Norman, a tawny Briard who is just under two years old, has earned celebrity status doing one of his favorite activities: riding a scooter. Along with his owner and trainer, Karen Cobb, he has made appearances everywhere from Good Morning America to the Late Show with David Letterman and the Ellen DeGeneres Show. We sat down with Karen, who has kept animals for approximately 17 years, to learn more about how she raised such an amazing dog.
Norman, a tawny Briard, engages in on of his favorite activities: riding a scooter!
Photo Courtesy of Karen Cobb
Watch Norman go for a ride on his scooter. Video courtesy of courteous1 via YouTube
Nylabone: When you met Norman, was it love at first sight?
Karen: Yeah, it was love at first sight. I planned for him for about 13 years before I got him. I trained a Briard back in 1997 whose name was Norman and I fell in love with the breed. And then read a couple of articles and decided this is the dog for me. Of course I had three Shiba Inus and didn’t have time for another dog back then and so I had to wait and I checked out breeders for years and then I decided .
Nylabone: What do you love about the breed?
Karen: It’s their natural loyal instincts; they naturally want to stick around. They kind of like you better than everybody else, whereas some breeds just love everybody. So there’s loyalty, they have some pride, and they’re just beautiful the way they move.
Nylabone: What was the primary type of training you used with Norman?
Karen: I do more traditional training and use the clicker for more advanced commands/tricks. I also use positive reinforcement. Just positive reinforcement and luring is how they learn basics, and then of course the clicker for the advanced commands.
Nylabone: What gave you the idea to train Norman on a scooter?
Karen: Well I always thought it would be funny to have a dog on a bike. I was just getting him used to different objects and just socializing him because they have to be socialized a lot as a breed. He was just playing outside on the kids’ toys, all the kids’ toys, and just getting used to it and he just liked playing on the scooter. So we gave him a ride on it and we taught him to stand up on it and he just liked it so it was kind of an accident. I never knew it was going to turn into what it has. This is his third scooter.
Nylabone: Are you trying to train him on the bike right now?
Karen: Yeah, we’re working on his bike training. It’s going well but he did a lot better when he was younger because the bike fit him better. My biggest problem right now is getting a bike. He sits on it fine but when he pedals we’re still having to modify the seat to keep his feet on the pedals. That’s the biggest holdup on that, the bike modification. It does take a while to get it to fit him—to get his foot high enough and then have it where he can still reach the bottom. We don’t want him to get hurt either, so we’re trying to keep it low to the ground. However, he wants to learn. He jumps right up there, he wants to sit there.
Norman, the Briard on Late Night with David Letterman. Video courtesy of CBS via YouTube
Nylabone: What was it like to go on Good Morning America and the Late Show with David Letterman?
Karen: It was exciting; we just couldn’t believe we were there. We were just shocked at just how big it got so fast. We never thought that the scooter was going to catch on. But it was a lot of fun, watching Norman when he was so excited in front of a crowd. And he knows he’s performing for a crowd. I actually had him down in Central Park and he was really feeding off the energy of everybody. And we went down to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade right after that and he was right there scootering.
Nylabone: Have you tried to teach Norman any tricks that didn’t work?
Karen: Well we tried to teach him golf but he doesn’t seem to like that. I don’t know if the club pulls on his fur, but he didn’t seem to like that so we took a break from it and maybe we’ll go back and see if he’s interested. It just didn’t seem like his thing.
Nylabone: Are you working on any tricks that we don’t know about?
Karen: No, not as of yet. We’re always looking for new ideas and we try to find things that we haven’t seen all the other dogs do. He does all the traditional tricks—cover his nose and those kind of things—but we try to find different things. He also has very good manners—he wipes his mouth after he drinks water and closes the door after people. He has a lot of cute little tricks that he does. Most of that was that I just wanted to keep my house clean. A hairy dog walks in and you have to clean up after him each time. But he’s doing his part to help out. Like I said, we’re always looking for new ideas.
Nylabone: What is your favorite story with Norman?
Karen: My favorite story is when we first took him to the playground with the kids. The kids were running up the ladder and down the slide and through the bridges and he just ran right after them up the stairs and down the slide, and I kept thinking “oh my God he’s going to hurt himself” but yeah, he went right after them. He was right there with them; he just thinks he’s human. He’s also naturally a herder and he’s very protective. The kids start play wrestling with their dad and he gets right in the middle, he does not like that.
Norman shows how he shuts the door and wipes his feet. Video courtesy of courteous1 via YouTube
Nylabone: Is there a favorite activity you like to do with Norman?
Karen: Agility and herding are probably his favorite things, along with hiking in the woods. He loves to go hiking or play in the stream, be free.
Nylabone: Are you going to any Bark in the Park Events?
Karen: He will probably be at Bark in the Park in D.C. We’ll find out if he’s a baseball fan, this will be his first one. If he gets the chance, I’m sure he’d love to go out there and get the ball.
Nylabone: What other animals have you kept?
Karen: I’ve kept three Shiba Inus before this and then Norman, along with hamsters, mice, and fish.
Nylabone: Have you trained any other animals to do unique tricks?
Karen: SShiba Inus are pretty difficult to train in the first place so we stuck to basics with them, sit, play dead, take a bow, wave. I didn’t get them as puppies and two of them were rescues and I couldn’t introduce them to all these things at an early age, which makes it harder to get them to do something.
Nylabone: Is that one of your tips—introduce them to everything from an early age?
Karen: Really early; this breeder was introducing Norman to things from birth. Between that and continuing on it really makes a big difference. And of course, just good breeding. Two of the ones that I had were rescues and the other was from a pet store I got him at nine months. The rescues were passed around. Also, introduce your dog to everything that you can. Don’t just leave him at home in the backyard, take him with you as many places as you can.
Nylabone: Would you like to add anything else?
Karen: People think they want a dog like Norman and they want to go out and get a Briard, but he’s not your typical breed. You have to really research the breed and make sure that is the breed that you want. He has a lot of training and a lot of socialization; this is not their typical temperament. You have to work to get it there. He’s just charming. Before any of this happened we used to get stopped in the park and people would want to take a picture with him. He just has something about him.
Nylabone: Does he have a favorite Nylabone chew or treat?
Karen: Honestly we just keep varying it up. I would have to think about it to figure out which one his favorite is. Basically he likes them all and we just keep switching them. The best thing is that the Nylabone he actually cannot break. He pretty much can break anything that he’s chewing on. I can’t give him femur bones or anything like that. He can’t break the Nylabones.