Dog’s Eye View: Remembering our first sled dog, Patu | SteamboatToday.com

Dog’s Eye View: Remembering our first sled dog, Patu

Sandra Kruczek For Steamboat Today

In previous articles I have written about my first dog, a Dalmatian, that I got when I was a teenager. That story did not end well but the take away from that experience was that I determined to understand what went wrong and to not ever let that happen again.

It's part of who I am today. This journey was not a straight line up. There were many twists and turns.

Recently, I was sharing with a friend about the many dogs that we have had during our life and how each one has been a contributing piece to our knowledge, skill and understanding of the world of canine behavior and relationship building. Every one of my dogs has a piece of my heart.

It's sometimes difficult when I remember some of the naïve mistakes I made with the first dog that my husband and I got just after we were married. After looking at many different breeds, we decided on a Siberian Husky. This dog became our first sled dog and leader of our team of huskies, but that came later.

We wanted a black-and-white, blue-eyed female puppy. Already, we were choosing for color rather than the more important individual temperament.

The breeder told us when we went to pick her up that she had quite unexpectedly died of an intussusception. We were devastated as were the breeders, but being prepared to take a puppy home, we chose a grey-and-white, brown-eyed male. We named him Patu (Pah-too).

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We had prepared a cardboard box for our puppy to sit in between us in the car on the way home. He struggled until we just put the box in the back seat and held him. This was the first of many little lessons that Patu taught us. We changed our assumptions and behavior to help him be more comfortable and try to understand what he needed.

We often referred to Patu as "an old soul.” He was easy going and generally very calm and learned very quickly. He was not destructive in the house and was good with our much loved cat Ian. We just assumed they would get along. We were lucky.

Not all dogs are like that. Patu seemed to do everything right in spite of us and all of our plans.

Since we were gone to work during the day, we created a huge pen area in our basement where he could be free to roam around. We were renters, and the big backyard wasn't well fenced. When we came home from work, we would find him upstairs. He never chewed anything.

We were determined that a dog should be in a pen so we wanted to deter him from climbing the stairs. I would never do this now, especially being away from home, but we put a couple of mouse traps on the stairs that would go off and hopefully scare him away from climbing them.

When we got home from work, we found him in the living room, waiting for us. When we checked the basement stairs, we found that Patu had dragged a blanket up the stairs, covering the mouse traps. We didn't put him in the basement anymore. How little we understood about the genius of dogs.

He persuaded us to pursue the mystery of the missing "Fudgies," chocolate fudge pieces. The bag was lying on the kitchen table, and the contents began to disappear. We knew that Patu was the only one in the house that could eat them but we couldn't find any remnants or wrappers.

Patu would disappear and return to us with one in his mouth, still in the wrapper. He seemed so proud of himself dancing in front of us, wagging his tail.

After a few more tries, he departed then returned a few minutes later with another wrapped Fudgie but had cat litter on his nose. Yes, after sifting through the, thankfully clean cat litter, we found all of the wrapped Fudgies, buried in the litter box.

I'm fascinated by this kind of ingenuity. This dog, for whatever reason, be it boredom, fun, possibly burying a food source, I really don't know, had engaged us in a way that we had never expected of a dog. Ah, assumptions and expectations rise again. We were forced to see the possibilities of the genius of dogs.

Patu was our first AKC conformation champion, our first lead dog for the sled team and our first sire of our first litter of puppies. When he got older and couldn't stay ahead of the younger dogs on the team, we started leaving him at home. He appeared to be getting depressed, and his health seemed to be deteriorating.

My husband had always run the sled dogs, but it seemed that Patu still wanted to go so I started running him as my lead dog with some of our slower huskies. He perked right up and was happy again.

How sweet to be gently coerced to open our eyes and stay on the trail of discovery, starting almost 50 years ago, beginning with a grey-and-white, brown-eyed Siberian Husky puppy named Patu.

Sandra Kruczek is a certified professional dog trainer at Total Teamwork Training, LLC with over 30 years of experience.