Four canines with a knack for human tricks
Meet Tillman, the world’s fastest skateboarding dog. The runt of a litter of bulldogs, Tillman rose above his stature to take top dog by covering 100 meters in 19.678 seconds in a 2010 competition. Owner Ron Davis explains, “We are a Southern California family. We all skate. So Tillman started too. First he’d push his board around. Then one day, he jumped on. After that, you couldn’t get him off.” Now Tillman, six, has his own website and boards in the Rose Bowl parade.
For many years, John Pilley, 83, taught psychology at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. His specialty was animal learning. After he retired in 1996, Pilley continued his research by focusing on his own pet, named Chaser. Now this black-and-white Border collie, age seven, knows more than 1,000 words. (Most Americans know between 10,000 and 20,000.)
Pilley worked with Chaser four or five hours a day. He’d show her an object, a soft toy, for example, give it a name, and repeat it until Chaser understood the association. Chaser learned one or two proper nouns a day and in time could distinguish between more than a thousand objects. Pilley’s experiments showed that Chaser was capable of a rudimentary “language”-and understood the relationship between nouns and verbs like fetch, paw, and nose.
In 2006, Maty became the first handicapped canine to compete in the Skyhoundz World Canine Disc championship. Two years later, the three-legged competitor placed seventh out of 28 dogs. The black-and-tan Australian shepherd with the odd, loping gait and a way with a Frisbee had been found as a three-week-old puppy discarded in a motel room. At the Humane Society of Central Oregon, she developed a staph infection that destroyed her tendons and ligaments, and vets had to amputate her left hind leg. Lynne Ouchida, a Society employee, brought Maty home to heal.
To keep the dog fit, Ouchida played Frisbee with her on the front lawn of her house in Bend, Oregon. “She was very fast and an amazing catcher,” Ouchida recalls. Now, at ten years old, Maty has become a goodwill ambassador for the Humane Society, sometimes visiting schools costumed as a peg-legged pirate. “Maty shows kids that disabilities don’t have to hold you back,” Ouchida says.
Five years ago, Josh Kuhn, 29, bought a pool table and installed it in the basement of his Baxter, Minnesota, home. Every time he went down to play, his bulldog, Halo, followed right behind him: She’d put her paws on the table, bark at the balls, and run from one end of the table to the other. So Josh just let her play. He would set up a rack for Halo and place the cue ball within her reach. Soon Halo discovered that with a flick of her paw, she could send the cue ball arrowing across the green baize to knock it into another ball or send one into a pocket. While Halo does have a talent for billiards, it’s not her only passion. After all, “she’s a dog, not a shark,” Josh contends. “However, if there is another dog out there who plays, Halo is looking for some action.”