By AUSTIN KINGHORN Staff writer
When your dog is so smart you run out of tricks to teach him, you have to get creative. That’s just what Robert Byrd did with his dog, Stetson, and although the 3 year old sheltie might not understand all the attention, his fans can’t get enough of his newest activity.
Stetson already knew the typical tricks of sitting, staying, rolling over and shaking hands, so Byrd thought a unique twist was just the ticket to enhance Stetson’s repertoire.
That creativity began when Byrd saw how excited Stetson would become when he and his nephew blasted model rockets into the sky.
Stetson loved to chase the rockets, but then again Stetson enjoys to chase just about anything, from laser pointers to shadows on the ground. Stetson had his naysayers in the beginning.
“Yeah, right,” said Susan, Byrd’s wife.
Byrd built a device he calls the P.A.L. (Paw Activated Launch), a depressable platform that allows Stetson to launch rockets. The P.A.L. also beeps when Stetson activates it, giving the dog a audible sign to let him know the job is finished.
Building a launch button designed for a dog is one thing-- teaching him to use it is another task altogether.
Byrd taught Stetson by having him chase a black and yellow striped square of wood-- the future surface of the P.A.L. Stetson’s instincts kicked in immediately, and he quickly learned chasing the piece of wood and pawing it would mean a treat. The next hurdle was to teach Stetson to stay still while Byrd called the countdown, “Three, two, one... launch!”
After three weeks of off and on training, Stetson took part in his first launch. At first, Stetson didn’t realize the consequences of activating the P.A.L. After pawing the button, Stetson laid back down, only to spring up when the rocket began smoking and took flight.
Now Stetson knows exactly what the P.A.L. means, and all the Byrd’s have to do is show the device to him inside the house to get the dog excited.
Byrd works to hone Stetson’s skills by having him activate the launcher while he hoists a rocket toward the roof.
Stetson, normally an active but quiet dog, begins barking and jumping at the sight of the simulation.
“The biggest challenge has been to get him to calm down,” Byrd said. “He gets so excited when we go out to the field. I don’t understand it, but he loves shooting these rockets.”
Stetson is now abundantly aware that the rocket launches are his doing, as one video makes perfectly clear. When a dud fails to launch, Stetson becomes frustrated and paws desperately at the P.A.L. When that doesn’t work, he runs around the rocket, inspecting the failed launch and barking his disapproval.
There’s only one way to go from here for Stetson, and that’s upward. He’s already been featured in an issue of the “Sport Rocketry” magazine
“We sent a video in to Letterman, and we’re also going to see about him doing the opening launches at some rocket meets and Fourth of July celebrations,” Byrd said.
Visitors to the Byrd home can read Stetson’s story and watch videos of launches. They can also take part in the Celebrity Rocket Program, which allows Stetson’s fans to mail Byrd a rocket to be personally launched by Stetson. Byrd then posts the footage on his site. Stetson’s Web site is available at www.therocketdog.com.
Absolutely nothing on this web site is copyrighted and you can use it however you like.
Just be sure to link to Stetson's Site and
give him credit.