“Take Lots of Pictures, He’ll Never Be This Small Again”

I remember the first time I took Sturm to the pet store.  After struggling to get him to pay attention to me, we finally made it to the cash register.  Almost as soon as we got there this guy came up to us and started petting him. We started talking about what lay ahead of me on the journey Sturm and I were beginning to embark on. He told me it wouldn’t be easy, but everyday would be worth it. He talked to me about his dog and how their journey started, not unlike our own. The specifics of the matter are blurry after almost a year, but I remember the last thing he said to me “Take lots of pictures. LOTS of pictures. He’ll never be this small again.”

From the moment I met Sturm I couldn’t wait for him to grow up and be a big well trained dog. Over the months that followed, however, I took that stranger’s advice. Every opportunity I got I took a picture of Sturm and eventually filled a generously sized hard drive with them.

But I did more than that. I started this blog, the SturmTracker, to keep a written record of all his antics, of our antics, and of never ending need to offer him guidance in this world. I lost sight of that sometime last winter, and I want to get it back. This blog was intended for me to keep a history of our time together, not to show off Sturm’s kickassery. I want to get back to that. I want this to be about Sturm. So here, on what marks the one year mark from when I first saw pictures of his litter online, I offer a rededication of this blog to the sole purpose of making our never ending adventures immortal.

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Not That into Me

I bought a huge bag of treats Friday after work for Sturm, a nice four pound bag of peanut flavored dog biscuits.  They were wicked cheap, and didn’t need to be cooked in order for him to enjoy them so I figured even if he didn’t like them it wasn’t a big loss.  I brought them with us when we went to walk around Hampshire College and he loved them – he showed off everything we have been learning in class and was doing a great job walking around.  I took this to mean he genuinely enjoyed the new treats.

Heading into class last night I had three pockets overflowing with these dog treats, broken up into real small, bite size bits, but I could tell something was amiss.  As class started and we headed into the reviews from the past weeks, I was having a hell of a time holding his attention during the review for ‘leave-it’ and ‘stay’.  I thought he was just super distracted at first, but when Meg came over and offered me some more enticing treats to help keep his interest.  These worked like a charm, and I noticed instant improvement.

After the review, Beth split the class, with half of us running through a simple course they had set up with stops where we would exhibit one of the lessons we had learned thus far.  The other half worked with Meg on a ‘long stay’ in which we would get our dog to ‘stay’ next to Meg, walk across the room, and then call them to us.  My group went first with the ‘long stay’, and Sturm and I went last, but we were far from the best – everyone else was able to get some great distance between them and their dogs but Sturm couldn’t keep his butt planted on the ground when I was more than halfway across the room.  He always has trouble with ‘stay’, I knew that getting into this lesson and it only helped to show me that we needed to work on it.

When it was our turn to run through the skill-set mini course, Sturm blew it away.  He was a little distracted with all different things going on, but when he saw the treats from Meg he would obey instantly.  I was surprised and impressed, and a little upset that my treats were not working.  Her treats worked on this course when he was surrounded by distractions, in a way that I know my treats would have never worked.

To be fair to myself, I typically use grilled chicken for treats, but was trying to save some money this time around.  Fortunately for me the treats were not expensive, and maybe I can try to store them withe the chicken treats, allowing them to soak up the flavor.

Sturm’s pawing at me, looking to go out.  I promised him a walk today for the lame treats last night, and he really wants me to follow through on this.

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Puppy Bath

Yesterday morning, I let Sturm run around the yard as I tended to the chickens.  It was just for a few minutes, but knowing how much trouble he can get into in just a few seconds, I checked on him frequently.

When I was finally done I found him hanging over at Manny’s barn.  He loves Manny, and so does the neighbor’s dog, Brady, and Manny loves having canine company.  I started to meander over to the barn but he met me half way, chewing something.  Naively I hoped it was perhaps a barn mouse or maybe even a bit of hay Manny had shared with me.  No, it wasn’t a trophy from his hunting expedition, nor a gift from a friend, it was horse poop. Given his recent cutbacks on kitty litter, it was only a matter of time before he found an alternative.

As happy as he was, I was pretty disgusted.   Seeing how as he had been needing a bath, I took this as a sign that it had to be today.  Perhaps a clean smelling coat of fur would convince him to stop eating poop.

Now, I’ve tried to do this multiple times before, but he always resists heavily.  This time though, I had an idea: I was going to reward him with some treats to entice him to stay calm during the whole process.

I got my bathing suit on, grabbed a bag of chicken, and set up my camera.  Getting Sturm into the tub was the easy part, getting him to stay in there was rather difficult – until I started feeding him the chicken treats.  Once Sturm saw that he would be rewarded for staying calm and in the tub, he actually started to enjoy it.

When I’m in the shower he likes to stick his nose in and loves it when I spray water on him, so I’m always surprised when he doesn’t like to get in the tub himself.  This time though, with the help of the chicken, he was having himself a grand ol’ time.  His tail was wagging most of the time, and he really liked it when I sprayed his belly.

I kept the bath quick, just a few minutes – I didn’t want him to not like it, and I was running out of treats.  I gave him a final face full of water for the road, dried him off, and set him loose upon the house.  I have the feeling he will learn to like his baths.  At least, I hope so because as he gets bigger he will be harder to keep calm in the shower, and it will make a bigger mess trying to do so.

Maybe this strategy will even help him learn to like water, since none of my tactics over the summer worked.

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Fine-Tuning an Art

I’ve been having difficulty with Sturm’s sit as we worked on it for the past week – I don’t know what it is but I just cannot get him to understand that he must stay still during the whole process.  Unfortunately for us, everyone else in class soon found out since that was the first thing we started with last night.

After watching me for a bit, Beth’s husband came over and offered me some pointers.  But first, he took Sturm and tried his hand at it – it only took a few tries for him to see Sturm wasn’t having it.

Then he suggested I try using a different method.  Rather than the approach we were taught last week in which we stand at our dog’s side, he suggested I start by standing toe to toe with him and then backing away.  This new approach worked like a charm and he had Sturm staying like he knew how the whole time!  I was thoroughly impressed not only with Sturm but also with the resourceful of the trainers.

We had missed a bit of Meg’s lead-in to the next lesson since we were working on ‘stay’, but I caught on quickly that we were working on an advanced ‘stay’, in which we try to gain more distance from our dog.  Eager to try our new method, Sturm and I jumped right in.  I was able to gain a full leash-length at one point, but then he completely lost interest.

The rest of class was based around further advancing the ‘stay’ and ‘leave-it’ commands, and Beth had even brought in one of her dogs to demonstrate both commands fully advanced;  When she placed a handful of treats in front of her, gave the command to leave it, walked around the training center, and finally gave the release, everyone was in awe.  It was absolutely amazing.  It really gave me some serious motivation to stick with his training.

Class ended and I approached Meg regarding his tendency to bite.  I didn’t want to ask in front of everybody because I did not want to alarm the other classmates to the point of fear.  I’ve done my research on the topic as well, so when I approached her I had some idea of what I was talking about.  I had a feeling what I needed to teach was ‘bite inhibition’, and Meg confirmed that.  She suggested that when he does it, I quit playing with him, and that I lay off on the rough-housing, for now.  I’m going to do my best with that, but I can’t make any promises.

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Good-Bye Sophie

In lieu of the normal “this week at class” post, I’m going to talk about a much more somber topic.

I saw my mom today who informed that they are going to be putting Sophie down soon.  I knew this day would come, we all did, but I still wasn’t fully ready for it.

Sophie has lived a full life, a long life, and has brought us a great deal of joy.  I remember being really young and running around the yard with her: racing back and forth on the sidewalk, trying to outrun her.  She was super fast for a such a little dog, and would always beat me, but she would come over and give you a solid face licking afterwards, as if to reward your efforts.  She would never run into the road – if her ball flew into the street as we were playing she would wait for you to go get it.  I don’t know how my mom taught her that, but it was amazing, and worked most of the time.

At night we would all take turns getting to sleep with her.  When it was my turn she would curl up with me and in between stinky dog farts I would share my secrets with her.  I knew she would never tell anyone or judge me for being weird, so I felt it was the right thing to do.  She never told my secrets to anyone.

But now, now she is really old. Her back legs have just about fully given out, and her bowel control already has.  She spends a lot of time sleeping and just staying calm.  She’s like my second sister, like a member of our family.

I know she must not be having a good time with it, and that by putting her to sleep she will be in a better place, but it’s still sad to know that she won’t be around much longer, that she won’t be there to greet me when I show up at my parent’s house, that she won’t be a warm body to sit next to on the couch, that she won’t hear anymore secrets, that she won’t lick your face in just the right spot.

That she won’t suffer anymore.

Here’s to Sophie’s memory.  In her honor I solemnly swear to give Sturm the best life I can, because I already know he will leave this earth long before I do.

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Working in the Field

I met up with Carly and her little dog, Evie, yesterday for a little jaunt around Look Park.  I thought it might be a fun place to go and I hadn’t taken Sturm there since the summer when Sturm met Dewey.  I knew the park would be a good place to go to work on some of our lessons with more distractions than the living room offers, and it would be nice to have the company of other dogs for Sturm.

Evie was tiny, especially next to Sturm.  And she didn’t nearly have the energy Sturm had, as evidenced by Carly holding her a lot of the time.  Or maybe that was on account of Sturm trying to get her to play.

Once we got into the park I tossed around one of his tennis balls for a little while before I really broke out the treats.  I had been rewarding him for not tugging on the way in, so my supply was pretty low.  I’ll have to get a bigger bag to carry treats in, or give him less.  Probably just get a bigger bag.

I was talking to Carly most of the time so I didn’t want to work on anything to involved with him.  Since he was so keen on chasing Evie around, I decided to work specifically on ‘name recognition’.  It went great, until I ran out of treats.

The temperature was dropping and it was starting to get dark so we headed out, but I learned some key things, more so about my abilities as a trainer than about Sturm:  I need to carry treats on me all the time and always be on the lookout for learning opportunities; I need to carry a large amount of treats with me so that training does not end prematurely; I need to remember that patience is key and Sturm may not always be in a trainable mood; and I need to bring my camera with me at all costs – he’s only little once.

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Staying Calm

Last week during class Sturm was having a hard time staying calm during the people learning portions.  I stopped in at Dave’s on my home from work and grabbed him some tennis balls and a couple bully sticks.  The balls were for playing with on our own time but I figured the bully sticks would keep him occupied during class.  I also had to buy a new harness for him because, as Beth foreshadowed, he chewed right through it.

The bully sticks sort of worked, until he decided he’d rather run around my chair.  Luckily we got right into the lessons.

We started with rehearsing ‘name recognition’, but they took it to a whole new level.  Meg, Beth, and Beth’s husband went around with treats to distract our dogs as we called them over.  Sturm was a pro at this.  But that was about as far as his skills took him this week.

After going over some of the other past lessons we started in with ‘stay’.  This consisted of using ‘heel’ to get Sturm to sit next to me, telling him to ‘stay’, turning to face him, turning back to be next to him, and finally rewarding him before giving the ‘release’ command.  I could not get him to stay, nor could Beth’s husband who was trying to help me out.  Luckily we quickly moved on to the next lesson.

We worked on ‘controlled greetings’ after, in which we reward the dogs heavily for sitting calmly as strangers approach and pet them.  This was beautiful, this was exactly the lesson Sturm and I needed for controlling his energy.

We didn’t work on it for long before we moved on to some controlled leash walking.  This is another big area that Sturm needs some work in.  Meg had us split into groups and walk the dogs back and forth, rewarding them for desired leash-walkling behavior.

Class ended with another opportunity for questions and I brought up my desire for a method to discourage his over excitement with guests, and even myself when I come home.  Meg said we would be going into this issue next week but in the meantime to use the same approach as with ‘controlled greetings’, which will teach him that being calm is more rewarding than jumping all over people.

I was pleased with this method and planned to incorporate it into our daily activities.  Tomorrow I’m supposed to meet up with Carly and her little dog for a walk in the park.  I’m willing to bet that there will be some serious opportunity for all that we have been working on, so I’m very excited.  In the mean time, I’ve got to walk Sturm before bed.

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