Airedales and Obedience
You can look in many books about Airedales and read about miraculous stories where Airedales bring down bears forty times the size of the dog, rescue schools of drowning children, leap over tall buildings, and conquer evil. I think there could actually be a series on TV "Believe It or Not Airedales!” I am being facetious right now but there are a lot of stories of the incredible antics of the Airedale. Some of my stories involve the sense of humor that comes into play while working with the Airedale and why some obedience books rate the Airedale as being stubborn to train. In fact, the book The Reform School Handbook of Delinquent Dogs has the Airedale is proudly displayed in the contents. This is an entertaining book and I recommend it. The author, Tony Wilkinson, gives the Airedale a delinquency rating of "high", a born brawler. Other books also talk about training difficulties pertaining to the Airedale.
I wouldn’t say that they are difficult exactly. They actually are easy to train. You just have to understand what the Airedale’s opinion is of training exercises. It may be a matter of understanding the body language of this breed and then modifying the training to fit the personality. At any rate here are some of my funnier experiences while obedience training our Airedales.
Jack and the Obedience Class
Early in our marriage, before the ink was dry on the certificate, I got to know David’s Airedale, Jack (for Airedale enthusiasts, Jack was a Finlair Tiger son). Jack lived his life as an intact male and when I met him, I thought he was a total male chauvinist. Did I forget to add ‘pig’ to that statement? I meant male chauvinist pig.
Jack, in turn, thought that women should be barefoot and pregnant. I suppose for an unneutered male dog, this rightfully should be Jack’s perspective. However, being newly married and accomplished in my own right (somewhat of a feminist), I strongly objected to Jack’s view and subsequent treatment of me. If Jack could have talked, on weekend’s, he would have rooted himself in a Lazyboy and bellowed for beer service during commercials. In my eyes, David’s dog was just plain rude and unmannerly.
In Jack’s eyes, I was a “Biker Chick” who had totally disrupted his bachelor buddy days with David.
I need to add that Jack was far from stupid. Even I could see that he was an intelligent dog. David had entered Jack in a number of obedience classes years before our marriage and Jack would perform numerous and complicated tricks for David.
Years, later, we acquired our first female Airedale, Lady (named Lady in hopes that she would have better manners that the belching/farting studman Jack). I enrolled Lady in an obedience class when she was of sufficient age. We went to a series of classes, which were held once a week. Things were going well until the fourth week when Lady came into heat. I decided not to take her to class, as she was a big airhead.
“Take Jack”, David prompted. “He’ll love it and you won’t miss the next set of exercises.”
So I did. At home, Jack would always clown around with me. I was not taken seriously at all. I thought that night’s class was going to be a bust but off we went.
When we got to the class site which was held in the parking lot of a veterinary clinic, I became confused as to who the dog was at the end of my leash. Certainly not “Jack the Cool Biker Dude”. It must have been his not-so-evil twin, “Champion Jack with A CD Excellent”. David never laughed so hard when I got home and told him of Jack’s behavior. Jack not only did the basic exercises of “sit”, “down”, “stay” (we were learning the beginning obedience steps at that time), Jack heeled OFF lead, figure-eight’d around cones OFF lead, and did my personal favorite, “Roll-Over-And-Play-Dead”. He was a performing fool. Dedicated to the cause at all times! Never turned his eyes from my face. Waited anxiously for my every command. The trainer was SO impressed with Jack’s amazing performance. I clearly knew much more that I had let on. Here was a perfectly trained Airedale. I was the proud momma, glowing in the spotlight.
Class was over all too soon and we trotted to my car. As Jack and I stop and I unlocked the car door, Jack backed up behind me and goosed me really hard with his nose up my behind. I spun around and glared at him, spitting out a ”STOP IT!” between clenched teeth–and I SWEAR he was laughing at me, his mouth wide open and teeth showing just a bit, eyes full of twinkle. This expression, I have learned over the years, is a true-to-Airedale trait. They laugh. Sometimes they laugh with you and sometimes they laugh at you. A laughing Airedale face is worth experiencing if you have never seen it.
The story ended with “Jack the Cool Biker Dude” and I driving home never to see “Jack with the CD Excellent” again. I think he even farted a couple of times in the car.
Airedales and Children
When I had my daughter Kate, our Airedale Lady did several things that surprised me. When I was about seven months pregnant, Lady had a false pregnancy. A dog’s gestation period is about two months, so when I had Kate, Lady thought she had puppies as well. She started collecting the kids’ stuffed animals and would take them into her “room” and get them in nursing position and nest with them. When I brought Kate home from the hospital, Lady was convinced that I had one of her puppies (i.e. Kate). Lady showed great interest in Kate, always wanting to smell her and clean her. She would often whimper like a mother dog when she would smell, hear, or see Kate. When I would get up at night to feed Kate, we would sit on the living room couch and Lady, who could see us from her room, would sit at the gate and whine and whimper. It often brought to mind a picture of Lady dragging baby Kate into her room where she would arrange Kate and then curl herself around Kate’s body. Lady never got the chance to claim Kate to her imaginary whelping bed. And Lady never acted annoyed with me for kidnapping her baby. Kate often had unusual hair styles because when I would hold Kate in our rocking chair, Lady would come up and clean Kate’s head, giving long licks that would put twirls in Kate’s baby-fine hair. Her hair would then dry in these strange positions. I wonder if this is a variation on the term “cowlick”?
The story ends with Kate and I taking a week’s visit to the hospital where Kate was treated for pneumonia. Upon our return home, Lady’s hormonal tide had turned and she was ready for her brood to be weaned and on their own. Lady couldn’t have cared less about the kids’ stuffed animals or the caretaking of baby Kate.
Another story involving Kate occurred when Kate was learning to crawl. Actually, she was crawling and was exploring every place that she could crawl to. The back door had been opened enough that Kate could crawl out into the opening of the door. She was slowly making her way out the door when Lady, who was out in the backyard, discovered that the door had been opened and, as was her usual style, Lady charged the door with full-speed Airedale-size enthusiasm and baby Kate blocking the entranceway. I realized what was about to happen without being able to pull Kate out of the way in time when the most amazing thing happened. As Lady rounded the corner of the house to approach the back door, she caught sight of Kate and put on full brakes. I thought that this still would result in disaster because Lady did not have enough time to stop. But nonetheless, it worked. Lady came to a screeching halt and then quietly, carefully, as though walking on eggshells, she walked over Kate, the left rear and front legs on Kate’s right side, the right rear and front legs on Kate’s left side. Lady’s movements looked like a football player going through those tires during a workout. One foot in, one foot out, only slowly and carefully. Through the back door Lady came, in a manner befitting her name, gentile and etiquette-wise Lady. Not the “Mac Truck in a Big Hurry” entrance that we usually see.
Airedales and Cats
What The Airedales Really Think Of Cats
It is fair to say that the Airedales “tolerate” Ash’s presence. Given the chance, they would love to play a big game of tag with Ash being “it”. They would also really love it if Ash were to run across the backyard, whereupon the Airedales would be forced to chase after him.
I often find one of the Airedales “visiting” Ash as he sleeps on some piece of furniture, usually one of the kids’ beds. The dog can be seen with her front paws up on the bed, body leaning in towards the cat, with her tail wagging vigorously. The cat is motionless with slanted eyes as if to say, “Try it, just try it, I dare you.” I walk in on them and the dog immediately looks at me as if to say, “I was just being neighborly. Honest, I was. I mean, it would be entirely rude of me now if I were to say, completely ignore the cat, wouldn’t it???”
What I really think the dog said to the cat when I was not in the room was, “Here’s the deal…. let’s play cops and robbers. I’m the cop, you’re the robber. When I say ‘GO!’ you run and then, I catch you. Got it?”
And the cat is saying, “What kind of STUPID do you take me for???”
I do have to be careful when more than one dog is in the house with the cat. One on one, they tolerate each other. Two dogs, and there is a conspiracy in the house. I especially find it amusing when Smash finds the cat and seems to tell the Airedales “Over here, girls!” They all then try to gang up on the cat. Luckily I have always been supervising the situation and the dogs do a little time-out. (To which the cat says, “Now whose the robber, jailbirds?!”
Airedales Go to Work
David and I take a couple of dogs into the clinic everyday. They like the change of scenery and entertain clients. Lady, especially, likes to go to work. One of her favorite activities is to try to scare the boarding cats. The boarding cats stay in cages that are about 3 feet off the ground. Lady, if given the chance, will go from crate to crate and do a “Boo” at the cats, she suddenly raises her head in full view of the cage and bumps the cage. I usually yell at her to stop and she prances over to me, laughing all the way. She loves to do this prank.
Airedales and Agility
I (David) had wanted to get involved in agility for some time, but my schedule prohibited the opportunity. Finally, I forced the issue and took our Airedale Ruth off to classes. As a pup, Ruth had been evaluated in a temperament evaluation as being very subpar for obedience and agility training by an experienced dog person who evaluated the whole litter. We disagreed with the outcome of the evaluation and by the time she went to agility class, we knew we were correct. When I arrived at class, the instructor turned out to be the same person that had evaluated the litter. She didn’t remember and I didn’t remind her……until later. Ruth took to most of the equipment with ease and was competent fairly quickly. Except for weave poles. She thought they were stupid. Pointless. One day, after a full class we went to the weave poles and sent her. After a few struggling runs, it was time to repeat again. Ruth said, “Naw!”. She went through a few poles, turned, looped around, went behind a building, and went and stood by the gate, next to the car. I immediately recognized what she was up to, the instructors were puzzled at the behavior, until I pointed out where we were parked. They didn’t want to end the session on a failure. So they had me go get the car, pull it around to the end of the weave poles! We got Ruth, opened the back door of the car, and sent her through the weave poles, and on to jump in the back seat. We got her out, repeated it once, and went home! Ruth is a favorite of the kids any time there is agility equipment around. She patiently lets them guide her on the equipment, over and over. Until she is done. Then they stop.
Airedales and Digging
Airedales are diggers. Terriers. We have enough space that we don't really try to stop the behavior. We regard some mischief as just part of being a dog. Consequently, we have had extensive caves and caverns dug in our large runs and yards. We have holes that were barely 10 inches across at the opening, that had three Airedales come out of them! We have had cave collapses, that fully reconfigured the yard. We have had dogs “disappear”, gone searching the neighborhood for them, only to have them crawl out of their hideout in the yard when dinner time came along.
A few years ago, there was a particularly wet spring and we were a little too busy to keep up with the grass in the kennel runs and it got away from us. We are talking thigh high jungle.... with holes! I had an employee from the clinic come out and help me catch up. Freddie is a great guy and willing to help with anything. But this was a test! It is hard to mow ground that rough, especially when the grass is that long. He was struggling and sweating and bumping along, but he was sticking with it. I was watching from another run as he trudged along, only to see him disappear from site! There one second, gone the next. Mower was there, no Freddie! I rushed over to check on him to find him barely sticking out of a hole, dirty and spitting. He hadn't seen the small entrance to the large cave, and zoom, he was gone! I helped him out and he was ok. I decided not to mention that I had been trying to discourage digging in that particular hole and had been putting poop in it for some time.......
Our son, Will, has had some ferrets for some years. But the smell associated with ferrets eventually drove them out of the house and into the barn. The barn is on one side of our kennel building and dog runs are along the catercorner side. Those ferrets were there no time before the dogs knew they were there. All our dogs can open gates, so we have latches on all of them. The exception is gates that require two hands to open. Chip managed to figure out how to open a two step, two handed latch to a gate in order to get in the barn and investigate the “new” ferrets. Chi-chi had a barn wall and a corner of a large building between her and the ferrets. It didn't matter, she knew they were there. She doesn't tend to be a big digger, but this was for cause. She tunneled about ten yards, under the concrete slab of the kennel building and into the barn, popping up next to the ferret cage. The other dogs knew something was up and let me know. I found her with her head sticking out, (Deja vu, just like Freddie!) right by the cage.
Texture Airedale Personalities
Ruth- She is the mother of Sarge and Gunnie, and David's favorite dog. She has an extraordinary sense of humor, but is very different from Sarge (see below). She is polite, attentive, extraordinarily intelligent and easily trained. She is a very mouthy dog, loves to fetch, and loves carrying stuffed toys. She is trained in both obedience and agility and the kids love to run her through agility equipment at every opportunity. Taunting housecats and laughing about it is a favorite hobby. She is always aware of what is going on, but is unlikely to actually be in the trouble herself. More likely, she is waiting for David to arrive, so she can go up to him as say, “See, I am not like those others, I would never......”
Tango- This is Laura's favorite and she has a number of unique personality traits and many have proved to be genetic. She is fundamentally very sweet and quiet. Not to say she doesn't have opinions. When petted she talks! Grumbles, mumbles. Sounds like growling, and has causes some unsuspecting humans to jump when she has done this, but that just adds to the fun. And talking is genetic, many of her descendants do it as well. She also will turn somersaults in your lap when you are sitting on the floor. She sort of dives into your lap and rolls over. More petting please. This is a genetic behavior! Her descendants often do this as well. She is also a smiler. She lifts her lips in what looks like a snarl, but is just a polite hello. She is very selective with this behavior. For a long time, David was the only one she ever smiled for. In the morning, she would want to get things going, so she would jump up with her front feet on Laura's side of the bed for petting, and stretch toward David, lifting her lips in a big grin! She knew the formula, disturb Laura to get David to take her out. For a long time, Laura never saw the smile part, and even was annoyed that “her” dog never smiled at her. Tango seemed to specialize in giving David secret smiles, often crooked and one sided, when only he could see her. Eventually, Tango's smiling became more overt, but she is always selective. This behavior is known to be genetic, and we have other dogs that do it. Not all are related to Tango.
Dixie- She is just too smart! Really! And she is an athlete, extraordinare. She is easily trained, but left on her own, she is quite willful. And what she wants is to find where we are. If left in the kennel, she is coming out! Over the 6 foot fence? No problem! Under it? No problem. Through it? OK, whatever! In the kennel apartment? Here I come! She got to where she could scale two 6 foot fences faster than David could go through the gates. She is extremely driven and very intense. There reached a point that she simply could not be confined. Luckily, we were able to find a home for her where the owner was as intense as she is, and they are constant companions. Finally, a system that works for Dixie. This high drive intensity and the escapism both proved genetic. Consequently, Dixie has not had as big an impact on our breeding program that her beauty would justify.
Chi-Chi – David first saw Chi at the national specialty with owner-breeder, Barbara Brown and thought she was extraordinary. Laura later saw her at another major show and came to the same conclusion independently. One thing led to another, and we were offered the pick pup from an upcoming litter. That pup was Luke, see below. Later, Barbara was unable to keep Chi, and she was offered to us. We jumped at the chance! At first she was kind of stand-offish, but polite. She was an older dog being added to an established pack, and she had to figure out her place in the order, plus there were new humans to deal with. As time passed, she began to welcome interactions with David as he did the kennel work. With the other dogs, she is intense and dominant. Indoors with people, she is calm and relaxed. Coming to us as an older dog and being reserved, we early developed some misconceptions about her. We mistakenly thought she was a beauty queen without much brains or trainability. This turned out to be incorrect. When we began temperament testing dogs as a routine part of our evaluations, we half heartedly thought we should give Chi a try. Turns out she was one of the most quickly trained dogs we have. Brains and beauty, and she passes it on!
Gunnie – She was never a dominant personality. She always had her obnoxious and demanding brother, Sarge in her life. She was content to be polite and reserved. She was a great mom, like most of our girls, and took the business of taking care of pups seriously. She was a tremendous contributor to our breeding program and the current generation of females are largely her daughters.
Luke - He has the closest to what we consider the ideal temperament of all our dogs. He is highly intelligent and easily trained. When he came back from the show circuit, we took him to an Airedale event for fun that involved the opportunity for Canine Good Citizen certification. This requires knowing how to sit, stay, be polite with strangers, and a few other tasks. He had never done any of it before. In less than ten minutes, he mastered all the necessary training to be certified. Plus he is bold, unshakably confident, and generally calm (for an Airedale).
Sarge – He is unique!! He is very dominant, pushy, opinionated, obnoxious, and a softy all rolled into one. He demands to be the constant center of attention, and on his terms! And he is LOUD! He easily has the biggest bark of all our dogs, and he never barks softly, everything is FULL volume. It is not possible to walk across the yard and not get bumped by him, if you don't pay attention to him. It is all about him! He does have quite a sense of humor, particularly if the joke is on you! His level of narcissistic behavior has not been matched by his offspring. It is just Sarge! By the way, on a scale of trainability, he scores pretty well, when properly motivated. Surprise, surprise!
Chip – He is Tango's grandson, and has a lot of her personality traits. He talks, does somersaults in your lap, and generally has a bit of her demeanor. He is also an unexpected tough guy toward other dogs. He is not the type to start fights, but once it is on, most dogs come out second best.
Ted – He is a Sarge and Dixie son. And it shows! Luckily, he has none of their worst habits. He has an intense affection for David, wants to always be with him, and pays constant attention, very similar to mom. We thought this would make him highly trainable, but his Sarge side comes out, if the training activity is not on his agenda. He can be a bit stubborn, like dad. He has littermates that have excelled at training.
Moonie and Foggie - These are Chip and Gunnie daughters and they show it. They are polite like mom, but have that comical aspect that comes from Tango, through Chip. They both do somersaults and occasionally talk. Moonie is a smiler. Foggie is in my office as I write this, resting calmly and politely. Periodically, she gets up and rests her head heavily on my arm in a request for attention.
Junie B. - This is a Ted daughter, and the Dixie intensity and high drive is there in spades. Luckily, the escapism is not. She is a very pay attention personality like dad and always wants to know what David is doing around the kennel. While pregnant with her first litter, we x-rayed her to get an estimate on pup numbers and discovered she had a large rock in her stomach. We couldn't do anything about it since she was VERY pregnant and after the litter, she had lots of work to do and no time for surgery to remove foreign objects. Several months later, when she could work it into her schedule, we removed the rock. In the entire time, (from when the rock was discovered through surgery and beyond) she was never nauseated, never missed a meal, and never missed a beat. And we have no idea how long the rock was there before the discovery!
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