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Twig, the skateboarding shelty, impresses with athletic skills

BELLEAIR — She skateboards. She boogieboards.

This summer she took up skimboarding.

Is there anything the gutsy Shetland sheepdog from Belleair won't do?

At age 7, Twig seems to have the whole package: beauty, brains, athleticism.

She recently demonstrated her pint-sized prowess at Clearwater Beach, skateboarding down a double set of steep steps, then cruising along the beach promenade, carving deep turns.

She was fearless. Like totally.

Onlookers were amazed. Out came the cameras and cell phones — and smiles.

"That was one of the cutest things I've ever seen," said Karen Berner of New Port Richey.

"She swerved perfectly," said Breeanna Buggle, also of New Port Richey.

Twig's not talking, but she seems to lap up all the attention.

"She enjoys it so much," said Sandy Clark, 58, her owner and trainer. "She loves to be part of the fun, part of the party."

So what's next for the belle of Belleair?

"We're thinking snowboarding," said Clark's husband Bob, 59.

• • •

Twig started skateboarding in 2007 after Clark noticed her checking out a toy skateboard at the Upper Suncoast Dog Training Club. Clark, a former schoolteacher and now a dog trainer at the club, said she watches dogs to see what they are interested in.

"Teaching Twig to skateboard wasn't so much about teaching as just setting up an opportunity for her to learn," she said. "All you can do is make it safe, comfortable — then give the dog a chance to figure it out."

Twig's groundwork in obedience and agility provided a good foundation, and the training involved many small steps. After Twig got used to playing with the tiny skateboard, Clark introduced her to the long board her son Ben, 31, uses. Soon the shelty was jumping on and taking a ride.

But the board was too heavy for Twig, at 13 pounds, to push off. She couldn't turn — it's called "carving" in the skate world — since the ball bearings weren't designed for a featherweight rider.

The Clarks went to the Gulf Coast Skate Shop in Dunedin, which put them in touch with local skateboard designer Rick Cavaliere. He created Twig's custom board using Swiss ceramic ball bearings that are responsive to changes in her balance and weight. Soon, she was navigating turns, ramps and steps.

"It was truly the highlight of training to watch Twig thinking it through, figuring out how to turn by shifting her weight," Clark said. "There is really no limit to what a dog can do."

Clark employs relationship-based training, which removes negativity and builds a connection with the dog.

"Training should be an enjoyable experience for both of you," she said. "It's not about training for a future effect but about having a chance to spend time with your best friend and focus on what they can do — not on what they shouldn't do."

Twig's not the only talented member of the Clark household. Cooper, a 3-year-old golden retriever, uses a rope to pull Twig on a boogie board around in the family pool.

This summer Twig was introduced to skim boarding, gliding over the water's edge at high tide when conditions provide a level surface.

• • •

Twig has become a folk hero of sorts in the skating world and beyond. She has her own website, twigskates.com; a YouTube video channel, youtube.com/twigskates; and a Facebook page, facebook.com/twigspage, where fans from around the world comment on her canine talents.

And, yes, she tweets. Follow her at@twigskates.

Twig's been hired for a few paid performances, and with the money she has earned, she has found a way to give back.

Clark was concerned that children who see Twig might try to get their dogs to imitate her tricks without the proper training. That could end in disaster. So she's using Twig's earnings to sponsor a contest to encourage children to complete a junior training course in any dog sport or activity. They would qualify for a random drawing for 10 $25 Walmart gift certificates.

Clark, who began training dogs as a child, says she knows firsthand what a positive experience it can be.

"People rescue dogs, but sometimes dogs can rescue people," said Clark, "especially children."

Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at treeves@tampabay.rr.com.

 

 

Twig, the skateboarding shelty, impresses with athletic skills 09/01/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 20, 2013 4:54pm]

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