremely smart. They pick up on things very quick.”

He said “Legends” is a fun show for families, and if you’ve been to the circus before, don’t worry. Klose adapts his canine act so that each year, circus-goers experience something new.

“The last couple of weeks, we’ve been here in Tampa and Orlando, Florida, and we’ve had sold-out shows,” he said. “The audience seems to appreciate it and really enjoy this show.”

“Legends” also features a flying trapeze act, a lion trainer, and other favorite performances, including the Globe of Steel, in which multiple motorcycles ride inside a globe at once. This year, there will be eight motorcycles in the Globe of Steel, which will feature two female globe riders for the first time, Klose said.

“The circus is a form of live entertainment,” Klose said. “It’s not like going to the movie or something of that nature. You can bring your whole family, and it’s great for children of all ages. It’s a great evening out for family entertainment, and it only comes around once a year.”


What: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus

When: Wednesday through Sunday. Nine shows will be presented, beginning at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Where: Bon Secours Wellness Arena

How much: $12-60

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