Dog sees God
May 6, 2007 3:32 PM   Subscribe

Skidboot is no longer with us. Part Austalian blue heeler, part Australian Kelpie, the legendary performing dog cattledog Skidboot was often thought of as one of the smartest dogs in the world (in the company of Carolyn Scott's Rookie and this dog on Ellen DeGeneres show). Not only did he and his trainer/proprietor David Hartwig take home a $25, 000 prize for his performance on season 1 of Animal Channel's Pet Star, not only was he on Letterman and Leno, he was on Oprah! Here's the whole story.
posted by humannaire (24 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I don't know why, but stories of amazing animals like this always cause me to sniffle a bit. Somewhat pathetic, I suppose. Hope Skidboot is in dog heaven. (Is it a contradiction that I hope there's a dog heaven but don't believe in a god? Hm.)
posted by maxwelton at 3:36 PM on May 6, 2007

I searched but found no mention of Skidboot (or his passing) on Metafilter. I felt Skidboot was the kind of person - who happened to have been a dog - worth noting and worth remembering. If this is a dupe, my apologies.
posted by humannaire at 3:36 PM on May 6, 2007

I feel lucky if I can get my dog to go outside without falling over.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:47 PM on May 6, 2007

(that would be without the dog falling over. I am usually able to remain standing)
posted by mr_crash_davis at 3:52 PM on May 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

maxwelton, yes it is, and don't sweat it. I feel that way about dogs too, and (some) horses.
posted by pax digita at 3:57 PM on May 6, 2007

Animals that are trained within an inch of their lives kind of disturb me, but this dog was compelling!

When I was in my early 20's my girlfriend (who happened to be a shepherd) and I were house/ranch sitting for her buddy, a Border Collie breeder. He lived in South Dakota and that winter that we were there happened to have been the coldest that SD had experienced in 10 years. With wind chill, days frequently got down to 20 below or so. At night, my girlfriend used to go out and wake up the sheep in their pen so they wouldn't freeze to the ground and then get trampled on by the rest of the herd.

Anyhow, mostly we were watching the 15 or so Border Collies that lived there, and many of them were pretty much as smart as a 2 or 3 year old child. One in particular seemed to be evolving before our very eyes as he would curl his first few fortoes over the edge of a ramp, and then use his 'thumbs' to grasp the wood as he'd climb into the back of his master's truck.

I've seen many Border Collies who can count, some up to 10, and our own Border Collie, who was never trained to do party tricks, would still go to pretty much any room in the house if you'd tell her too - in other words, she knew the kitchen from the bathroom. In fact, I could tell her "Go to the kitchen and lie down and stay" and she'd do it. I know some dogs will take a whole long series of commands like that.

Anyhow, thanks for the links.
posted by serazin at 4:10 PM on May 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Skidboot was a champion among the best dog breed in the world, the Texas Heeler. Part Australian cattle dog (aka blue heeler, red heeler, Queensland heeler,) part Border collie, Kelpie or other sheepdog, whip-smart, healthy and long-lived. They're not for everyone, but they're easy to find in Texas shelters.

Plain sailing, Skidboot. I hope that your Heaven is full of dog-broke sheep and orchards of stuffed-toy trees.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 4:27 PM on May 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

posted by SteelyDuran at 4:35 PM on May 6, 2007

Skidboot had a greater impact on the world than other worthless forms of carbon on this here planet.

posted by ericb at 4:48 PM on May 6, 2007

Always seemed to me like it was a game to Skidboot, rather than being hyper-trained. It's my personal opinion that there is a dog heaven, mainly because dogs are better than people. I've always let people around me know that if I die that I want to be cremated, and a rubber dog ball included with me so when I see my old pooches we can continue our game of fetch.

Dogspeed Skidboot!
posted by Eekacat at 4:58 PM on May 6, 2007

posted by kalessin at 5:59 PM on May 6, 2007

Animals that are trained within an inch of their lives kind of disturb me

Serazin, I understand your misgivings. Old-style trainers and charlatans like that Dog Whisperer guy make it seem like dogs need to be "dominated" and choked in order to learn, or that dogs naturally want to misbehave. Good trainers can achieve amazing things with cookies and gentle, early childhood-level psychology.

Dogs like Skidboot aren't "pets," and they weren't bred to be pets. There are mellow, lazy Border collies and cattle dogs in every litter, but many others live to work. Many of the dogs you see on TV doing agility or tricks spend hours every week in training, and they crave it. This high-level training is addictive for both dogs and their owners - when dog and handler are working perfectly together, both are absorbed in that "peak experience" state that athletes and artists often describe. Sharing that state with another being and being perfectly in sync with your partner only heightens the experience.

In my line of work, I see way too many would-be Skidboots who become aggressive or destructive, or even develop full-blown OCD because they don't get the intensive mental workout that they need. Skidboots who are kept as housepets mirror exceptionally gifted humans who are forced to work menial jobs and grow neurotic, paranoid or even violent.

Skidboot was the perfect dog matched with the perfect owner. Their partnership was the culmination of tens of thousands of years of canine and human co-evolution. Bless them both.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 6:11 PM on May 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

Thanks for the in-depth reply freshwater_pr0n. I think I sort of remember seeing you around LJ when I was on there, but I don't know you so I'm curious what your line of work is.

As I sort of alluded to in my comment, I'm very familiar with the dog training world, at least sheep dogs. I used to have a border collie, my ex used to compete in sheep dog trials with her, and I've met dozens of dogs and trainers.

So ya, I know how much certain dogs 'need' that kind of training to be happy and focused instead of neurotic and dangerous.

I've seen handlers who I've liked and handlers who I hated, some using shock collars and so forth which really pisses me off, others who are more gentle. Personally, I tend to be turned off by people who teach their dog 501 tricks, whether or not they are gentle, because in all the examples I've seen, those trainers seem to be working out some intense control issues.

But it's also fun to see a dog and handler working together and communicating perfectly like that. I do see the appeal.
posted by serazin at 7:39 PM on May 6, 2007

Serazin, from your comment, I guessed that you were a dog lover who's seen the dark side. That's why I took the time to reply in such detail.

I'm a dog trainer by birth and by profession. I'm a goofball, too. I believe that at its best, the dog-human relationship gives people a chance to play and dogs a chance to work.

I'm sorry that you had to see crap trainers using high-tech gadgets to make up for their lack of patience and ability. They don't represent us all. I'm also sorry that I never got to know you before you jumped the lj-ship!
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 8:17 PM on May 6, 2007

posted by gcbv at 9:29 PM on May 6, 2007

I know exactly what you mean because my little dog became SO much happier and easier to live with after I started doing training with her. As I've mentioned here before, I started doing a little bit of agility training with her recently and she just goes CRAZY for it. I can't really afford to continue the classes but I'm trying to just because she has such a good time. Meanwhile there are other dogs in the class that are clearly there just for the owners, the dogs would clearly rather be doing other things. So I agree, some dogs really just enjoy that kind of training and it keeps them happy & focused. Before I started it with my dog, she was a completely different animal... she's become so incredibly well behaved that it's like she's found her purpose. Kind of shocking, really.

posted by miss lynnster at 10:11 PM on May 6, 2007

Personally, I tend to be turned off by people who teach their dog 501 tricks, whether or not they are gentle, because in all the examples I've seen, those trainers seem to be working out some intense control issues.

I'm honestly surprised that someone with experience with Border Collies would think this (especially the "whether or not they are gentle" part) - Border Collies are among the most work-hungry dogs there are (far too intensely work-hungry for me, and I work with my dog daily), a great way to make a dog like a BC miserable is to NOT train them. Most dogs love to learn, most dogs love to work (especially if you train them properly, with motivation, make it fun) - "tricks" are just work, and dogs love work. My dog's absolute favourite thing in the entire world is training time - you will never see him happier than when I say "want to do some training?" - for him, training is a game (because it IS a game - we clicker train, which changes the working dynamic substantially, making the dog a full partner in the process, which gives them a vested interest), and he loves to learn new things and show off what he already knows. I assure you I don't have "intense control issues", I merely have a dog who's a product of hundreds of generations of selective breeding to want to work with people, who DOES want to work with people, and whose greatest joy in life is to work with me (and chase rabbits). "Work" to a dog is what they'd be doing to survive in the wild (using their brains and bodies) - since they don't have to work to survive, they need to use those skills and instincts elsewhere, but they DO need to use them. When I DON'T work my dog, he is unhappy. I'm sorry you've been exposed to people with issues, but most of the people I know whose dogs know 501 tricks are people with dogs like mine, who can't wait to show you every trick they know, and who are itching to learn trick #502.
posted by biscotti at 5:16 AM on May 7, 2007

I've had blue heelers before, and let me tell you - if they're NOT trained, they are bored out of their minds. And when a blue heeler is bored, something is going to be destroyed.

I have also seen Skidboot in person, having hired the two of them to come to the library where I worked and perform for the Summer Reading Program. Even for a blue heeler, Skidboot was nuts.

After the show, the dog was so excited about performing that he couldn't sit still - while I talked to his owner, Skidboot just stood in place, jumping up in the air on all fours. He was clearing about 3 feet with every jump.
posted by bradth27 at 5:28 AM on May 7, 2007

My dad's blue heeler was actually declared a dangerous dog by the City of San Diego. To be honest, I never liked the dog, my dad didn't train it well & I have no patience for that. The dog would instinctively nip at your heels when you'd walk around, trying to herd you like some kind of sheep. Problem being that my dad's house is right next to some rest homes & a lot of old people would walk up & and down the street during the day. Soooo... when my dad would let the dog out to do its business, it would bolt away and start trying to herd the old people. Yeah, they weren't happy.

Yes, my dad's one of those assholes you speak of. Not a news flash. I ALREADY KNOW.
posted by miss lynnster at 5:56 AM on May 7, 2007

Oh, I forgot which post I was in for a second. This is the post where people call bad dogowners assholes. Not in here. Phew.
posted by miss lynnster at 6:00 AM on May 7, 2007

For the record, I have a Japanese Akita. We also have 3 cats. All other Akitas I've ever known would be terribly long-term housemates for cats. The drive to dominate is excessive, and even my Akita, who is well-trained and predisposed to be gentle and careful, cannot resist the urge to try to fight other Akitas.

Ushi is neutered (by the breeder, because he is not breed standard), was the beta of a pair of brothers, and at 5, hasn't needed a good showdown with either me or my partner in about a year.

If we showdown, we just flip him and hold him on his back and make him look into our eyes (grab the nose, point) until he goes limp. That's dog language and effective.

We've trained him since we got him at about 8 months old. He knows a dozen or so commands, and we're working on the more abstract ones (like "go get mommy!" where she's 2 floors down and possibly outside. He's a really smart dog and gets bored easily, especially of new tricks.

I've really enjoyed having Ushi in my life, and we keep him as happy as we know how to do.

I don't think we've got huge control issues, but we definitely feel our dog should be able to stay in control, be controlled by small people without a lot of physical strength and should be mostly polite (although for a dog whose nose is at most people's standing crotch heights, this can be problematic), especially with smaller dogs. I figure larger dogs can take care of themselves if some sudden issue happens we couldn't forsee.
posted by kalessin at 6:18 AM on May 7, 2007

posted by dozo at 8:00 AM on May 7, 2007

Love the dog training derail!

I guess I'm having trouble communicating that I support dog training, and also understand that certain breeds require intense training/work to be functional, happy, and safe.

The thing that particularly triggered me in those skidboot videos was the clip where he'd hold a treat in his mouth until his handler said "vitamins" at which point he could eat it. I don't know, it reminded me of this story in the The Monks of New Skeet dog training book about a couple that came in for dog training lessons. The husband in the couple dominated the whole discussion, the wife sat meekly nearby. The husband's goal was to teach his dog to obey commands based on the man clearing his throat in a certain way. The monks were kind of puzzled by this, and told the man they thought it was a bad idea. Then, when the wife tried to pipe up at one point, her husband cleared his throat in just the way he was using with his dog, and she fell silent!

When I was on my aforementioned dog/sheep sitting winter in South Dakota, a dog handler came by to breed her dog (bitch) with an old champion we were watching on the ranch. Her training style went beyond working with the dog every day to controlling it's every action. I remember her commanding her dog repetedly to drink water when she was clearly not thirsty!

As all you dog trainers know better than I, dog training is some alchamic mix of skill and intuition, and I guess it's those trainers who don't have that intuitive connection with their dog, but instead seek to control every aspect of the dog's behavior, who turn me off.

Having said all that, from the description above of Skidboot's energy level, it does sound like he required constant and intensive training, and that his handler is very competent at what he does.
posted by serazin at 11:34 AM on May 7, 2007

If you wanna talk about smart dogs then you should definitly include Rico up there.
posted by vodkadin at 2:29 PM on May 8, 2007

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