Scott Houghton performs with Jimmy in the “Mutts Gone Nuts” show. (Morgan Quimby)

KidsPost loves fall for these reasons:

1. The weather is cool and crisp, and the air feels refreshing.

2. The color orange is everywhere, from falling leaves to pumpkins sitting on front steps.

3. Halloween!

4. All the fun fall festivals that feature such things as corn mazes and moon bounces. One festival in Leesburg sounds like a howling good time! That’s because this weekend, Pump­kinville will feature a dog show called “Mutts Gone Nuts.”

Talking dogs

“ ‘Mutts Gone Nuts’ is a comedy dog act,” said Scott Houghton, who trains the dogs and performs in the show with his wife, Joan. That means a lot of laughter and audience interaction as the dogs obey Joan and disobey Scott.

The half-hour performance features dogs jumping through hoops, balancing on a wire five feet off the ground, standing on two legs, jumping rope, walking on barrels, catching a Frisbee and even talking.


“Sammy says ‘mama.’ Fritz, he says ‘hello,’ ” Scott Houghton said.

How does he get the dogs to do these things?

“It’s all about communicating to a dog what you want,” Houghton said.

The Houghtons, who live in Montgomery County, were professional jugglers and unicyclists for more than 25 years, performing at festivals and theaters. Eight years ago they decided to start training dogs to perform. Since then the couple has fostered, or given a temporary home to, about 80 dogs at different times. Today, the eight mutts who perform with the Houghtons also live with them.

Training with treats

“I’d always been intrigued with having a dog,” said Scott Houghton, who is kind to the dogs, rewarding them with treats when they do something right. Training them, he said, “can seem a little slow at first, but you just have to take it one step at a time.”

He trains a new dog a couple of hours a day, working 10 to 15 minutes at a time. And even though his dogs know the show by now, he continues to work with them on new routines.

“What I like is when I come in to train and the dog is excited and wants to go in the training room,” Houghton said. “I try to make it like a job. I try to find what they like to do. Every [dog] has a skill; some are good jumpers, some can walk on their hind legs. I figure out what they’re good at.”

Houghton learned that Fritz likes to jump rope and Charley likes to climb. “I wasn’t sure if [Sammy] would have anything for us,” Houghton said, “but then she started to talk into the mike.”

A talking dog? This season just got even better!

Moira E. McLaughlin

If you go

What: “Mutts Gone Nuts” at Leesburg Animal Park’s Pumpkinville Festival. After the show, you can pet the mutts and check out the festival, which will feature a variety of animals that you can pet and feed, a corn maze, hayride, balloon bounces, and pony and camel rides.

Where: 19270 James Monroe Highway, Leesburg.

When: Saturday at 1 p.m.; park is open 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.

How much: $14.95; $12.95 ages 2 to 12 and seniors; free age 1 and younger. Includes all access to the animal farm and Pumpkinville. Pony ride costs an additional $3.50; camel ride, $7.

For more information: A parent can call 703-433-0002 or go to