Sunday Conversation with … Heather Gulden and Nathan Jr.Mixed breed proves he’s an ‘incredible dog’

Dogs fetch but very few can fetch like Nathan Jr. The Clarkston German Shepherd/pit bull mix runs down a 40-foot dock, jumps, flies really, some 25 feet and snatches a toy dangling in the air. The rescue mutt is so good at this feat, in fact, he has been invited to compete in the Purina Pro Plan Incredible Dog National Finals taking place Oct. 5 in St. Louis, Mo. Since we can’t understand Nathan Jr., we talked to his trainer, owner and biggest fan, Heather Gulden. Sure, Nathan Jr. is an experienced competitor and being top dog in Missouri would be great, Gulden says, but her pooch will have fun no matter the outcome. He is a dog, after all.

Q: Silly question, but what’s with the “Jr.” in your dog’s name?

A: Did you see Raising Arizona, the Coen brothers’ movie? That is my husband’s favorite movie. The baby they steal is Nathan Jr.

Q: So Nathan Jr. is a rescue dog?

A: His mom and her litter of five of puppies were found in East Point. Nathan’s eyes hadn’t even opened yet. I heard about the puppies through a friend of friend and threw my hat into the ring. I just fell in love with him.

Q: Are people afraid of his mix?

A: Nathan has a lot of charisma and personality and people are attracted to him. When I say he is part pit bull, a lot of people will step back. I am really proud and very forward about the pit bull part of him because I want people to realize these dogs can be engaging and important members of our community.

Q: Did Nathan learn to be competitive or did he just come that way?

A: He came out flying — all he ever wanted to do was throw his body in the air and catch a ball. I had to figure out what to do with him. I have tried to hone his competitiveness so he can handle his body well.

Q: You consider him an athlete?

A: Absolutely. I try to follow marathon and Ironman human athletes — how they feed themselves and cross train. I give Nathan supplements. We do core work two or three times a week. He does easy walks and runs and wind sprints. We try to get to the pool at least once a week.

Q: You own Tucker Pet Supply. Does that help with Nathan’s grocery bill?

A: It helps but Nathan is sponsored by a pet food company. He helps pay his own bills.

Q: You mentioned that Nathan is a mentor to other dogs. How so?

A: I definitely think dogs learn from each other. Nathan is very confident when he tries something, even if it is new. Dogs see him do something and they will try it, too.

Q: What has Nathan taught you?

A: Patience, that things don’t always happen overnight. He has also taught me to relax and enjoy the game. As human beings, we get so caught up in competition and awards. Dogs have no concept of that.

Q: Even so, how is Nathan Jr. feeling about the competition?

A: He is just going to be beside himself when we get there. We call Purina Farms “doggie Disneyland” because it is one of the truly great places for dogs to go, with green fields and places to play.

Q: Do you think Nathan Jr. has a shot at winning?

A: We are going up against some pretty stiff competition, including a dog who has won it twice. If we didn’t have a shot, they wouldn’t have invited us.

The Sunday Conversation is edited for length and clarity. Writer Ann Hardie can be reached by email at ann.hardie@ymail.com.

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