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Tillman the Skateboarding Bulldog is arguably the most famous professional skateboarding dog in the world and, as of June 30th, 2009, holds the Guinness World Record for "fastest skateboarding dog", skating 100m in 19.768 seconds.

The five-year-old Tillman, named after the late N.F.L. player and U.S. Army Ranger Pat Tillman, lives in Oxnard, California with his owner Ron Davis, a self-professed "beach bum", and his family. Initially a Mother's Day gift for Davis's wife Erika, Tillman and Davis soon became inseparable best friends. Tillman's obsession with skateboarding began at around ten-weeks-old; by nine months, he'd mastered standing on the board with all four legs and, by fifteen months, turning, pushing and cruising. Also around this time, Tillman developed the pre-skating ritual of chewing his skateboard's wheels. Davis provided additional instruction to the young pup, though, despite his role as a trainer,—and a training regimen which currently amounts to between 10-20 hours a week—credits their overall success to Tillman and his love of skateboarding. Simply put, according to Davis, "He's an adrenaline junkie(12)."

Tillman's first taste of fame came with a YouTube video posted in early 2007, featuring the bulldog skating at a park near Venice Beach; by June, Tillman hit what Davis calls "rock-dog status", when the video was featured in a YouTube-themed iPhone commercial(10). On March 29th, 2010, the video was named YouTube's 47th Best Video by Time magazine, who credited the video as having "been viewed more than 10 million times" (currently more than 13.5 million, to be precise)(9).

Following his commercial success, Tillman and Davis were selected by the CBS reality show Greatest American Dog, competed against eleven other pairs for a prize of $250,000. Within a half hour of the July 30th, 2008 broadcast of their elimination in the 4th episode, the outpour of e-mails from dissatisfied viewers overwhelmed Tillman's homepage, crashing it.

After the program aired, Davis was approached by Joey Herrick, president of Natural Balance Pet Foods, who was interested in hiring Tillman as a "spokes-dog" for their products—in essence, sponsoring his skateboarding career. In 2009, Tillman appeared in the 120th Tournament of Roses Parade, skating with a dog named Tyson around an oval track circling a 16' tall bulldog, set to the song "Who Let the Dogs Out?" Despite not winning any formal awards, the float was understandably a crowd pleaser.

Intent on achieving even greater success in the 2010 Rose Parade, Natural Balance devised a far more ambitious design: a 113'8'' long float (later inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records as the "world's longest single chassis parade float") with the appearance of an alpine snowboarding slope, complete with a lodge and dog-sized "ski lift". What's more, Tillman would be accompanied by four other bulldogs in "snowboarding" down the 60' ramp. With the first two dogs already chosen—a younger female named Rose, who had been too young to skate the year before, and the newly discovered Lyle, belonging to entrepreneur Lexi Beermann—Natural Balance held an open casting call on November 9th, 2009 for the last two spots. Among the 63 bulldogs that auditioned, two dogs (Niko and Tank) were picked to begin training. Adding to the publicity, a call-in contest was held to choose the name of a sixth bulldog puppy. The float, "Hot Doggin'-Going for the Gold", its five snowboarding bulldogs, and little Sully (named for pilot Sully Sullenberger, who served as the parade's grand marshal) were once again fan favourites, this time backed by a remix of the Baja Men single complete with yodeling.

A month later, during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, Tillman, Rose, Lyle and Sully were sent as ambassadors of Natural Balance, where they skated the sidewalks of Vancouver, Tillman complete with a tiny Canadian flag cape fastened around his neck.

More recently, the four dogs, along with Davis, Beermann and crew, have been travelling across the nation in an R.V. (furnished by Natural Balance and featuring a giant, painted image of Tillman skating on either side), appearing at various events and pet store openings to showcase the skateboarding dogs and the Natural Balance product line. In Arlington, Texas, the group took part in the Ranger's Dog Day event, with Tillman delivering the opening "pitch" in front of a crowd of Rangers fans, including former president George W. Bush and his wife Laura. The "Bark in the Park" campaign, organized by Natural Balance and Major League Baseball, took Tillman and company to New York, where Tillman skated Times Square and, with 207 other dogs, helped set the Guinness World Record for the "most dogs in baseball uniforms at a major league game" at Citi Field, on April 24th, 2010. Tillman also visited the New York Public Library, where he skated to drum up publicity against proposed library budget cuts, for which he was awarded an honourary library card.

These, along with his other public outings—including a commercial for Armstrong Flooring, segments on ABC News, the NBC Nightly News, Animal Planet, National Geographic, the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, and even an appearance at the X-Games—have more than earned Tillman the title as "the Michael Jordan of skateboarding dogs"(14).

Aside from skateboarding (atop his "Natural Balance old-school style pool deck with soft 75mm wheels"), Tillman enjoys skimboarding, snowboarding, surfing and tetherball. His favourite foods are Natural Balance A.M.P. Ultra Active Dry Formula and Tillman's Training Tips (naturally), as well as apples; his favourite books are alleged to be Clifford the Big Red Dog and Voltaire's Candide. Tillman's nicknames include "Pot Roast" and "Da-Bow".


Sources

  1. "Youtube on iPhone Apple ad" YouTube (June 21st, 2007)
  2. "Tillman the skateboarding dog hits big time in iPhone TV ad" by Kim Lamb Gregory, Ventura County Star (June 26th, 2007)
  3. "Hollywood again is seeking out Tillman, but the skateboarding bulldog couldn't care less" by Kim Lamb Gregory, Ventura County Star (August 13th, 2008)
  4. "Pet Life Radio guests - Ron Davis & Tillman" Pet Life Radio (2008)
  5. "VIDEO: New Starring Role For Skateboarding Bulldog Tillman!" Radar Online (November 7th, 2009)
  6. "Tillman The Snowboarding Bulldog Gets Float in Rose Parade" Skateboarding Magazine (December 10th, 2009)
  7. "Tillman @ YouPet.com" YouPet (July 6th, 2009)
  8. "5 Snowboarding Bulldogs to Appear on World's Longest Float at This Year's Tournament of Roses Parade" Natural Balance Pet Foods, PR Newswire (December 11th, 2009)
  9. "YouTube's 50 Best Videos: Tillman, the Skateboarding Dog" by Kayla Webley, Time (March 29th, 2010)
  10. "Tillman the bulldog pursues his skateboarding passion" by Darla Atlas, the Dallas Morning News (July 20th, 2010)
  11. "Tillman The Skateboarding Bulldog "Throws" Sunday's Ceremonial First Pitch" Texas Rangers press release (July 25th, 2010)
  12. "Fastest Skateboarding Dog - Tillman the bulldog sets world record" World Record Academy (April 22nd, 2010)
  13. "Skateboarding Dog Knows Lots of Tricks" AOL News (April 29th, 2010)
  14. "Skateboarding Dogs Invade San Francisco" by Joe Eskenazi, SF Weekly (August 27th, 2010)
  15. "Tillman and Friends" Natural Balance
  16. "Tillman - The Skateboarding Dog" Guinness World Records Videos
  17. "Skateboarding Dog" YouTube (June 28th, 2007)

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