Many gifts: A tribute to a great dog
I lost my bull terrier, Stuart, Dec. 2. He had been sick for a while, and the curse of cancer finally overcame his body but not his spirit.
I have shared so many stories about Stuart with you in this column. You have read about many of his little peculiarities and foibles. And, I have written about how I worked out some ways to help Stuart live the civilized life. No, he wasn’t the perfect dog any more than I am a perfect human. But, we had 10 years together, filled with work and fun. Looking back, I wouldn’t change any of our time together. Even though some experiences were hard, I wouldn’t be the trainer I am today if I hadn’t worked through them with him. Following are a few of my favorite memories with him.
When Stuart was very young, he barked and lunged at dogs while we were out for walks. This is a tough and rather common problem with dogs, but with persistence on both of our parts, he became what I called “the poster dog” for what to do in the presence of other dogs. He turned away from the other dog and focused on me. I knew he had this down pat when a loose dog came right up to him and actually put a paw on Stuart’s back, and he didn’t budge but kept his attention on me. Ultimately the owner appeared out of a store and called his dog off.
Once Stuart understood what to do, his tenacity was unrivaled. He learned to run and jump in his kennel crate when the doorbell rang. One time when I was not at home, a friend came to the door and rang the bell. My husband was outside using the chain saw and wasn’t aware she was there. When no one answered the door, my friend left, leaving a Christmas gift outside the door. Later, when my husband came back inside, he couldn’t find Stuart. Yep, Stuart was waiting in his crate for his treat. Tenacity pays off. He knew it would be forthcoming sooner or later.
Stuart learned to go to his mat (his portable resting spot) and lie down on it. This is a very useful skill I used when visiting friends or especially when eating outside at a café. My friend, Laura Tyler, with her rat terrier, Skippy, and I were eating lunch outside at a restaurant. Our dogs were under the table, lying on their mats. Lo and behold, a bear loped across the parking lot very near us. Both Stuart and Skippy never left their mats. We were so proud of them.
Stuart started K9 Nose Work (scent work) in the last years of his life, and he loved it. As recently as October, he participated in a K9 Nose Work trial. He searched for a drop of the scent of birch on vehicles and objects inside and outside. He had a good work ethic and became a fine scent dog.
My morning routine with Stuart involved tossing a toy down the hallway that he would enthusiastically retrieve. He earned a small handful of his dry kibble for each returned toy. When he was visibly slowing down this last month, I changed the game so he did not have to run down the hall. I asked him to get a toy out of his toy basket and just hand it to me (about three feet away). After a few trips to the basket, there was a pause, and I heard some rustling sounds. Stuart appeared from behind the chair carrying the entire basket of toys. I guess he thought he’d made enough trips. His ingenuity never ceased to amaze me.
Long ago, a friend had given me a framed picture of a quilt square with a saying around it. I thought of this today when thinking back on my life with Stuart.
“Life is like a patchwork quilt, little squares of every hue, some of silk and calico, some of pink and blue. But each piece will do its part — Help to make the pattern fine. And when at last the quilt is spread — Lovely is the whole design.”
I agree with this. And, I like to think of Stuart, warm and snuggled, sleeping in his quilt with a smile on his face, as he often did.
Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training, LLC, with more than 30 years experience.
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