By Linda Cole
Skidboot became famous as the World’s Smartest Dog because of his amazing tricks. However, this is not the story of Skidboot and his wonderful bag of tricks. This is a story about mutual respect, understanding and love that transformed a bored and out-of-control dog into the World’s Smartest Dog.
I spoke with Skidboot’s owner, David Hartwig, and found a heartwarming story about unconditional love shared by a man and his dog. We like to think we train our dogs, but dogs can also teach us a little bit about ourselves and life.
David resides in Quinlan, Texas and lives the modest life of a farrier (a specialist in hoof care who trims, balances and shoes horse). It’s hard work and takes a steady hand and a gentle, calm demeanor around the horses. On Christmas Eve in 1992, David was working on his friend’s horses when he noticed a litter of pups in the barn. “I didn’t think you liked dogs,” David said to his friend. “I don’t. This stray female blue heeler came over here on Thanksgiving and started dropping puppies all over the yard. So I just picked them up and put them in the barn.” David hadn’t gotten his wife a Christmas present yet and decided a puppy would be perfect, so he picked one out and headed home.
Sometimes things happen in life we can’t always explain – a gut feeling that causes you to change your mind. David was half way home when he had second thoughts about the pup he had chosen. He turned around and went back to the barn. That’s when he picked out a pup standing by himself away from the other ones. At the time, David had no idea how that puppy was going to change his life.
Skidboot’s mom was a Blue Heeler, but the breed of his father was unknown. He was named after a protective boot horses wear on their hind legs to protect the area above and behind the hoof during activities like barrel racing. Skidboot was a natural at working on the ranch with David. “He did his job. He did it perfect and I didn’t have to teach him.”
Skidboot was like any high energy dog. The first year and a half of his life was spent getting into trouble, and David considered giving him away because neighbors were complaining. At the time, David was on the road participating in calf roping and steer wrestling events at rodeos and decided to take Skidboot with him so he could learn some manners. David and Skidboot began to form an incredible bond that would last fourteen years, until Skidboot passed away.
I asked David how many tricks Skidboot knew. “Well, I never did like to call it tricks. He didn’t really do a trick, he just did what I said. I never did count, he was still trying to learn new things till his dying day. He was obsessive about trying to please me. He was constantly trying to be a human being. He just liked the challenge. You know that “sneaking up on the ball and backing away” thing he became famous for? I don’t think a lot of people understood what that was about. That was about me trying to tell him what to do and then trying to trick him to see if he could keep from getting messed up. His goal was not so much to do what I said, but to prove to me I couldn’t trick him. He loved to be challenged.”
People who watched Skidboot perform didn’t know he was going blind. He had been diagnosed with progressive retinal atrophy when he was 10, before he appeared on the first episode of Animal Planet’s Pet Star and won top honors and a $25,000 prize. Skidboot was truly one of a kind. David has other dogs and gives them the same respect and love he gave Skidboot, but there will never be another dog that can take his place.
David is a soft spoken, down to earth and humble man. He fully understands how Skidboot changed his life. His relationship with his dog was not as owner and canine, but friend to friend. Skidboot needed to be challenged and he looked to David to satisfy his curiosity and give him direction. “I just talked to him like I would to a person and he did what I asked.”
A screenplay has been written, but the writers are still searching for funding to make a movie. Skidboot was 14 when he died on March 25, 2007. His legacy will live on in his You Tube videos and in the hearts of all who saw him perform.
When David adopted a stray puppy, he had no idea how a dog would change his life, and he gives Skidboot credit for teaching him about life. “I treated Skidboot just like I would any other person. I would get letters and cards from people thanking me for teaching them about love, patience, understanding, forgiveness, and showing them about relationships. It took on a life of its own, and I realized there was something else going on besides a dog doing tricks. I got to meet Oprah, I was in limousines in Beverly Hills, California – with my dog. I’m the luckiest cowboy ever.”
You can watch an interview with David and Skidboot’s Pet Star winning performance here.
Read more articles by Linda Cole
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