In many ways, this year’s Model Pet is your average dog. He doesn’t have a fancy pedigree or come from a breeder; he was sprung from a shelter. At 10 years old, he’s getting a little white around the muzzle. He’s a happy-go-lucky dog, but not above the occasional misbehaving folly. He’s a shedder, a lover and a possessor of supersonic ears — especially when a can or refrigerator door is being opened.
But in this case — thanks to his 14-year-old owner — our Model Dog also happens to be a certified trick dog champion who has about 230 tricks under his collar.
Congratulations, Tanker. Take a bow. (Seriously. We know you can do it.)
Before Tanker found his way to stardom (did we mention he’s been featured in Dog Fancy, and has his photo on the library card of the Bedford Public Library?), he was living in the Fort Worth Animal Shelter. While other dogs barked and jumped in the cages around him, there stood a yellow Lab-golden retriever mix, just watching the people go by, with a sweet look in his eye. He was the one.
For a year, the Thye family of Bedford had been searching for their perfect rescue dog, partly at the urging of their children, twins Carson and Leah — then about 7 years old. Especially Leah, who always wanted to be a vet when she grew up.
“I still consider it the best day ever,” says Leah, who is a ninth-grader at Harwood Junior High in Bedford.
And that sweet look from Tanker’s shelter cage wouldn’t turn out to be a false promise. “Everyone who meets him loves him,” says Leah’s mother, Miekka Thye. “Everyone says that about their pets, but they really do. He doesn’t bark or growl. He’s just a sweet, sweet personality. And he just wants to be around the family. If we all migrate to another room, within 30 seconds you can hear him clicking away, and coming in to find us and lay at someone’s feet.”
A model pet, indeed.
A year or two after they got Tanker, Leah taught him simple commands — sit, shake, lay down. But then about two summers ago, she started teaching him more challenging tricks.
Today, Tanker can high-five, sit pretty, cross his paws, twirl, as well as help you with your household chores: On Leah’s command, he’ll open and shut doors, fetch the remote, put away his toys, pull his collar off the door knob, tug off socks or your hoodie. He can even close a laptop, open a fridge and fetch you a water bottle. And, as his entry photo shows, Tanker can “paint” (he holds a brush in his mouth; the handle is a piece of PVC pipe).
“Over these years,” Leah says, “we’ve gotten closer in our bond through the tricks. I think the tricks really bring people and their dogs together more. He’s pretty much always near me and following me and waiting for his command for what to do next.
“He was supposed to be the family dog,” Leah says, but because of their shared passion, “I pretty much call him my dog.”
Tanker alternates where he sleeps each night; one night it’s in Leah’s room, the next night in her brother Carson’s. But the training? “That is her gig for sure,” Miekka says.
“We knew she loved animals ever since she was little — to the discretion of everything else. She didn’t play with dolls, or anything except for stuffed animals. She just had this heart for dogs, and was so interested in dog training, and obedience and agility from a young age.”
So in her spare time, she just started teaching him tricks, and over time it blossomed into something pretty special. “We let her have a YouTube account for [Tanker], where she’s demonstrating tricks with him. She loves it and she has a passion and a gift for it.”
Miekka says she and her husband, Phil, were blown away when the tricks started to transcend the commonplace commands. That’s when Mom and Dad thought: “This seems like something an adult would have trouble doing, but it just comes naturally to her. We have a dog trainer on our hands here. And a pretty smart, compliant dog, too.”
But sometimes, primal canine needs overtake pristine behavior.
Tanker knows he’s not supposed to go upstairs when nobody’s home, and typically, he stays behind the baby gate that blocks him. But this past summer, when the Thyes went out of town, petsitting family members found that the babygate had been nudged open.
They tried adding to the barrier. But no ottoman, dining room chair, or piece of Plexi-glass could keep Tanker from the simple pleasure of burying himself in the scent of Leah, his person. Her previously made bed was a fur-lined nest of rumpled covers and pure puppy love.
So Tanker may not be perfect. But like all the best dogs, he is loyal to a fault.
He’s also spirited without being a wild man; he can be joyful and cuddly, but he won’t knock you down to express his love. Set a stuffed frog on his head during a photo shoot, and he won’t mind a bit. Tanker seems to indulge in life’s goofiness.
“He just seems to bring a smile to everyone’s faces when he’s around,” Leah told us.
We second that observation.
Tanker, if you’re reading this. Seriously … take that bow.