Cookie may not have the horsepower of her equine neighbors, but she can certainly imitate them.
With help from Crystal Crosby, Cookie’s amateur trainer and owner, the Australian Shepherd has learned to pull a buggy-like contraption with two wheels, a seat and reins.
“She’s really an intelligent dog,” said Ms. Crosby, 17, who first met Cookie at 8 weeks old.
Back in 2007, her father, Wayne Crosby, brought the puppy back from an Amish farm in Ohio as a birthday present for his daughter. He was struck by how well the breed followed commands and herded cattle on the farm.
“That’s what sold me on them, really,” said Mr. Crosby, who moved his family here from Jacksonville in 1999.
Even in the nearly 100-degree heat, Cookie had no problem getting strapped into a harness and towing Ms. Crosby up and down their gravel drive known as Penelope Lane south of Macclenny to show-off her skills on July 9.
The buggy and the harness that Cookie uses to pull it weigh about 30 pounds. They’re made by a Perry, GA-based company, Chalo Sulkey. The company’s motto: “Because dogs love to pull.”
Without any formal training in teaching dogs tricks, Ms. Crosby said she’s relied largely on trial-and-error and her experience growing up around animals — horses, dogs, cats and chickens — to coach Cookie along, little by little.
Obedience training came first. Cookie learned the basics; to come, sit and backup. Then came agility training like jumping over hurdles and navigating other obstacles.
And she’s come a long way. Last December at the Jacksonville Equestrian Center, Cookie, now 5 years old, competed in her first dog show and secured third place.
But at 2 years old, Cookie was pulling Ms. Crosby in what she described as a “rickety green wagon” attached to a horse halter with a leash.
“It was kind of pitiful, but it worked,” she said.
Once accustomed to wearing the halter and pulling her trainer, Cookie began to learn the commands for stopping, pulling and turning. Ms. Crosby said she uses commands similar to those employed by equestrians to direct horses.
“I have a fascination with how dogs learn and how easy it is for them to learn something if you do it the right way,” said Ms. Crosby, who hopes to build a dog training facility one day.
Today she’s enrolled in the health academy at Baker County High School. She’ll be a senior in the fall.
Ms. Crosby wants to share what she’s learned over the years working with Cookie with other dog owners.
She plans to organize an informal training group at the Macclenny city park on West Boulevard for large dogs and have gatherings one Saturday a month. Once the pets are trained, she hopes they can participate in community events like the annual Christmas parade.
“I want to let the people of Baker County know that big dogs don’t just have to be in the backyard, they can serve a purpose,” Ms. Crosby said.
Anyone interested in joining the group can contact Ms. Crosby by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling Sylvia Crosby at (904) 377-6351.