Austin’s Fittest Dogs

By April Cumming – April 1, 2015
Photography by Brian Fitzsimmons

Exuding playfulness and purpose, these dogs are more than just pets—they’re partners. They’re the ones panting right alongside their owners, sharing in their sweat and success. Embodying persistent strength and inspirational grace, they’re the dogs with that eager, ready-for-adventure look in their eyes.

The extra mile is never crowded, and these 11 uniquely fit pups are always down to go the distance.

George Oscar Bluth

On One Condition

Unconditional love. It’s one thing we can all agree on when it comes to why we love dogs.

And George Oscar Bluth, a 4-year-old black lab with an insurmountable love for life, is no different than any other dog.

There’s just one condition: he’s in a wheelchair.

George was just a few months old when, as a feral dog roaming the streets of San Antonio, he was hit and run over by a car. With his spine twisted in half, knee broken, and lacerations left on the underside of his body, it was a miracle when—less than a year later—he was saved from being put down. In fact, it was a miracle someone found him, picked him up, and took him to a veterinary hospital in the first place.

One of the many people who first gave this severely injured black lab a chance—who believed in him from the moment the two first met—is George’s owner, Christopher Summers. What began as a fostering partnership with Austin Pets Alive more than three years ago soon turned into a lifelong friendship. This May marks the one-year anniversary since Summers officially adopted George.

The two are easy to spot on the Lady Bird Lake trail. Whether this black lab happens to breeze past you in his size 1 tennis shoes or is spotted chasing after the ducks near Lou Neff Point, you’ll know it’s George by the blue wheelchair. It’s the only one with a handmade sign hanging from the back that says, “Run with Joy!”

“Little George can out-sprint just about anyone,” Summers said about their trail outings, adding that George runs best when he’s showing off for “the ladies”—human or canine.

There’s nothing like going for a swim after a sweaty run, and this lab can dog paddle with the best of them. All he has to do is put on his pair of leg braces and his bright yellow life vest, grab his Frisbee, and he’s set.

“He swims like a fish and loves every second of it,” Summers said.

In the few years the two have known each other, Summers has housetrained George and taught him all of his commands—both exercises that took some extra time. “He’s taught me patience,” Summers said of his friend as he wrapped a towel around the wet, 50-pound furball post-swim.

All this exercise and movement keeps George constantly stimulated; so much so that, with the help of physical therapy, he’s slowly starting to regain feeling in his legs.

When not busy keeping George occupied outside, Summers can be found working from home as George naps on one of his two inside beds—one for the day, one for the night—or plays with his favorite toy: a 3-foot tall, stuffed, white teddy bear.

People’s love for this dog isn’t just unconditional; it’s uncontainable. One thing George has that not many other dogs have is his own Facebook fan page. At last check, he had 248 followers—a fan base that stretches from Oregon to South Carolina and from Michigan to El Paso.

He’s also had a song dedicated to him on YouTube and received a UPS care package of “pup-cakes” from a fan for his birthday last year.

Whether seen jogging around the trail, sprinting across the finish line of an Austin area 5K, or swimming in the free side of Barton Springs, this black lab with the bumper sticker is an inspiration and unspoken message of motivation to everyone he meets.

“To George, there are no strangers. Just unmet fans,” Summers said.



Miss Popular

Stefanie Orrange had just finished up her sophomore year at TCU when her and Joey, a now 3 and a half year old Rhodesian Ridgeback, were thrown into each other’s life. Orrange found the pup abandoned in Trinity Park in Fort Worth when she was just 8 weeks old. “It was really sad. She looked so pitiful,” Orrange said, reflecting on that day. “She weighed about 8 pounds and had these massive ears. That’s why I named her Joey—because she looked like a baby kangaroo.”

By the end of that day, Orrange knew she would be keeping the baby Ridgeback. “I like to say we rescued each other because, since that day, there has been no turning back.”

Before they moved back to Austin, Joey served as a guard dog and protector at the junior’s sorority house. Orrange became accustomed to Joey being more popular around campus than she was. “At parties, people would always ask me if I was Joey’s mom,” she said.

They’ve been living in Austin for two years now.

Joey adopts the quick, fierce speed of an Olympic sprinter and the endurance of a lion when she runs. With her lean, chestnut brown body, a tail that will knock you out, and an unquenchable hunger for adventure, Joey joins Orrange on 6-mile runs through the hills of North Austin. “Running is Joey’s favorite activity in the entire world,” Orrange said, adding that running with her is the best part of each day. “I never considered myself a runner before meeting Joey, but she is always pushing me to my limits, and now I have an insane love for running,” Orrange said.

The duo never times themselves when they hit the trail, and don’t know how far they are going until they get there.

They completed their first half marathon this past Valentine’s Day weekend—the longest distance the two had ever run together—without even having to train for it. “We just woke up one morning and were like, ‘We’re going to run the half marathon.’ By the end, Joey was ready to keep going,” Orrange said, laughing. “She never quits or gives up.”

The race was so much easier for Orrange than the half marathon she had done by herself five years ago. “I trained for that one, and I suffered through it. This one was different. It was really fun,” Orrange said.

One of the things she admires most about her canine companion, her best friend, is her almond brown eyes lined with effortless, thick black eyeliner. “It’s the kind women dream of when they wake up,” Orrange said.

When Joey gets excited or starts playing with other dogs, a dark, brownish-red line starts to run down her spine—a line Ridgebacks are recognized and beloved for.

On the weekends, the two will often make the trip out to Lake LBJ to join the rest of Orrange’s family and their respective dogs. Joey loves swimming in the water, jumping off the boat with her fur-coated friends, and sun bathing on the dock. “She has the speed of a Greyhound, but she loves sunbathing like Ridgebacks. A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do,” Orrange said.

Running is their true getaway though; a time where nothing else matters besides sticking together and matching each other stride for stride. “When I can look at the end of the leash and see Joey’s face with a big smile, a little slobber drizzled on her nose, and her tongue hanging out, I know we’re doing something right,” Orrange said.



A Good Kind of Crazy

This 6-year-old black lab had a tumultuous start to life. Born with a birth defect on his back right foot, he was placed in the San Marcos animal shelter, given up on by a guy who wanted another dog as well as a family who thought he was too crazy, and then placed back in the San Marcos animal shelter.

When Sean Glynn—who volunteers with the Austin Police Department, Travis County Search and Rescue, Alamo Area Search and Rescue, and Texas Search and Rescue—saw him, he decided to adopt him on the spot.

“I got him out [of the shelter] because what we look for [in search and rescue] is a good kind of crazy,” Glynn said of his buddy, Max. The lab’s birth defect made his back foot toe look like a gnarled tree root. “It was up and twisted and you could see he had trouble jumping and putting weight on it,” Glynn said. One of the first things he did for Max was have the defect—the pain—removed.

The two train and search in all types of conditions—in the summer heat and the drizzly winter cold; through heavy, dense vegetation and up and down rocky cliff faces. “He’s outside every day of the year,” Glynn said of his multi-certified cadaver dog.

He admits there’s no real cadence to this volunteer, part-time job. “You might not get a call for six months, and then you’ll get three a month for two months straight,” Glynn said. There’s often a sad, bittersweet component to the job too—when they discover a body rather than recover one.

With a dog’s sense of smell being ten thousand times better than that of his human counterpart, Max is able to help solve cold cases like homicides and suicides, as well as assist in victim recovery after floods and drowning’s. “It’s amazing to watch them work,” Glynn said of search and rescue dogs.

Together, Glynn and Max can search up to 100 acres in a day—a task that takes the duo several hours to complete. That’s several hours of focus, commitment, and unheralded displays of athleticism. The duo’s most wanted reward after a full day in the field: to make a successful recovery. Max’s most wanted reward: his ball.

This canine’s endurance is so strong that he’ll swim all the way out to one of the buoys in Lake Austin to catch his ball—bringing it back only to want it thrown out in the water again. “He’ll take a swim over a hike any day,” Glynn said.

Max’s training, however, involves going on long hikes at special spots around town. He also exercises by walking on a water treadmill and performing sets of pushups on a balance ball to work his core and thighs.

Dedicated, focused, and sweet: these are the words Glynn said best describe his search and rescue partner. He tackles obstacles with raw abandon—you know, the kind an Apple store employee might expect to see if they ran a 75 percent off sale on iPhone’s.

“Ready to work?” Glynn rhetorically asks Max. It’s a gorgeous, bluebird day at the Walsh Boat Landing in West Austin. With a big, side body pat, the eager-to-go pup shoots off like a horizontal firecracker—in search of a scent Glynn has hidden. It’s a windy day and the smell is floating around. Max darts around—running in wide circles, his direction changing with each sniff of his nose. Four minutes later, tail wagging and respiratory rate picking up, he’s jumping up on a wall inside one of the bathrooms. Max barks—the signal that’s he’s found the scent. Sure enough, Glynn has tucked the sample smell high and out-of sight in the bathroom ceiling. Job well done, Glynn pulls out an orange and turquoise colored ball from his pocket for Max to have. The duo plans to continue answering any and all search and rescue calls; to keep being that good kind of crazy.

His nickname might be Mad Max, but according to Glynn he’s actually a really sweet, goofy dog. “He was bred for a purpose, and whether that’s fetching a bird or doing detection work, he’s fulfilling that purpose,” Glynn said.



The Deer Whisperer

Not many dogs can claim to have tackled a full size deer on their own. Then again Lady, a 2-year-old Rotterman, is no ordinary dog.

For starters, she works at Healing Horse Ranch, a 20-acre horse rescue and rehabilitation operation in Dripping Springs. “She loves the horses. Sometimes a little too much,” owner Katie Gibson said. “There’s one horse in particular she plays with. They both chase each other around in the pasture. It’s hilarious to watch. They play just like dogs do,” Gibson said.

From the moment Gibson and her husband wake up in the morning to the moment they lie down at night, Lady is ready to go.

“She’s a ball of energy,” Gibson said, adding that out of the three other dogs that work on the ranch, Lady is by far the most energetic. She runs around all day with Gibson. “She has to stay busy or else she just goes crazy. She’s so smart and athletic; always wanting something to do.”

With that personality and work ethic, applying ranch hands have some heavy some competition.

Gibson’s ranch is responsible for working with the equines, training them, getting them healthy, and then adopting them out as show horses.

Lady often likes to tag along on long rides with the ranch’s 12 horses. “We take her trail riding quite a bit. We’ve taken her up to 8 miles, and she’s still not tired. She’s a lean running machine who never wears out,” Gibson said.

With her thick black coat, the only time of year when Lady’s energy level starts to wane is in summer. All it takes to recover though is a quick roll around in the creek that runs through the property, and she’s good to go again.

Riding students keep Lady busy by doing agility drills with her after their lessons and playing countless games of fetch. “Since we ride jumping horses, students have taught her how to go over the jumps,” Gibson said. Lady’s highest cleared jump on record: 4 feet.

As the youngest dog on the ranch, she also goes by the nickname “Little Bear.” But she’s anything but little. Weighing in at 120 pounds, she’s a solid brick of muscle. As playful as Lady is though, Gibson admits she’s really just a big baby. Attention and love are her top priorities and she’ll do anything for a scratch behind the ear or rub on the face. “She just closes her eyes and falls asleep when you do that,” Gibson said.

Back to Lady’s claim-to-fame tackle; she was able to get pretty close to the deer before it noticed her and took off running. “I think she was just trying to play with it. You know, she wasn’t trying to kill it. She’s a big dog though, so when she tackled it she just about scared the deer to death,” Gibson said, adding that Lady has also brought her a few birds and squirrels in the past. “You know, really great presents,” Gibson said. “Lady will be like, ‘Look what I brought you. What do you want me to do with it?’”

At the end of a long work day, this little bear of a Rotterman’s favorite place to be is underneath her mom’s feet. Preferably with her stuffed toy duck and a good rawhide bone to go to town on.



The Energetic Instigator

Jennifer Guernica had been in want of a dog who could run long distances with her when she laid eyes on the now 4-year-old German Wirehaired Pointer, Ferguson, at a local rescue.

“I loved his fuzzy hair, his different colors, and his personality,” Guernica said.

It’s hard not to be entranced by Ferguson when you first make eye contact. An amber orange sunburst spreads across his face the same way milk pours into a cup of coffee, beautifully contrasting against his dark brown complexion.

His handsomeness doesn’t stop him from getting his face dirty though. On a recent overcast afternoon at Zilker, he didn’t hesitate to spark the adventurous spirit in a few other dogs as he dashed through—and occasionally hunkered down in—a big, muddy rain puddle.

Wirehaired Pointers are known for being active dogs that need a lot of stimulation, and Ferguson is no different. “He will go any speed, in any distance, in any weather,” Guernica said. “I’ve taken him up to 12 miles and he doesn’t miss a beat.” He’s the perfect running companion for Guernica, a marathoner, and her husband, Wayne, a triathlete.

In the off chance Ferguson isn’t out on the trails, this endlessly energetic canine enjoys chasing birds and squirrels in the backyard. “He hasn’t caught any yet, but that only fuels his fire. He is determined to get one,” Guernica said.

Ferguson is a living example of the motto, “Work hard. Play hard.”

When he returns home from a run, he’ll scurry to get a tennis ball or tuffie (marketed as an “indestructible” toy for dogs) to play with and quickly destroy. He’s chewed through so many tennis balls that his parents have resorted to buying them by the bucket at Costco.

“He’ll shred a tennis ball while I take a shower,” Guernica said of their routine, hypothesizing that his destructive tendency toward toys is possibly a way for him to release extra adrenaline. “It doesn’t seem like there’s ever a day when he loses all his energy,” Guernica added.

Ferguson often spends his Sunday mornings sleeping in and cuddling with his mom and dad before they go get coffee together at Austin Java. (His parents make sure to order him a few strips of bacon.)

With his mom being a vegetarian, this Wirehaired Pointer has developed a palate for healthier fare too; often eating leftover slices of tomato and zucchini or carrots and green beans.

In the summer months, he loves commanding attention from passerby as he commandeers his dad’s boat through Lake Austin and plays hour-long games of fetch in his special cove across from Hula Hut.

His favorite activity will always be doing anything his owners are. “He loves to be with his family,” Guernica said, turning her head to see Wayne waving a tennis ball in the air—trying ardently to entice Ferguson out of his staked claim in the middle of the rain puddle.



The Trail Trendsetter

Riding comfortably in the doggie trailer attached behind her owners bicycle, Nina sits like a regal princess ready for her next adventure. This 4-year-old Chow Chow’s cinnamon-spice and lioness-like fur is complimented by her deep-set almond eyes and a stylish orange and yellow sunflower attached to her collar. Her bluish-black tongue drops just beneath the boundary line of her lips—waiting for her next treat. From afar, Nina appears somewhat like an illusion. Is she a dog? A bear cub? A teddy bear come to life?

Nina has accomplished so much in the three years since she was adopted by her owner, Sarah Herman. From her humble beginnings living at a Chow rescue in San Antonio to frolicking freely around the grounds at Northwest Park in North Austin, Nina has come a long way. She is now more social than hesitant upon first introductions with people and their pets and now proudly sports a majestic mane—a far cry from the trimmed locks she had at the Chow rescue. (It took over a year to grow out her coat to where it is today.)

Originally bred in northern China, where Chow Chow’s are referred to as Songshi Quan, or “puffy-lion dogs,” the bearlike Nina oozes a celebrity, diva-like personality. On past hiking trips her owners have taken her on, they’ve been stopped mid-trek by people asking if to have a picture taken with her. “She sometimes causes quite the scene when we’re out and about,” Herman said with a laugh. “But she always obliges for her fans.”

In 2014, Nina passed her Canine Good Citizen test—a goal Herman wanted her pup to achieve since she used to be so apprehensive around people. Nina has also achieved success in nose work training and air training—where she was instructed to find her owners in a wooded area using only her nose. Herman’s next goal for her Chow Chow: to focus more on agility training.

While hot dogs are a top reward treat contender throughout training, Nina’s all-time favorite treat—and proof that she’s a true Austinite at heart—is P. Terry’s. She audibly starts panting as soon as they pull up to the famous burger chain’s drive-thru window—cognizant of the fact that a biscuit is coming her way.

Over the years, Chow’s have developed a notorious reputation for being standoffish and not people friendly, but that couldn’t be less true for Nina. Although she had a “ruff” start in life, she breaks all the stereotypes associated with Chows. Nina loves the outdoors and being athletic—making sure to get in a 3-mile walk everyday—and is always ready in a moment’s notice for her next adventure.

When Herman and her husband took a road trip to Michigan to visit family members last year, it was the first time Nina had ever experienced snow. Both owners were pleasantly surprised with her reaction to the powder. “She loved it. She was zooming around and pausing to let the snow fall on her fur. She lived for that day,” Herman said.

While Nina enjoys her fair share of road trips, she is also fond of joining Herman’s husband on short errand runs around town. “They are best buds,” Herman said, adding that somehow the two always manage to end up at their favorite store, Lowe’s.

If Nina were to have an online dating profile, it would most likely read something like this: Sassy beauty queen. Enjoys sunbathing on the beach (minus the sand), camping by the fire in Marfa, and commandeering my owner’s kayaks on Lady Bird Lake.



Socialite on the move

If you’re going to distract Gretel or even attempt to restrain her from running alongside her mom, you best prepare yourself for a mouthful. This 8-year-old Schnauzer with gray and brownish-black, wiry hair won’t let you get away with separating her from her owner and best friend Barbara Fellman. And the reverse statement is also true.

The duo is well established in the Austin fitness scene; so much so that the two are often recognized along the Lady Bird Lake trail as though they were celebrities. People stop mid-run, stooping down to pet Gretel as they talk with Barbara. Or they simply wave in passing to say hello. “People always smile when they see her on the trail,” Fellman said.

The demands attached to continuously appeasing and satisfying her admirers and friends takes some upkeep, and Gretel has an un-zipable Ziploc bag stuffed with hairbrushes to prove it. “She loves the attention, but she’s always tired by the time she gets home,” Fellman said of her popular pup.

On top of the at-times overwhelming onslaught of attention, Gretel makes sure to attend a variety of cross-training activities around town with her mom. From getting her asana on at Luke’s Locker’s Sunday morning yoga class to fitting in evening core classes at Jack & Adam’s—joining in the group warm-up run and letting her mom tackle the more human-honed exercises like squats, lunges, and burpees—she’s quite possibly the fittest Schnauzer-slash-socialite in the city.

Gretel doesn’t let the fame go to her head though. Sporting a red bandana accented with a custom-made, wooden candy necklace collar (, she’s often seen cheering on sweaty race participants from the sidelines of fun runs and marathons held around town.

When it’s time to put in some sweat of her own, she’ll hop in the car and head to a CrossFit class or bootcamp workout with her mom. No matter the duo’s busy schedule, they make sure to show up for Tuesday track and Thursday hill workouts with Al’s Ship of Fools, a free running group in Austin. On those nights, Gretel gets to release energy by exercising her legs as well as her vocal chords. “When she gets excited, she’ll bark at the group as they’re doing drills,” Fellman said. It’s a common tendency that triggers the Ship of Fools leader and coach, Al Cumming, to shout out “Way to coach, menace!”

This Schnauzer’s favorite workout of the week comes bright and early on Saturday mornings when she joins the group for their weekly long run. While she could easily keep an 8-minute mile pace, Fellman said, Gretel chooses to slow down in order to keep close to her mom and soak in the conversation—letting the runners know with a bark or two when they can pick up the pace.



A Fighting Machine

On first meeting, it’s hard not to like Footyboots—his name; his face with its slight appearance of French arrogance. And it’s hard for Footyboots not to like you. That is, until you try to pull his neon orange, light-up Frisbee out of his mouth. “For him, it’s not about giving it back. It’s about wrestling,” said Footyboots’ owner, Tom Cripps.

And if there’s one thing this French Bulldog knows he’s good at, it’s fighting back.

Shortly after Hurricane Sandy swept the eastern seaboard in October 2012, Footyboots contracted a bacterial disease called leptospirosis that shut down his kidneys and liver. He spent the next three weeks in the hospital—two of which were spent in an oxygen chamber. He went through six rounds of emergency dialysis and lost 40 percent of his body weight. The post-hospital recovery process took 6 months, but the only sign you’ll see of his life-threatening ordeal today is a couple inches of scar tissue on his right hind leg.

Cripps and his wife first met Footboots in Brooklyn in January 2008. “We thought he’d be a good apartment dog when we were living in New York,” Cripps said. But the couple soon realized the amount of uncontainable energy they had signed up for.

“Don’t be fooled by this guy,” Cripps said, casting a quick glance down at the panting pup before they hit the Greenbelt for a morning trail run. “He’s a machine.”

Footyboots often accompanies his dad on ultramarathon training runs—logging anywhere from 5 to 10 miles on local trails. While small in size, this French Bulldog is strong in stature. His gait, more like a hobble, is something one might expect to see from the release of a rabbit wind up toy—simultaneously lifting both his back and front legs off the ground as he runs. Despite this, he manages to match his owner stride for stride—jumping over logs and brush where need be.

Cripps recalled a proud moment he once shared with his canine son on the trail. Footyboots had seen a rabbit and, true to form, went to chase after it. This time though, he actually caught it. “Somehow, he managed to flip the rabbit onto it’s back. He just kept barking at it,” Cripps said. When the rabbit realized it wasn’t going to be Footyboots’ dinner, it scurried back into the brush. It was the perfect scenario for Cripps. “My dog caught a rabbit and I didn’t even have to deal with a dead critter.”



The Pace Dog

There’s a longstanding stereotype associated with Dobermans. Our mental image characterizes them as a police or guard dog frothing ferociously at the mouth—a common misconception that the breed is all bark and all bite.

The minute you meet Pica (pronounced pee-ka), a 3 and a half year old Doberman with a pointy face and floppy ears, any preconceived stereotypes slip away. Her coat, a color mix between red and black, shines like the women’s hair you see shimmering on Pantene shampoo commercials. Pica’s owner, Tom Moorman, attributes her radiance to the raw food diet she’s on.

A typical dinner consists of a few steak-size slabs of high collagen beef paired with organic broccoli and carrots—better than most humans can expect to find placed before them on a weeknight. The meal keeps her fast and lean, Moorman said. So it’s no wonder when Moorman tells you how Pica runs 20 to 25 miles per week with him; the duo averaging a 6:40 mile pace.

The Doberman breed was originally developed in the 1890’s by German tax collector, Karl Friedrich Louis Dobermann. His goal: to create a breed that would ideally protect him during his door-to-door collections.

Moorman’s nickname for his fast best friend: Pica the Pace Dog.

She could maintain a 6-minute mile pace if he let her, Moorman said, as Pica stood calmly and patiently by his side. The only thing that affects her distance is the weather. When it’s above 75 degrees outside, she’ll run for an average of 4 miles, but when winter weather hits, she shoots for closer to 12 miles.

Pica is fast and playful without losing her alertness and intrinsic intensity. Asked if she had any favorite toys, Moorman said it’s typically something she’s not supposed to have, adding that she likes to be sneaky with his 14-month-old daughter’s baby toys.

A couple of things this sweetheart of a Doberman’s not too fond of: swimming in open water and Australian Shepherds. Her head jerks up just at the mention of the two.



Worth the Weight

Basil the herb is known to be sweet, and this 9-year-old Löwchen is no different.

Standing just under one-foot tall and weighing 14 pounds, this outgoing little dog might seem tiny in size, but she’s the equivalent of Superwoman in spirit. Wearing a bright yellow harness hugged securely around her small body, she can pull 85 times her weight in a cart—once pulling a record 1,390 pounds.

This energetic dog, a three-time weight champion, has won seven national titles for weight pull, water rescue, packing, and drafting. During competitions, she commonly goes up against Greyhounds and Russell mixes—dogs also in her weight class.

While her white, leg-warmer like cuffs fluffed up around her legs say otherwise, appearances aren’t always what meets the eye. This löwchen is accustomed to winning the Most Weight Pulled award in competition. Every now and then, she stays sharp by challenging her strength against dogs in higher weight classes—usually pulling the title of Highest Percentage Weight Pulled out from under their furry paws.

It’s understandable, with all these accomplishments, that Basil is a bit of a perfectionist. If she doesn’t do something right in training, she knows it and will make sure she goes back and does it correctly.

There’s nothing special or formal about Basil’s training though. She’s just talented, said handler Jenny Chen. There’s no special diet, either; Basil is fed normal dog food for her weight type.

When she was born, she was the size of a tennis ball. By the time she was eight weeks old, this girl was competing against dogs that had gone through formal water rescue training. For a dog to compete in weight pull, they have to be 18 months. So Basil waited. She spent 6 months competing in weight pull, retiring at the young age of two after realizing she didn’t have any other competitors to dominate.

Outside the realm of the competitive world, Basil is a curious dog who likes going on adventures, jumping, and receiving attention and affection from people. She’s so energetic that her owners, Dana and Joe Concannon, have nicknamed her “the energizer bunny.” She tries to keep her eccentric energy in-check by running on the treadmill in her free time and showing off her skills—performing tricks and jumps for her fans.

When visiting dog parks around town, Basil enjoys joining her new friends in a frantic game of chase—often jumping into strangers’ laps to take a break and share in some love.



The Mountain Bike Buddy

There’s nothing about this 2-year-old Border Collie that’s not to love. With a white stripe running down her otherwise black nose and her front legs sporting Dalmatian-like spots, this certified service dog accompanies her owner, Briana Stringer, almost everywhere—from everyday social situations to the aisles of the local grocery store.

“I chose her because I knew she could keep up,” Stringer said.

When not working on perfecting Camber’s agility training drills—most recently practicing jumps over Stringer’s overturned bike—they love taking advantage of the outdoors in and around Austin. The duo leads an active lifestyle by hiking, camping, swimming, kayaking on Lake Travis, and going on trail runs around Lady Bird Lake.

Stringer is one of the ever-diminishing few who was actually born and raised in this city. She first became interested in training dogs more than 15 years ago through her volunteer work at the Town Lake Animal Shelter. While there, she saw dogs brought in because of bad behaviors that Stringer believed could have easily been fixed. After receiving her certification, Stringer started her own dog training and behavioral school, Sublime Canines, in 2003.

Her workplace: any dog-friendly spot around Austin. “This is my office,” Stringer said, stretching her arms up to the trees shading the lakeside trail on a recent outing to Red Bud Isle.

A pack of dogs passes by, and Camber starts to follow them. But then she decides to stop. Showing impressive restraint, she turns her head back in Stringer’s direction, as if to ask what her mom’s thoughts are on the situation. “I’ve taught her to keep an eye on me, so it’s not me keeping an eye on her,” Stringer said.

Camber has also been trained to treat everything like a toy. Wave a stick in front of this Border Collie, and her facial expression quickly morphs from happy and carefree to seriously intense like a wolf.

One piece of advice Stringer shares with dog owners on the first day of training is to teach them like they’re your friend, not your subordinate.

Most importantly, Camber is Stringer’s go-to mountain biking buddy. The duo loves hitting up the trails around the Greenbelt, Walnut Creek, and Rocky Hill Ranch; often out riding for at least a couple of hours—covering 8 to 10 miles. “She’ll run right alongside me as I ride. And just when I think I might have flown down a hill too fast, I look back and there she is—right by my side,” Stringer said.

“She’s my best friend. She’s the best dog a girl could ever have.”


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