Mother and professional dog trainer Karen Cobb remembers the first time she became interested in owning a Briard.
It was in 1997, after reading an article in a pet magazine that featured the unique breed. Not long after sparking her interest, a client happened to bring her one to train.
Part of the working dog group, Briards are characteristically known for their amiable personalities, agile herding bodies and quick instincts.
It wasn’t long into training this kind of dog before Karen knew she needed one as a companion.
Little did she know that once she received her Briard Norman, he would not only become her best friend, but take her on a journey that would result in him holding two Guinness World Records titles – an experience they would both hold onto for the rest of their lives.
At the time, the Georgia resident was growing her career as a dog trainer, now boasting 20 years in the business.
Karen had two Shiba Inus, one of them being a rescue with health issues. Though it was a fair amount of work, she never wanted to stop working with animals and caring for their well being.
While she wanted a new furry addition to her family, the timing was simply off. Two pets and her first child on the way did not make the best setting for a brand new puppy, so she decided to postpone her plans.
In the meantime, she had her second child, conducting research with breeders for years until finally settling on a lineage of Briards she found to be suitable.
Though Karen would need to wait 10 more months for the litter of puppies to be born, she had a hunch it would be worth the wait.
After flying to Washington State from her hometown of Atlanta, Karen had the daunting task of picking the perfect dog for her – but thankfully, her background in animal behavior gave her a degree of strategy.
Norman received his first lessons on his flight home with Karen.
Awaiting to board the plane, she managed to teach him how to sit, lay down, look and how to come when called.
Immediately, Karen knew he was not like other dogs.
Norman’s breed is characteristically cautious of new things and people, but he was eager to accompany her on trips to hardware stores, schools, parks, obedience classes, and more.
He grew so accustomed to his new family, he even seemed to adopt some of their habits, particularly those of Karen’s children.
His abilities sparked a bit of inspiration in Karen, who wondered if her intelligent pet qualified for more than just a show title.
She applied for the record Fastest 30 m on a scooter by a dog, confident that her four-year-old Briard could beat the minimum.
A few weeks later, after practicing, Karen and Norman attempted the title in front of friends and family.
"I was afraid that with all the pressure and all the people that maybe he would not go fast enough, or we would miss an important rule in setting the record, that his scooter would go crooked, etc. I also didn’t want pressure of setting a record to make the fun scootering game we play stressful."
But Norman did not disappoint. With much excitement, the eager pup scooted 30 m in just 20.77 seconds.
When teaching Norman new tricks, Karen was mindful of her best friend’s well-being.
She never forced him to learn - he always seemed willing to participate.
"I don’t understand how anyone can think training your animals is harmful, if you’re training with positive reinforcement. The pet should be loving every minute of the training. Training forms such a strong bond between you and your pet it’s hard to achieve in any other way. You build your communication skills, so they understand you and you understand them to a much higher degree. It strengthens your relationship so much, because they understand what you want and you understand their wants and needs. Most dogs would get very bored just lying in a house, eating and roaming the yard. Teaching dog sports and tricks gives them something to look forward to. I know Norman gets really excited when I get his leash, training bag, or any training equipment out, because he knows we will be spending time together playing games and learning new things."
Witnessing his potential, and Norman’s enthusiasm over training, Karen decided to continue working with him on his skills.
It wasn’t long before he was able to surf, longboard, jump rope, play basketball and even participate in dog sports such as agility obedience, barn hunting, herding and more.
Though each of these activities was a remarkable feat for a dog, the Briard’s most impressive new trick was learning how to ride a bicycle.
It can be difficult enough for humans to get the hang of, but Norman picked it up rather quickly – prompting Karen to apply for the title Fastest 30 m on a bicycle by a dog.
Seeing the application, Guinness World Records invited Karen and Norman to attempt the record on set of CBBC's Officially Amazing in Los Angeles, a television show entirely dedicated to record-breaking achievements.
On set with an adjudicator, Norman shined in front of thousands of viewers, earning a time of 55.41 seconds while on his bike.
The two experiences cemented Karen and Norman’s bond, who had come a long way from their first interaction at the airport.
As an owner, Karen had more pride than she could ever imagine for a pet, loving him as much as a family member.
Though a few years have passed since the pair have tried their hand at record-breaking, Karen and Norman have other current obstacles to overcome: his battle with lymphoma.
In June 2017, Norman was diagnosed by a veterinarian with having Stage IV cancer, a terminal illness for dogs.
The news was devastating and heart-wrenching for Karen and her family, who had undergone so many experiences with their beloved pet.
Left untreated, the lymphoma could kill Norman within two weeks, so the Cobbs needed to act fast.
Cases of this nature were typically treated with chemotherapy, which puts a severe amount of stress on an animal and only maximises their lifespan by one or two years.
Instead, Karen opted for a third choice: getting a bone marrow transplant from one of Norman’s siblings to help him fight his illness.
She never expected it, but Karen’s life shifted from training and bonding with Norman to being his fulltime caretaker, hoping to see him make a full recovery.
Rather than training him to do new adventurous tricks like before, she is training him to stand on a scale so that her family can track his weight fluctuation.
It has been a rather exhausting journey for both Karen and Norman, but nonetheless, they take each day at a time together.
While Norman is not quite back to being himself, a recent post on his Facebook page shows that his last medical scans show no trace of circulating cancer cells. We hope to see him make a successful recovery very soon.