Thriving With Airedales, by Food Guy and Treat Girl

The article “Surviving An Airedale” was a good start. The writer has begun a journey we started almost seven years ago, and the advice on raising a puppy is pretty good; we’d not argue with it. Crate training is very important, as is all training for these strong-willed and very bright dogs. We bought our Airedales in part due to JWR’s recommendation. The breed being hypo-allergenic was also a major consideration. The dogs are an ideal compromise in size for a couple whose childhood dogs were Great Danes and miniature Poodles, respectively. We considered standard Poodles as well, but the Airedales won out. They are at once a “Force Multiplier” and a joyous addition to our household. We are now a “pack”.

We’ve done and learned some things that perhaps warrant consideration:

Not Only One Airedale

You don’t want just one Airedale. Unless you’re a stay-at-home person who is also a runner, you want two Airedales. There are many reasons for this; one is the operating maxim “One is none, two is one”, and just as important it’s for the well-being of the dogs themselves. Any dog that is as smart and energetic as an Airedale needs a canine playmate. Unless you are going to be your dog’s best and pretty much only friend, you’ll want a companion dog for your Airedale, and another Airedale is the best choice. We arranged to get a male and female out of the same litter, and there are advantages and disadvantages of this practice. The first is that they of course cannot be bred to each other, which in our case necessitated early spaying and neutering. We have heard of some problems with litter mates in the same household, but we have never experienced any. When our dogs are playing together, they play roughly, but they have never injured each other. There were times when they were growing up that their play resembled the old cartoon depiction of the Tasmanian Devil! They do not play nearly as vigorously when there are other dogs in the mix. The advantages are that both dogs go through the same developmental stages at the same time and share similar temperaments and traits. One thing we have found is that our dogs have some complementary characteristics. One has a sharper nose and seems bound to track, while the other is much more aware of things most dogs don’t seem to notice.

Gear and “Tack”

Leashes and Harnesses

When the dogs were pups I would “yoke” their collars together leading to one leash with a simple “Y-splitter”. This kept them “in trace”, which was handy on some narrow trails in the foothills and compelled them to learn to walk together.

As the dogs grew bigger and stronger, Treat Girl was having difficulty managing them, particularly the male, on the leash. We were on vacation when someone noticed this and said, “I’ve got just the thing for you!” dashing into a nearby pet shop. Enter the Easy Walk, which keeps the lead at the dog’s chest above the forelegs. This was an absolute game changer for Treat Girl; walks were no longer a power struggle. These are readily available at Amazon, and we recommend them highly to anyone with a strong dog.

We are in the process of researching “Patrol Harnesses” for the dogs. The ones that have some MOLLE straps on them allowing them to carry some of their own gear (water at least) have a lot of appeal. The usual backpacking packs have reflective panels and are in colors that are bit too exuberant for our liking.

Treat Girl also wanted more substantial leashes for the dogs, which gave me the welcome excuse to buy war dog leashes from a company started by a friend. Unfortunately, the company changed hands and the leashes are no longer available. There are some good ones out there. We just can’t endorse them, because we have no experience with them. Some of the ones found by web search use the same Kong Frog connector ours have. We also see many leashes advertised that bear some resemblance to ours but appear to be cheap imitations. Our leashes were designed by the first Navy SEAL to use a war dog and are typically “bullet proof” in design and construction, and they cost us accordingly.

A handy rig for riding in the back of the pickup is available from Petco. The leads attach at the dog’s back in a harness that is made to protect the dog (much as a good car racing harness will) from sudden deceleration. These proved their value the very first time I took the pups for a ride in the pickup and the male decided that a squirrel on the side of the road needed to be chased. I was driving slowly in preparation for just such an event, and the male wound up dangling alongside the truck with his paws fortunately above the pavement. We bought and use the same harness in the larger size when the dogs are in the back of the truck, but they long ago learned to stay in the truck bed. I’m ambivalent as to their utility in the event of a wreck.

The harness we use for the truck could easily do double-duty as towing harnesses. I’ve been looking for an Ahkio-type sled for the dogs to pull, but the ones I’ve found so far are bigger than I remember using. The ones I’ve found are too large to easily carry on the car top.

Boots

We’ve found dog boots are very handy, though they ironically use them even more in the city. Many businesses scatter snowmelt in huge quantities on the sidewalk, and most of these are not good for a dog’s paws (though there is such a thing as “dog friendly snowmelt”). The first time we put these on the dogs (and now the first time of the season) was quite comical; they flapped around the house like sea lions! They do grow accustomed to them and soon are striding out as if the boots weren’t there.

Doggles

We bought these doggles for fire season and have yet to try them on, but we see these as important protection for their eyes. We need to do some “training” with them, before we really need to use these “dog goggles”/sunglasses.

Water Bottle

We bought our Gulpy bottles at REI, but these are also available from Amazon. There are varying capacities and now colors for the folding “water trough” that makes these so handy. The trough folds out. Then, you simply upend the bottle to put water into it, allowing the dogs to drink naturally. The trough is long enough that both dogs can drink out of the same Gulpy if need be. The trough has a hanging clip on it that would hold the bottle vertical, but there is also a loop at the top that we use to tie the bottle to gear with 550 paracord. Our oldest son discovered that the trough fitting is compatible as well with regular, individual sized water bottles found at every convenience store. We keep more than one Gulpy in each of our vehicles and have separate ones for our BOBs.

Travel Considerations

Settling Down

We travel with our dogs frequently. Neither is especially enamored of long car trips, but they bear with us. We have found calming treats, which are available at any pet store or even from your local ranch supply, and Thunder Shirts, which are again available through Amazon, to be useful in getting them to just settle down and ride. When we drive at night, they really do just sleep. Taking their collapsible wire crates was helpful when they were pups. Now we just take the pads that used to be in the crates for a little touch of home as well as something to tell them “here’s your place” in hotel/motel rooms.

Food for the Trip

On our first trip, I carefully portioned their food into Ziploc bags and put these bags into larger (gallon-size) bags. While we were in a restaurant, the pups got into the bags. There was kibble all over the cargo area, much to the delight of a friend who came to meet them. We have since taken to putting the individual ration bags into hard plastic containers with latching lids. Each container holds individual meals for about four days. These individual rations could be halved, if the need arose. A very nice thing is the dogs are now too well-mannered (to say nothing of too big) to go diving into the cargo area in search of extra food.

One experience that gave us a good rehearsal was being evacuated a couple of times for a fire in our area. It was a simple matter to pack as if the dogs were going on a car trip. The fire did give us the impetus to buy Doggles as well.

Doggy Pack

Besides the food boxes, we also throw the doggy pack in the car. This is a small day pack containing a Veterinary First Aid guide, a small first aid kit, and some OTC and prescription meds we have found useful for our dogs. Some of the OTC medications include Benadryl and Pepto Bismol. At least one headlamp with spare batteries is top and center in the bag. Recent additions are RATS tourniquets, which are less costly than the CATs we have and would be easier to use on the dogs. The boots and Doggles are also kept in this pack along with poop bags.

Operating With the Dogs

When the dogs were younger and we left them at home on a rooftop deck, I’d take them for walks immediately after work in one of the foothill canyons near us. We’d frequently jump deer, and from the first their reaction has been to merely watch them attentively. I’ve never had to try to keep them quiet, and they don’t strain at the leash as if they want to give chase. I wish I could take credit for this, but it seems innate.

Our dogs are usually leashed, except for outings to dog parks or other such places. (We’re fortunate to have some wonderful locations in the foothills.) They will roam a bit off leash, but we keep them trained at returning to voice command. Since they are very “treat motivated”, this is pretty simple to do. As the off-leash time progresses, they will come closer and match our pace more and more. They are also turned loose at the place that will be our eventual refuge and are pretty good at staying on our property. They love snow, so keeping them leashed as we snow shoe would be cruel as well as inviting a face plant. The female will gladly break trail, but the male has figured out it’s much easier to walk in our tracks or even on the tails of our snow shoes on occasion. They seem impervious to cold and snow, but they don’t like being in the rain as much. They are stoic under those and other conditions, but one can sense they’d much prefer the snow. They don’t seem to care much for the heat of summer though. Again, they will “soldier on” while looking longingly at the shade. In one regard, ours are not typical Airedales; neither one really likes to swim. They can swim, but they seem to avoid it, even in the heat.

The Airedale’s coloring is well suited for camouflage in the western U.S. away from snow. Their dual coat is akin to armor, particularly if they’ve not been recently stripped. This entails pulling out dead undercoat in a fashion similar to carding wool. This should be done on about a quarterly basis for the dog’s well-being, and it results in them looking even more attractive than usual.

When we were raising our dogs, we found some books helpful. We highly recommend the books by the Monks of New Skete. We found The Art of Raising a Puppy particularly valuable. One of the techniques recommended for getting dogs used to sudden and loud noise was to make such noise as they were feeding. After banging pans together got old, I shot some .22 blanks well away from them but still in the same space. They didn’t react any more to that than the pans, but some months (perhaps even a year or more) later, they were in the car at the range and didn’t much care for louder gunfire. They seem to be okay with shooting on the other side of a berm, but if they’re directly exposed even at a distance they’re not happy. Given their exceptional hearing, this is no surprise. We certainly don’t want to damage that hearing! This is something we still need to research and work on.

If I were to have to start patrolling (fortunately we still have some training time), I would probably take the female out and leave the male to guard the homestead, ironically. This is because the female is more prone to bark at noises when inside the house but is quiet outside it. She also seems more the hunter/stalker of the two. She’s very attentive and wants very much to please as well, so those would be considerations in choosing her for this task. Again, we’re very thankful that we apparently have some more time to work on these things than we might have had.

Our dogs weigh-in in the mid-60 pound range, so I am able to lift and carry either of them, but if we needed to “medevac” one of them, a poncho or poncho liner would make a good field-expedient litter. If need be, I could sling a dog in either and carry them on my back.

We have noticed that our dogs seem to “divide up the watch”. One is usually close by when we’re sleeping while another is farther out in the house. It’s rare to have both in our bedroom when we sleep. We’ve noticed they seem to do this in motel/hotel rooms as well. The male will be very near the door while the female is closer to us. Perhaps we’re reading too much into it, but these dogs have impressed us so much that we might be forgiven for that.

Maintenance

As noted above these dogs need activity, mental and physical, every day. This is a good thing, as it gets us out of the house on weekends, regardless of the weather. Because we both work in places that are not dog-friendly, the dogs go to a daycare during the work week. This has been very good for the most part. The dogs get lots of activity and are well socialized. They are also favorites of the staff where they go. The only downside is that, like children attending public school, they occasionally bring home bad habits learned from their peers. They have learned to howl, apparently from one or more huskies. The come home happy and tired and look forward to their “work days” far more than we do.

Veterinary care is vital to the well-being of any animal, and our two have a great vet; they actually enjoy entering the vet’s office. They get annual check-ups, and each has been in for ailments and injuries as well, if nothing else to confirm Food Guy’s initial treatment was correct. Our female had grown some fatty masses that were removed. (They were benign, thank the Lord.) Rather than use the hard plastic “cone of shame”, which robs dogs of their peripheral vison along with their dignity, we have found inflatable collars to work well when the dog needs to be prevented from following their own treatment instincts. Beyond that, an old t-shirt has served us all well when needed to keep incision sites clean. Our vet recently introduced a wellness plan, which saves us considerable money. We could never find a pet insurance plan that worked for us.

In summary, Airedales are a maintenance-intensive force multiplier whose presence will bring great joy to your refuge and may very well save the lives of your family besides.

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