Picasso: The artful life of our first family pet

Like his name sake artist, Picasso lived a most unique and eccentric life. From sneaking out of his crate to poop in the basement only to sneak back into his crate before we woke up, to standing guard at the head of a lean-to for an entire night as bears and coyotes wandered around out front of it. There never seemed to be a dull moment with this zig zagging, couldn’t wag his tail normal, dog.

I want to tell his story and I want to try honor him. He deserves at least that much. I know Picasso impacted so many of you as well, whether running at group runs, marking the race courses you ran or cheering for you and greeting you from the truck and park lodges as we directed races. He swam in family pools and snuggled during our holidays. He snuck into your bedrooms when you spent the night at our place and begged for snacks and car rides when you visited. He cheered you at trail races, and even snuck into a race once.

He loved the finish line as much as you and it seems he finally found his.

We would love to hear your favorite Picasso story. It will probably make us cry, but we are sure it will make us laugh and smile as well.  I will tell his story that I actually recorded over the years. For you – Please leave a comment here on this post here, not on facebook or twitter, so we can always look back and have something to remind us of him.

1. Meeting Murphy – I almost didn’t want to keep dating Sheila early on. Sounds crazy right? She told me she could never have a dog. A dog was like 1 of 3 deal breakers for me. She had to be smart, she had to be funny, she had to like dogs. It was that simple.

Sheila is allergic to dogs. Like face falls off, nose runs like a sink, itchy, scratchy, can’t breathe kind of allergic.

I have always had dogs. Always. This wasn’t really a good option for me with the smart, funny, and beautiful girl. I searched my soul and made a decision.

I chose her and closed the book on having my own pup to adventure with. It was obviously the right decision and I would never have regretted it no matter the direction our lives went after that fateful decision. I am not sure how I managed to get so lucky but I did, and for that I am thankful.

Fast forward to a day that our friends Eric and Julie invited us over for some live sports, good beer, and warm food. Sheila was nervous about the visit. She figured because they had a dog, that she would only be able to stay a short time, and then she would be miserable and snot filled. Once that happened we would have to leave. It was an awful way of looking at visiting friends but it was our reality.

We were told “Murphy” is a different breed. A Springer-Doodle. A mix of an English Springer Spaniel and a Standard Poodle. I laughed. “A doodle? This dog was supposed to be what? 10 pounds of curly fur and hanging out in purses all day? Come on.”

Just a bit after 10 years of friendship

Then something cool happened that night. Murphy was a cool dog. A good size. Athletic. Smart. Clearly very friendly. I thought to myself “how lucky are Eric and Julie, they get to have a cool dog to hang out with, adventure with, and spend time with.”

Then something even better happened. Or in reality something didn’t happen. The sneeze attack never came for Sheila. The waterworks never turned on. We ended up playing with Murphy all night. Fetch, tricks, snacks, even some snuggle time. Sheila had her face right near Murphy and she never got sick. A few sneezes and sniffles as the night went on, but not sick, not at all.

I rolled on the floor and laughed as he brought me his toy over and over again to throw. I tossed it to Sheila and let her throw it and watched her smile as she was interacting with a dog in a way I had never seen before. I could see the joy all of this brought to Eric and Julie. All because of a dog. Smiles everywhere thanks to Murphy. Dogs can do this for people. It seems to be a consistent message across the board, dogs bring joy.

The night went on and we started to talk about the possibility of us getting a dog. Sheila was cautious and pretty much said “no”.  I on the other hand was not.

That night I basically demanded we get one of Murphy’s siblings. Eric and Julie had given us the breeder information and we hit up the website within a week and put a deposit down soon after. Sheila was convinced we would be sending this dog back.

Her mother thought it was a bad idea. Told us Sheila would get sick, said dogs smell bad, said they chew things and pee in the house. Sheila grew more and more nervous as the day got closer.

Then we got bad news. We were too late for this litter and we needed to wait for the next litter which could be months. I was so annoyed at all of this because I was so ready for a dog. I’m not exactly the best at waiting for things so this was an exercise in trying.

I began doing some research to see if any other breeders had these dogs. I couldn’t find any. Then we got a phone call one afternoon from the breeder we had left our deposit with……

The family slated to get Picasso didn’t want a brown dog, they wanted a black dog and they would wait until the next litter. They asked us,  “would we like to come meet Picasso?” If we liked him and we could pay the fee and he was ours. I was so excited on the drive out that I could hardly sit still.

They sent us this photo to show us what he looked like, and Sheila was in love already.

We drove from Rochester to  main street in small town Albion, NY –  We were meeting them in front of an old cafe. We got there early and watched as a woman pulled up and got out. She came over and handed us Picasso. I held him up and he licked my face instantly. He played. He trusted us. He never once cried. An hour in the car to go see him and we became best friends within 30 seconds.

Sadly he wasn’t ready to go home yet and he needed more time with his mom. We loved him already and we paid the breeder and he was technically ours. We took some photos with him. He licked my nose one more time and then off he went to go back to his mom for a few more weeks.

The day we got to take him home was perfect. The sun was shining and it was a warm day. We drove out to pick him up and It was the same as the day we met him. This dog already loved us. He snuggled in for hugs, he played around for fun. He hopped and skipped and jumped and gave kisses.

I had my dog and a new best pal and better yet, Sheila had her very first family pet. Not a fish, or a gerbil, or even some over-sized stuffed animal – But a pet. A new family member.

2. The Early Days – 

When we got home we decided to take Picasso out back and let him go. We had a fenced yard with soft grass and plenty of room to play. We put him down and he looked at me and said “nope”. He didn’t want to move. I had to walk with him every step for about the first 30 minutes. Then his eyes opened and the first of his exploring days began. He started sniffing the yard, ran around. He then went over to the gate and Sheila in a panicked voice told me “grab him”.

I turned slowly smiling and said “Just relax. We have a fence, he didn’t even want to leave my side he isn’t going any…..”

Before I could finish my sentence she screamed my name and told me to get him. Picasso was only a few pounds when we brought him home and he was small enough to walk right between the edge of the fence and the house.

Just like that he was in the front yard, alone. I ran to the gate flung it open screamed his name and saw him sitting there in the front lawn. Wagging his tiny little tale and smiling “Look what I just did.”

I used this as a chance to teach him his first lesson. Onto the leash we went (he always hated being on his leash) We walked the perimeter of the property. Every time we go to a spot he shouldn’t go I pulled on the leash and in a stern voice said “NO”.

We did this every single day and within a week he had learned his limits. “Smart” I thought to myself. Which left me both excited and worried about what the future would bring.

The only other time he left the backyard was one day when we forgot he was out there. Not one to whine or bark to be let in our out he walked out the front gate which we had accidentally left open and sat down and stared at us through our giant picture window to the living room. To this day we have no idea how long he was out there but he just sat there waiting. I opened the front door and in he bounded in and hopped around got a snack and sat down in a huff on the living room as we all laughed at how crazy (and smart) he was.

That first night with us, Picasso had his first experience with water other than what he would drink. First in a form of a bath, second in the form of dew on the evening grass. He didn’t seem to like either as he peed on Sheila as she dried him off after the bath and then climbed up on her feet that night when we took him outside to “get busy”.  Funny to think the dog who would shy away from water on day 1 would be the dog we could not keep out of it for the rest of his life.

We decided to crate train Picasso and put his crate right next to our bed. The first night when we locked him in that crate he looked at me with exasperated eye and started to cry and scratch. Sheila immediately started to cry and implored me to “open that cage”. Demanding that it was mean. We had already talked about how the first few nights he might not sleep much and that he would cry and hate that crate. I also explained to her that the crate would soon become something he went to on his own and would consider “his”. That night I slept with one foot hanging off of the side of the bed with my big toe sticking through a grate in the front. Every now and then Picasso would wake up, cry a little. Then he would lick my toe, nibble it to make sure it was me and go right back to sleep. Within 3 days he was sleeping through the night and within a month we were leaving the crate open to he could come out and check on me in the middle of the night if he wanted.

Sheila was so new to this that she basically let me take the lead with Picasso and his training. Except for one thing. I refused to let him on the couch. “Dogs belong on the floor” I also Refused to let him in the bed. I was not going to share and “snuggle” with him as he became 50 pounds or more.  I remember what happened next very clearly. One day I got out of the shower, came in to the living room and saw Picasso under a blanket on the couch with Sheila. “Snuggling”. He looked at me, and I could see his tail wagging under the blanket – thump thump thump.

10 years later… no space for me

“Look how cute” she exclaimed with the glee of a 10 year old girl. I was so mad, but the truth of the matter is, they looked adorable together. I snapped a photo and then he looked up at her and licked her right on the lips. We all laughed, and he wagged his tail harder. Every time people in our home would laugh he would wag his tail in joy with us.

His tail never did wag like a normal dogs though. It moved in a chaotic pattern left- right. Circle- zig zag – thwap thwap thwap. We often wondered if something happened to it before we brought him home. Did it break, or was he just so happy all the time that he simply couldn’t control the direction of his tail as it swung around full of joy and love.

One morning we woke up, I let Picasso out he pooped, I cheered and then we came back in. All I could smell was dog poop. Everywhere I went I could smell it. I thought maybe I stepped on it, or it was caught up in his fur. I could find nothing on my shoes or on Picasso. Sheila began to look and there it was, a giant pile in the corner of the dining room. We cleaned it up, and could still smell it. After a brief search we found another giant pile in the basement.

How could this be though? Picasso was sleeping in his crate this morning when we woke up. He crate was unlocked but if he came out there was no where for him to go because we had jammed in against the wall next to our bed so he could only come out, say hello to me and go back in. There was literally no room to play in there.

So where did the poop come from? He had literally not been out of my sight for months. We decided to do a little experiment.  We went up to the bedroom. I placed him in his crate. Crawled across the bed and out and then called him. He came out of his crate and looked at us calling him with so much excitement. I figured he would somehow climb the bed or climb his crate and come over. I wondered how the hell that didn’t wake me up. Then it happened. He laid down on his belly. Put his 4 legs out to the side, and army crawl-shimmied under the bed. 30 seconds later there he was at the foot of the bed. Excited. Mouth open. Tail zig zagging all over the place, laughing with us.

I stood there with my mouth open unbelieving. He barely fit. This had to be a mistake.  We put him back in the crate. Called him again. Within 30 seconds he would army crawl out and be full of joy with that zig zag tail.

At some point Picasso had figured out he could sneak out and explore the house while we slept. The most fascinating thing to me was that he had returned to his crate before we woke up each morning. That was the first, and only time he pooped in our house. “Smart” I thought to myself……Again.

Those early days were full of learning. Tricks. Behavior. Expectations. And of course snuggling. It wasn’t long before Picasso earned himself a spot on the couch with Sheila and then that first winter a spot in the bed because “it is cold out and he keeps me so warm”. Oddly enough it became that I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to not have that warmth at the foot of the bed or that brown fur ball between us on the couch.

As he grew he began joining us on our runs and became a fixture everywhere we went. If I went to the grocery store, he went for the ride and waited in the truck. Sometimes we would come back and he would be sitting in the drivers seat with a paw on the steering wheel. People loved it.

If we went to Buffalo he came along every time. Sheila’s little siblings (she is the oldest of 10) having never had dogs would run screaming onto couches, benches and tables to get away from this 10 lb monster. Of course Picasso thought this was a grand game and would run from kid to kid chasing them around as they screamed and cried in fear. Eventually they got over this. So much to the point that it reversed as he would go running away from them as they all wanted to lay on top of him, pull his tail, check his teeth and of course feed him. They all loved to feed him and he reveled in the attention showing me it was always ok with the chaotic zig zag thwap of his tail.

He had a special bond with Josh who over the years would spend many nights at our home and Picasso would always check in on him and often spend the night wherever Josh was. It seems they grew up together and “got each other” from the start

Everyone loves feeding a pet it seems. Especially the grandmothers. My mother loved Picasso from day 1. Sheila’s mom took about 2 days. For the rest of his happy days he would single them out as they would both sneak him snacks, left overs, biscuits and anything else that we were certain would cause him to gain weight and be unable to climb mountains with us.

The early days with Picasso were amazing. To watch him grow and learn and love. To see his interactions with people and other animals. He became part of our family, part of our circle and part of our community. Life was amazing and grand. Until the few times it wasn’t.

3. Growing pains

Everyone who owns a pet knows there are some growing pains. They have to learn. You have to teach. The process of living with another living thing changes who you are and what you do. It also brings with it a sense of challenge. Sometimes you get frustrated, sometimes you laugh and sometimes you cry. There are a few stories here that stand out above any of them and we wanted to share them with you

When we brought Picasso home we wanted to socialize him right away with people and other dogs. It made sense the first chance we had to bring his older half brother and the reason we even had him over to play. We invited Eric and Julie over and said “Bring Murphy”.

In they came – Tiny Picasso who could still fit in my hand went over to say hello. Julie had Murphy lie on his side and Picasso went over and licked him right in the nose. Then we let Murphy sit up.

They took a minute sniffing each other and then Picasso started acting like he wanted to play. Hoping around and nipping at Murphy’s feet. We decided to just let them play. So we set Murphy off into the yard. Picasso gave chase in that cute little puppy run chase. Until Murphy who had no idea Picasso was behind him slammed on the brakes, turned hard and took a huge jump to come back towards us. He ran Picasso over like a Mack truck. Picasso went flying, crying and whimpering like he was about to die. Murphy made one more loop until Eric and Julie called him over.

I picked up Picasso who was screaming, sure something was hurt. Of course nothing was – Just his pride. After the crying stopped we put them back out in the yard and within a few minutes they were playing again. Murphy was instrumental in helping Picasso learn the ins and outs of being a dog in a human world, and that first day he showed him how to play rough but still have a lot of fun.

That same week we were sitting on the front steps when our neighbors and their dog Sasha came walking by. We decided to let Picasso go say hello. Not knowing this was a different dog than Murphy he went running like a rocket to go play. Sasha, not knowing him gave a big German Sheppard back off bark. Picasso stopped fast, turned, and ran all the way back up the steps on the porch and from there gave a squeaky puppy bark. He was terrified, but felt safe over by the house.

Over the years we came in contact with many animals. Each teaching him a lesson… or us.

meeting buffalo in Buffalo

One night we came home from a wedding. I took Picasso out back to pee and play and Sheila went to get ready for bed. Then it happened. A black and white stripe waddled on by. Picasso like a bolt of lighting gave chase. I thought it was a cat – Kicked a soccer ball to get it to move before the dog got there  so he didn’t get his eyes cut out and screamed for Picasso to come back.

Both things actually worked. Or so I thought.

Picasso came running back. The black and white “cat” disappeared behind the shed and I opened the door and Picasso went in to the house.

I began telling the story to Sheila and at the same time it his us both. The most rank smell there is. Fresh skunk spray. I ran to the living room to get Picasso who had clearly been sprayed and there he was in all his glory on the couch.

Not just on the couch though. He was on his back rubbing in glee all over the cushions. The rest of the night became a comedy of errors. As I ran to go get him, he thought it was a game and jumped to the chair. The smell was awful. I dragged him outside and sprayed him quickly with the hose while Sheila googled how to get rid of skunk smell.

Still in her dress, and me still in my suit we read that tomato paste works. We didn’t have any but we had sauce. Into the bathtub we went – With tomato sauce. It looked like a murder scene. Picasso was so worked up, we were trying to not puke from the smell, and then he decided to do the good ole “Dog shake off” and sauce went flying everywhere. We screamed and he realized the sauce in the tub tasted pretty great and he started eating it. Lapping it up everywhere.


This was clearly going nowhere. My yellow shirt was now ruined and we rinsed him off and went back to the googles. Baking Soda and Vinegar  would do the trick it said. At this point it was getting late. We were getting tired so we said let’s just do it. Sheila got a bucket and not thinking that this is how you make a volcano for a high school science fair she dumped both contents in together and WOOOSH we had a reaction. Trying to get the bucket into the bathtub and on to the dog as our homemade volcano was exploding everywhere had us laughing so hard.

We rinsed the dog – dried him off- put the cushion covers in the washing machine from the couch – Then we went to bed. Remember my “no dogs in the bed” rule. Remember how “cute and warm” he was? Well, now he was wet, stinky, smelled like a dead skunk still and wanted to “snuggle”.

I must have kicked him out of the bed 5 times that night. Every time I would fall asleep, there he was sneaking back up… Wet dog and skunk smell and all.

Once Picasso was old enough to be left to roam the house while we went out he also decided that he would like to chew Sheila’s things while we were gone. It started small with a brush handle or some hair clips. Then it progressed. He eventually took out her shoes from the closet. Chewed one shoe to shreds and another pair, he somehow took just the insole out of the the shoe and destroyed it.

This went on for a few weeks he did this to a magazine and was sitting there in shame when we got home.

After the shoe incident Sheila had had enough. She got the crate back out. Pointed to and told Picasso “You chew up one more thing and you are going in here when we leave this house”. I would never say dogs understand humans and our language the way some people do, but he slowly wagged his tail, licked her hand, and then never chewed anything other than a few tissues from the garbage again. Anywhere.

4.  Camp – It has been said that allowing a dog to live in nature is the quickest way to help it learn. Brain activity in dogs that get to spend time outside is higher than for those who don’t. I always felt one of the reasons Picasso was so smart so early had nothing to do with us and our training and everything to do with his environment. It was always changing. Always teaching him. Always open for more.

Picasso LOVED camp.

The minute he saw our packs come out he would sit by the door. He would be so excited that these days would be the only days in his life that he would whine. Never for food. Never to go out or come in. Never for anything. Except camp. He simply could not restrain himself. It would be so annoying. He would follow us around the house, getting in our way doing everything in his power to make certain that he would not be left behind on what would surely but another amazing adventure for us.

even had his own camp chair

He would swim, jump, climb. He would sleep in tents – lean-to and hammocks. He would make a nest out of tall grass stomping in a circle until he got it exactly how he wanted.

He would sit in the back of the truck for hours as we made our trips all over sometimes his head out the window, sometimes in between the two of us in the front as he begged for a snack from the back seat.

We would hike for days on end and he never wavered with his excitement. Running ahead. Checking back. He became so comfortable with our rules that he could have trained someone else. He never got out of eye site. He would run ahead sniffing everything until he came to a bend. Then he would double back and check on us. If he saw a person or another animal on the trail ahead he would simply stop – Stare and wait for us to catch up.

We would always leash him when we saw other people or animals. Picasso was friendly but we didn’t know about others. He seemed to understand this rule from the first trip we did this on and he never had an issue going on the leash to pass other hikers.

He also never did more than wag his tail, glance at them and seemingly say “You seem nice, but I have mountains to climb so please forgive me for not stopping to say hello” He would ignore everyone except for us and the trail ahead as we made progress in one direction or another.

Some of my favorite camp memories are the early mornings with Picasso. The two of us would get up. No one else awake. Not a sound around, just nature. I would usually start a small fire and he would sniff the perimeter of camp while I prepared breakfast. Once I had my food, I would give him his food and the two of us would eat breakfast together. Usually about 30 minutes later, Sheila would wake up, Picasso would run over to the tent to greet her, ask for some of her breakfast. He knew once breakfast was over, the fun would begin.

5. Jumps As far as I can tell, Springer Doodles are not known for their jumping abilities. You never see them on ESPN jumping off the dock into the lake to fetch a toy. I would however put Picasso up against any of those guys in terms of the shear joy he got from jumping. My parents and Sheila’s parents both had pools with a deck. Picasso was a water loving dog if there ever was one. He knew the pool meant fun. We taught him, and again he learned fast to 1. Never go near the side of the pool.  And 2. How to use a ladder.

I couldn’t believe he learned both, and how quickly he learned both. The fun part for him was that he would jump in the pool, swim one lap, climb out of the pool and repeat. He would do this for hours on end. We would have to eventually tell him to get out. He would swim by himself all day long. Splash, lap, climb out, shake off. Splash, lap, climb out, shake off.  The only time he came out of the pool was to run down the ladder on the deck to go pee. Then run back up to splash, lap, climb out and shake again.

He took this love for water to Lime lake where he learned what lake water and fish were. He would watch the fish and try to jump and catch them. Never understanding where they went after he crashed into the lake.

He took this love to Indian Lake with us where he would sit in a canoe while we traversed around the Adirondack Mountains. We would camp on an island and he could swim and jump and swim and jump in all of his glory. He would get sad at dinner time when we told him no more swimming knowing we wanted him dry before we got in the tent for the night.

Jumping and swimming might have been his greatest joy. It surely was mine as anytime anyone saw him do this they would laugh and giggle and join in with him. The number of kid/dog combo cannon balls that occurred in his life might be the most of any dog/kid combination.

In life you rarely see adults jumping for fun. You never see them jump to touch a branch they walk past or the doorway they are walking under. Jumping seems to be something done for the sheer fun/joy of jumping. Picasso did this every chance he had. Probably because he was so full of fun and joy all the time.

6. Trails –  Other than people, there might not be a more important thing in our lives than trails. We spend the majority of our free time on the trails and Picasso has spent a majority of that time with us.

The lessons we have learned from him, and even some he has learned from us have been incredible. Every mountain peak we have been on as a couple – Picasso has been there.

Every mud crossing we tried to figure out. Picasso has been trouncing through with joy on his face.

One day we even needed to rely on Picasso to find our way. I remember a spot we came to on a return trip of our hike and we were not 100% certain which way we should go. There was Picasso as Sheila and I tried to remember, nose to the ground rushing down the trail to the left. Stopping 50 yards in looking at us like “Hey, what are you guys waiting for”.  We followed Picasso and within those 50 meters it became clear from landmarks we were heading the right way.

He has always been as at comfortable on the trails as he was at home. When we would camp to save weight I would never pack a bowl for his food. I would find a nice smooth rock – pile his food on it and he would eat. He somehow knew to not spill it all over and need to rummage in the dirt and grass. He would sit and calmly eat wherever with no complaints.

The only time Picasso ever walked next to me instead of out in front of me was coming down Pillsbury Mountain. When we got to the top we saw a storm coming in. Picasso already knew, he was hiking literally on my heels. We hustled to try to get down the mountain before it hit. About 4 minutes off the summit the first thunder struck. Loud, close, and ear shattering. Picasso literally ran into me and almost knocked me down. The rest of the hike down in a summer downpour he maintained contact with me not wanting to get stuck alone in this fierce storm. When we finally made it back to the truck he jogged ahead, wagged his tail and acted like nothing had happened on that mountain. Deep down I know he was scared but we let him move on without telling his story that day.

Picasso was a fixture at the Rochester trail running scene. If he wasn’t on the course with us, he was in a lodge, if not in a lodge he was in the truck hanging out the window to say hello to everyone who walked by. At every race when the race director would say ” go ” and people would cheer, Picasso would join in. Barking for joy, howling like a wolf and jumping up and down to cheer the runners to the start of their journey.

I can’t even remember the number of children who would get to “watch” Picasso at our events. It was almost a competition who got to hold his leash. Who got to throw the ball. Which kid would spend the day with him. He loved the company on these days, and often felt like Rochester’s unofficial trail mascot

In 2014- he joined us for 100+ miles in 1 week as we hiked, ran, backpacked every single trail in Letchworth state park. It was a highlight for us as endurance athletes and he was there every single step of the way!

Over the years Picasso wasn’t able to run as much he even had to be treated for Lyme disease because his love and our love for the trails put him in tick territory but he never ever acted like he wasn’t ready for adventure. He was a trail dog, a camp dog, and an event dog at heart. All of you and your families added to his joy and experiences at these events so for that our family thanks you

7. Why a leash sucks and fetching when you want to – “Do you ever wonder where you would end up if you took your dog for a walk and never once pulled back on the leash?” I am not a big fan of the leash. I also use it all of the time. 1. Not everyone is dog friendly. 2. Not every dog is dog friendly. 3. Some places leashes kept Picasso safe. Road crossings, raging rivers, things like that.  Keeping Picasso on a leash never felt right to us. We taught him early on that he had to behave, and he had to earn our trust. I have already talked about his line of sight behavior but never told you how I taught it to him.  Early in his life Picasso would go too far off leash on the trail and I had to constantly call him back so we could see him. I didn’t like it at all. I was considering leashing him but wanted to try something new.

take a look, you will notice Picasso is not using the “bridge”

He ran ahead as usual and I told Sheila we were going to hide. We got behind a huge fallen down tree. I could see the trail up ahead. We waited. Sheila began to get really nervous thinking Picasso had gone up ahead of the trail and would be gone forever.

Then it happened. He came flying back down the trail. Sniffing, pausing, looking everywhere for us. He blew by the tree we were hiding behind and continued back down the trail worried we had left him on some mountain to fend for himself.

I waited for him to get out of sight – Stepped out from our hiding place and called him back firmly. He came blitzing up the trail. So happy to see us. I did not greet him. I did not pet him. I said in a firm voice “no more running away, bad dog.” Only one other time did he ever get out of our sight and that was on Snowy Mountain 2015 – Sheila and I had taken the wrong route at a climb point and 2 minutes later he was standing at the junction waiting for us – zig zag tail, thwap thwaping on the wet mountain ground.

Ayn Rand says a leash is just a rope with a noose on both ends and I couldn’t agree more, and it’s the only time I will ever agree with Ayn Rand. It was designed to control and make demands. I wanted Picasso to spend as much time off of his leash as possible. To explore, to learn, to wander and to be free. He would behave better off of his leash than on it. I can’t help but wonder if I would be the same way.

Fetching is something everyone wants to be able to do with a dog. Picasso would not fetch. Well not on our terms, only on his. When the game was over it was on his terms as well.

For 5 years I would throw sticks, balls or toys into the water in hopes he would fetch and not once did he. We took a trip to the Alleghany National Forest and spent 3 days backpacking along the reservoir. We got to a campsite, set with views of the reservoir and a late afternoon sun. Picasso was getting a drink from the lake and I was skipping stones. He watched not interested and then I picked up a stick and whipped it into a lake. To my astonishment he went splashing in after it, grabbed it, brought it back dropped it at my feet and barked.

Sheila looked up and said “No way” I picked it up and launched it back in, and there he went full on splashing crash and swim. He got to the stick, brought it back, and dropped it at my feet.

This went on for a while. Sheila threw the stick. I threw it. For an hour he played fetch. Then he stopped. He brought me the stick. Dropped it at my feet. Barked. I picked it up and threw it out into the lake. He watched it hit the water and splash. Then he looked at me and walked away.

I encouraged him – “go get the stick boy” but no.

I got another stick let him sniff it and said “go get it” no.

He would fetch so many times for the rest of his life, but each and every time started and ended on his own accord. He had no interest in fetching because we would think it was fun, only if he wanted to have fun. I have never met a dog who would do this and I loved him and his freedom of choice even more for it.

8. Getting old – In 2016 Picasso was diagnosed with Lyme disease. He had been dragging on runs – Not able to hike very far – coming up lame in the days following activity.  Treating him for it was 2 pills, 2 times a day for an entire month. He figured out every trick we used to get him to eat his pills so we had to resort to shoving them down his throat. So much fun.

Lyme disease was really the only thing that took the energy and excitement out of him but he tried to not let it. He tried to join us on every trip. He begged to be allowed to do more – Then the medicine kicked in. While his older age was sapping his ability to go on 15 mile runs he was no longer in pain and he joined us everywhere we went again.

In 2020 we noticed what must be a bulging disc along his spine towards his he back end. I think he pinched it and it continually got worse as he aged. He would slowly begin to lose some function of his back legs (when jumping off the couch). The best solution we had was some nice CBD gummies. He loved them, and it seemed to really help knock out some of the inflammation and give him relief. This also meant, more therapy time in the water, which I think he would see as win win.

9. Moving to the water

In August of 2016 Sheila and I found a place on the water. A dream really.

We moved in towards the end of October and Picasso did not have a lot of time to enjoy the water before the winter hit. That’s not to say we didn’t get in. A weekend in early November we were sitting at a campfire and a beaver swam by – It was dark, about 8pm, and splash there goes Picasso chasing the beaver into the lake in the night.

Over the next few years we built stairs for him and enjoyed many summer swims and jumps from the dock. Sometimes he would sit and stare at the sunset, just like we would. Other times he would swim and jump and laugh just like we would and sometimes he would just sit by the campfire and enjoy the smells of being on the water with us.

At heart, he was a water dog, and getting him to stop swimming was always just like getting a little kid to stop swimming “one more jump dad” and off he would go.

Paddle Boards – If you had a paddle board – He wanted to ride with you. He LOVED his paddle board rides and was the talk of the pond whenever he got to go out. Having a buddy to go on all these water adventures sure was fun!

10. Going Blind? When Picasso was a pup we noticed some white glaze in his eyes in some photographs – We thought maybe a cataract, but the vet always said she saw nothing and he was fine. This went on for  years, her saying it wasn’t an issue, and us being how “how could that be” Then we went in for a routine checkup in November of 2016 and she said something along the lines of “I checked that cataract out in his right eye and he seems to be completely blind.”

What the heck? We had been asking about this for years and we were told it was nothing. I didn’t trust her.

We went home. I covered his “good eye” tossed him a snack and he promptly caught it and wagged his tail. Blind my ass……

11. Elsa- In November of 2016 we found Elsa at our friend’s kennel. I thought this dog would be the perfect fit to help my mom transition from the loss of my father especially as the holidays rolled around.

One problem; Mom was having full knee replacement surgery. We decided it would be best if we raised Elsa for her for a few months, did the dirty work if you would. Teach her commands, house train her, let Picasso show her the ropes. He did great and a year later Elsa came back to stay with us while my mom went to Florida for a few months.

In his old age he still would get her going, chasing her around the yard, wrestling, and laying by the fire stealing a bone back and forth.

Elsa was fortunate to have such a smart dog teacher her his old tricks. It really helped with the transitions

12. #TrailsRoc Races – Picasso in his time had become a fixture at the trail races we direct. He would hike for hours in the woods with us as we marked the course. He would greet runners at packet pick up and in the lodges with a wag and a sniff. When we yelled GO to start each race Picasso would bark and howl and jump around cheering on the runners. He LOVED being a part of our races and our group.

Our race “Mess The Dress” finished in a giant flood puddle and then up a really steep hill to the line. Runners would jump in the puddle and sprint up the hill. Picasso would spend the morning jumping in the water with runners and then “escorting” them back up the hill to the finish line. It was among the happiest days of his life. We could see the joy on his face as he greeted runners and got pet by spectators.

Last Runner Standing – We host a race called Last Runner Standing. It’s a 1 mile loop that runners have a set time to finish. It repeats until  only 1 runner is left.

This meant every few minutes a new countdown and a new start went off. Picasso always loved the energy from the start of races, and always wanted to go with runners. We never let him. At loop 9 of the race as I was counting down the runners, he snuck into the pack. When I yelled go, I looked for him and there he was in the middle of the pack running a loop with the pack. He did his mile, looking behind at me with a smug look of “I knew I could get away from you.”

He absolutely loved the energy from race start lines and finish lines. We are going to miss him at our events and we know you will too.

13. Caring for others.

I have colitis, whenever I am sick from flare ups, Picasso knew. He would lay basically on top of me any night as I suffered through the pain. When I had my surgery for my legs and could not go upstairs to sleep in bed he spent every night sharing a pillow with me on the couch.

When my dad entered hospice, Picasso knew something was wrong. He spent all of his time going between the foot of my dads bed and spending time with Sheila. He could tell she was upset, and that my dad needed company. He always knew, and he always responded.

14 Snow. This dog loved snow. the pictures speak for themselves here. He also loved when the lake froze over so he could go out and wander with us and chase fish around.

14. Diabetes: In August into September of 2021 Pic started to act strange. No more energy, no playing, struggling on stairs, losing weight. One night he got so sick, puking, and panting, and pacing and puking. I spent the night on the floor with him or in the backyard with him. He was having trouble walking, he began to drink a lot and pee a lot. We got him in to the vet who ran all the usual tests and his blood sugar came back over 500! He should be around 90.

We made the decision to get him on insulin and see if it helped. After a few weeks, he began to play again, he jumped on his chair again, he went to visit the neighbors again! A relief for sure!

15. The neighbors – If we could not find Picasso, we knew where to look. Next door. Picasso trained them within a few weeks of moving in to our home. Julie and Lee have lived on the pond for over 40 years – They fell in love with Picasso as much as everyone else does but they had a special bond with him. They had a special tin out back with snacks for him and he learned he could go and get a snack from each of them each day.

We eventually put up a gate to keep him from visiting without permission. The first week we did that he jumped in the pond – swam to their ladder, climbed up and got his snacks before being let BACK in to our yard through the gate.

He loved visiting next door. He loved his snacks, rolling in the grass, hanging out in the yard chasing the chipmunks, or just sitting in the sun while we would have afternoon drinks.

He had a special home next door and Julie and Lee made it better for him and he will be missed over there!

16. Final days

In September of 2021 we started to really notice he was losing weight – He was eating fine and had good energy but could not gain weight. We made visit to the vet and he had diabetes. Who knew? Over the next few months we managed his diabetes with insulin and he had so many good days.

We played, and snuggled, and snuck snacks from time to time. He was back to his healthy weight. Diabetes is a nasty disease though, and he ended up in ketoacidosis. We made the decision to let him have peace with no more shots- no more tests – just final hugs, kisses, and snuggles.

Smiling always

As I looked through albums for photos I was shocked- I have an album linked below that is called “Best Picasso”. I took what I thought were his best photos, and stored them there. The thing is though, he was in ALL of our albums. Since the day we brought him in to our family he never left our sides.


From adventures to surgeries to hospitals, to rehab units. From cars to trucks to canoes, to boats. From beaches to mountains to railroads and more.

If we went, he went. Everyone says that their dog was special. I know that to be true. Yet something felt different about this one. He loved a different way, he participated a different way. He enjoyed the company of an entire community a different way.

As you grieve with us, remember he would be there for you to snuggle to run to swim to sit to chase to cry.

Keep smilin pal – We miss you already

6 thoughts on “Picasso: The artful life of our first family pet

  1. Oliver

    I don’t really have a singular story… I just always loved the energy and vibe he brought to a room. It’s kind of hard to articulate, but he felt less like a dog and more like one of the guys. He was awesome and I’ll miss him. Sending love your way.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. gfmediaceo

    I’m gonna miss ya buddy. I always loved getting a Picasso help every time I visited or saw you guys. I will always remember the day he outsmarted Roscoe and Chloe who decidedly did NOT love water, and figured the best way of getting away from them was jumping in the Ostranders pool. Such a happy fun loving dog. Peace and hugs to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Charlie

    Eric and Sheila. This is such a heartwarming biography of Picasso’s life. I feel lucky to have shared a camping adventure with him and so glad my kids had a change to know him.

    He was a wonderful dog and your relationship with him opened my eyes to the joy a pet could bring. You were the perfect match for one another in life. While I know you’ll never have another Picasso, I know you will have another pet that will bring you joy and another pet will be lucky to have you as owners. I love you guys.


  4. Julie and Lee

    We are morning the loss of our dog; or so we called him ours. We knew the minute we saw him he was indeed special. Being neighbors, we got the privilege of experiencing Picasso almost daily interacting with Eric and Sheila daily. He loved to come through the gate to his private grassy park. One day he even began to dig his park lawn up until Eric went over and discovered he had dug up a huge raw hide. It looked new. The mystery is no one knows how it got there?
    We love the joy your family has bought us and will forever remember Picasso.


  5. Joe

    SO many memories of Picasso! Just a few highlights: eating the peanuts when sleeping over at my house and leaving the shells on the floor, Howling like a pack-a-wolves with us, helping us tree that racoon. And I’m going to miss giving him my beef and pork bones.

    He was such an awesome dog! I loved him and will surely miss him!


  6. Phyllis Glaub

    Having grown up without pets i never realized how much love a furry friend could bring to a family. Not only did Picasso do that for me, but he is a big reason that Snickers is now a member of our family ! I remember Snickers and Picasso chasing in the yard snd Picasso diving into Cranberry pond to get away from Snickers who wouldn’t swim with his furry friend Lol. So funny. Great memories. RIP Picasso. And thank you for the love and life lessons. 😘


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