Naïve Bird’s and Alexei

Imagine this face hovering over a young bird.
If you weighed 2 ounces, would this face scare you?




by Zoe Deen


Alexei is having an exciting Spring.  Young, inexperienced birds are leaving the nest, and true to his Airedale Terrier genes Alexei is on the hunt.  Reader assurance–no birds have been harmed to date.  They have been shaken up.  They have been in shock. But they have been unhurt.

I first realized Alexei had discovered a new vocation a few days ago.  He came prancing into the kitchen where I was tidying up after breakfast so excited that his feet barely made contact with the floor.  He danced around me, and then dashed down the short hall toward the dining room.  Then he dashed back and danced around me again.  Obviously, he had something exciting he wanted to share with me.  I followed him, and my heart dropped.  A bird–a young cactus wren, I think–was cowering in the corner of the dining room.  I felt ill.  I did not believe the bird could be uninjured, and I dreaded having to deal with that.  I couldn’t, I knew, let the poor thing suffer.  I doubted that I could kill the poor thing.  Let me note that I swat flies and mosquitoes without thought, but anything bigger–especially something as helpless and harmless as a baby bird–is too much.

I ordered Alexei to his crate.  He went the third time I gave the order, and I locked him in before going to see how badly injured the bird was.  I was thinking I had heard about a bird rescue place somewhere nearby, but I couldn’t remember the details.  I remembered the nestlings my children had brought home.  Tiny little birds that had fallen out of their nest–or been blown out during a storm.  I had successfully raised those little guys, but they had been uninjured.  The veterinarian who took care of our dogs told me the baby birds would  thrive on dry dog food soaked in water until it became mush.  The first day or two, I had to thin the mush enough to use an eye dropper to get it into their mouths, but they quickly got the hang of it and opened their beaks eagerly any time I came near the bird cage.

But they were not hurt, I thought, looking at the wet, rumpled feathers of the little bird scrunched into the corner.  For a little guy, it had a long sharp looking beak.  I would understand perfectly if it tried to defend itself–but that beak looked like it could easily  draw blood.   I leaned down and picked it up.  It was amazingly light–almost weightless.   It made no effort to peck me, but it did make a heartrending little peep.  Oh, I did not want to deal with this, I thought, as Alexei made his opinion known from his crate in the bedroom.  It was massively unfair of me to lock him up while I played with the great new toy he had found by myself.  Not at all the sort of injustice he expected of me.

I had mixed feelings about Alexei just then.  I knew he was a dog–of a breed specifically breed to be a hunter. It wasn’t bad or wrong for him to follow his instincts, but I didn’t want my best buddy to have the blood of an innocent on his paws, or more to the point on his muzzle.

Things got better from there.  I checked wings and legs, and they seemed all  right.  There was no blood.  When I smoothed the feathers that were at odd angles, everything went back into place easily. It seemed the bird was damp from being in Alexie’s mouth, but alright.  So, I took him out onto the patio and set on the low wall around the patio.  It took him about ten minutes to get over his shock and fly away, but he did fly.

I let poor Alexei out of his crate. He dashed to the dining room, directly to the corner where the bird had been.  No bird.  Accusing look. Then the hunt began. Alexei checked the top of the dining table.  He checked the kitchen counters. He checked my pockets just to be sure I hadn’t hidden the bird there. He searched the house intermittently for the next four or five hours.  I guess it was incomprehensible to him that I would have let the bird to.

Each time Alexei went searching for the bird I felt relieved again that all had ended well. I was very happy that the bird had been undamaged.  I was relieved that I wasn’t nursing a baby bird back to health, and not just because it would be a bother.  I remembered that after two or three years of raising baby birds my children had rescued, I realized that raising a bird in a household that  included three dogs and a cat did not prepare birds for the real world–it made them easy prey for the neighbor’s cat.  I don’t have a cat now, but I have Alexei–and the area is full of coyotes.  Also bobcats, javalina, snakes, and the occasional mountain lion.

So all was well for a couple of days, and then I noticed that Alexei was intent on something under a bush in the backyard.  I went to check.  And yes it was another young bird, cowering in the corner of the fence behind the bush. I told Alexei to, “LEAVE IT!”

Same old, same old from Alexei’s perspective. He got locked in his crate while I examined the new bird. It wasn’t as wet and rumpled as the first one. Apparently he had just sniffed and licked it a little.  I picked up the terrified bird, set it on the low wall, and again waited to see if the bird would fly. After several minutes, it did. Perhaps it was wiser, but maybe not.

I don’t think it was the same bird–but it was the same kind of bird–that Alexei trapped under some vines that grow against the house.  Rather than seeing the vines as an impediment, he had realized that by standing on the ends of the vines he could use them to hold the bird in place.


Alexei did a double take.  He looked at the bird.  He looked at me.  It was apparent that he was having serious doubts about me as a hunting partner.  I ordered him to his crate, and he went on the first command–though with a heavy sigh and a sad look at me.  He was realizing I was no fun, no fun at all.

This bird had had only a brief encounter with Alexei. It flew in a matter of moments.

I don’t know.  Maybe Alexei would not hurt any of his new little buddies.  Maybe he does just want to be friends with the little creatures, but it is to chancy for the birds to try the experiment.  Even I he doesn’t mean to hurt them, it is all too likely that there would be an accident.

Poor Alexei. It is going to be rough for him until the last of this year’s young birds learn enough to stay out of his reach.

All Heart and Joy

We can both play the same Zoe Deen

Alexei is so very generous.  He loves the little fifteen pound dog, Athena, who sometimes comes to play.  He is careful and gentle with her.  A couple of days ago she and her owner dropped by.  I had just given Alexei a new marrow bone, one of his favorite treats.  Normally, he will settle down for a good chew with a new bone, and little can distract him.

But when his little friend came calling–and showed an immediate interest in Alexei’s new bone–Alexei let her have it.  He stayed beside her, and every once in a while he would take the bone for a minute or so.  But he gave it back each time.  Not surprisingly, Athena loves Alexei.  A couple of times, Athena has gotten out of her fence.  Her owner has no problem finding her.  Athena comes right to our house, and Alexei barks to let me know I need to open the gate to let Athena in.

He is generous with me, too.  When I buy him a new toy, he carries it out to the car, hops in and lays down in the back of the car to examine the new toy.  He chews and smells the new toy for a few minutes, and then offers the toy to me.  Honest, I appreciate his generosity.  Still, I don’t want Alexei to try to shove the new toy into my hands while I’m driving.  “In the back,” I tell him, and he retreats to the back of the car–with reluctance.  He can’t imagine how I can resist the lure of a brand new toy.  When we get home, I get my turn with the toy, and then Alexei takes a turn.  I think I have never known a dog so eager to share with others.

One of the ways he plays with me is a way of playing I started when he was just a puppy.  There is a stump in the yard with several limbs sticking out.  I have many, many times looped rope around the limbs, making knots for Alexei to untangle.  Sometimes I loop one of his toys over a limb and let Alexei  figure out how to get the toy loose.  I guess he likes the game because he now loops toys over a limb for me to retrieve.  That is usually one of the first things he does with a new toy.  He is a smart, sweet little rascal, I know.

And now, I have had further evidence of his intelligence and generosity of spirit.  I picked him up from doggy day-care last week, and the woman who brought him out of the play area said she had really appreciated having Alexei there that day.  It seems there is a dog that is often a problem.  The dog is borderline too aggressive to be allowed in day-care.  Apparently, the dog was being a problem until Alexei noticed and began playing with the problem dog.  The woman said that every time the other dog was close to getting into trouble, Alexei would go and distract him.

Of course, I was pleased to hear such a good report about Alexei, and I thanked the woman for telling me.

“Oh, yes,” she said.  “We like having Alexei come here.  See that dog,” she continued, pointing to a mid-sized, mostly white, mixed breed dog.  “We were going to tell the owner she shouldn’t come anymore until Alexei noticed she was scared all the time and decided to befriend her.  Now they are best friends, and she had learned to play with the other dogs.”

I feel so fortunate to have such wonderful dog.

Wow! I Iimpressed My Dog

Guard duty--unless a friend happens by.
Guard duty–unless a friend happens by.

by Zoe Deen

It’s not every day that I impress Alexei.  Oh, he likes the magic tricks I do in the kitchen.  He likes those a lot, although he sometimes gets impatient.  How long does baking chicken have to smell really good before it is time to taste it?  How long does soup have to perfume the air before I realize it is time to eat?  Anyway, he is used to the magic tricks in the kitchen.  Sometimes he is impressed when I manage to get the ball to do a three point bounce–fence, tree, fence.  That makes catching the ball a lot more exciting.  But most of what I do is mundane.  He certainly isn’t impressed with the clicking sounds I make on the computer keys–even though I have told him I am telling great stories about him.  He would rather I play with him.

But a couple of days ago I did impress him.  I heard him barking, and there was something about the sound of that barking that didn’t sound right.  I shot out the door prepared to be assertive, and I was right on key.  Alexei was barking uncertainly at three middle-school-age boys who were throwing rocks at Alexei.  They hadn’t hit him.  The chain-link fence stopped the rocks, and maybe they weren’t really trying to hurt him.  Still, I didn’t like what they were doing.  Alexei was confused and concerned.  This was his first encounter with people who were not being friendly.  He didn’t know how to respond, so his bark expressed something between nervousness and playfulness.  I guess he thought this might be a new game–but he didn’t really believe that.

When I came out of the house and saw what was going on, I’m sure my shoulders straightened and my chin went up.  I was thinking I might try to talk to the boys–but if they didn’t know already not to be cruel to animals, I doubted I could do much by talking.  My second and almost instantaneous thought was the hose was right there.  I could pick it up and give those boys a good soaking.  Lord only knows, in this day and age that might be considered assault, so it is better that I just strode toward the fence to try to talk to the boys.

At my approach, the boys ran.  Alexei looked from the running boys to me, and I saw awe in his eyes.  It seemed obvious that Alexei was thinking and thinking fast.  His eyes went slightly out of focus for a couple of seconds as his quick brain sorted data.  I could almost follow.  All people are not nice.  What you do about people who are not nice is run them off.

He ran for the fence, barking fiercely–but with an undercurrent of joy.  Helping run off the boys who had been mean to him was fun.  When the boys were out of sight, Alexei came back to me, tongue hanging out and a big smile on his face.

I’ll have to monitor his understanding for a while.  I want him to bark at some people, but I want him to know that is the limit.  If they need biting, it would be better if I took care of that.  Not actual biting, of course.  How icky.  But there are legal issues I am better prepared to deal with than Alexei is.  Anyway, I do not want his wonderful cheerful, friendly personality spoiled.

There Is The Way Things Are Supposed to Be

by Zoe Deen

Alexei was quite upset when he came home from doggy day-care yesterday afternoon.  He had been at day-care so he wouldn’t be underfoot while the guy who trims the trees and shrubs was here.  It was the semi-annual clean up, but this time I had one of the trees trimmed much more severely than usual.  Alexei noticed the difference immediately.  Almost a third of his favorite tree was gone.

Alexei is deeply worried about his tree.
Alexei is deeply worried about his tree.

It is the tree he chewed on a lot when he was getting his adult teeth–which made it look for a while as though it was a scratching post for a really short bear.  It is the tree that has a handy crevice where I can wedge the rope Alexei likes to pull on.  It is the tree I bounce balls off of to make throwing the ball more exciting for Alexei.  So having a huge section of the canopy gone was very noticeable.  The eight-inch diameter cut where one of the main branches had  been was also noticeable.

The branch had to go.  I had been having it trimmed back for several years to keep it from impinging on the roof and one wall.  But the more often it was trimmed, the faster it seemed to grow.  Since the tree was leaning in the direction of the problem branch, I decided it might.  Only time will tell if I was right about that, but it is a mesquite tree so I am sure it will flourish.

Alexei’s reaction was interesting.  He checked the tree repeatedly.  He walked around the yard checking the other trees for missing parts.  He seemed reassured when nothing major was missing from the other trees, but he continued to worry about the one tree with the missing branch.

Alexei had been home when the guy arrived to do the trimming.  Alexei was happy to see him.  He is a semi-familiar friend who has neat tools that make great noises.  Alexei would have been happy to stay and help out with the yard word, but he was equally happy to go see his people and dog friends at day-care.  He was not happy when he came home.  He paced the yard, sniffing around the gate and along the places where the guy had walked.   From time to time, he went back to look at the place where the missing branch had been.  Then he sniffed the guy’s scent and softly growled.  He knew exactly who had stolen a third of his tree, and he was not pleased.

He will get over it, of course.  He will like the guy again.  But he is an Airedale Terrier, and Airedales firmly believe that there is the way things are supposed to be.  His tree is supposed to have three main branches. Now it has only two.

Whatever It Was Is Gone

by Zoe Deen   Alexei is back to being lord of his domain.  Whatever it was that made him afraid to go into

Alexei offering to let me play with his new toy.  He is a generous little guy.
Alexei offering to let me play with his new toy. He is a generous little guy.

his own yard is gone.  I still do not know what had him so terrified, but I am grateful whatever it was has left the area.  It is wonderful to see Alexei back to being his usual inquisitive, bouncy self.  It is great to see him barking at passing dogs–not aggressively–just notifying them that his yard is his turf.  And if their owners let the other dogs come to the fence Alexei is happy to forgo turf dominance to play along the fence with all comers.  There is a darling, tiny Chihuahua that dances along the fence playfully inviting Alexei to play.  There is a super smart little wire-haired terrier who lets the ball he always carries roll almost to the fence where Alexei is waiting before snatching it back.  Both dogs seem to think it a great game.  Then there is the guy who walks his Pit Bull and another dog of many different breeds.  The mixed breed dog ignores Alexei.  The Pit Bull whines and wants to approach Alexei.  He seems friendly, but his owner doesn’t let him approach.  Maybe he knows something I don’t.

Alexei watches for people, too.  He runs up to the fence to greet people he knows, and he barks at people he doesn’t know.  I don’t want him barking at every passing stranger.  It isn’t pleasant for passersby, and the neighbors probably would rather forgo the noise.  At first I scolded Alexei for barking at strangers, but he kept barking.  Then I accidentally hit on a method that works.  When I see someone approaching, I call hello and wave.  Generally, the people respond with a greeting and a wave.  Alexei’s response is funny.  He looks over his shoulder at me, his expression questioning.  “Oh,” his expression seems to day. “Do we know this one?”  I wave again, and Alexei goes into tail wagging greeting mode.  I hope I’m not teaching him to someday welcome a burglar. But probably not.  Airedales are smart.

A couple of days after Alexei stopped being afraid the guy who lives on the corner stopped by.  This is someone Alexei knows and usually welcomes, but it was dark, just barely dark, but dark.  When the guy stopped on the sidewalk on the other side of the fence, Alexei was not welcoming.  He wasn’t threatening exactly, but he was uncertain.  His tail made a couple of tentative wags, and then he growled an uncertain growl–looking to me to see what this set of circumstances required.  When I walked to the fence and began to talk to the man, Alexei stayed close and watchful.  He was not quite sure it was all right for someone to approach after dark.

It is so wonderful to see him being his normal self.  It was heartbreaking to watch him slink out into the yard, belly brushing the ground, tail down.  He startled at every sound, and dashed back to the house if there was a loud sound.  Poor guy was scared to go out to pee. He didn’t pee indoors, either.  He was just uncomfortable.

In celebration of his return  to normal I got Alexei a new toy.  It is a toy he had been eyeing as we walked through the front part of the doggy daycare place, and now that he has it, he loves it.  He carried it out of the shop himself.  It was a little hard for him to figure out how to get it into the car, but he managed.  He carried it from the car to the yard. It’s his and he loves it, but he is generous.  He plays with it for awhile, and then he puts it on my lap so I can have a turn.  Of course, if I don’t throw it pretty soon, he noses it to remind me to share.  Yesterday I was dusting.  Alexei watched me for a little while, and then he went out and got the new toy.  He brought it in and tried to put it in my hands.  I guess he felt sorry for me that all I had to play with was a dusty cloth.

Frightened Dog

by Zoe Deen

At least there is one place he feels comfortable.
At least there is one place he feels comfortable.

Alexei is having a very hard time right now.  Something in or near our yard is terrifying to him.  He will not go outside willingly.  He will only go into the yard on a leash, and only with me tugging gently.  It is only in or near our yard that he is frightened.  He is fine in the car.  He loves going to various parks.  He still likes the hardware store (where they give him treats).  He still likes going to the bank (treats, ditto).  He still loves going do doggy daycare where he plays with his many buddies. It is just in and near our yard that he is frightened.

There is a construction project going on, but that has been ongoing for a while.  He isn’t fond of the sound of the nail gun, and he doesn’t like the sounds of stucco being applied.  But those sounds have not terrified him in the past.  The guys have been working on the new addition to the property–a small laundry building for the use of the tenants who live in the apartments of the small apartment complex I own and Alexei and I live in.  Something new is in the area.

This has been an unusual year.  The monsoon rains have been heavy and frequent.  I suppose that may have led to the local wildlife moving in different patterns, but I’m not sure about that.  I do know that even though Alexei and I live in Tucson, AZ, a large city, we might almost be living in the countryside.  Tucson is filled with washes–normally dry stream beds that flow fiercely with water when there is heavy rain.  There are also two rivers nearby.  Normally, those too are dry and sandy places.  The washes and rivers that crisscross the city form an informal highway system for the local wildlife.  It is not unusual to see a coyote in the middle of the city.  I have seen them myself, and I always do a double-take.  I catch sight of a lone coyote, think absently that it is an odd looking dog, and then realize it is not a dog at all.

Javalina are not as common in the central parts of the city, but they are abundant on the outskirts of the city.     Alexei has seen and scented Javalina before.  His only reaction was to assume the point position and look to me to see what I wanted him to do about them.  Given the frequency with which coyotes are sighted in our area, I am sure Alexei has caught that scent, too.  I don’t think either of these common animals are frightening him.

I am so sorry for Alexei, and so worried about him.  He isn’t eating properly,  He is too nervous, even indoors.  He requires a lot of being close.  He is long past lap-dog size, but he can get his front half on my lap.  He does this, and he clings.  Little sounds frighten him.  He jumps if I happen to drop a fork or spoon in the sink.  A loud car passing scares him.  And he goes alert if someone walks past on the sidewalk.

I have checked everywhere I can think of to check.  I suppose it is possible that there is a bobcat in the area.  They are native to the area, but they generally avoid people.  There are mountain lions–and not just in the mountains–but they generally are only seen (if they are seen) on the very outskirts of the city.  It is unlikely that one has wondered into town.  The same is true of bears–a scent I have heard frightens dogs.  There are bears in the mountains, but that is an hour’s drive from here.  I hardly think a bear (a creature not usually known for stealth) is wondering the neighborhood unnoticed.

For now all I can do is comfort Alexei, and take him places away from home as often as possible.

Beautifully Trained Dog, What?

Alexei waiting to go to doggy daycare. Note how calm and patient he isn't.  He has had obedience training, but going to doggy daycare is much more exciting.
Alexei waiting to go to doggy daycare. Note how calm and patient he isn’t. He has had obedience training, but going to doggy daycare is much more exciting.

by Zoe Deen


Alexei was due for updates on his shots, so I made the appointment and took him to the Vet.  I wasn’t looking forward to the trip.  Alexei has been through obedience training.  He knows the commands.  He even obeys–sometimes.  But I wasn’t sure that he would obey in a strange environment with dogs he didn’t know around.  I do know that he doesn’t reliably obey the commands when I take him to doggy daycare to play with his dog buddies.  Oh, his backside will brush the floor when I tell him to sit, but then he’s back up tugging at the leash, eager to get to the play area in the back or check out the racks of toys in the front area.  If I insist, he will sit and stay.  He will even “down” and stay, but he knows the routine.  He comes in the front door, and someone behind the front desk calls for someone to come get him and take him to the play area.  Usually, someone comes to get him quickly, but sometimes everyone is busy, and we have to wait a bit.  Alexei is an Airedale, and Airedales have a strong belief that there is “the way things are supposed to be”.

He knows he is supposed to be taken to the play area, and if someone doesn’t show up PDQ, he barks to call someone to come get him.  He has a bark big enough for a dog twice his size, so this is not a minor disruption.

Alexei behaves nicely when I take him to the bank–for the most part.  He walks at heel when we go in. He sits nicely if we have to wait in line.  There are just two parts where his training breaks down.  He heels and sits right up to the counter, and then it all falls apart.  He knows the teller is going to offer him a treat, and he stands on his back legs with his front paws on the counter in anticipation.  The other problem arises when there is a table with little “people treats” like cookies or samples of jerky for the customers.  I suppose Alexei see those treats as an expansion of the “dog gets treats” system with which he is familiar.  Sometimes we have a bit of a tussle while I convince him that, no, he is not going to mow through the plate of jerky.  He is not getting any jerky at all because I don’t want him to come to believe it is meant for him.  We have a strong difference of opinion over this.

But Alexei is good natured.  He thinks I’m nuts, but he goes along with me when I insist.  The same is true when we go to the hardware store.  He heels and sits nicely except when we pass the area where dog toys are displayed and when we get to the counter to pay.  They give treats at the hardware store, too.  Alexei rises to the occasion.

So, I had no idea what to expect from him at the Vet’s.  Would he want to meet and greet every dog in sight–even the ones that didn’t want to meet him?  Would he want to go to the counter in anticipation of a treat?  Would there be a cat in a carrier that would be irresistible?  There were sure to be people he didn’t know and would want to get to know.

I wasn’t looking forward to taking him to the Vet.  The last time we went–before any obedience training–it had been like having a whirling dervish on the other end of the leash.  I cannot express my amazement at the behavior he displayed on this visit.

As we walked toward the glass door to the Vet’s office, I could see through the door.  A man leading a large dog was about to exit.  I told Alexei to sit and stay, and to my amazement. He did.  He sat perfectly as the other dog went past.  We went into the door, Alexei perfectly at heel.  Inside, I needed him to get on the scale and sit.  No fuss, no muss.  He just walked onto the scale and sat.  He stayed at heel as we walked across he reception area to a chair, and he immediately went to the down position on my first command.

By then I was glancing at Alexei half wondering if I had somehow acquired a strange dog, or if something was seriously wrong with Alexei.  I was grateful we were at the Vet’s.  It was the place to be if he was seriously ill.

Dogs came and went, and Alexei stayed quietly at my side.  A couple came in carrying a cat, and Alexei stayed quietly at my side.   I began to wonder if I was dreaming–or delusional.  But no.  When we were called to go into an exam room, Alexei followed at heel.   In the exam room, he went to the down position without fuss, and waited patiently until the Vet arrived.  He stood on command.  Stood quietly for the exam, and sat when I told him to for his shots.  He flinched slightly when he got the second shot, but made on fuss.

“Beautifully trained dog,” the Vet said.  “Beautiful dog.”

Well, he is beautiful, but beautifully trained?  This was the first time I had ever seen the real results from the hours of training.  It was wonderful and encouraging.  My efforts were not in vain.

Of course, a couple of days later when I took him for a play day at doggy daycare, he was back to normal.  I, however, was not.  Now I know what he can do, and I am even more determined to make it the norm not the exception.  Poor Alexei.  He shouldn’t have given me encouragement.  It has just made me more demanding.

My Hunting Airedales

Allie being her usual camera shy self.
Allie being her usual camera shy self.





As I’ve mentioned, Alexei doesn’t have much chance to hunt.  He digs for bugs, and he is taking an interest in the birds in the area.  He has learned that rushing at birds that land in the yard doesn’t work.  Now he freezes in position when a bird lands in the yard.  He is patient.  He waits for the bird to wander closer.  So far no bird has been foolish enough to stray too close, but Alexei is hopeful.  I am too.  I hope the birds will have too much sense to allow him a chance to nab them.

Alf, my first Airedale, chased cats that came into our yard, and he was especially interested in the squirrels.  He chased squirrels every chance he got, but he never caught one.  The squirrels were wary and fast.  The funny thing was that Alf chased them with sincerity of purpose, but when the squirrels scooted up the power pole at the back of the yard he worried about them.  Alf had a fear of heights, and he worried about the squirrels when they climbed the pole and then wandered out onto the electric wires.  It was crazy how he could change from hunter to nanny in the time it took a squirrel to climb the power pole.  His concern was not without foundation.  The squirrels were safe enough on the pole and on the wires, but several of them couldn’t resist exploring the transformer near the top of the pole.  Several squirrels turned the house lights out temporarily—and their own lights out permanently—before I was able to convince the electric company to put a protective cover over the transformer.  It was inconvenient having out lights go out, but my real concern was for the squirrels.  They are cute little things even if they can be destructive nuisances.

Alf’s high spot as a hunter was the day he flushed a fox.  We were walking along the river near our house.  Alf was enjoying flushing quail, a game he often played on our walks.  He would scent or see the quail, pounce, and then watch in delight as the quail flew into the air.  The quail were so used to him that they only flew a few feet away, and the game continued.  On the one day he finally flushed something really exciting, he was flushing quail as usual. He watched a covey fly, and set off to flush them again when suddenly a fox broke cover.  The fox and I were both lucky.  Alf was so shocked at the sight of the fox that he ran in place for a couple of seconds—just long enough for the fox to get a head start and for me to wrap my arm firmly around a tree trunk.  Alf was anchored, the fox was out of sight, and there was nothing Alf could do about it.  I felt sorry for him.  He would have loved to chase the fox.

Airedales are hunters.  Allie, my little girl Airedale, picked up the scent of deer when were in the mountains of Southern New Mexico.  We were in our RV, and we had spent the night on the outskirts of a little town called Cloud Croft.  I was taking Allie for an evening walk when suddenly she switched from casual walk mode to intent tracker.  I let her follow whatever she had found.  We were in a wide meadow, and I could see for a decent distance.  She was as intent as I had ever seen her.  Nose to the ground, she tugged me across the meadow.  I would not have let her go near the edge of the meadow if I had not seen tracks.  She was tracking a deer, not a bear or elk or mountain lion.  It is not that deer can’t be dangerous.  They can be if cornered or if protecting young.

Even though I knew it was only a deer that Allie was tracking, I called off the hunt before we had gone very far up the mountain side.  Allie, I am convinced, would have stayed on the track until she found the deer—an eventuality I wanted to avoid.

It was that night that she really got excited.  I had stowed all food in the refrigerator and taken all trash to the bear-proof trash bin nearby.   But Allie was making that muttering sound that means an Airedale is trying to tell you something.  Airedales don’t just bark and growl.  They come close to talking.  I knew Allie thought something needed urgent attention, and whatever it was it was outside.  She wanted the door of the RV opened. NOW.

I wanted a little more data before I opened the door and went out with her.  Good thought.  What was making Allie frantic was a bear.  The bear was about fifty feet away.  It was digging in the “Bear Proof” trash bin.  I don’t know how the bear got the bin opened.  I had a hard time with it, and I have fingers.  I also knew how to engage the hydraulic lift to get the lid open.  I had let the lid down, and I had taken pains to fasten the latch.  Apparently, the bear had studied the workings of the trash bin, too.

Allie couldn’t see the bear—the windows were too high for her to see out—but she could smell the bear, and she wanted out.  I suppose she knew the bear was dangerous, and she intended to make it clear to the bear that it had to go.  It wasn’t an encounter I wanted to happen.

I wouldn’t say I was scared, but I was ready to be.  If the bear could get into the “Bear Proof” trash bin, getting into the RV would be as easy as pealing the wrapper off a candy bar.  The bear rummaged in the trash for fifteen minutes or so, and Allie continued to demand that I let her out.  It was a nervous time.  Fortunately, Allie kept her mumbling at a just audible level.

The only other time Allie “went hunting” was when we were staying in a motel in Alamogordo, NM.  I was taking Allie for a last walk before we settled for the night when I heard a very odd sound.  I can only describe it as something akin to shards of breaking glass in the air.  There was a U-Haul truck at the far end of the motel parking lot, and at first I thought the sound was coming from that truck.  I thought someone was moving animals (I couldn’t imagine what kind) in the truck, and I was thinking of calling the police.  I was thinking cruelty to animals—and possibly illegal transport of animals.  Maybe transport of animals illegally in the country.

Allie was always eager to lead the way when there was something interesting around, but this time she stayed right at my side.  She wanted to check out whatever it was, but she wanted me right beside her.  That made me edgy.  If Allie thought she might need help, maybe I didn’t want either of us involved.

Whatever it was, it wasn’t in the truck.  It was nearby, and the further we walked the closer it seemed.  I chickened out and insisted that Allie return with me to the motel room.  She didn’t want to go in.  She wanted to confront whatever it was.  Not me.  I was willing to wait until morning.  Allie fretted and mumbled for an hour or so, but then she settled down and we both got some sleep.

In the morning there was nothing.  I had almost forgotten about it when I went to the meeting I had scheduled, but that was when I got the answer.  What was it?  A mountain lion.  There had been very heavy rain in the mountains the evening before, and wildlife experts speculated that the mountain lion had been driven down the mountainside by the rain.  By the time I heard it, it was lost, confused, wet, and probably hungry.  I am so glad Allie and I didn’t explore any further.

The big cat was discovered the next morning by two children who saw it in a tree in their backyard.  When they ran inside to tell their mother that a cat was in the tree, she told them not to worry.  The cat would get itself out of the tree.

According to the newspaper, it took the kids a few minutes to convince their mother that it wasn’t just a cat—it was a really, really big cat.

The cat was tranquilized and given a ride back up the mountain.

There was no way I could convey that information to Allie, but I’m sure her senses had told her quite a lot the night before.

As Alexei and I expand our walks to real hikes, he may have his own encounters with wild life.  We will stay with patrolled areas.  Alexei may not think he needs backup as he gets older, but I want to know help is at hand if needed.

Allie being her usual camera shy self.
Allie being her usual camera shy self.


Alexei the People Trainer

You do want to play, don't you, don't you, please.
You do want to play, don’t you, don’t you, please.

Training is not a one way process.  I am training Alexei, but he is doing training, too, and that’s not necessarily bad.  Just as I have behavior requirements for him that make my life more pleasant, he has needs and wants that need to be addressed.

For example, I have taken pains to teach Alexei that he has to go outside to take care of business.  He has trained me that when he hits the door with a resounding thump and then turns to look expectantly at me, he needs to go outside in keeping with my strong preference that he take care of business outside.  In this we are working together.  He also knows that if he puts one paw on the edge of his water dish and tips it slightly so it will make a thump when he releases it, I will quickly fill his water dish.  Since the dish is rarely completely empty, what he is conveying is a choice that is a no-brainer for me.  Do I want him to escalate his thumping of the water bowl, tipping it more and more with each thump?  No, I do not.  The dish is rarely completely empty, and if he continues to escalate the thumping I will be mopping up water.  Since I don’t want him to be thirsty, I am willing to respond rapidly to his signal that the water dish needs to be filled.

His training of me doesn’t stop there.  He has an internal clock that tells him that when I have been working on the computer of a couple of hours it is time for a break.  Now, I may not be ready for a break.  I may feel that I am making good progress, or I may have set a particular number of pages as a goal.  Maybe I want to continue working for another hour.  Alexei has methods to get around that.

Just as I give him treats when he does what I ask, and scold or put him in his crate when he doesn’t, Alexei has a system of rewards and punishments.  His punishments of me can lead to me punishing him, so it is a risky process for him.  But it is remarkable how often he get me to do what he wants by using mild mischief as a stick.  He brings toys he feels sure I cannot resist playing with as carrots.  And, I must say, he uses carrots more often than sticks—which is a way of saying he is a good trainer.

When he is tired of me doing something he isn’t interested in, he brings me a toy.  Sometimes he brings a ball.  Who can resist a chance to play throw and catch?  If I do resist, he brings something else—maybe his stuffed chimp that makes a noise like the warning call of chimps in the wild.  He finds that irresistible.  If he is outside and I want him to come in—when he is not ready to come in—I just need to push on the chimp with my foot, and Alexei comes running.  But if I resist even that, Alexei goes for the best toy.  I think it is his favorite, but if not his favorite it is close to his favorite.  It is a plastic ring on a rope.  The plastic ring makes a sharp squeak if compressed.  Alexei likes to have me throw the ring so he can chase it.  When he catches it, he gives it several bites to make it squeak.  Sometimes he stops just before reaching me to give it a couple more chomps.  There is something about the pitch of that squeak that is fascinating to him.  He assumes it will tempt me, too.

I use the same methods on Alexei.  When I want a little more time before going out to play, I give him a fresh marrow bone.  I could resists that forever, but I know Alexei loves those bones.  Chewing the marrow out of the bone will take him up to a half-hour.  I think of it as buying time.  Filling his Kong with treats so he can roll it around and shake the treats out is another diversion that almost always works.

The examples above are carrots.  We each offer the other something pleasant.  But if we don’t get what we want, we both escalate.  If he will not leave me alone when I have something I really want to get done, he can get yelled at.  Worst case, he can wind up in his crate.  He has his own set of negative reinforcements.  Now that the laundry is inaccessible, he has turned to other means.  When he could still get to the laundry, he would drag my dirty underwear or dirty socks into the study and lay them around in a semi-decorative manner.  If just bringing in the dirty laundry didn’t work, he would begin chewing on it.  That would definitely get me up from the computer, and sometimes his begging look would get to me and I would go out and play.  Now he brings in the bathmat or a towel from the rack in the bathroom.  He may fetch a book I left on the bedside table.  Yes, I will get up when he begins to nibble gently on the book’s spine.  Another attention getter is for him to go past me purposely carrying something in him mouth—one of his toys, a magazine, a piece of paper he has snagged from my desk.  That will get me up because Alexei is fascinated with the toilet.  He doesn’t want to drink from it as some dogs do, he wants to put things in it so he can see them circle and disappear.

I don’t know why I thought it was funny that he liked to see the toilet flush.  Maybe it was because it seemed such an odd thing for him to like.  I made the mistake of making the toilet a game.  He was so fascinated that it was fun for me to drop a tissue in and flush so I could watch him watch the tissue disappear.  Now he doesn’t wait for me to drop something in.  He does that himself.

I have fished out several of his toys, a couple of magazines, bits of paper, and a couple of my socks.  I try to remember to keep the lid down, but sometimes I forget.  If I see Alexei heading for the bathroom with something in his mouth, I jump and run.  And, yeah, I still sometimes flush tissue for his amusement. Sometimes he returns the favor by relenting after trying several times to get me to go out and play, and lays down to let me continue working.

We are working out the parameters of our life together, and it is working.  Each of us mostly wants to make the other happy, so it works pretty will.

You do want to play, don't you, don't you, please.
You do want to play, don’t you, don’t you, please.

Doggy DayCare

Alexei at Doggy Daycare. One of his people friends is holding him still so I can get a photo.
Alexei at Doggy Daycare. One of his people friends is holding him still so I can get a photo.



by Zoe Deen

Alexei doesn’t have endless energy—at least, I don’t think he has.  I definitely don’t have endless energy, so there is no way I can check.  But he does have a lot of energy.  He loves to play ball.  He loves to chase the Frisbee, and he is getting pretty good at catching it in the air.  It isn’t that I wear him out.  He is just gracious enough to let me take breaks.

If I am preparing a meal, he can easily see the point in what I am doing.  He knows that he will get a bit of whatever I am having, and so far I haven’t found anything he will not eat.  He will eat anything I will, and a lot of things I won’t.

If I am writing, he is patient for a while.  It is a total waste of time as far as he can see.  He has sniffed all around the computer, and he fails to find anything of much interest.  He would chew on the cords, but he has learned that chewing cords makes me yell.  He managed to turn off the television and the Internet connection a couple of days ago when he chewed through two cables while I wasn’t watching as closely as I should have been.  I was doing a little research on the Internet when the connection dropped.  I did the click on the icon thing, and found a no “connections available” message.  I had not seen that before.  I began the usual checks, and Alexei checked with me.  He had been napping near the cords when I began the search—or so I thought.  Actually he had been nibbling on the cables.  I am grateful he nibbled on the harmless cables, not the electrical cords.  I suppose that is why I yelled.  It was so frightening to think he could have chewed a power cord.

I almost never yell, so Alexei was impressed.  I hope the memory will last until he gets past the teething stage.  I thought we had already sorted out that cords of all kinds are not for chewing.  I guess that little detail slipped Alexei’s mind.

For Alexei, it all worked out well.  I left the computer.  I went to the closet where I keep hand tools and various bits and pieces I may need for repairs.  Alexei loves that closet.  That he is rarely given access to it probably adds to the attraction.  Aside from the fact that a broom fell over on him, it was great.  He got to sniff and taste the mop.  He found a coil or rope that I let him mess with while I looked for cables.

What should have been a simple repair expanded.  I decided I should disconnect the Xbox the grandkids sometimes play with.  That eliminated some cables.  It will also make dusting easier.  The kids can reconnect it easily if they want.  While I was moving things around, I cleaned under the cabinet the TV is on.  That was a bonanza.  We found a bone that had gone under the cabinet, and part of one of those rawhide chews that a dog can eat without ill effects.  Note to new dog owners.  There are two kinds of rawhide chews.  The old-fashioned one can cause real problems if swallowed.  They do not digest, and they can stick in the intestines.  Sometimes surgery is required to remove them.  The newer sort is safe.  Alexei has eaten several.

It was good to get the cleaning done, but Alexei had cost me a good bit of time I had planned to use in another way.  I can hardly blame him for being bored.  I can hardly blame me for not wanting to be a full-time play companion for Alexei.  But I have found a solution that Alexei loves.  He now goes to play-days at a doggy daycare a couple of days a week.  It is great.  He goes for six hours, and comes home tired—not, mind you, so tired he isn’t ready to go for a walk or play a little fetch—but tired enough that he doesn’t mind napping.

It has been great for both of us.  I highly recommend it for a one puppy family.  This is the first time I haven’t had an older dog to help with a new puppy, and I do miss the help.  Doggy daycare gives him the playtime with other dogs he had been missing. He has made friends.  His best friends are a female German Shepherd and a male English Setter.  But he is great friends with an enormous Great Dane, too.

The Great Dane is a beautiful, stately dog—and no longer a puppy.  The German Shepherd and English Setter are both about Alexei’s age.  Alexei greets his two best friends first, and then he rushes over to the Dane.  Alexei stands on his back legs and puts his front paws on the Dane’s shoulders and licks the Dane under the chin.  When Alexei drops down onto four feet, the Dane makes what looks almost like a deep bow and they sniff nose to nose.  The first time I saw that exchange, I thought Alexei was toast.

It has been great to have time when I can really concentrate.  And I it is great to know Alexei is having a good time and burning off excess energy.  It is good, too, that Alexei is learning how to interact with other dogs in a friendly way.  Alexei is people friendly, and now he is dog friendly, too.  Alexei is just friendly.

So it was ridiculous that before Alexei could go to doggy daycare he had to be tested for temperament and I was nervous about it.  He tested just fine, of course, and the people who work at the daycare tell me that Alexei is quite popular with the other dogs—and with the people, too.

One of the great features of the doggy daycare Alexei goes to is that they have cameras running all the time, and I can check in on him from home anytime I want.  It is fun to watch him playing, and I sometimes spend more time doing that than I should.

I have been told that he is not aggressive at all, and I have seen no signs of aggression.  In fact when he meets a new dog his first move is to flop over on his back to show submission.  It’s a brief flop, and he is back up ready to play.  He has encountered a few crabby dogs when we have been on walks, but his submission flop seems to work–except with that one little poodle that nipped him on the nose.

But Alexei was fine with that, and continued—albeit from a safer distance—to try persuade the poodle to play.

He’s a funny little guy, and a great joy when he isn’t driving me crazy or scaring me silly.




Rules are Rules–And Don’t Expect An Airedale to Forget It


Allie as an old dog. She is pointedly not looking at the camera. She hated having her picture taken.
Allie as an old dog. She is pointedly not looking at the camera. She hated having her picture taken.


by Zoe Deen

Airedale Terriers are funny about rules.  They come to believe that there are ways that things should be done—and things that should and sound not be done.  Sometimes the rules are rules you have made.  Sometimes not, but either way are very firm about these rules.

Alexei and I have been having trouble over this recently.  When he first came to live with me, the weather was warm—well, actually, it was hot most of the day.  I was intent on house training him, so it just worked out that he and I went outside first thing in the morning and played for an hour or so.  That gave him plenty of time to take care of necessary business, and it helped him run off some of his excess energy.  Time passed, and so did the good weather.  Three or four weeks ago we had three days of slow constant rain.  The temperature was in the thirties and forties.  Obviously, I no longer wanted to spend the first hour of the cold day outside in the rain.  Alexei didn’t see the problem.  He has a lovely, nearly waterproof, fur coat.  He didn’t like it when a large drop of water fell off the edge of the roof and hit him on the head, but he quickly learned to stay away from the drippy places.

Alexei nagged through the rainy days, and did not want to play tug-of-war or fetch the ball in the house.  Those, he had determined, were outdoor activities.  (Maybe I made that rule.  I can’t remember)

The weather improved, and we went back to the usual routine.  But today the sky is filled with gray clouds and it is cold—the high for the day is supposed to be fifty degrees.  I know that in many places that is not cold, but for me it is.  I have lived in the sunny Southwest for close to twenty years now, and I am thoroughly acclimated to warm—okay, hot—weather.

Alexei went out first thing this morning by himself.  He was back in a few minutes with the ball in his mouth.  He looked at me hopefully.  “It’s too cold,” I told him.  “You have to wait.”  He put the ball down, and came indoors.  So he is learning there is a variation to the going out to play.  Keep in mind that he wakes between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m.  The sun is barely peeking over the horizon.  By 8:30 a.m. the angle of the sun will be high enough for the radiant heat of the sun to be felt.  Then I will go out to play.  It is really great that Alexei has caught on to this so quickly.  For him the weather is not an issue—at least not the weather we have here.  But he is beginning to understand that there are limits for me.  He is a great guy.

He has learned so much in his short life.  He is totally housetrained.  He knows not to chew the furniture, my shoes, my clothes, or the toilet paper roll.  He knows he is not allowed on the furniture, and he knows his rugs are his.  He doesn’t mind if I sit on his rug beside him.  He rather likes that.  But he was concerned the first few times his rugs went into the washer and then the dryer.  Now he knows that is just routine.

He knows he is not allowed to attack the vacuum cleaner—though he will still sneak a bite at it if I’m not watching.  He knows he is not allowed to put his teeth on people—though he still thinks that if I would just try playing like his puppy friends do, I would love it.  He can’t quite believe my skin can’t take what is routine play for him.

But in time those last two rules will firm up.  Allie was totally convinced on both points.  She was so certain that she enforced those rules when we went to visit my daughter and her family. They had a new puppy—a darling little Sheltie.  The Sheltie was holding to form in her efforts to herd the kids, and nipping the kids on the ankles was just part of herding them.  Allie was shocked.  She immediately intervened, getting right in the Sheltie’s face to make the point that one never, never, puts a tooth on a child.  A little a later Allie made it clear that attacking the vacuum cleaner was not allowed, either.

It was a couple of years later, that Allie discovered an exception to the rule about teeth and children.  I was busy in the kitchen of my daughter’s house when her youngest, then about three-years-old, suddenly said, “Hey, Allie just tasted me.”

I quickly looked around.  Allie was sitting up very straight with a defiant look on her face.  Since I knew how seriously she took care for the children, I was sure there was more to the story.  “What were you doing when Allie tasted you?” I asked.

“I was kicking her,” my grandson said.

“Did she move away from you?”


“So you followed her and kicked her again?”

“Yes,” this time hesitantly.  My grandson was beginning to realize he had done something he shouldn’t have.

Obviously it was time to have a serious talk about how to treat animals.  It was also time to have my grandson apologize to Allie. She expected an apology, and she was right.  My grandson made a handsome apology, complete with pats and sincere promises never to kick Allie again.

Allie gave him a little lick of acceptance and affection, and all was well.


My apologies to regular readers for not posting for so long.  The computer and I were not getting on well.  I added a new browser that interacted with some other program and made using the computer impossible.  Since I am not a computer geek, it took me a long time to sort it out.



Turf Guard



Alf. Friendly.  Good natured, and serious abut protecting his family.
Alf. Friendly. Good natured, and serious abut protecting his family.

by Zoe Deen


It does matter where you put your toys—as my son learned many years ago.  The first indication I had that something was wrong was a terrible baying sound coming from inside the house in the middle of the night. My first, and not all together unreasonable, thought was that there was a large wild animal in the house.  I leaped from bed and ran toward the source of the noise, intersecting Alf, our first Airedale Terrier, in the hall.  My first reaction was relief that he was on guard.  My second was to jump back as he once more made that eerie baying sound.  It is the sound that a hunting Airedale Terrier makes, but since I had not had an Airedale Terrier before—and had never taken Alf hunting—I had no idea he could make such a sound.

Alf ran past me to the front door.  I followed quickly and looked out the window.  A man was on the porch holding my son’s bike.  Once more my son had left his bike out, and Alf had heard the wanna be thief on the porch.  I hesitated, but only for a moment.  I did not want my son’s bike stolen, but the guy on the porch was a threat I did not want to face.

I think that was the first time that I realized Alf was more than just an oversized house pet that caused me to buy dog food in 40 pounds bags.  He was a guard, a protector, and a real threat at my fingertips–seventy plus pounds of serious muscle and teeth.  I got a grip on Alf’s collar and opened the front door.  We lived in Wichita, Kansas in those days, so we had a storm-door as well as the regular door.  “Put the bike down, and leave,” I told the man.

He had looked up when I opened the door.  He looked defiant for a second, and then Alf added a deep growl to my demand.  “Put it down and leave,” I said again, “or I’ll open the storm-door.”

The man looked at me.  He looked at Alf, and he looked at the aluminum and glass storm-door.  I’m sure it was obvious to him that even if I didn’t open the door, Alf could go through it.  He put the bike down, and beat a hasty retreat.

By that time, the whole family was awake.  I left my son holding Alf’s collar at the front door in case the guy was still nearby, and I went out and collected my son’s bike from the front porch—lecturing as I went about not leaving his bike out.

I was a little rattled, but I thought the incident was over.  That was my opinion, but Alf did not share it.  He wanted out.  He wanted to go find the guy who had invaded his turf and tried to steal his best buddy’s bike.

It was late, and going back to bed seemed a very attractive idea, but there had been a series of minor thefts in the neighborhood.  People in the neighborhood had been asked to report all incidents to the police.  Reluctantly, I called the police as Alf paced from the front door to the back, walking stiff legged and muttering and mumbling his frustration at not being allowed to pursue the thief.

Alf’s muttering and growling didn’t worry anyone in the family, but it was another matter when the police arrived.  At the first sound of strange footsteps on the porch steps, Alf thought he was getting a second chance.

We had to lock him in his crate before we let the police in—and he muttered and mumbled his disapproval of that, too.  To him the matter was simple.  Someone invades your territory to do harm. You deal with it.  As far as he was concerned the police were just more strangers, and he was in no mood for strangers in the middle of the night.

The police looked around the area, but the guy was gone.  They took a report, and we got back to bed.

It was two or three weeks later that Alf got a second chance.  It was a summer night, dark but not late.  The house in Wichita had two back doors–one between the kitchen and the enclosed back porch and a second that led from the back porch to the back yard.  I had just stepped out onto the back porch to put something away on the shelves that lined one wall.  Suddenly Alf rushed past me to the back door and out the doggy door.  He was baying again.

I hurried after him, trying to think what the law might be concerning a dog who bites someone in his own backyard.  I didn’t know what the law was, so I ran after him calling for him to stop.  He hesitated a bit when I first started calling, and that gave the guy he was chasing a chance to really get moving.  Alf looked back at me when I called him again, but he didn’t stop chasing the guy.

Generally, Alf was a very obedient dog.  I think he just couldn’t agree with letting someone prowl around the house in the dark.

The guy was zigzagging across the yard—looking, I guess for a way out.  But Alf was between him and the gate.  With Alf hot on his heels, the guy leaped for the six foot fence and climbed frantically.  He climbed even more frantically when Alf caught up with him.  From across the yard I could hear Alf’s teeth snapping just at the guy’s heels, but somehow—much to Alf’s disappointment—the guy managed to get away.  Just as I wouldn’t open the front door to allow Alf to catch the guy, I wouldn’t open the gate to let him out the second time.

I mentioned that to the police, and they said they wished I had.  Indeed should the occasion arise, they said they would appreciate it if I would.


Careful Where You Leave Your Toys

Alexei with his scary ball in the background.
Alexei with his scary ball in the background.


You have to be careful how you leave your toys laying around.  That’s a lesson Alexei learned the hard way last night.  Scared the heck out of himself.

He had taken the stuffed gorilla outside—which he isn’t supposed to do because it gets dirty and is hard to clean.  He just happened to leave it beside the big ball that is an outdoor toy.  The big ball is probably ten or twelve inches in diameter.  The gorilla is about the size of a squirrel.  Laying on its face beside the ball the gorilla did sort of look like the head of a crouching animal in the dark.

That it was dark was the key.  Two familiar toys left side by side during the day had turned into a monster in the dark.  I had gone out with Alexei for his bedtime bathroom break, and I was more than a little startled when Alexei suddenly growled deep in his throat.  It was the first time I had heard him growl except for a few play growls when we were playing tug-of-war.  This growl sounded serious, and I looked around quickly.  Even though I live in the middle of Tucson, there are still occasional wild animals to be alert for.   Tucson is part of a big metropolitan area, but it is crisscrossed with mostly dry riverbeds and washes—a sort of interstate highway system for wild animals .  Mostly we get coyotes or the occasional bobcat.  But a couple of months ago there were javelina at the end of the block.  Animal Control corralled them quickly which was a relief.  Javelina are not friendly, good natured animals.

Mostly javelina ignore people—though they expect people to get out of their way, not the other way around.  But if they have young, are having a bad day, or just don’t like the cut of your clothes, they will attack.  They weigh between forty and sixty pounds—virtually all solid bone, muscle, and bad temper.  They are armed with sharp tusks on each side of their snout.  They can do real damage with those tusks—they are potentially but very rarely lethal.

I wasn’t really worried.  Even though it was late, Alexei and I were inside a six-foot fence, and as far as I know the Golden Eagle that hunts in this area does his hunting during the daytime.  Golden Eagles are big birds.  They have a wing span of around six feet, and can stand thirty inches high.  Our local guy isn’t quite that big.  More like a wing span of five feet—give or take.  I have had one encounter with the eagle.  I rounded the corner of the house one day and surprised him as he was eating a dove he had just killed.  He was no kidding aggressive and big enough to be impressive.  I beat a hasty retreat.

Of course, there is the two legged variety of wild animal to be alert for, but I couldn’t see anything big enough to be a person.  And anyway, Alexei likes people.  He has not yet met anyone who hasn’t liked and admired him.  I think he would be more likely to go to meet a person than to growl at one—but maybe not.  He might make a distinction about a stranger in the yard at night.

Anyway, I was cautiously looking for whatever it was that was upsetting Alexei—and he was upset.  The only thing I could see in the direction he was looking was his big ball with something beside it.  Whatever was beside it wasn’t big enough to be a real threat—okay, if it were warmer I might have thought of a coiled rattlesnake, but as cold as it was a rattlesnake would be immobile.  So I took a couple of steps toward the ball and whatever was beside it.  Alexei barked a sharp warming, and came to push me back.  But I continued.  As I got closer, I knew the ball was the ball.  A couple of steps later I knew the gorilla was the other shape.

I kicked the ball gently to separate it from the gorilla and make its shape recognizable to Alexei.  Recognition was not his first reaction.  He jumped backward about four feet, and barked menacingly.  I’m grateful I’m sure he likes me and would not harm me.  If I hadn’t been, I would have been spooked for a minute.  But then Alexei recognized his ball and then the gorilla.  He warily walked over and inspected them.  He gave the ball an experimental nudge, and looked around to see if there was anything to be concerned about.

I don’t think he was best pleased to have been spooked by his own toys, but I don’t think he was best pleased with me either.  He muttered at me a bit as we went back into the house.  Something along the lines of, “yeah, but what if it hadn’t been the ball and the gorilla that you decided to kick?”





Airedale Terriers’ Rules


Brahm when he was a baby.
Brahm when he was a baby.

Major breakthrough.  I can now get dressed without having to put Alexei in his crate.  He is maturing, and he no longer thinks everything I do is somehow a game for him.  It is, of course, wonderfully convenient, but it is another sign of Alexei beginning to understand much more than he did a couple of months ago.

I have been insisting that his soft, stuffed toys that cannot be easily washed do not go outside.  I don’t want the bones he loves to chew on outside either.  He eats quite enough dirt as it is.  But I do not want him to bring the balls I throw for him indoors.  My aim isn’t all that good, and I value lamps and paintings.  Alexei is beginning to understand the distinction—if not the reasons for it.

He is careful with his soft toys.  He eviscerated the first one I gave him, and it went in the trash.  He has been gentle with subsequent soft toys.  He has made the distinction that a bone or hard plastic toy can be chewed vigorously, but the soft toys fall apart unless they are handled carefully.  It seems that he has extended this understanding to the upholstered furniture.  He does put his mouth on the edges of chairs and the couch, but he does it gently.  He is careful not to knock things over—he is more careful indoors than outdoors.   That is an Airedale Terrier trait.  Understanding cause and effect, and learning rules are Airedale Terrier traits.  I know that as we go forward, he will learn much more.

An Airedale Terrier puppy is a bundle of energy—rough and rowdy, but with the beginnings of care for their surroundings.  An adult Airedale Terrier is careful not to knock over anything—especially small children.  It is as though there is a rule book built into an Airedale.  They need just a little guidance, and they get it.

I remember Brahm the first time he saw a small child.  My grandchildren were past being really small before I got Brahm, and so he had no idea people came in very small sizes.  I still owned the RV Park then, and people were in and out all day—mostly adults with a smattering of grade school age or older kids.  Then a family with younger children checked in.  I hadn’t realized they had a little girl about two-years-old until they came to the main building in the evening of the day they checked in.  The little girl was with them—a tiny little blond girl who wouldn’t have needed much costuming to play a fairy princess.  Brahm happened to be walking from one end of the big common room to the other when the little girl came in.  He stopped cold, one foot still raised and stared at the little girl in shock.  He had not, I think, known people came in such small, dainty forms.

The little girl saw Brahm, and wanted to go over to him.  I assured the parents that Brahm was friendly and gentle, and he was—more gentle than even I expected.  He didn’t move—he hardly breathed—as the little girl examined him.  She petted and poked, and Brahm stood absolutely still.  It was as though he thought she was made of spun glass and would break if he breathed on her too hard.

The family was around for a couple of days, and it took most of that time for Brahm to work up the nerve to give the little girl a little lick.  He became relaxed enough around her to move a bit, but he touched her ever so carefully.

I think he rather fell in love.  For several days after the family left, Brahm looked up eagerly each time the door opened.  I think he was looking for the little girl, and was disappointed that she didn’t return.

Alexei has taken his inner rule book to a new level.  He knows that he does not pee or poop indoors.  He is totally reliable, and has been for some time.  But a couple of days ago, he took that to a new level.  He hit the door with a frantic, “got to go NOW,” message.  I hurried to open the door, and he shot out, making it to the gravel beyond the patio before he threw up.  Don’t throw-up in the house was not a rule I had taught.  There had been no occasion.  He had made the connection himself, and I am grateful for it.  Scooping up with a shovel is much nicer than cleaning up with paper towels.  I praised Alexei lavishly—and pointed out that the large, mangled bird feather in the midst of the dog food he threw-up might be what his digestive tract had rejected.  I doubt he will eat enough feathers to make the connection.  When the teething stage ends he will stop eating weird things, anyway.  But I am impressed that he connected peeing and pooping with throwing-up as something done outdoors.  Alexei is a great guy, and I love him dearly.

Jalapanos and Love



Alf in need of a trim.  Yes, he could see.
Alf in need of a trim. Yes, he could see.

Alexei discovered something about himself today.  I don’t think he has figured it out yet, but he knows something is going on.  He was lying peacefully on the floor chewing on a bone—he is still teething so he chews all the time.  Suddenly there was a squeaky sound.  I was a little surprised, but Alexei was really startled.  He jumped up to see what had made that strange sound behind him.  He looked all around, picking up an interesting scent, but seeing nothing.  What made it really funny was that while he was looking for the source of the noise, he made it again.  It was him making the loud little toot, but he didn’t know it.  Maybe letting him have a bite of the burrito I had for lunch was a mistake.  It was pretty spicy.

Alexei likes spicy just as Alf did.  Alf loved jalapeno peppers and cream puffs—I’m not sure in what order.  The first time I ever gave him a sliver of jalapeno I had immediate guilt.  He had been begging and begging for some of the peppers I was chopping for whatever I was cooking.  It seemed ridiculous.  Those peppers were hot.  I could feel the burn in my fingers as I chopped them.  I couldn’t imagine that a dog would want to eat hot peppers, but he kept begging until I decided he could learn from experience.  I gave him a tiny sliver.  He took it chewed once, and his tongue came out of his mouth further than I would have thought possible.  I felt terrible for a second.  That was about how long it took for Alf to beg for more.  Yes, they were hot, but he loved them.

There was a downside.  Much as he loved jalapeno peppers—or any peppers for that matter—they had an unfortunate effect on him.  They gave him terrible gas.  Terrible in quantity and in odor.

It was hard to refuse to give him something he loved so much, but it was hard to live in the same house with him if I did.  I worked out a compromise.  I only gave him peppers late in the day—around dinner time.  And each time I gave them to him I said the same thing, “You have to promise to sleep by David’s bed tonight.”  Alf understood and agreed.  He would agree to most anything to get a sample of peppers—the hotter the better—so we had a workable arrangement.

Of course, it didn’t work for everyone.  At some point in the night I would hear my son shout down the hall.  “Mom, have you been feeding him peppers again?”  I would chuckle into my pillow and pretend I was sound asleep.

I don’t remember how Alf discovered beer.  Beer wasn’t something we had around the house often, but there must have been a time when we did and he begged for some.  He liked it—a lot.  So for special occasions—Alf’s birthday, Christmas, the 4th of July—Alf got a bowl of peppers and a bowl of beer.  He was a happy—if odorous—dog.

He loved cream puffs, but in a different way.  Cream puffs did not have any negative effects on his inner workings, and they certainly didn’t have the bite of peppers.  Maybe that was why his attitude toward cream puffs was different.  He would beg for jalapenos, but once they were in the refrigerator he would wander off.  Not with cream puffs.  If there was a cream puff in the refrigerator, Alf would be sitting in front of the refrigerator communing with the cream puff.  He would whimper softly.  He would emit small loving moans, and his eyes would have a soft, adoring look.

I don’t know how Alexei will react to cream puffs.  I haven’t made them in a long time.  With just Alexei and me a batch of cream puff would be a lot.  We will have to wait until there are others around to help eat them.

There are now two things on the list of things Alexei will not eat.  Toothpaste and the medication the vet prescribed for him for a very mild case of kennel cough.  I might know that things that are actually good for him would be the things he doesn’t like.

Making Do


Alexei making do with a playmate that isn't me.  He is battling a Clorox bottle I hung from a tree.
Alexei making do with a playmate that isn’t me. He is battling a Clorox bottle I hung from a tree.

Poor Alexei is having a hard time.  He is full of energy and mischief, and he is stuck with me.  I have no energy, and my sense of humor is not what it usually is.  Alexei is such a good guy.  He tries to be patient, but it is clear that he just can’t understand what is wrong with me.  Why don’t I want to play toss and fetch for hours at a time.  Why don’t I want to go to the park and wander around while he searches for things he shouldn’t eat?

Something has gone wrong in his world, and he doesn’t understand why.  I know exactly what is wrong—I just can’t seem to fix it.  I have a sinus infection that just doesn’t seem to want to go away.  Round two of antibiotic is—maybe—starting to do the job, but the last month has been miserable.  We have had unusually cool weather which hasn’t helped.  Over the years, I have had many sinus infections and I know that for me one of the symptoms is that I feel cold all the time.  Other people are wandering around perfectly comfortable in short-sleeved shirts while I am wearing a coat and hat and shivering.

When it was warmer and I was well, Alexei and I spent the first couple of hours of each day out in the yard playing ball and tug-of-war.  Alexei spent time sniffing around for luckless bugs which he ate, and digging for bugs that he could smell under the surface of the soil in the yard.  There is no need for him to hunt for his supper.  The dog food dish is always full.  I suppose that for him it just taste better if he hunts it himself.

For many days all of this has been a real effort for me, and I just haven’t been able to stay outside with him like I did when it was warmer and when I felt better.  We have played ball inside—which doesn’t give him the running room he has in the yard.  We have taken short walks—which doesn’t give him time to really enjoy being out and about.

For me sinus infections are one of the few downsides to living in the Southwest.  I love the weather—well I do get tired of 100+ degree weather before summer is over.  I think it is cold when early mornings are in the forties or even thirties, but generally there is some part of each day that is comfortable.  In the summer early mornings are a pleasant time to take a walk.  In the winter, the middle of the day is warm if a little crisp.  Most days are filled with sun which raises the spirits.  Sunrise and sunset is a time of wonder.  When the sun rises, the eastern sky is filled with color, but it is a two part show.  The western sky reflects the colors of the eastern sky.  The reverse is true at sunset.  It is often hard to know which is most beautiful the horizon lit by the sun or the horizon reflecting that beauty.

What I do have an issue with is the dust.  The Southwest is a desert—really several deserts, each with a different landscape, but each with little rain and lots of dust.  When the dust is blowing badly visibility can be cut to nothing.  Other times it is just a haze in the air.  The dust is filled with pollen—some of it from hundreds of miles away.  The dust is filled with fungus—most of which are relatively harmless, but some which aren’t.  For people like me it is a mix that almost insures infection.

Just as the oceans are magnificent in a storm, the desert has a majesty.  The dust storms are visible for long distances.  They are like immense moving walls that tower high into the sky and extend for miles from side to side.  They are generally beige, but sometimes they are tinted with shades of rose or yellow.  Anyone who has lived here long knows that moving wall is going to descend with blinding ferocity.  It is time to get indoors—or, if you are driving—to get off the road—far enough off not to be hit by someone who tries to continue driving.  The dust storm may last minutes or for an hour or more.  They may be followed by rain—which brings an amazing phenomena.  I was driving with one of my grandchildren several years ago when we were treated to the whole show.

I saw a huge dust storm on the horizon.  Those things move at sixty or seventy miles per hour which doesn’t give one a lot of time to react.  We were on the interstate highway, miles from the nearest town.  We would just have to wait it out in whatever safety I could quickly find.  After a couple of miles, I found a place where the shoulder was fairly wide and the ground beyond the shoulder looked firm.  I pulled off the highway, putting several car lengths between our car and the possible blind drivers who would be coming along as the storm hit.  The thing that made our retreat deluxe was that I parked in front of a tractor-trailer rig.  Anyone wandering off the road would hit the trailer or truck before hitting us.

We had hardly parked when the wind hit.  The clear sky was suddenly beige, and right against the windshield.   We could not see a fraction of an inch beyond the windshield.  We were safe.  I knew that.  The storm would pass, and we would continue on our trip.  But even with that knowledge, I had to make an effort to reassure my grandson.  I knew that this particular manifestation of nature’s might would do us no real harm, but the power of nature unleashed is awesome.

For close to an hour, it was as though we were in a cocoon. A leaky one.  Even with the windows tightly closed, dust filtered into the car making breathing uncomfortable.  We pulled our collars over our faces and breathed through the fabric.  It helped, but not much.

That was act one.  Act two was the front edge of a rain storm.  The rain was mixed with the dust so that what fell from the sky was drops of mud.  For twenty minutes it rained mud.  It was just like a heavy rainstorm, except that what covered the car was mud.  The dust had stopped, but even with the windshield wipers working we could not see past the windshield.  It no longer felt as though we were in a cocoon.  It felt as though we were in a muddy cave.

Finally, the rain came.  It rained so hard that we could still not see more than an inch or two beyond the glass of the windshield.  All told, I think we were trapped beside the road for close to three hours.  We were utterly helpless.  Nature was putting on a show, and we had no choice but to be part of it.

When the show was over and the sun came back, we were sitting in mud.  But we were lucky.  The ground was reasonably firm and I was able to slowly drive back onto the highway.

I’m beginning to feel better, and I have tentatively made arrangements with a friend to make a hike to an old abandoned house in a couple of days.  That will give Alexei a good outing.  Round-trip the hike is about three miles. I’ll put Alexei in a harness, and he can tow me up the hill.  That hike is still tentative, but I have definitely scheduled him a half-day at doggy day-care.  He loves going.  He has two special friends that are about his age and energy level, but the people who work there have told me that Alexei is quite popular with all the dogs.  I thought that all the other dogs crowded around the gate anytime a new dog arrived, but they tell me that is not the case.  The other dogs—including a regal Great Dane—seem to especially like Alexei.

Tomorrow will be a good day.  Alexei will play, and I will rest.

Winter’s Not What It Used To Be




My son with his best buddy, Alf. This was Alf in his sled pulling days.
My son with his best buddy, Alf. This was Alf in his sled pulling days.

We have had two and a half miserable days of slow, steady rain.  It is great for plants, etc., but thoroughly miserable for someone with a sinus infection and a dog that has to be walked often.  Alexei didn’t seem to mind the rain.  He just looked puzzled and shook every now and then.  He was fascinated with the water dripping off the roof into puddles, but he jerked back every time a drop hit him.  Once he looked up to see what was falling on him just as a trickle of water came over the edge of the roof.  It hit him right in the face, and he barked indignantly.  I plodded along behind him freezing.  I did not come equipped with a warm, perfectly tailored fur coat.

I kept telling myself that we needed the rain.  Here we almost always need rain, but winter rain is far different from summer rain.  It was freezing cold—high temperatures for the day in the mid-forties.  Yes, I know.  It’s wimpy to think mid-forties is cold, but I have lived in the Southwest a long time.  Mid-sixties seem a bit chilly to me.

There was a time when I did winter, and didn’t mind all that much.  For many years I lived in Kansas where winter is winter.  Once the snow was so deep that it was impossible to tell where the edge of the front porch was—and the porch was three feet off the ground.  It may have been that snow that motivated me to shovel the driveway so I could get the car out to the street.  My thought was that the streets would be cleared, and if the car was out of the driveway it would not be snowed in again. There was just one little glitch in the plan.  I didn’t wait until the snowplow came through to move the car to the street.  I’d probably spent a couple of hours shoveling snow—and worked up a pretty good sweat—but I was pleased with my work.  The driveway and sidewalks were clear.  The car was out where it couldn’t be snowed in again.  I was standing sipping a cup of coffee and looking out the window at all my hard work when the snowplow came past—and buried the car.

So, I got to go dig the car out again.  I suppose I could have just left it.  We had a neighborhood alliance in those days.  Anyone making a trip to the grocery store or drug store would call around to see if anyone else needed something.  That way, only one of us had to venture out into the cold winter wonderland.  Still, being boringly independent, I wanted to contribute to the fetch and carry brigade and dug the car out.

Those were days when there was fun in snow.  My children were young.  There was an excuse for snowball fights and snow fort building.  There was the non-stop drying of wet clothes, too, but it was all part of the fun.  Hot chocolate and freshly baked brownies warmed the inside and the outside, and a fire in the fireplace was extra cozy.

I don’t think anyone loved snow more than Alf.  Heat bothered him, but he loved the cold.  The first good snow of the year was a chance to have payback time with his nemeses, Fluffy.  He was always tolerant with her, but he did enjoy teasing her at times.  The first snow was an opportunity.  Fluffy hated snow.  She was so small—seven pounds—that even a little snow was hard for her to get around in.  Anything over three or four inches of snow meant that a path and an open circle had to be shoveled so she could go out the take care of business.  When we had five inches or more of snow, she couldn’t manage at all beyond her shoveled path.  Alf knew this, and made us of it.  He would follow Fluffy as she minced along the path until she was near a deep drift.  Then he would catch her with his muzzle under her middle and flip her into the deep snow.  There would be a frantic flurry of snow as she tried to free herself, and Alf would stand by with a big silly grin on his face.  He didn’t leave her in the snow long.  After a minute of two, he would lift her back onto the path.  She would snap at him indignantly, and proceed to tend her business.

But the thing Alf truly loved about snow was sledding.   As he grew—and got over his puppy silliness—I realized he had potential as a draft animal.  He weighed seventy-five pounds, and he was amazingly strong.  I found a harness that could be hooked to the kids’ sled, fastened a leash to Alf’s collar so I could control him—as much as a two legged creature on snow can control a four footed one.

I didn’t need the leash.  Alf caught on right away.  He loved to pull the kids on the sled.  He paid attention to how they were doing, and if one fell off he stopped and waited.  The kids loved it. Alf would pull them for hours, patiently pulling them up and down the block and around the schoolyard next door to our house.  He never ran with them on the sled—though they wanted him to.  He maintained a safe pace, and he was careful when he turned corners.

It was wonderful to see how caring he was, and how clearly he understood the needs of the children.  They were, I suppose, ten and twelve when he first began pulling them on the sled, and they were well into their teens before their interest in sledding waned.  Alf was older then, and I guess he didn’t mind too much that the sledding days were past.  But he loved them while they lasted.

Nothing Serious, Thank Goodness

Nose to ground as usual.  There are so many interesting things on the ground.
Nose to ground as usual. There are so many interesting things on the ground.

Alexei does things that remind me of other dogs I have had.  Mostly he reminds me of Alf and Allie, my first two Airedale Terriers.  He reminded me of Allie last week when I took him to the vet.  Allie was a stickler for detail in many ways, but especially when I was driving.  She knew the routes to all the places we normally went, and she complained if I deviated from the normal route.

Alexei and I have just four normal routes so far.  We go to the bank a couple of times a month, and he knows that if we go past PetSmart we are going to the bank where he has several friends who give him treats and tell him he is beautiful.  Nothing not to like about that.

PetSmart is fun because they have so many interesting things on low shelves, there are other dogs, and best of all there are people who admire him.

We drive to a nearby park most days, and Alexei knows that route well.  As soon as I make the definitive turn that means we are going to the park, he gets excited.  So he was indignant when I drove him to the vet.  The route to the vet’s office takes us right past the turn to the park.  I was driving along hoping I had allowed enough time to make the drive to the vet’s because traffic was heavier than normal.  Alexei was on the backseat watching our progress toward what he thought was going to be a walk in the park where he could meet people and other dogs, and scour the ground for forbidden objects—bottle caps, aluminum foil, scraps of paper and cellophane, etc.

As it happened, I glanced into the rearview mirror to see if I could change lanes just as we went past the turn that would have taken us to the park.  Alexei’s head snapped around to look back at the turn he expected us to make, and he barked sharply.  Translation, “Hey, you missed the turn.”  Of course, I hadn’t missed the turn.  I wasn’t planning to go to the park just then, but that wasn’t something I could explain to Alexei.  He doesn’t have the vocabulary, yet.  Allie didn’t have much vocabulary when she was his age, either, but she eventually knew the word for many destinations.  If she thought we were going to the bank, but instead we were going to visit my aunt or take a walk along the river I could just say Aunt Wanda or River.  She would understand, and settle down.  Although there was one time when I wanted to drive through a part of town we rarely drove through to see the new bridge that was being built.  I had told her we were going to visit my aunt which Allie loved doing.  My aunt always had a spare pork chop or hot dog for Allie.  She liked to pet and fuss over Allie—which Allie liked a lot—and then there was a dog in the yard next door.  Maybe best of all was the cat that liked to see how close he could come to being caught by Allie and still get away.

I had told Allie we were going to visit my aunt, and she knew exactly what that meant and the route I should drive to get there.  When I made a turn that wasn’t on the route, she began to fuss.  Soon she was standing with her muzzle against my ear muttering and mumbling with increasing frustration.  Even after we got to my aunt’s house, she continued to fuss for a few minutes—still indignant that I had messed up the route.

Alexei had the same reaction when I passed the turn to the park.  He muttered.  He barked.  He made impatient mumbling sounds.  He nudged me in the back of the neck.  He did everything he could to get me to turn around and go back to the park.  It took fifteen or twenty minutes to arrive at the vet’s office, and a long fifteen or twenty minutes it was.

Mr. Impatient was beside himself with frustration that he could not communicate to me that I had missed the proper turn.  Then we arrived at the vet’s office—where he had only been once before for his routine shots.  He looked at me in surprise, but got out of the car.  And then a light went on.  He picked up the scent of other dogs—lots of other dogs, and cats, and who knows what other sort of pet.  As we walked up the long sidewalk to the door, Alexei sniffed energetically, picking up information about all the recent visitors.  Occasionally, he glanced up at me.  His look seemed to say, “Okay, you missed the park, but this is pretty good.”

Like every Airedale Terrier I have had, Alexei likes going to the vet.  He likes the scents, the other animals, and the people.  He doesn’t mind a shot—he does seem to think that having his temperature taken is more than a little rude—but he likes the vet’s assistants and he likes the vet.

This visit was a check to see what was causing the slight cough he had developed.  In this part of the world a cough in a dog can mean Valley Fever, a serious fungal infection that is endemic in the local soil.  The vet said that he believes at least half the dogs that live here get Valley Fever at some point.  It can be a mild infection that the dog will simply recover from, but it is more likely to be a debilitating condition that requires the dog to be on medication for six months to a year.  It begins in the respiratory tract, but can spread to all parts of the dog’s body.  It can be fatal.

So the first hint of a cough worried me.  It would be easy enough for Alexei to get Valley Fever.  He has his nose on the ground—the habitat of the Valley Fever fungus– all the time.  But we were lucky.  Alexei has something called kennel cough, a generic name for a variety of viral and bacterial infections that dogs get.  Generally, kennel cough is much like a cold in a person–unpleasant, but nothing serious.  He had had a shot to protect him against kennel cough, but like the flu shot for people there are so many strains of virus and bacteria that the shot offers limited protection.

Alexei was lucky.  He coughed three or four times a day for three days, and that was that.  He never seemed to feel ill at all—though a mean part of me had thought briefly that there would be advantages if we could go home and be sick together.  I was sick enough to think long naps and lots of just sitting around sounded good.  Alexei was feeling fine, ready for nice long walks and lots of play.

Next week, Alexei will go in for another Bordetella vaccine just to be on the safe side.  He was only three months old when he had the first one, so maybe he needs a booster.  But the facts are that the Bordetella vaccine isn’t a total protection any more than the flu shot is for people.

I suppose Alexei will be indignant again when we pass the turn to the park, but in time he will associate the word “vet” with a destination just as he has learned that the words “park” and “walk” have meaning.  He knows the word “treat” has meaning.  “Come” is a word he knows—although he doesn’t yet always obey.  “Leave it”, “drop it”, and “no” are words he understands—and mostly obeys unless something is really tasty.  Given time his vocabulary will expand as will his compliance.

was.  Mr. Impatient was beside himself with frustration that he

Dog Days





Alexei trying to see what I am doing with the camera.  He gets that close when I brush my teeth.
Alexei trying to see what I am doing with the camera. He gets that close when I brush my teeth.

A bad sinus infection and an Airedale Terrier puppy are a bad combination.  Just keeping up with Alexei has been all—and more—than I could do.  No matter how rotten I felt or how much I wanted to just stay in bed, Alexei was full of energy.  He needs two to three hours of playing—throwing the ball and playing tug of war—each day.  That is on top of at least two half-hour walks.  When he isn’t demanding that I play ball or fill his Kong so he can roll it around and make the treats fall out, he is underfoot.  Just brushing my teeth is a chore.  Two or three weeks ago Alexei was sniffing at the toothpaste tube, so I put a little toothpaste on my finger and let him taste it.

That was the first thing he has refused to eat.  Not only did he not want to eat it, he wanted the taste out of his mouth.  Funny that he will eat any bug he can find, tree bark, bird feathers, and trash of all sorts, but toothpaste is beyond his taste range.

The result of the toothpaste experiment is that every time I brush my teeth, Alexei barks at me.  Sometimes he stands with his front feet on the edge of the basin so he can bark right in my face.  I spend lots of time taking things I know he shouldn’t eat out of his mouth.  Apparently he is trying to save me from putting nasty tasting toothpaste in my mouth.  I didn’t mind so much when I was feeling well, but with a sinus infection—an aching ear, stuffy head, and general fatigue—having him try to keep me from brushing my teeth was too much.

It made me remember the days when my children were small and the whole family came down with something or other.  No matter how rotten I felt, I was still on duty.  There are real similarities.

Having a small child in the household means keeping the child from eating anything dangerous, keeping the child from getting hurt in the many experiments they try.  It also means teaching the child that some behaviors are acceptable and some aren’t.  Same with a puppy.  The range of things a young child and a puppy will eat are much the same.  The experiments they try differ.  My daughter learned to walk at nine months—far too young to have enough sense to have that much mobility.  But even before she could walk, she was climbing.  Many times I plucked her from the upper shelves of the floor to ceiling bookshelves.  And more than once I caught her as she crawled off the edge of the kitchen table.  For some reason she loved to pull herself up onto a chair and then onto the table.  She had no fear at all of heights.  Maybe if I had not been so alert and she had taken a fall or two, she would have developed that fear.  But, of course, I couldn’t let her take that sort of fall.

Alexei hasn’t tried to climb onto a table.  He wants to chew—things like electrical cords.  Though now that I think about it my daughter was a chewer, too, she just didn’t chew electrical cords.  She preferred biting something alive.  I suppose the reaction was more rewarding.  She bit her brother so often that he kept a wary distance from her.  The dog was afraid of her.  Her best hit—or bite—was the time she crawled up behind me while I was washing dishes after dinner.  With the water running, I didn’t hear her coming, and when she clamped her teeth down on my Achilles Tendon I’m afraid I reflexively kicked.  My daughter scooted across the waxed kitchen floor unhurt, but I was appalled at what might have happened.

Alexei did a similar thing while I was feeling terrible.  On one of the worst of the days, he kept jumping up on me, trying to get me to play.  I had read somewhere that the way to stop a dog from jumping up on one was to turn your back on the dog.  So I turned my back.  Alexei nipped me smartly on the rump.  Then he came around to look at my face to see if I found that little trick as funny as he did.  I didn’t, but he is not discouraged.  He is sure that if I would just rough-house with him as he keeps trying to get me to do, that I would find it as much fun as he knows it would be.

Patience.  He will learn.  He will not be a puppy forever.  He will learn manners—if I patiently tell him the same thing again and again and again.  It is so much like having a small child around, and I know from both puppies and children that patience and perseverance pay off.

The day will come when Alexei will look at some other dog that is pulling on a leash or jumping and look at me with a look that says, “what terrible manners.”  He is already at the point where he would be shocked if another dog peed in the house.  And should I get really crazy and get another dog in a couple of years, I will be able to count on Alexei to teach the new dog the lessons I am teaching him now.

It is the same with children.  The day comes—amazingly—when you hear words you remember repeating endlessly come from the mouth of your child.  Of course, it is your grown child speaking, and the words are addressed to your grandchild.




Generosity and Good Sense


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There are three stories about dogs I met by chance that I would like to tell.  They are stories that tell a lot about dogs—about their innate generosity, and their ability to sense good intentions in people.

Many years ago I was selling Real Estate, and generally having a good time doing so.  I got to meet lots of people, visit lots of houses, and make new friends on a pretty regular basis.  I also made money selling houses, and I liked that part, too.

A big part of the job was taking people who wanted to buy a house around to look at houses.  Often, the owners of the houses weren’t home when their house was being shown, and that worked just fine.  The potential buyers felt more relaxed and able to look through a house and comment on it with the owners out of ear-shot.  So there was nothing unusual about taking the key to the house I was showing to a middle-aged couple out of the lock box and opening the door.  There was a dog inside—some sort of German Shepherd-Labrador mix, perhaps.  The dog was alert and wary about three strangers entering the house, but I talked to him a bit, and his tail began to wag.

He became more friendly as we toured the house.  I chattered to him and rubbed him behind his ears as the couple looked around the house.  It wasn’t quite what they wanted, but there was nothing unusual about that, either.  Most of us have to look around for a while before we find a house that seems to speak of home.

The dog followed us to the door, and I let the couple leave ahead of me.  When I tried to go out, the dog wanted to go, too.  I couldn’t let that happen.  I couldn’t take someone’s dog, and I couldn’t let him just run loose.

I edged out the door, and knelt on the porch shoving the dog back from the door so that I could pull the door closed and lock it.  Poor guy, he didn’t want to be left alone—nothing unusual about that.

It wasn’t until I got back to the office that I learned that something had been unusual.  There was a little pile of memos on my desk—warnings that I should not show the house I had just shown because the dog was there.  “THE DOG WILL BITE” one note said.  “DO NOT SHOW HOUSE.  BAD DOG!” another not said.  It seems that the owners of the dog had both called as had the Real Estate agent whose listing it was.  The broker of that agent had called too.  But since I had not been in the office, I had not received the warnings.  This was, of course, in the days before cell phones.  It was before the shoebox sized phones that were the first “mobile” phones.

How very kind of that dog to recognize my ignorance and my good intentions.  Had the dog not been basically kind and generous, I would have been in real trouble.


I was still selling Real Estate when I had my second encounter with a dog with a bad reputation.  I was holding open house: that is I was stuck at one house for three hours in the hope that a buyer would see the ad or the sign and wander in to buy the house.  That was something that almost never happened, and holding open house felt like a waste of time.  But it was an occasion to meet people who were looking for a house.  Sometimes I later sold another house to people I met that way.

The house I was holding open was out at the edge of town.  It was probably a half-mile or so to the nearest neighbor.  Maybe it was because it was so off the beaten track that I had time to read the newspaper, and start on the book I had brought along to fill the time.  I was bored and sleepy as I often was when holding a house open.  I got up and wandered around the house in an effort to stay awake, stopping to look out the glass sliding-doors that opened out onto a wooden deck.  The backyard was big, and so was the German Shepherd in the backyard.

I had been warned not to go out into the yard or to let the dog in.  The owners said the dog liked only them, and would attack anyone else who entered the yard.  “Beautiful dog,” I thought, idly as I looked out at him.  Still, I took the owners warning seriously until ….

After close to two hours of solitude there were steps on the front porch—heavy, stumbling steps.  Three men in their twenties came into the house, and all three were drunk as skunks.  Their faces lit up when they realized I was there alone in an isolated house.

I looked at the three guys, and glanced out into the backyard at the dog.  Suddenly, I liked my odds with the dog better than with the three drunks.  I slid the door open, and stepped out onto the deck.

“Sorry to invade your territory,” I told the dog as he walked toward me.  “It’s just that those guys are scary.  I’ll get out of your yard as soon as they leave.”

I continued chattering, and the dog inspected me from a few feet away.  He didn’t seem all that fierce, and I relaxed a bit.

Then one of the guys opened the sliding door and started to step out onto the deck.  Suddenly, the dog was galvanized.  He charged at the guy growling like a chainsaw cutting through a thick plank.

The guy got the door closed just a hair before the dog go to him.  The guy looked shocked into some degree of soberness, and the dog stood just outside the door looking eager.

After ten or fifteen minutes, the guys left.  I could see all three heads in the car as it drove down the road.

“Thanks, more than I can say,” I told the dog.  “If your owners don’t mind, I’ll be back later today with a steak, medium-rare, just for you.”

His tail fanned gently, and he let me walk back into the house without problem.  When the owners returned they agreed that the dog did deserve a treat, and later that afternoon I delivered a boneless steak, medium-rare and cut into bite sized pieces to my backyard savior.  He liked the steak even better than he liked me.


The third encounter with a dog I didn’t know occurred several years after the ones l have told about.  I had stopped selling Real Estate and had gone back to college.  By this time I had a husband, two children, three dogs, a cat and two birds—all of which needed tending to one extent or another.  I had laundry, cooking, and cleaning to do besides the classwork that seemed never ending.  My days started early and went late.

So one morning on the way to class I stopped in at the feed store where I bought dog food in 40 pound bags.  It was early, but I hoped someone would be around so I could get the dog food on my way to class and not have to stop for it on the way home.  I pulled into the parking lot of the feed store, and saw that there were some lights on inside.  Maybe, just maybe, I thought as I got out of the car.  I tried the front door of the feed store, and it was unlocked.  Great.

I stepped inside, noticing a large Rottweiler further back in the store.  “Hi, Bear,” I said, thinking I was seeing the friendly, good-tempered dog who was usually in the store.   “Anyone around?” I asked him, hoping the sound of my voice would attract the attention of someone so I could buy the dog food and be on my way.

The dog came closer, and I realized it wasn’t Bear.  It was a Rottweiler that looked a lot like Bear, but it wasn’t Bear.  “Filling in for your buddy, Bear?” I asked, still looking around for a clerk.

No one came into sight, and I began to wonder if the store was open for business—and why the front door hadn’t been locked if it wasn’t.

“Do you think you could fetch a person?” I asked the dog.  “Nothing personal, of course, but I probably should take care of business with a person.”

The dog sat down and cocked his head, studying me.

“Or if I have close to the right amount and don’t need too much change, maybe I could leave the money and a note with you.” I continued, just babbling in the hope of being heard by someone in a back room.  “Unless you could take a minute to fetch someone,” I added, thinking that something was odd about the whole situation.

The dog got up and disappeared down one of the long aisles of the big feed store.  Pretty soon he came back with a ball and offered it to me.  I took the ball, and threw it down one of the aisles.  The dog ran after the ball and brought it back.  I threw the ball repeatedly, hoping someone would hear the noise even as I check my watch to see how much time had passed.

The dog and I had reached that stage in the game of fetch where the dog wants to tussle for the ball a bit before surrendering it for the next throw when a young woman opened one of the doors at the back of the feed store.

“Oh, no, the guard dog’s still out,” she shouted, slamming the door closed.

“You’re the guard dog?” I asked looking at the Rottweiler.  I think he looked a little sheepish for a second, and then he gave me the ball.  I threw it again, wondering if I could have emptied the cash register, carried off most of the stock in the store—and persuaded the dog to help me carry stuff.

After a couple more tosses, a man came out of one of the back doors.  “Come,” the man ordered.

The dog gave me a reluctant look and turned to obey.

I bought the dog food, hoping I hadn’t gotten the Rottweiler fired from his guard dog job—and grateful he had the intelligence to recognize an innocent shopper.




A New World for Alexei

Alexei gets a look at a bigger world.  It must seem awesome to him.
Alexei gets a look at a bigger world. It must seem awesome to him.




At last Alexei and I are free to go wherever we want.  We are making a day of it.  First we went to PetSmart to buy Alexei a new harness.  He has out grown the old one, and I wanted to be sure I got one that fits well.  A very kind employee at PetSmart helped me try on harnesses until we found one that fits just right.  Alexei was excited about all the things in the store, and he wiggled so much I would have had a hard time fitting a harness for him without help.

A darling little Yorkshire Terrier was with her owner in the harness isle while we were shopping.  Alexei thought the Yorkie was adorable.  The Yorkie thought Alexei was scary with all his excitement and energy. The poor little Yorkie retreated to the carrier its owner was carrying.

After we got the harness, Alexei and I went over to the glass wall through which we could see six or eight little dogs playing at Doggy Daycare.  The little dogs barked fiercely at Alexei, and he wagged his tail and smiled.  It is an Airedale trait, I think.  All three of my other Airedales have loved little dogs.    They seemed to think a little dog could do no wrong—and that included biting the Airedales right on the nose.   It seems Alexei is going to carry on the tradition.  I am sure the Yorkie we met at PetSmart would have been quite safe, but I understand why the Yorkie and its owner had doubts.

Next, Alexei and I went to the bank.  I didn’t actually need to go to the bank, but I have been telling everyone there about him and wanted to show him off.  Alexei had a great time at the bank.  Everyone wanted to give him treats, pet him, and tell him he is beautiful—it wasn’t hard for him to like that.  One of the ladies who works at the bank told Alexei to sit in Spanish.  Alexei promptly sat.  She was impressed that he could understand the command in Spanish.  The words for sit in Spanish and English are similar, and the fact that the lady was holding a dog treat may be what really tipped Alexei off.  Of course, it was fun for me, too.  Alexei is beautiful, and it is fun to finally be able to show him off.

After the bank, we went to a nearby park.  Finally, Alexei had broad horizons.  It isn’t a big park—maybe two blocks square—but it has grass and trees.  It also had trash cans which Alexei thought were fascinating.  I let him sniff at them as we walked along one side of the park until he found a chicken bone.  I removed the chicken bone from his mouth, and steered clear of the trash cans.

Alexei is so used to having me take stuff out of his mouth that he hardly resists.  The chicken bone was more tempting than most of the junk he finds, but he let me take it with little fuss.  He found a piece of aluminum foil that looked like it had been used to cook something in, and he gave that up readily, too.

There were other dogs in the park.  They were on leashes for which I was grateful.  Alexei was interested in meeting the other dogs, but I was more cautious.  Each time we approached one of the dogs, I asked the owner if the dog was puppy friendly.  Most were.

There was a cute little white fluffy dog about the same size as Alexei that Alexei thought was especially attractive.  The owner said the dog was friendly, and Alexei approached the little dog submissively.  All went well until Alexei became more confident.  He wanted to play—to jump up on the dog and generally rough house.  The other dog nipped him smartly, and Alexei backed off.  The nice thing was that they continued to play, but Alexei had learned limits.

Then came the high point for Alexei of our trip to the park.  We met another dog and owner.  The dog was a Terrier mix of some sort, and had an energy level to match Alexei’s.  Even though the other dog was three times Alexei’s size, they had a great time bouncing around on the ends of their leashes, jumping on each other and standing on their hind legs with their front paws on each other’s shoulders.

The owner of the other dog seemed a nice guy twenty or more years my junior.  We became close acquaintances as the leashes tangled and twined.  The guy and I were good natured about it.  It was just too much fun watching the two dogs having so much fun.

Alexei and I topped off the first day out when we got home.  A neighbor saw us coming home, and asked if we would like to go for a walk with him and his dog.  Of course, Alexei was ready for another walk.  He carefully approached the other dog—again a dog much bigger than he is.  The dog responded in a friendly, if guarded manner.  Any dog past puppyhood is going to find Alexei a bit much.  We had a nice five or six block walk and came home.

Alexei emptied the food and water dishes, and he is having a nap.

We’ll go back to the park this afternoon.  It is great that Alexei can finally see more of the world.

Meanest Little Dog

My children as they were many years ago. The little black ball of fur is Fluffy.
My children as they were many years ago. The little black ball of fur is Fluffy.



Alexei reminds me so much of my other Airedales.  Having him is like taking an extended trip down memory lane—and it is a wonderful journey.

I want to write more about Alf, the first of my Airedale Terriers, and the dog who made me love the breed.  But I need to write of Fluffy, the poodle, to get the context right.  Fluffy was the meanest little dog I have ever known.  Had she weighed more than the seven pounds she did weigh she would have been dangerous.  That she was too small to be a real threat and that she was totally loyal to my daughter, Robin, were her two saving virtues.

Fluffy thought that all that my daughter did was right.  My daughter could dress her in doll clothes and wheel her around the neighborhood in the doll carriage.  If my daughter told Fluffy to do or not do something, Fluffy obeyed, but she couldn’t hear a word anyone else in the family said.  I wanted Fluffy housetrained, but my daughter, at the time age eight, wasn’t reliably interested in housetraining.  That meant that it was a true trial to housetrain Fluffy.

But in care for my daughter, Fluffy was relentless.  My sister-in-law reminded me of an incident I had forgotten about—though similar incidents occurred often.  As my sister-in-law recalls it, we were at my parents’ house for Christmas.  There were lots of people around, a lot of talking and laughing, and suddenly as my sister-in-law walked past the couch there was a small but fierce growl.  My sister-in-law said she jumped away from the couch and looked down.  A small black nose poked out from under the couch, followed by a mouth full of small teeth.  Fluffy was on guard, as usual.  My daughter had kicked off her shoes beside the couch and left them.  Fluffy took on the job of guarding those shoes.  While my sister-in-law watched, Fluffy carefully dragged my daughter’s shoes under the couch.  Would Fluffy have bitten my sister-in-law if my sister-in-law had tried to touch those shoes?  Probably.

Fluffy guarded my daughter’s toys, sock, shoes, winter hat, and whatever else my daughter left lying around.   Once a week I foraged in my daughter’s room for dirty clothes—especially socks–my daughter had neglected to put in the laundry hamper in the bathroom.  I was greeted at the door of my daughter’s room by Fluffy—teeth bared and growling.  Fluffy was just what I needed to put a little thrill into doing the laundry.  She never quite had the nerve to bite me.  I was almost sure she wouldn’t, but I knew she wanted to.

Fluffy was our second family dog.  The first, Rose, the Cocker Spaniel, was so sweet-tempered that she put up with Fluffy.  Rose weighed twenty-five or thirty pounds and could have made mincemeat of Fluffy, but I can remember only one time that Rose truly lost her temper with Fluffy.  That time I had taken them outside one cold winter morning when the snow was more than a foot deep.  I was shoveling a path for Fluffy so she could go out and take care of business.  Fluffy was in a bad mood.  I suppose she thought I should have shoveled the path before taking her out—that she would probably have peed in the house was just something she thought I should put up with.  Anyway, for no apparent reason Fluffy went after Rose.

Rose was, as usual she following right on my heels calmly observing what I was doing.  Maybe Fluffy thought Rose was hogging the shoveled area—maybe Fluffy was just angry at having to go out into the cold and snow.  Fluffy launched herself off the bottom step of the porch, teeth snapping, and landed right on top of Rose.  For once, Rose didn’t just let it slide.  She was furious as she turned on Fluffy.

I separated them as quickly as I could.  It wasn’t easy.  When two black dogs lock in combat in the white glare of early morning sunlight on fresh snow, it is hard to tell where one dog starts and the other ends.  I finally pulled them apart and picked up Fluffy.  I was horrified to see blood dripping into the snow.  Fluffy was obviously hurt, perhaps badly.  I hurried back into the house with her so I could examine her for injuries.

It was only when I sat her down and began feeling her all over that I realized Fluffy wasn’t bleeding—I was.  In the frantic effort to separate the two fighting dogs I had broken a fingernail so badly that half the nail bed was exposed.  It had been so cold outside that my fingers had gone numb, and I hadn’t felt the nail break.

I bandaged up my finger, put on gloves and went back out to finish clearing an area for the dogs, thinking as I went that Fluffy was going to have to have a bath to wash my blood out of her fur.

It was this little bundle of charm that greeted Alf when he joined our family.  Had he turned out to be a neurotic, bad-tempered dog, it would have been understandable.  But like so many other things he encountered, he took Fluffy’s antics in stride.

He didn’t just tolerate Fluffy as Rose did.  He liked her.  There were times when they played, and he was ever so gentle with her.  In the depth of winter, Fluffy sometimes napped on top of Alf for warmth.  Even when she went nutty in her endless quest to protect my daughter and all she possessed, clamped her teeth into Alf’s face and hung on, he never got angry with her.  When she got too out of control, he would gently pin her to the floor with one of his front paws. Then he would stand over her patiently until she settled down.



Almost Free to Roam





Just two more days behind the fence.  There's a big world out there somewhere.
Just two more days behind the fence. There’s a big world out there somewhere.

Just forty-eight hours to go, and Alexei and I can start to really explore the world.  He has had his last set of shots—and a squirt of something to protect him from kennel cough.  He hardly seemed to notice the shots.  That is a trait all my Airedale Terriers have had.  They assume that if someone hurts them it was an accident.  So even though the vet gave Alexei three shots and inserted an id chip, Alexei was still ready to lick the vet’s face and chew gently on his fingers.

The only problem with shots and vets I have ever had with an Airedale Terrier was the problem with Alf.  It wasn’t that Alf minded getting shots.  He didn’t.  In fact, he liked to go to the vet’s office to see all his friends there.  When we went in the front door, Alf would go across to the reception desk, stand on his back feet, and lean across to give the women working behind the desk kisses.  He liked the vet, too.

The problem was with Fluffy, the little poodle, getting shots.  She hated going to the vet, she started yelling like she was being killed before the vet even touched her, and the yelling got worse when she got a shot.  So, while Alf took his shots like he hardly noticed them, he became threatening when Fluffy started yelling.  We took them to the vet together, but Alf got his exam and shots first.  Then he had to go to the car to wait.  Even though Fluffy was the bane of his life, he loved her—and he would protect her even if she wasn’t really being hurt.

Alexei’s reaction to the vet—and to getting his shots—is just one more indication that he has the Airedale qualities I so love.

Of course, curiosity is one of those qualities, and I can hardly wait to see how he reacts to the larger would I will soon be able to introduce him to.  I gave in this morning and let him get close to the Prickly Pear Cactus he has been wanting to inspect.  He looks at things, and he sniffs things, but the way he really gets to know them is with his mouth.  I knew his introduction to cactus would be painful, but if he is going to live in Arizona he is going to have to learn about cactus.

I let him approach the cactus plant.  He looked at it, he sniffed it, and then he took a tentative taste.  He stepped back quickly and sat down to study the cactus.  After a minute or so, he approached it again.  He moved toward the cactus in a submissive posture—the posture he uses with the neighborhood cats he is trying to make friends with.  He approached the cactus with his head and shoulders down and his tail down but wagging slowly.  It is a posture I think means, “Hey, I just want to be friends.  I’m friendly, not aggressive.”

The cactus made no response, which apparently encouraged Alexei.  The cactus had not snarled or jumped at him, therefore, it might be friendly.  Alexei sniffed again, and the cactus did nothing.  So, Alexei gave it a playful nip.  He jumped back, looked indignantly at the cactus and barked.

I checked his mouth for cactus spines, but he hadn’t bitten hard enough to get a cactus spine imbedded in his mouth.  We continued our walk around the limits of the property.  As we retraced our steps on the way back to the house, Alexei watched the cactus, and gave it a wide berth.  This is what he needed to learn about cactus, but he must be a little confused.

This is the second time in the last couple of days that inanimate objects have acted in ways he sees as hostile.

His other encounter was with books.  I have been telling him for weeks that he cannot chew on the books on the lower shelves of the bookshelves.  He walks up to them, and cocks his head to look at me as though he is asking if today is different—if it is okay to chew on them today.  By now I just have to shake my head, no, and he reluctantly moves away from the books.

Yesterday, with Airedale Terrier logic, he decided that it was the books on the lower shelves that were forbidden.  Instead of looking to me for permission, he leaped for the books lying on their sides on the third shelf up.  The books are on their sides because they are too big to stand upright in the shelves.  Perhaps, that seemed to him another reason for thinking of them as an exception.

Maybe, he was just being ornery.  Anyway, he snagged the book on the bottom of the stack (a coffee-table type book filled with photos of Washington, D.C.), and brought the whole stack down on his head.  Luckily, the unabridged Shakespeare missed him.  Chaucer—in Middle English—grazed his shoulders, and the cookbook of soup recipes I have been meaning to try hit him right on the head.  He was shocked, and a little frightened.

He looked from the pile of books on the floor to me with a wondering look.  I could almost see him trying to understand what had just happened.  Was it possible that the books attacked him?  Had I been warning him all along that they were dangerous and would retaliate if he tried to play with them?

There are so many things he has to learn about the world he lives in.  It is fascinating to watch him learn—and sometimes he needs a little snuggle time when the lessons are hard or scary.






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Alexei has a new way to get me to leave the computer and pay attention to him.  When he thinks I have spent too much time at the computer, he goes into the bathroom and gets the toilet paper roll.  I have taken the toilet paper roll off the little thingy where it is supposed to be.  I have had puppies before, and I know how much fun a puppy thinks it is to unroll toilet paper and drape it around the bathroom—and bedroom, and living room.  There is just something fascinating to them about how it unrolls, ribbon like.

So I put the roll on a shelf near the toilet where Alexei couldn’t reach it.  Now he can reach that shelf, and he not only loves the way it unrolls—and the nice squishy feel of it—he has also discovered that flipping a roll of toilet paper across the room where I can see him gets me right up from the computer.  When he gets lucky, he sends a streamer of paper across the room.  Sometimes the roll doesn’t unfurl, but either way, I jump up to take the roll from him.  I do not want to have to clean up the mess of chewed, soggy paper he will make if I don’t.

I am not the only one in this house working on a training program.  Alexei has his own agenda, and his agenda does not include computer time.  He doesn’t mind cleaning—except that he usually winds up in his crate for attacking the vacuum cleaner, trying to snatch the dust cloth, or chasing the broom.  He doesn’t mind laundry.  That’s a chance to get me to play keep the clothes out of his reach.  But his favorite indoor activity is cooking—though that usually gets him crate time, too.  He simply has to learn that all four of his feet have to stay on the floor.  He can’t reach the counter top yet, but he will eventually.  He is getting better at sitting on the floor and watching, but sometimes something smells so good he can’t resist standing on his back legs and sniffing.  He would do more than sniff if he was taller.

As I recall, Alf liked to play with toilet paper. And there are other things Alexei is doing that remind me of Alf.   Alexei is getting taller and closer to being able to reach the door knob.  He tries to stretch to reach it, and I suspect he will eventually learn to turn the knob with his mouth like Alf did.  Alf never learned to turn the dead-bolt, too, and I hope Alexei doesn’t learn that either.  Still, even if he never learns to open doors with dead-bolts, he can learn to startle me.  Alf sometimes did. It is unnerving to be alone in the house—except for the dog—and suddenly see the knob of the bathroom door turning while drying off after a shower.  The first time Alf did that, I snapped right to the shower scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Psycho.  I’ll hope Alexei doesn’t treat me to that sort of adrenalin rush.

Alexei is catching flies, too.  The only other dog I have ever known who could catch a fly in the air on the first could pass was Alf.  We probably owned a flyswatter during his lifetime, but I don’t know where we kept it.  We never needed it.  Alexei isn’t as good at catching flies as Alf was, but he is young yet.

Alf was so good at catching things in the air that we sometimes had contests to see who could throw the most popcorn pieces before he missed one.  He was so good at catching the pieces of popcorn that it took a bad toss to make him miss.  We were the contestants.  Alf was just eating popcorn.

He was so good at catching flies, that I thought nothing of it until one day I was sitting on the patio in reading Atlantic Monthly with Alf lying beside be.  The article I was reading was about a fly that had been declared an endangered species.  Just as I read the sentence about the penalties—including a very high fine—to which one could be subject if one killed one of the endangered flies, Alf snapped a fly out of the air. “Swallow fast,” I told him, thinking the fly was a goner so getting rid of the evidence was all I could do.  Of course, it almost certainly wasn’t one of the endangered flies.  Alf and I were in Kansas, and the endangered flies were said to be California flies.

Now that I am in Arizona with Alexei I wonder if those flies are still on the endangered species list, and if they have migrated to Arizona.  I suppose I’ll never know.  The flies that get near Alexei disappear too fast to identify.






Poison In The Garden



Alexei working on a rope puzzle. He loves untangling knots.
Alexei working on a rope puzzle. He loves untangling knots.

Poor Alexei is spending a lot more time in his crate right now.  It is for his own good, but he doesn’t know that.  He voices his displeasure from time to time, and jiminy does he have a voice.  His bark sounds like it should be coming from a dog about three times his size, and a does a yodeling thing that comes close to the pitch needed to break glass.  He stops when I tell him to—briefly.

Alexei is spending time in his crate because the Oleander are being removed.  The Craigslist ad worked.  A nice lady wants all 21 plants, and she is coming for a few hours a day to dig them up.  It isn’t safe for Alexei to be around the Oleander, and he would be a total nuisance if he was in the yard while she is working.  It is not, of course, that he doesn’t like to dig.  He loves to dig, but digging a hole just to be digging is not his thing.  He digs for bugs.

He was busy digging a few minutes ago, and I was watching him wondering just what he was after.  He was intent on what he was doing.  He would dig a little and smell.  Then he would correct his course, and dig again.  As the hole got deeper—maybe six inches—I began to worry a little.  I found a baby Gila Monster in the yard three or four years ago.  It was only five or six inches long then, and even though I knew it would grow and that its bite is extremely painful, though rarely fatal to humans, I couldn’t bring myself to kill it.  It was just a baby.

Now that I have looked it up, I know that it is an endangered species, so it is a good thing I didn’t kill it.  Still, with Alexei’s hole getting deeper I wondered if the Gila Monster had stayed around and was living underground in my yard.  They spend about 95% of their time underground, so I suppose it is possible that the one I saw is still around.  It would probably be a lot bigger now.

They can grow to around two feet in length, and about five pounds–enough to give Alexei a thrill if he found one—and probably a nasty bite.

But it wasn’t anything so exciting.  After digging and sniffing and digging some more, Alexei finally caught his prey.  It was a brown, beetle like bug.  Alexei unearthed the bug, and then followed it around the yard for a while, leaving it from time to time, and then sniffing along the scent trail the bug was leaving to find it again.  Each time Alexei caught up with the bug he sniffed at it and nudged it with his nose.  Finally, the bug had had enough.  The bug grabbed onto Alexei’s nose and hung on.  Alexei shook his head to dislodge the bug, but the bu held tight. Alexei  swiped at the bug with his paw, and the bug fell off.

Alexei stood over the bug with his head cocked and one ear up—thinking.  Then he bit the bug in half.  I guess he thought that playing around was one thing, attacking his nose was another.

I doubt that the small amount of bug that stayed in Alexei’s mouth when he bit it will hurt him.  However, I have discovered that there are other hazards in the yard.  Two China Berry saplings have grown from seed pods dropped by the China Berry tree in the neighbor’s yard.  It seems the berries are poisonous.  Well, that’s just peachy.  Now I have to patrol the yard for the yellow berries the trees drop

this time of year.  Once Alexei gets past eating anything he can get in his mouth and chewing on everything else, the China Berries won’t be a danger.  Until then, I have to be on guard.  I did not know there were so many hazards to dogs in the plant world.  I was much happier in my ignorance, but not long term.  Alexei has tried many times to chew on the Oleanders, and if I had not known to keep him away from them the results could have been terrible.

Go to for a list of all sorts of plants that can be dangerous to dogs.  The list is way too long for comfort, but anyone with a puppy may want to check it out.  Another site with similar information is .  Asparagus fern is on the list, and I have that, too.

Alexei wants to chew the fern, but I haven’t let him for the wellbeing of the fern.  Now I know it was in his best interest, too.



Beautiful, Deadly Oleander




Alexei chewing--as usual.  It terrifies me to think what would have happened if he had chewed on an Oleander bush.
Alexei chewing–as usual. It terrifies me to think what would have happened if he had chewed on an Oleander bush.

Alexei is so full of the joy of living.  He his full of curiosity, too, and I have put him in a situation where his very joy in life and curiosity could kill him.  He isn’t without care for his own well-being.  He approaches strange dogs and people with a degree of caution—though he is mostly just eager to meet everyone.

A very large—and very loud—school bus goes down our street twice a day.  The first time it came down the street, Alexei ran for the door of the house.  He was healthily afraid of such a big loud thing.  He also ran for the house when some idiot drove down the street blasting exceedingly vulgar Hip-Hop music.  Well, you can hardly call that noise music.  Maybe it was Alexei’s innate good taste that sent him running that time.  At any rate, Alexei does have the sense to be cautious about some things.  He just doesn’t have much sense about the real danger in our yard.  I knew that Oleander plants could be toxic, but I didn’t know how very toxic they are until now.

One of the giraffes at the Tucson Zoo has died from eating Oleander leaves.  That is so sad.  Giraffes are such beautiful, peaceful animals.  But aside from my sorrow about the giraffe, learning of the death of the giraffe has made me terribly fearful for Alexei.

There are twenty-one Oleander bushes in my yard and two more big Oleander bushes in my neighbor’s yard that have grown through the fence.  Every time Alexei goes outside he is surrounded by poison—poison that I planted because the Oleander plants are so pretty, especially when they are in bloom.  Oleander is everywhere in this part of Arizona because it is hardy and drought resistant.  I did not know until long after I planted the Oleanders that they were potentially poisonous.  I did not know they were deadly until I looked up the poisonous nature of the Oleander after learning of the death of the giraffe.

Every part of the plant is deadly.  Very small doses of Oleander, leaves, bark, stems and flowers can prove deadly.  A site called Critterology says that a fatal dose is as little as .02% of body weight.  The toxins affect the heart, the nervous system, and digestive tract.

I can hardly believe that I have gone to a great deal of trouble and expense to plant a poisonous garden for Alexei to play in.  It is a miracle he has survived this long—and that only because I was concerned about the Oleander, about him trying to dig under the fence, and about any other odd and ends he might chew on or eat.  He has never been outside alone.  And until he is past the chewing stage, he will not be.  But even so, I am putting up an ad on Craigslist.  “Free Oleander plants.  You dig them up, and they are yours.”  But more probably, I will have to begin digging them up myself.

Alexei will chew on anything.  He has approached the Oleander bushes many times, and had I not been on hand to shoo him away, he would almost certainly have chewed on them.  He seems to have a fascination for them.  Probably by now part of that is that they are forbidden, and he knows it.  But part of it may be that they are just interesting.  Perhaps, they have a scent that dogs like.

Brahm, my big guy who died last spring of cancer, loved to rub against the Oleander bushes.  I thought maybe he was just scent marking his territory.  But maybe there was something about the scent of the Oleander he liked.  Fortunately, he was long past chewing everything in sight before I planted the Oleander, but I wonder if the toxins he was exposed to from the Oleander may have contributed to him developing cancer.  I have looked it up, and find no indication that exposure to Oleander can cause cancer.  There is some possibility that it can be used to treat cancer.  I am relieved to know I didn’t unknowingly expose him to something that caused his death.

Poor Alexei will have to spend time in his crate each day for a while so I can get rid of the Oleander.

Keeping Alexie From Getting Bored






Alexei with his rope puzzle.



Let me just tell you, smart doesn’t begin to explain how fast Alexei’s little brain works.  He catches on to things so fast.  He would be opening the door already I am sure, except that he can’t reach the doorknob.  He tries to stretch to reach it when he wants to go out, but he is still too short.  I know an Airedale can learn to open doors.  Alf, my first Airedale, did.

Undoubtedly, he has grasped the concept of turning a round thing and getting what you want.  I was out in the yard with him a today.  We had played toss the ball and fetch it back for a half-hour or so, and Alexei was taking a break and resting at my feet.  I had taken a Coke and a book outside with me, so I opened my book and began to read.  Honestly, the book wasn’t that engrossing.   Mr. Stealth was extra stealthy.  Without me noticing, he took the plastic bottle of Coke off the table beside me.  I don’t know how long he had it before I realized he had it, but it couldn’t have been long.  I had read only three or four pages when I reached for the Coke.

It wasn’t on the table—and the lid I had screwed down tight to keep it from losing carbonation wasn’t on it anymore.  Alexei had the bottle tipped at an angle between his paws, and he was lapping at the Coke as it spilled out of the bottle.  Alexei likes Coke, a lot.  He didn’t like the bath he got for getting Coke all over himself so much, but he was all right about it.

I have often taken a Coke out into the yard when I go to play with Alexei, and I am sure he has watched attentively as I have removed the lid to take a sip.  Probably it was curiosity that prompted him to see if he could open the bottle—but he has already learned that if it is something people eat it is probably good.

Now when I take a Coke outside when Alexei and I play, I’ll put it in a crook of a tree a good five feet off the ground.  Will I encourage him to climb the tree?  Who knows?  Staying ahead of him is an endless challenge.

I feel badly for him that we have to be confined.  I know he is bored.  There are no other dogs in the family for him to play with.  My children are long grown and have children of their own which would be wonderful for Alexei if my children and grandchildren didn’t live half way across the country.

So I come up with things to challenge and interest Alexei until we can be out and about.  I know he likes to untie knots—he gives me fits if I wear shoes with laces.  Of course, I tell him to leave them alone, and he does—as long as I am paying attention.  But if I become distracted—talking to a neighbor, taking a phone call, or just mulling over some question I am trying to work out—he has them untied in next to no time.  Since I have been working on setting up and managing this blog, I have been deep in thought often.  I don’t speak computer.  I have to look up half the words in every explanation about how to work with features of the blog.  I think it is worse than learning Middle English so I could read Chaucer in something close to the language Chaucer spoke.

Anyway, Alexei loves puzzles.  I bought some cotton rope and began making things for him to untie or untangle.  There is a stump of a bush in the yard that I have meant to do something about since I moved here.  Alexei has taken on that job.  He has peeled a good deal of bark off, and he is working on chewing the wood.  I think he will pass the teething/chewing stage before he gets the stump down to ground level, but you never know.  In the meantime, it is a good thing I hadn’t done anything about the stump.  It is a great platform for rope puzzles.

I wind the rope around the stubs of the branches, tying knots of different kinds, and looping the rope around so that just pulling on the rope won’t work.  Alexei has to think to get the rope free from the stump, and he loves it.

Of course, he has to be supervised with the rope.  He could tangle himself and choke himself—not likely, but not worth the risk.

I leave him in the house while I set up the puzzle—he gets so excited when I get the rope out that it would be nearly impossible to set up a puzzle with him at hand.  He would be dismantling it as fast as I could set it up.  So he waits in the house, impatiently while I build a puzzle.  When I open the door, he streaks for the stump and begins working on unraveling whatever I have set up.

I am going to take him to obedience school, and that will give him something of interest to do.  But I am wondering what else I can do.  I would consider training him for search and rescue except that if I went out with him into the rugged land around here, I’d probably end up needing rescue.  Maybe I will work with him on visiting nursing homes and the local VA hospital.  I’m sure that when he gets past his puppy silliness he would love to go meet and greet, but I wonder if there is more I can do.

I remembered the suggestion someone made that I should get him to use his nose to detect gold.  Most Internet sites said gold has no odor, but then I found a site that said gold gives off an odor when heated.   But I wonder does gold, unheated, give off an odor the human nose can’t detect?  What about an Airedale Terrier nose?


Several sites mentioned that copper and silver—which exist in this area—do have an odor.  Maybe I will think about teaching him to detect metals.  He has already found a couple of pennies—but then he finds lots of stuff.  I would have to teach him to discriminate, and not sniff out every bug or piece of junk he comes across.


Airedale Terriers can be trained to herd cattle and sheep, hunt birds or larger game, or find lost people.  But I am not going to be buying a ranch and running cows or sheep—not at my age, although I’ve always thought living on a ranch would be grand.  I am not going to take up hunting.  I’ve picked all the chickens I ever want to.  My mother kept chickens when I was a kid, and I was chief chicken picker.  Picking a pheasant or quail would be a lot like picking a chicken.   I’ve never actually cleaned a deer, but I watched my father do it every year for years.  I don’t want to take that up either—and anyway, I don’t want to shoot Bambi.


So teaching Alexei to find metals is a possible.  Or, maybe, I could teach him to find lost pets.  I’m going to have to come up with something to give him an interest to pursue.









Who’s Teaching Who?





Allie showing Brahm around.


Walking Alexei gives me lots of time to think.  A lot of the time I’m wondering what he’s got in his mouth now, but there is time to think of other things, like how I am progressing with his training.  Apparently, I have already taught him that he is only supposed to pee or poop in his yard.  I didn’t mean to teach him this.  Oh, it is really handy when we go for a walk.  I don’t have to carry a plastic bag, and I don’t have to worry he is going to pee on someone’s rosebush while they are watching.  It does save embarrassing moments, but it will be a serious issue when I want to go on longer outings with Alexei or if we travel.

I learned this with Brahm, my big guy who I still miss so much.  Brahm had a larger, more interesting area to be confined to while waiting for his complete series of shots.  I owned the RV Park in Carlsbad, New Mexico then.  Brahm had my large apartment, my private office, the check-in area, the common room and laundry, indoors.  Outdoors he had the pool deck and the fenced grassy area that was the only place he was allowed to relieve himself.

He caught on really fast.  I still had Allie then, and there is nothing like having an older dog to help reinforce the house rules.  Allie was kind to Brahm, but she put up with no nonsense about the rules.  Probably there were more than a couple of accidents, but I don’t think there were many more.

It has been much harder housetraining Alexei than it was Brahm, and it isn’t Alexei’s fault.  I just don’t speak the language of dogs—though I have picked up a few of the signals.  Allie spoke fluently, and so Brahm caught onto the rules quickly.

Alexei is having to learn the hard way—from just me.

But somehow I am making the same mistake I made with Brahm.  I will have to start getting dressed first thing in the morning and taking Alexei outside the yard on a leash before this bit of teaching gets too ingrained.  This means Alexei will have to wait for me to dress.

Well, life is rarely simple—though I may be.

I have been so excited the last few days that Alexei is asking to go out.  Okay, asking is a mild description for what he does.  He throws himself at the door frantically while barking and whining hysterically.  He’s just a puppy, and I think he doesn’t notice until the last minute that he needs to go out.

Last night it rained—a rare occurrence here in sunny Arizona.  Alexei “asked” to go out, and I quickly took him out.  It was dark, so I took him out on a leash.  The yard isn’t all that big, but the black and tan of an Airedale’s coat vanishes in the dark.  There are lots of Oleander bushes in the yard Alexei can hide behind, and he has enough orneriness in him to hide when he isn’t ready to come in.  He doesn’t mind getting wet, indeed, I think he is interested in the rain.  It is the first time it has rained since he has been here.  But I didn’t want to be stuck out in the rain trying to find a puppy who didn’t want to be found.

Alexei took care of business quickly, but then wanted to catch raindrops in his mouth.  I let him catch rain for a minute or two, but then I made him come indoors.  About fifteen minutes later, he asked to go out again.  I didn’t think he could need to go again, but I didn’t want to discourage him from asking.

Out we went again.  It wasn’t raining hard, but hard enough to go from damp to wet pretty quickly.

“Go potty,” I kept saying to Alexei.  I guess I said it enough times to be annoying or maybe Alexei remembered that he always gets a treat when he pees outside.  Anyway, he squatted, then turned to me for his treat.  I gave him the treat, and insisted that we go in.

In another fifteen or twenty minutes Alexei was asking to go out again.  Again I took him out.  He squatted, got his treat and we went indoors.  We repeated this pattern four times before I began to wonder who was training who.  The fifth time he asked to go out, I put him in his crate and told him he could spend some time thinking about not dragging me out in the rain unnecessarily.

I don’t think he understood what I said, but I think he did understand that I was tired of the game he was playing.  And I do think he was playing.  He isn’t the first dog I have had who would fake a pee.  Allie did it, too.  She didn’t do it to get treats.  She did it to get me to hush.

I traveled a lot with Allie, and I trained her to pee on command so we could get her bedtime trip outdoors over with quickly when we were in a strange place.  I used the command when we were at home, too.  If I was leaving the house and knew it would be a significant time before I came back.  I would talk her out and tell her to go potty.  I would tell her and tell her.  It was, after all, for her own good.  If she peed just before I left, she wouldn’t be uncomfortable before I got home.


I guess sometimes she really didn’t need to go—and she was in a better position to know than I was.  So sometimes she would squat, give me a look and walk back indoors.  I knew she was faking.  If she really peed she always lifted her right back paw.  When she faked it she missed that point.


Once, when my daughter was visiting, Allie did her fake pee.  “Look,” my daughter exclaimed.  “She’s faking.”


I had to laugh at the evil look Allie shot my daughter before stalking into the house.     



Alexei’s New Talent–Termite Detector.

Alexei the great hunter.
Alexei the great hunter.





Alexei has shown a new talent today. He loves to sniff the gravel for anything different. He has dug up rusty bottle caps, chunks of half-burned charcoal, and bits of paper and plastic that have lain hidden beneath the gravel for years. This morning, he found something really exciting. He was sniffing along intently, as he does, when suddenly he began to dig frantically.
“Hey,” I yelled, as he raised a cloud of dust.
He glanced up at me and went back to his furious digging. What the heck, I thought. I can shove the dirt back in the hole, and I was curious about what he smelled that was so interesting.
It didn’t take long. He sniffed and dug as though he was on the track of a steak dinner, and then he pulled a piece of wood out of the ground. There wasn’t much wood left. It looked like it might have been a piece of an old—very old—tree branch about eight inches long. But very little of the wood was left. Mostly what Alexei had found was a trove of termites.
Termites are endemic here, so I suppose it is not surprising that Alexei would find some. Still, I was surprised. Alexei ate the termites and the wood they were imbedded in. I let him do it. It would have been mean to deprive him of his great find, and I don’t think eating termites will do him any harm. He has eaten every other kind of bug he can find. He has stripped bark off the mesquite tree and eaten that, too. He is thriving on his unorthodox diet.
It reminds me of Alf and his experiments with what could and could not be eaten. His opinion was that virtually anything was eatable. He ate parts of shoes, the edge of a fence post, and some plastic shoes that belonged to my daughter’s Barbie doll. None of it seemed to do him any harm.
But he scared me silly the day he ate most of the pincushion and the pins and needles it contained. I first knew there was a problem when Alf came to find me in the kitchen. He had a problem, and he wanted help. He had a piece of a pin stuck between his left canine tooth and the tooth next to it, and he had another part of a pin or needle stuck between two of his back teeth. I grabbed the pliers and removed the two pieces of sharp metal caught in his teeth, and then a grabbed the phone to call the vet. I was sure Alf was doomed. I had found the remains of the pincushion, and it was clear that he had swallowed more than a few parts of pins and needles.
When I told the vet that my dog had eaten a pincushion, the vet said to get her to his office as quickly as possible. I don’t know why I corrected him, and said it wasn’t Rose, the Cocker Spaniel, or Fluffy, the Poodle. It was Alf, the Airedale Terrier.
“Oh,” the vet said, with a sigh of relief. “Just keep him full of Metamucil for the next three or four days.”
“Are you sure?” I asked, sort of relieved—the surgery I envisioned Alf needing would definitely break the family budget—but concerned that Alf wasn’t going to survive this experience.
“Oh, yeah,” the vet said. “He’ll be fine.
And he was. He loved Metamucil. I kept an eye on his poop for the next week, and sure enough, bits of pins and needled passed right through his digestive tract without problem. The indiscriminating eating habits of Airedale Terrier puppies remind me of Mark Twain’s description of the things camels will eat in his books Innocents Abroad and Roughing It. If you haven’t read those books recently, do. They are wonderfully funny.
According to Twain the camel found the sleeves of Twain’s jacket delectable and the velvet collar sublime. It was only when the camel tried eating some of Twain’s manuscript that he choked on, “one of the mildest and gentlest statements of facts of,” Twain had ever “laid before a trusting public.”
I’m sure Alexei’s termite and rotten wood snack will do him so harm. I was telling a neighbor about Alexei’s hunting success, and the neighbor said I should train him to sniff out gold. It’s a thought. There areas around here where people sometimes find small amounts of gold. Of course, I would have to get him to focus. Right now he is a very indiscriminate hunter.

Am I Teaching What I Think I’m Teaching?

It is a barren place to wake a dog, but Alexei finds things of interest.
It is a barren place to wake a dog, but Alexei finds things of interest.







It isn’t a very pleasant place to walk, but Alexei and I walk here often.  Alexei doesn’t seem to mind.  For him it is an environment rich in all sorts of things he shouldn’t chew on.  He has made another interesting discovery.  Tiny black beetles live under the gravel.  I hadn’t known they lived there, but then I don’t have his nose.

Alexei paces along with his nose to the gravel, and his ears cocked.  Maybe he can hear the beetles as well as smell them.  When he locates one, there is a flurry of digging and some nosing around until he catches the beetle. I guess the beetles won’t hurt him anymore than the other addition to his diet, mesquite beans.  Maybe to him things just taste better if he finds or catches them himself.

The one—make that two, things he won’t do on our confined walks is poop or pee.  This worries me because he isn’t the first dog I have had that I have somehow managed to housetrain in ways I did not intend.

Allie was the first.  I thought I was teaching her to go outside.  That was all, and it worked for years.  She would sometimes pee or poop when we went for walks. She seemed very clear on the matter.  Never in the house.  Pretty much wherever outside.  But I found that was not true when I first took her from grassy Kansas to the desert of southern New Mexico.  We were traveling in an RV, and as we drove through Kansas and the corner of Oklahoma and the Panhandle of Texas all was well.  It felt a little odd to be driving down the highway and have the dog go to the door and bark to be let out, but it worked.  Allie understood that we had to find a “right” place.  After she barked at the door to let me know she needed to go out, she would come and stand beside me so she could help me watch for a rest area.  She could spot a rest area as easily as I could, and the few times I passed one by after she asked to go out she was indignant.  I cared what the people already at the rest area looked like.  Allie didn’t care.  To her, a rest area was a rest area—until we got into the desert.

Then Allie was in trouble.  I thought I had taught her to go “outside”.  Apparently what I had taught her was “on the grass”.  There was no grass.  I stopped I don’t know how many times and tried to get Allie to go potty, but there was no grass, and she wouldn’t break what she thought were the rules.  It was sixteen long hours—hours of worry for me and no doubt extreme discomfort for Allie—before we finally found a rest area with a couple of clumps of grass no bigger than a Frisbee.  Allie hesitated.  She scouted around for more grass, and finally, apologetically, she peed on the larger of the two clumps of grass.

I praised her lavishly, but she got back into the RV looking ashamed of herself.

Eventually, she adapted to the desert.  She preferred to pee on gravel, and she was careful to examine the lay of the land.  She made sure her right rear foot was on the downhill side and she lifted that foot so that it did not get wet.  She didn’t like getting wet at all, and she certainly wasn’t going to pee on herself.  She was so fussy about getting wet that during rainy weather she would hold it for hours, hoping the rain would stop.

Without meaning to, I seem to have already trained Alexei that he should only go in our fenced yard.  Of course, that was the first place he peed when we got here, and I praised lavishly and gave him a treat.  And I continued that pattern.

However, twice now Alexei and I have come back from a walk and I have gone directly into the house, dragging him behind me.  I should have noticed that he does not usually need to be pulled inside.  Usually, he is eager to get to his water dish.

I didn’t notice, twice.  I was thinking of how hot I was, and that we had been outside for a half-hour or more.  It seemed to me that if Alexei needed to go, he would have gone.

The first time, Alexei peed just inside the door.  The look on his face as I realized what he was doing was a mix of indignation, embarrassment, and defiance.  After all, he had tried to go out into the yard to pee.  The second time, he was faster.  He peed just outside the door, and then barked at me.

So apparently I have taught him “in the yard only”.  No wonder he was indignant when he quickly peed on the doorstep.  He was trying to do what I had taught him.      







Walking and Hunting

image (5)
Alexei hunting for most anything.






Alexei and I are confined to quarters for the next five weeks.  Well, I’m not required to stay on the property for that length of time, but I can’t take Alexei with me anywhere.  The veterinarian I took Alexei to for a first check-up warned me that the Parvo virus is rampant here in Tucson right now.  He said it would be dangerous to take Alexei anywhere that he might come into contact with other dogs or anywhere other dogs might have recently been.  That pretty much covers the world as we know it.

I am taking the vet’s warning seriously.  The Parvo virus can be deadly in puppies—and in older dogs, too.  Alexei has had two of the four shots that will protect him against Parvo.  Until he has all four we are stuck.  It’s not all that bad, I suppose.  We have a good sized yard, and what amounts to about a quarter of a city block that we can wander around on.  I own—actually, the bank and I own—a small apartment complex.  It is mostly fenced, so I can be pretty sure Alexei will not be exposed to Parvo or any of the other diseases that threaten puppies as long as we stay on this property.

We are lucky to have so much space, but it is boring space—gravel and concrete with some trees, bushes, and cactus.  I envisioned five weeks of twice a day walks over the same boring area, but it isn’t nearly as boring to Alexei as it is to me.   In fact, it isn’t boring for me either.  Alexei is a true Airedale Terrier with an Airedale Terrier nose.  There are fantastic treasures all over the place—most of which I have to confiscate.

I had the roofs of the apartments resurfaced last spring in anticipation of the monsoon season that usually arrives in August and departs sometime in September.  Usually we get hard rains, rains so hard it is impossible to see well enough to drive.  The streets flood, and sizeable rocks and tree branches wash across the streets.  This year we have had only one decent rain and it didn’t do much more that fill the edges of the street gutters.  Maybe we will get some rain later, but so far it looks like my concern for the roofs was misplaced.

The guy who did the work on the roofs did a good job, and I thought he was especially good at cleaning up the mess.  Alexei has discovered that the guy missed a lot.  There must be hundreds of little pieces of tar mixed in with the gravel around the apartments.  Alexei has no trouble finding them.  I don’t think the tar would hurt him, but the silver top-coat that is supposed to reflect the sun’s rays away from the roofs is probably toxic.  Alexei finds the bits of tar, and I take them out of his mouth.  He’s good tempered about it.  Probably because he just is good tempered, but also because he knows there is plenty more for him to find.  You could say that Alexei doesn’t go for a walk; he goes for a graze—finding lots of interesting things to taste.

This morning he found lots of tar, three nails, a screw, a couple of pieces of metal I can’t identify, and a penny.  He found a group of pigeons pecking at the beans under one of the bushes, and went into an automatic point.   He was shivering with excitement at the sight of the birds.  He and he stalked the pigeons silently on the gravel, shooting me a couple of impatient glances as I tromped along on the gravel behind him.  Even as a puppy he knew he couldn’t sneak up on the pigeons with me making so much noise.  The pigeons had been watching him the whole time, and when he got to within five feet of them they flew.  Alexei flew, too, but he only got a foot or so off the ground before coming back down with a thump.  The pigeons flew to the top of the fence, and Alexei tried to climb the fence to reach them.  They flew again, landing on the far side of the fence as though they knew the fence kept them safe.


Alexei kept looking at me as though he suspected there was something I should be doing to contribute to the success of the hunt.  I felt guilty at that because he is right.  If I were the sort of owner who would take him hunting, I would have a shotgun with which to blow the birds out of the sky.  Then Alexei could put his retrieving skills to use.  Poor Alexei.  He can point birds for me.  He can flush them for me.  But if I don’t do my part, there is no point to the whole exercise.

I led him back to the sidewalk that runs along in front of the apartments, and made amends of sorts.  It just happened that one of the tenants came out and Alexei got to greet one of his new friends.  He is so cute, so full of energy and fun that everyone loves him, and he loves everyone back.

He was shivering with excitement, but he carefully stalked them.  He moved slowly

I Miss Alf A Lot

Alf the tamer of wild puppies.
Alf the tamer of wild puppies.

Yesterday I had myself in a panic.  Today I am better.  I am a bit old to be taking on a puppy as active as an Airedale Terrier, but I am not too old.  I can handle this, and I know Alexei won’t be a puppy forever.  I know, too, that even in his puppy exuberance, he has the innate good manners of an Airedale.

Oh, he is full of mischief and testing limits, but he is careful not to knock things over in the house.  He grabs the bathmat and takes off with it before I can pick it up and put it over the drying rack.  But he doesn’t try to chew holes in it, and when I insist that he give it to me he relaxes his grip and lets me take it.  His teeth are so sharp that if he wasn’t being careful he would rip holes in the bathmat.  He is careful.

I think yesterday I was having a realization of my age and limitations—not the basis for pleasant reflections.  But more than that, I was feeling lost and alone.  And I am alone in this.  It isn’t just that I now live alone.  It isn’t just that there are no other people around to absorb some of Alexei’s energy.

What—or rather who—I am missing is Alf.  As I have mentioned elsewhere, Alf was my first Airedale Terrier.  He was as close to perfect as any dog could be.  I’m missing him right now.  I’m missing the help he would be in settling a new puppy into my daily routine.

Alf did most of the work in getting Allie, my second Airedale, acquainted with the house rules.  He did much more than I realized at the time.  It wasn’t until several years later when Alf died that I came to understand how much he had done.  Allie did not eat for five days after Alf died.  She and I grieved together at the loss of that great guy.

But a couple of weeks later when she was feeling more herself, I realized she had thought Alf was the leader of the pack.  With him gone, she decided she was in charge.  She stopped obeying commands.  She started making demands rather than requests.  She had a go at ordering me to take her for a walk or to share my lunch.  I was surprised, and rather amused at her assumptions.  I was also firm about who really was going to be in charge.  It took a couple of weeks for her to finally fully accept that I was “top dog” in our house.  I think she accepted that I was in charge, but never really quite gave up the notion that the distinction between our relative positions was razor thin.  I’ll have to write about her attitude when I owned an RV Park and had employs another time.

What I was remembering this morning when Alexei and I were out in the yard at about 5:15 a.m. was how Alf took over with Allie on her second morning in our household.

The first morning Allie woke me—and Alf—as the sun was coming up.  (My husband and kids pretended they didn’t hear a thing and kept sleeping.)  I took Allie outside, and Alf went with us.  She took care of business, and I made coffee.

Alf and I were usually the first ones up in the morning, and we had a routine.  He went out while I made coffee.  Then I went to my chair in the living room to drink my coffee and read the newspaper.  Alf sat beside my chair so I could stroke his head and feel the soft, silky texture of his ears.  We usually had twenty to thirty minutes of peace before my husband and the kids got up.  (If it was a school day, the the kids didn’t get up willingly.  I nagged until they couldn’t stand it any longer and got out of bed.)

That first morning with Allie, Alf and I sat bemused as she raced around the living room, all but bouncing off the walls.  She tossed toys in the air, chased them across the floor, and tumbled against Alf and me in attempts to get us to join in her rowdy, joyful play.

Alf and I watched through sleep glazed eyes, and from time to time Alf looked up at me as though he was asking what I had been thinking when I brought this wild and crazy puppy home with me.

The next morning was different.   We still got up before the crack of dawn.  We still went out first thing, but after that Alf took over.  I poured coffee, and went to sit in my chair in the living room.  Allie began racing around like a crazy dog, and Alf calmly pushed her into a corner.  He lay down in front of her, and made rumbling growls every time she tried to climb over him to go back to her playing.

Peace reigned.  I drank my coffee and read the newspaper.  Alf sacrificed his usual petting and ear rubbing, but he made his point—no crazy dog antics first thing in the morning.  And that was all it took.  Allie fell into the pattern that was normal for Alf and me.  She lay quietly beside him every morning after that until he signaled he was ready to play.

Oh, how I missed Alf this morning as the sun was just beginning to rise.  Alexei raced around the yard, bringing me toys to throw, jumping up so that his paws were on my lap—and his teeth grasped my robe. It took almost three hours of ball throwing and wild racing around for Alexei to be calm enough for me to make breakfast and get showered and dressed.  Alf would have had him quiet in seconds.




Getting Old Stinks

Alexei climbingIn the photo, Alexei is climbing on an old lounge chair I should either clean up or throw out.  His motto is climb it if you can.



Getting old stinks.  That’s all there is to it.  Here I am excited as a kid to have a new puppy, but I’m not a kid.

I turned 67 on my last birthday.  I have a problem with my back I acquired many years ago digging a trench to help keep the rain water from flooding my parent’s basement.  My parents lived in eastern Kansas then, as I did.  We were having what were called the hundred year rains—that is, it only rained that much in eastern Kansas every hundred years or so.  No one who has not dug the dark loamy soil of eastern Kansas when it is soaking wet can imagine just how heavy it is.  Each shovel-full comes up with a sucking sound as a vacuum seal has been broken.

Digging that trench was hard work, but it saved my parents’ basement.

I have the knee that doesn’t bend like it used to.  I bunged that up one day hiking down a mountain-side in southern New Mexico.  I was striding along, not taking the care I should have been on a steep, rocky game trail when a rock that felt firm when I first stepped on it slipped.  If I had fallen forward—the direction I was heading—I could easily have tipped over a forty-foot drop into a rocky arroyo.  Quickly the instinct for self-preservation kicked in and I threw myself backward.  It saved my from going over the edge of the arroyo, but in planting my left leg to give myself the leverage to throw myself backward I set myself up to land sitting on my left heel.  The fibula—the smaller bone in the lower leg—in my left leg broke.  Tendons and ligaments in my left knee were torn, and never healed properly.  It didn’t help that at the time I lived in an area where medical care was provided by doctors who probably hadn’t been able to find jobs anywhere else.  It also didn’t help that I refused to admit that there was a problem until the next day, after my son and the young woman he had brought to meet me for the first time had left for the airport.  Our time together was limited, and I didn’t want to spend it in some hospital emergency room.  I didn’t want to make a mess of meeting my future daughter-in-law for the first time, so I steadfastly insisted that I was fine and made a serious effort not to limp.

So, I have a back that doesn’t work like it should, and a knee, ditto.  Let me note that every part of Alexei works just fine.  I am grateful for that.

The other part of me that doesn’t work like it used to is my skin, especially the skin on my forearms.  I’ve known for some time that I bruise more easily than I used to, and I have just accepted that.  I saw the same phenomenon with my parents’ skin as they aged.  Suddenly, I’m not so accepting.  I want to play with Alexei, and he wants to play with me.  He wants to play the only way he knows—the way he played with his litter mates.  That involves a lot of teeth to skin contact.

Alexei is gentle.  He does not bite hard, just playfully.  The playful bites he gives my neighbors—college-aged guys—doesn’t hurt them, and it doesn’t leave a mark on their skin.  The same bites draw blood from my old, thin skin.  Play with Alexei gets interrupted every few minutes so I can put a bandage on a spot where his teeth have grazed me and drawn blood. It is amazing that the least nip brings forth copious streams of blood.

I know I need to teach him not to chew on me, but I had hoped to go slowly on that.  He is such a bundle of fur and love.  He likes to be on my lap or at my heels at every moment—and fortunately the skin on my legs is much better than on my arms.  But I just can’t do the rough-housing he wants.

I feel guilty that the poor little guy has gotten stuck with such a broken-down owner, but I will make it work.  I can take him for walks.  I can play ball, and I can play tug-of-war with him.  My hands are still pretty much okay, so I can take all the things he finds to chew on out of his mouth.  Some of the things he finds are harmless, but many are not.

I took him to the park today, and we both had a good time.  Well, I did get dizzy at one point from going in circles when Alexei couldn’t decide which part of the park he wanted to explore first.  We met some nice people and some nice dogs.  Wow, is Alexei excited about getting to know every dog he meets.  He does play bows and bounces at the end of the leash.  The older dogs look at him warily.  It’s not that they don’t like him.  They just aren’t eager to be jumped on by a puppy.  The younger dogs are ready play–mostly.  One cute little fluffy white dog played for a little while, and then nipped Alexei when he got too rough.  It was a learning experience for him, and he played more carefully after that.

The park looked nice and clean, but Alexei found an astonishing amount of trash when he wasn’t meeting and greeting.  The pinecones he found were all right, but not the bottle caps. I confiscated the bits of aluminum foil, and the chicken bone, but let him play with the scraps of paper he found buried in the grass.

After an hous walking and playing at the park, we came home and played ball for a half-hour.  Alexei wasn’t tired, but he was ready to come indoors and play with his indoor toys.

I suppose I am a fool to want one more Airedale Terrier at my age, but this is my last chance.  I am not getting younger.  This will work, even if the first months are really more work than I was counting on.  How could I have forgotten how active puppies are?

Well, Okay, I’m Not Smarter Than An Airedale








                                                                                                                                     Alexei with his new toy.   

It is still day one.  Alexei has explored his new home as thoroughly as possible.  The places he hasn’t checked out have doors that he can’t open.  He watched with interest as I got dressed this morning.  He was fascinated by the way I opened drawers and took clothes out.  He watched me open a couple of drawers, and then he tried opening a drawer himself.  Fortunately, the drawers have double pulls.  He doesn’t have two hands, just one mouth.  For the moment my clothes are safely in drawers he can’t open.

We got up at 4:30 A.M.  Alexei spent the next four hours keeping me totally busy–thank goodness he takes naps.  He hadn’t been in the house—after checking out the yard—for thirty minutes before I learned that some of my puppy-proofing was a total failure.

I had spent a good deal of time carefully taping all electrical cords to the floor, walls and table legs with masking tape to stop Alexei from biting into an electrical cord.  It was more than wasted effort.  Alexei loves peeling masking tape.  Instead of making the electrical cords inaccessible, I had made them extra attractive.  Alexei had to spend some time in his crate while I took up all the masking tape I had so carefully put down.

When I let him out of his crate again, he remembered the masking tape and went looking for it.  Of course, there were only electrical cords for him to find.  He seemed willing to use them as a substitute even though they were coated with bitter lime spray.  He didn’t like the taste, but he wanted the cords.

I was able to distract him from the electrical cords by giving him what he really loves—masking tape.  I wrapped layers of masking tape around an empty gallon plastic water jug.  He loved it.  He had tape to peel, and a big clunky jug that made noise when he battered it against the floor.  Yes, he does have to learn what no means.  I just don’t want to start our first day with too many nos.

He likes chasing the ball I got for him before he arrived.  Sometimes he even brings it back, but he would rather have me chase him for it.  It is no contest.  He can easily outrun me.  He is having to adapt to my limitations—which must seem really ridiculous to him.

We are also working on potty training.  He is just a puppy, and peeing wherever he is natural to him.  I’ve been down this road with dogs before, and I know that what I have to teach him first is that there are places where it is all right for him to pee.  It isn’t fair to yell at him for peeing—a totally normal thing—until I make it clear that there are good places to do this.  He got a dog treat first thing this morning when he went potty outside.  It was purely an accident, of course.  He just happened to be outside.  But he was out there because I knew he would need to go potty first thing.  I am watching him closely any time he is out of his crate—which is most of the time.  It seems that for now he needs to go out at hour-and-a-half intervals.  That’s keeping me on my toes, and is making treats a big part of his diet.

Alexei and I have developed a bit of a pattern.  He goes out, pees, gets a treat, and then we go inside where he tanks up on water.

Interestingly—and encouragingly—he already seems to know that pooping is an activity that comes with restrictions.  He had not pooped on the trip at all, and I was beginning to worry.  But it was all right.  As soon as he had a yard—and as soon as he found an out of the way place—he took care of that little matter.  That he already knows that you don’t just poop anywhere is a step toward knowing the same is true of peeing.

Alexei is such a sweetie.  When he is not in motion he is starting to want to snuggle.  He licks my fingers, and nibbles on them.  The nibbling I have to discourage.  He will be a good sized dog, and he has to learn that his teeth cannot make contact with a person’s skin.  This is for the good of the people he encounters, but mostly it is for his own good.  He has a gentle temperament.  He will not grow up to be the sort of dog who would bite, but he could frighten someone who doesn’t realize that.  For his own safety he has to learn not to be what is called “mouthy” so that he can’t be accused of biting.

Alexei is asleep for the night, I hope.  I am going to bed, too.  Tomorrow will probably start early.



Tree Climbing Dog

Allie past her tree climbing days.  I have few photos of Allie.  she was camera shy.
Allie past her tree climbing days. I have few photos of Allie. she was camera shy.



Whoa.   We’re home, and Alexei is starting to be more comfortable with me.  I’m happy about that, but there are consequences.  Night before last we were at the motel.  I put Alexei in his crate and went to bed myself.  He did not make a sound until I woke about ten hours later.

This morning—our first morning at home—he woke me at 4:30 A.M.  He needed to go out.  NOW!

I quickly pulled on a robe, slid my feet into sandals, and headed out into a dark world.  Alexei did need to pee, and he did as soon as he was off the patio.  “Good guy,” I told him sleepily, and gave him a treat.  I was ready to go back to bed; he wasn’t.

A couple of bugs were circling under the backyard light, and he had to chase them.  Then a woodpecker began hammering at the big Mesquite tree, and Alexei had to check that out.  He couldn’t begin to reach the woodpecker, but he tried—stretching himself as far up the tree as he could, and trying to dig his hind feet into the bark of the tree to get enough traction to climb the tree.  I watched him and wondered.  Did I have another tree climbing dog?  If I did, could I handle it?  My last tree climber, Allie, had been at the height of her climbing adventures in the mid-1990s.  I was twenty plus years younger then.  Can I still lift a fifty or sixty pound dog out of a tree?

Allie, my little girl Airedale Terrier, was a climber.   We lived Lawrence, Kansas in eastern Kansas when she was young.  There were squirrels everywhere, and she chased them every chance she got.  There was one particular squirrel that loved to tease Allie.  The squirrel knew, somehow, that the glass in the front window protected him from Allie.  Just outside the window there was a flat-topped bush where he could perch.  He could see into the living room, and if he caught sight of Allie he would let loose with a loud chattering sound that drove Allie nuts.

Over time, I became fond of the gutsy little squirrel.  It was funny to watch him take delight in teasing Allie.  His bright eyes sparkled, his little ears stood straight, and his big, bushy, red tail twitched with excitement.  I could imagine how much fun it had to be for him to be able to taunt a big dog in perfect safely.

But it wasn’t perfect safety.  He was safe when he was on the other side of the window.  It was another matter when he encountered Allie outside.  That squirrel came close to getting his comeuppance on three occasions, one of which cost me a mess of scrapes and bruises.  The first time Allie almost caught the squirrel was happenstance.  It just happened that when I opened the side door of the house to let Allie out into the backyard, the squirrel was sitting on the top rail of the six-foot-high wooden fence that surrounded the backyard.  Before I could blink, Allie launched herself off the top step of the small porch and wrapped her front paws around the top of the fence.

I heard the squirrel hit the ground on the far side of the fence as Allie’s back paws were scrabbling furiously against the fence, and she was making good progress.  By the time I grabbed her and lifted her down, she had her chest on the top rail.  In a couple more seconds, she would have thrown herself over the fence, and the squirrel, chattering indignantly on the far side of the fence would have been singing a different song.

Allie did not appreciate my interference.  She gave me an indignant bark as I sat her on the ground, but

Alexei with his Frisbee. Getting pictures of him is tricky.  He seems never to be still.
Alexei with his Frisbee. Getting pictures of him is tricky. He seems never to be still.

it was too late.  The squirrel had gathered his wits and scurried up a tree.

The second time Allie went after the squirrel she really surprised me.  We were walking peacefully along the sidewalk a few doors down the street from our house when Allie spotted the squirrel.  He was distinctive.  He was redder than the other squirrels in the neighborhood, and he had the biggest, bushiest tail I have ever seen on a squirrel.  At that moment he wasn’t paying attention to anything except the acorn he was busy burying in the neighbor’s lawn where it would almost certainly sprout.

There were several big beautiful oak trees in the neighborhood, and there would have been a dense oak grove if those of us who lived in the neighborhood hadn’t been vigilant about pulling the sprouts before they got a foothold.

Allie spotted the squirrel, and took off so fast she slid the leash out of my hand.  The squirrel heard her coming, and with a flick of his bushy tail he took off.  Allie was gaining on him, and I thought the poor ornery squirrel was about to meet a sticky end.  But just before Allie nabbed him, he made a giant leap onto the trunk of a tree.  He scurried upward with Allie right behind him.  She threw herself at the tree, and managed to wrap her front paws around the trunk of the tree about five feet off the ground.  With her back feet churning against the tree trunk and her front legs wrapped around the tree, she was making rapid upward progress.  I caught her while I could still reach her hips, and pulled her down until I could get a grip around her rib cage and lift her to the ground.

I don’t know what she thought she was going to do when she got up the tree.  I don’t know how she could have gotten herself down.  Probably she had not thought that far.  She was just single mindedly determined to get that squirrel.

The squirrel, triumphant again, leaned down from a high branch and chattered angrily at Allie.  I had to drag Allie away from the tree and the squirrel.  Allie wanted to have another go at climbing up to get the squirrel.

The third time was the most exciting.  Allie and I were coming home from a nice long walk.  We turned into our driveway, and the long leash sagged between us as I let my mind wonder to things like whether I should plant daffodils on the south side of the house for spring—and whether the squirrels would dig them up if I did.  I was thinking of squirrels, but not of that one particular squirrel.  He was on the ground, planting another oak tree, and he didn’t hear us coming.  Allie launched herself so hard and fast that when she hit the end of the long, slack leash I was jerked off my feet.  In a fraction of a second I went from upright and walking to being horizontal three or four feet above the ground.  I landed with a skidding thump, and Allie turned from her squirrel chasing to see what I was doing.  She came back quickly, sniffing me anxiously, and trying to lick the bloody scratches on my face, arms and hands.

Later, I found I had a bruise the size of a dessert plate on the front of one hip joint, and both knees and elbows were skinned and bruised.  That was the last time Allie took off after a squirrel while on a leash.  I think she realized that I had been really hurt, and as badly as she wanted to catch the squirrel, she did not want to hurt me.

I watch Alexei.  He has given up on the woodpecker for now, and is stalking a dove that has landed in the yard.  I don’t think he has a chance of catching it—yet, but just in case I called to him and threw the fake Frisbee I bought for him to play with.  Quickly distracted, Alexei chases after the Frisbee as intently as he had been stalking the dove.

It is a beautiful morning.  The air is cool—a blessing in summertime Tucson—and the sky above the Rincon and Santa Catalina mountains is a glory of pale pinks and blues.  I haven’t seen a sunrise in a long time.  No doubt just the beginning of the things Alexei will share with me.


Getting To Know You, Alexei

Alexei's first photo.  I had meant to get a profile, but I wasn't fast enough.  Alexei turned to see what I was doing.
Alexei’s first photo. I had meant to get a profile, but I wasn’t fast enough. Alexei turned to see what I was doing.


At last there is time to begin getting to know Alexei.  He is so beautiful.  Officially he is black and tan as Airedales are, but his color is richer than that.  He is really more black and bronze—a beautiful color that gleams in sunlight.

I got him—in his crate—into the motel room, opened the door of the crate and tried to coax him out.  He sat and looked at me politely.  I was a stranger in a strange place, and he was reserving judgment—politely.  Occasionally, he would tilt his head in response to some sound I made, but he would not come out.  I suppose I should have given him time to come out on his own, but I wanted too much to hold him.  I slipped one arm under his chest and abdomen, and gently pulled him onto my lap.

He let me hold him.  He occasionally looked at my face as though he was trying to read something there.  He made no protest when I stroked him, rubbed him behind his ears, and held his ominously large paws in my hand, but he did not relax against me as I wanted.

Give him time, I told myself.  Be patient.  After all, he had every reason to be absolutely panicked. That he remained calm—if reserved—said volumes about his personality.  He is a good stable dog.  He has confidence.  It was obvious that he had always been handled gently—that his assumptions about people are good.  For that I am grateful.

Many years ago we adopted a two-year-old Cocker Spaniel that had not had such gentle handling.  It took more than a year to settle poor Rose.  She was not terribly nervous with women but she was terrified of men.  Just the sight of a man at a distance would scare her.  If a man came near her she would be so frightened she would panic pee.  That made answering the door an event, and I felt so sorry for her.  There had to have been a series of frightening events in her life.  Nothing else could explain her fear.

Alexei is not fearful, just reserving judgment.  After a few minutes, he relaxed a bit, and nibbled softly on my fingers.  His teeth are like needles.  Sharp beyond belief, but he is careful with them.  He doesn’t chomp down, just nibbles.  And he looks up at my face frequently to be sure I am all right with the gentle chewing.

I hate to break into the beginning of what will become a long wonderful friendship, but I know there are other concerns.  At some point, he is going to need to go out.  He’s just a puppy, and when he needs to go it will be sudden.  Indeed, I think I had better get him outside soon.

I brought two harnesses in two different sizes.  The smaller one is too small.  The larger, a bit too large, but with adjustments, it fits.  Getting him into the harness isn’t easy.  He thinks the harness is a toy, and I have offered him a new game.  With those sharp teeth, he could have made getting him into the harness a real chore, but he did not.  He was gentle, if playful, and I got him into the harness.  I carried him out to the lovely veranda that lines the front of the motel.  Immediately he resumed his cautious, reserved attitude.  Slowly, ever so slowly, Alexei and I walked along the veranda.  He hesitated beside every bush, every post, every bench and flower pot.  He didn’t act frightened, just cautious and curious.  He walks with his shoulders squared, and his tail at half-mast.  His posture seems to say he will handle what he needs to, but he is going to be careful about what he gets himself into.

I know some people will think it foolish that I think I can read so much of his character in his actions, but people who know dogs will not think it foolish, at all.  Dogs speak a language of their own.  Some of their language is through barks and growls, but most of it is in body posture.  Anyone who watches closely can learn to read those motions and know what they mean.

Alexei and I spent a couple of hours wandering slowly around the veranda and parking lot.  He is still unsure of me, but he is beginning to look to me when he encounters something he is uncertain about.  He pasted himself to my ankles when a big German Shepherd went past.  The German Shepherd ignored Alexei, and by the time the other dog had past us, Alexei had taken a couple of steps away from my ankles and was tentatively wagging his tail.

It is time for bed, and I am grateful.  I hope to sleep.  Tomorrow we go home.

Miracles Do Happen


 I know travel was harder then, but it was slower.–and since I am getting slower, I appreciate that.  I would like to hear from anyone who can identify the person in the photo.  The back of the photo says, “Mr. Riggs.”  It is a photo that was in a bunch of photos my mother had.  It was probably taken in Texas or New Mexico around the turn of the last century. 


It is the day of Alexei’s arrival, and I am panicked.    His flight comes in at three this afternoon, and I have to drive into Las Vegas to the airport to pick him up.  I had fitful night’s sleep before I left on this trip.  Last night was even worse.  I was so very, very tired from lack of sleep and from the drive, but still I could not sleep.  I have trouble sleeping sometimes, and my doctor has prescribed medication for me for those times.  But I forgot to bring it.  How will I make myself alert enough to drive to the airport and then get Alexei and myself back to the motel alive?

First things first.  I had planned to drive back to Tucson today, but with so little sleep I know that is not safe.  I need to stay another night, and I know the motel management is does not want an untrained puppy as a guest.  I don’t blame them.  It is their carpet he will ruin if I am not ultra-careful.

I went to the motel office and announced that I had come to beg—which was precisely how desperate I felt.  I explained that I had not been able to sleep—hastily assuring the kind man behind the counter that it was in no way the fault of the motel which is really quite pleasant.  He was very kind, and agreed to let me stay another night, puppy included.

Next I called my doctor’s office and left a message explaining my plight.  I had an eight hour drive to make to get home, and I had to be able to sleep to be able to safely make the drive.  Within the hour I had a call back assuring me that a prescription was being called to a nearby pharmacy.

With a safety-net of sorts in place, I tried to nap until it was time to leave for the airport.  No luck at all.  Somehow the knowledge that I need to sleep seems to have the effect of making me wide awake.  I had the route more or less memorized, and I had written directions taped to the dash of the car.  It didn’t look too difficult, and had I been rested I would not have been greatly concerned.  I left early to allow time for getting off on the wrong exit and having to find my way back to the right one.

It was worse than I expected.  There was not a highway.  There were layers of highways.  At one point the highway I was driving on went underground to make space for the six or eight layers of highways above it.  Sometimes the roadway was five or six lanes in each direction, sometimes it narrowed to two or three.  Lanes that were through lanes one moment became exit ramps in what seemed like seconds.  Signs flashed overhead guiding drivers to a plethora of exits.  It seemed I needed to be in the right lane then the left.  If I was in the middle lane I needed to be somewhere else—and every lane was filled with cars traveling
at highway speeds.  I was terrified.  It did not seem possible that I could be in the correct lane to make the transitions I needed to make, but somehow I was.  Without the slightest glitch, I made the proper exits, drove onto the enormous airport grounds, and drove directly to the building where I was to pick up Alexei even though the building said nothing about Delta Dash.

When I entered the building and asked the guy behind the desk if I was in the right place, he said yes and chuckled.  “How many places did you go before you found us?” he asked.

“Just this one,” I told him.

He stared at me for a moment.  “Most people have trouble finding us,” he said.  “How did you know how to find us?”

“Just luck,” I told him.

Alexei was not yet on the ground, but the plane he was on would be landing momentarily, I was told.  I wanted to get the paperwork out of the way immediately, but that was not possible.  Some of the necessary papers were in packets taped to the crate Alexei was traveling in.  I paced the floor, read the posters on the walls, and peered frequently through the window of the holding area where I was told Alexei would arrive.

And finally he was there.  I could see him sitting placidly looking out through the grated door of the grate at the woman who was standing nearby.  His ears were lifted at that angle that denotes calm interest.  I wanted to go to him right away, but first the paperwork had to be done.  It was at least ten minutes before I could finally touch him.

I reached into the crate, calling to him softly, and he turned to look at me with the same calm reserve he had bestowed on the woman waiting with him while I took care of paperwork.  He didn’t pull away when I stroked him, but he didn’t show enthusiasm either.  For a moment I was hurt, and then I had to laugh at myself.  I had been eagerly awaiting his arrival for weeks—and had gone to some lengths to be able to get him—but he hadn’t known I was on the planet during that time.  To him I was a stranger to whom he was being courteous.

He was handling the long flight, the strange surrounding and strange people with the aplomb of an Airedale Terrier.  He is perfect.  The disposition of an Airedale Terrier is showing through clearly. His head is perfectly shaped.  His eyes are so dark brown they are almost black.

The guy waiting patiently to lift the crate into my car pointed to a strip of grass about four feet wide and forty feet long.  It was the place people usually let their dogs pee.  I looked at the grass for a couple of seconds thinking how many dogs from how many places may have used that grass—and the diseases they could have left behind.  I thought about how deeply laid with shredded newspaper the carte was.  Alexei must have already peed several times, and yet the top layers of paper are dry.

I told the guy we would just go.  It wasn’t all that far back to the motel, and a glance at my watch reminded me that rush-hour traffic would be starting soon.  The traffic I had already driven through was bad enough.  I didn’t want to find out what rush-hour looked like.

So Alexei and I are in the car together.  He is not a foot from me, and I still can’t begin getting to know him.  I have to focus my lack-of-sleep fogged brain on finding the way out of the airport and back thought the daunting tangle of highways, reading signs and switching lanes as the roadway widens and narrows.

In so short a time I can hardly believe it, I am back in Boulder City.  Traffic was light, but even so, I pulled over to absorb the shock of what had just happened.  It is impossible that it was so easy.  I left the airport with no problems.  I was effortlessly in the correct lane to make exits when I needed to.  I had driven to and from the airport through a maze of confusing and unfamiliar roadways as though I was driving a familiar route.  It wasn’t possible that more than fifty hours since I had last really slept I had driven so well.  I’m a good driver, but not that good.

It was then I realized I hadn’t been driving–not really.  Oh, I had been behind the wheel the whole way, but more as passenger than driver.  The real driver on this trip had been the Holy Spirit.  My awe and gratitude are boundless.


The Beauty of Northwest Arizona is Amazing


This is not starting well.  It is the day I am to drive to Las Vegas to pick up my new puppy, Alexei, and I haven’t slept well.  Excitement at finally seeing Alexei, and nerves about driving to pick him up, I suppose.  When I blithely said I would make the eight hour drive to pick him up at the Las Vegas airport, I hadn’t thought how long it has been since I have done any highway driving.  I was younger then, and I am old enough now that that matters.  But since I can’t sleep, I can get an early start.  That’s the good news.

When I left Tucson early, I told myself that was good.  I would miss the worst of rush hour traffic in Phoenix.   I am glad I missed the worst of it.  What I encountered was bad enough.  The highway that makes a virtually straight line from Phoenix to Las Vegas passes through a big chunk of Phoenix.  I guess early is a relative concept—or maybe the traffic just never stops in Phoenix.  Whichever it was, I drove in bumper-to-bumper traffic for more than an hour.  On the map the highway is a highway.  In reality it is a very busy street, complete with stop lights at frequent intervals.

It was a huge relief to finally escape into the suburbs of Phoenix and finally into open country.  And what country!  As I drove north from Phoenix the view through my windshield became increasingly rugged and increasingly beautiful.  There are hills in every direction.  Not the soft rolling, grass covered hills I am familiar with from the years I lived in eastern Kansas.  The hills—large hills, almost big enough to be called mountains—are starkly rugged outcroppings of lava. But even though the bones of the hills are obviously ancient lava spills, eons of erosion, of dust settling and plants decaying have filled the crevices in the lava with rich dirt.  The hills are green with desert plants.  Mesquite, of course, and Palo Verde.  Sage, clumps of some sort of grass I am not familiar with, and cactus and wildflowers are everywhere.  I am awed by the beauty of it all, and puzzled by one bush? tree?, I can’t decide which, that I see with increasing frequency.  They are odd looking things.  They have branches that don’t quite look like tree branches.  They are oddly formed, and they are covered with something that does not look like tree bark.  And they don’t have leaves, exactly.  They have clumps of greenish-gray foliage that more resembles the tail-feathers of a fancy rooster or the leafy end of a pineapple than it does the leaves of a tree.

I wondered about the odd plants for quite a while before a dim memory surfaced.  Joshua Trees, I thought.  I had seen Joshua Trees once in California.  I had no idea they grew in Arizona, too, and I don’t recall the ones in California being so big.

I continue to drive, fascinated by the land.  It is so awesomely rugged that it seems impossible that ranchers could make a living—or that cows or sheep could survive—but signs designating ranches mark roads that lead away from the highway at frequent intervals.  It is a land of secrets, I think.  I catch glimpses of streams lined with cottonwood trees—trees that do not live without water.  There seem to be valleys with ponds, small lakes, and green grass.  It is hard to know how extensive they are.  From the highway, they are only flashes of green.  I would like to come this way again when I could take time to explore.

I stopped in Kingman, Arizona for gas, and confirmed that the odd trees that so fascinated me were Joshua Trees.  Kingman is a small town of around 30,000 friendly people if my short experience there is typical.

Life is so often full of surprises.  The long drive to pick up my new puppy that had seemed an

inconvenience has turned into a blessing.  I might never have seen the beautiful landscapes around Kingman if I had not made this trip.

And, oh my, but there was still more to see.  Hoover Dam is so much more than photos of it can show.  It is terrifying and incredibly impressive to imagine the power of the immense weight of water confined by Hoover Dam.  It is incredible to think of the engineering talent and plain hard work that went into building it.  The dam is taller, wider—in every way bigger than I could ever have imagined.  I have spent the day awed by the wonders of nature, and I ended the trip awed by the wonders of what mankind can create.

I stopped for the night in another small, friendly town, called Boulder City.  The motel where I stayed is the El Rancho Boulder Motel.  It is a small, family run motel, and it was great—as was the café next door.  There must be unfriendly people in Boulder City, but during my two days there I didn’t meet them.  I only met kind, helpful people.

Tomorrow is the big day.  I will finally meet Alexei.

Alexei Is Finally Here

Alexei stays close. Under foot, one could say, or as in the photo--in my shadow.
Alexei stays close. Under foot, one could say, or as in the photo–in my shadow.


At last!  Alexei, my new puppy is finally here.  He is wonderful.  He is beautiful.  He is full of energy, and he has taken over my heart and my life.  It wasn’t easy getting him here.  At one point it seemed that all was arranged.  Alexei would fly from the airport in Huntsville, Alabama to the airport here in Tucson.  It would have been amazingly easy for me.  The airport is a half-hour drive from where I live, but I worried it would be hard on Alexei.  Still, there seemed to be no other choice.

I woke on the morning Alexei was to arrive excited and eager.  Finally, I was going to see him and hold him.  But soon there was a phone call that changed everything.  Mr. Alexander called from the airport in Huntsville with the bad news.  Even though he had carefully made arrangements for the flight in advance, even though he had made sure all details had been taken care of, Alexei was not allowed on the flight.  The problem?  The weather in Tucson.

Mr. Alexander had driven more than an hour to get to the Huntsville airport only to learn that whoever had assured him there would be no problems had been wrong.  No animals were allowed to fly to Tucson during hot weather—which is mostly the weather we have–because the airport here does not have air-conditioned facilities for shipped animals.  The larger airport in Phoenix does not have such facilities, either.  Both Mr. Alexander and I were frustrated and disappointed.  I wanted to get started knowing and training Alexei as soon as possible, and Mr. Alexander worried that Alexei was going to be bored and lonely since all of his litter mates were already gone.

I began thinking about driving to Alabama, and Mr. Alexander began researching airports.

“Can you drive to Las Vegas?” Mr. Alexander asked the next time he called.

“Nevada?” I asked.

“Yes.  The airport there has air-conditioned facilities for pets,” he said.

“Okay,” I said, suddenly excited.  “Sure I can drive to Las Vegas.”

“When do you want to pick him up?  I can take him to the airport here tomorrow or the next day.  After that it will be several days before I can make the trip.”

I thought fast.  I wanted Alexei right away, but I wanted no slip-ups.  Car trouble was unlikely.  The car had recently been in for service.  An accident was possible, if unlikely.  Still, it was an eight hour drive from Tucson to Las Vegas.  I didn’t want to risk stranding Alexei at the airport in Las Vegas.  “Day after tomorrow,” I said.  “That way I can drive tomorrow and be sure I’m there to meet his plane.”

There was little to do to get ready.  I put toiletries, a gown and robe, and a change of clothes in a small bag, gassed up the car to be ready for an early start the next day.





Whoops! Puppies Grow Fast

The weeks have flown past.  I have been busy getting my life in order–or as much in order as it is likely to get.  The house is more or less puppy proof.  A new puppy will quickly find the things I missed.  I have taken care of appointments, business obligations, etc., and I am getting ready to fly from Tucson, AZ to Alabama to pick up my puppy.

I can hardly wait to see him, and I am eager to meet Lawrence Alexander and his wife.  They are the people who have taken the care to make sure the puppy I will be getting is healthy, intelligent and sweet tempered. It is an exciting time, and a little scary, too.  The breeder has done his job, now the responsibility for teaching a new puppy to be a responsible citizen is about to be mine.

I went to Pet Smart today to buy a carrier for the puppy to travel in.  The air line rules are that the puppy has to be in a carrier and under the seat on the airplane.IMG953344                                           Another of Lawrence Alexander’s beautiful dogs.

All of the carriers of the proper size are made of fabric and mesh, and I wonder if I need to buy more than one.  I think if I really tried, I could chew through the mesh on the carriers in an hour or two.  Probably a puppy wouldn’t even have to try.

I called Mr. Alexander for advice.  We talked about the construction of the carriers, and then the size.  When I told him what the required measurements are, he hesitated.  Maybe, he said he should measure my puppy and call me back.

He did call back, and the news is not good.  The puppy is already too long for the carrier–and that’s not counting his tail.  I am deeply troubled.  I do not want the puppy to have to fly in the cargo hold of an airplane, but the other option is driving to Alabama.  That is probably a four day trip–each way.  Probably longer on the return trip.  Puppies need frequent potty breaks.

The really pressing problem is that the puppy has only had his first two set of shots.  He need the full set of four to be safe from infection, and he is too young to have all four sets.  If I drive with him, I risk exposing him to who knows what over a period of four or five days in who knows how many strange places.

Mr. Alexander has assured me that he has been shipping puppies for years, and that the airline he uses–Delta Dash–does a good job of taking care of puppies.  So all plans have changed.  Mr. Alexander is making arrangements to have the puppy fly to Tucson.

Not at all what I had planned, but soon I will have a new puppy.  I can hardly wait to have his warm furry body in my arms.

The New Puppy Has Been Born

My new puppy’s mother. Doesn’t just the look of an Airedale satisfy the eye and fill the heart?






Mr. Alexander has called.  The puppies have been born, and there are five hearty, healthy puppies.  If all five stay healthy I will have a new puppy in about eight weeks.  I am happy, excited and intimidated.  Getting an Airedale puppy off to a good start isn’t like starting with a tiny Chihuahua or a dainty Maltese.  Those tiny puppies will chew just like any teething baby, but they just don’t have the strength or energy to do the sort of damage an Airedale Terrier can and will do unless watched full-time.

Safety is my first concern–first the safety of the puppy, and then the safety of my possessions.  I begin by checking lower cabinets for hazards. The plastic bottles holding cleaning products are choking hazards in themselves.  If a puppy uses those sharp teeth chew off a bit of plastic the puppy could choke on the plastic—or if a bit of plastic is swallowed it can stick in the puppy’s digestive tract—then there are the chemicals in those bottles.

Everywhere I look there are things that can be dangerous or damaged.  There are electrical cords all over the place—television, computer, lamps.  Then there are the decorative baskets I use for magazine holders and wastebaskets.  The baskets have a short life expectancy unless I am very vigilant.  The drapes and the furniture will just have to take their chances.  I will have to be as alert as I was when my children were at the stage to put anything they got their hands on into their mouths.

That’s what it’s going to be like, I fully realize, and I’m getting a little old for that sort of excitement.  I have grandchildren—grandchildren taller than I am.

Second thoughts?  Well, yes.  I know the first few months with any new puppy are a challenge, and I know few breeds have the energy and intelligence of an Airedale.  It’s their intelligence and sweetness that I love so much.  The energy is just part of the package, and delightful in its own way.  It is wonderful to watch a little Airedale tearing around the yard chasing every leaf that moves, every toy thrown, and doing it with such joy and enthusiasm.  Every nook and cranny of the house and yard will be explored, experimented with, chewed on, and thought about by the small creature who is about to invade my quiet life.

But it has been too quiet.  My children and grandchildren have moved far away to jobs and opportunities not available to them here.  I was housebound for many years as I cared for my mother as her Alzheimer’s progressed.  I need to get out, meet people, get involved with interesting activities, and what could be a better way to get out and about?

A new puppy will take me to obedience training and maybe obedience trials.  I would have loved to enter my first three Airedales in obedience trials.  They would have been grand.  They were all so easily trained, so eager to please, and so quick to understand what was wanted.  There hadn’t been time with any of them, but now there is time.

Yes, I do want a new best friend even if I know the first weeks I will have to be hyper-vigilant.  Puppyhood is what you go through on your way to a grand companion, and I want that companionship.

Well, what I really want is Brahm back, but I can’t have him.  A new door has to open.

Moving Forward Toward A New Dog


Above is Lawrence Alexander, owner of Hilltop Airedales with his dog Buddy.  Mr. Alexander has been breeding Airedale Terriers for 40 years.  He has a grand reputation, and I have found him to be kind and generous.


I’ve been checking on the Internet for a month or so, looking at ads for Airedale puppies.  It hasn’t been something I’ve done consistently–just something I do every now and then.  I know I will soon want another dog–but not too quickly.  It isn’t that I feel guilty about getting another dog.  I’m not replacing Brahm.  That I could not do.  And I know he was never a greedy, envious dog.  He would not want me to be so lonely for the companionship only a dog can supply.  If he were here, it would be perfect, and I would not be looking at puppies on the Internet, but he is not here.

I’m checking beyond the websites—some of them are very fancy, but I know that fancy artwork doesn’t necessarily mean that care and concern has been taken with the breeding of puppies.  It is easy to put together a montage of pretty pictures.  It is hard work to care for the adult dogs and the puppies that make up a kennel.  It takes time, study, and real care to learn how to combine the qualities of the mother and the father to bring forth healthy, bright, sweet-tempered puppies.  I am looking for a breeder who cares more about the dogs than about the money.  From all I have heard and read, making much money at all breeding dogs is a fool’s errand, and I don’t want a puppy breed by a fool.

It isn’t a cute puppy I’m choosing.  I’m carefully selecting a dog who will be a good and true companion for many years—not nearly enough years, but many.

Oh, it’s true I want a handsome Airedale.  Just the sight of a dignified Airedale standing on the patio looking out over the yard is a thing of joy.  But there is more than that.  Intelligence is so very important.  A sweet-tempered, intelligent dog is easy to train and a delight to live with.  After a year or two, a sweet-tempered, intelligent dog will learn to anticipate what you want.  He—or she—will sometimes seem to read your mind—going to the closet for the leash when you think of going for a walk even if you go first to the kitchen to give the beans cooking in the Crockpot a stir before leaving for the walk.

An intelligent dog will learn the words for every room in the house, and go to whatever room you say.  An intelligent dog will be pleasantly reserved with everyone, but will withhold judgment until the new person proves to be worthy of friendship.  An intelligent dog will know your mood.  Your happiness will be met with playfulness.  Your sadness with sympathy and comfort—a gentle paw on your knee, or the warmth of a furry body leaning against you to offer comfort.

I’m not an expert on Airedales, but I’ve known three very well.  I know what a good Airedale Terrier can be, and that is what I want.

I have talked to a number of people who breed Airedale Terriers.  Some of them agree with everything I say—and I intentionally say some silly things.  Anyone who agrees with my silliness is, I think, someone who wants to sell me a dog—not necessarily someone who works to breed good Airedales and wants to be sure they go to good homes.

This is a tricky business.  I can’t get to know personally and well people scattered across the country—and across the world.  I have to depend on the research I can do on the Internet and what I hear when I talk with breeders.  I need to get this right.  I know I will love any dog I get.  I could be disappointed, I could find I have a problem dog that is going to need a lot of work, but it won’t be the dog I blame.  I’ll blame my own poor judgment and the faults of the breeder I did not discern.  The dog I’ll love.

I have talked a couple of times with Lawrence Alexander.  He breeds Airedale Terriers at Hilltop Airedales in Florence, Alabama.  I like the way he sounds on the phone.  I like what he says about his dogs.  I like that he trains his dogs to be hunters and to show in hunt contests.  That means, I think, that he cares about intelligence.  It means he breeds dogs that work well with people—cooperative, sweet-tempered dogs.

The problem is that he has only one litter of puppies due, and he thinks all of them are spoken for.  He thinks the mother dog is carrying four puppies.  If there is by some chance a fifth I’ll have a puppy in a little over two months.

If not, I’ll have to re-think.



My Big Guy Brahm Has Died

When I drove with my grandson, Doug, and Brahm up the mountain to Mesa Verde poor Brahm looked out the window and thought the car was flying.
Brahm and me on our last trip together. We went to Mesa Verde with my oldest grandson.

I am at that painfully awkward point when I am beginning to recover—as much as one ever does—from the death of my great dog Brahm.  My heart no longer sinks each time I come home because he is not waiting to greet me.  I have, mostly, stopped talking to him as I do chores around the house.  I don’t have to stop myself telling him good night as I go to bed and good morning when I wake.  I am adapting to him not being there.  I know I can’t—however much I want it—have him back.

But I have been on very few walks in recent months.  It is just too lonely going by myself.  It brings back too many memories even when I make a point of going for walks in places Brahm and I seldom walked.

Brahm was an Airedale Terrier.  A big guy for the breed but so gentle, so careful.  Never, once he got past the puppy stage, did his teeth ever connect with my hands when we played tug of war.  He would play tug with the ball he loved to play with, but he was always mindful of my fingers.

He was infinitely patient with my mother while she lived with me.  She suffered from Alzheimer’s.  Sometimes she would start to go from one room to another and forget which room she was going to.  Brahm just seemed to understand.  He would wait patiently for her to move one way or the other, never trying to push past her.

She lost track, sometimes, when she was eating.  She would hold a cookie in her hand with her hand resting on the arm of her chair on her lap.  Both locations were easily within Brahm’s reach, but he never took advantage.  It wasn’t something I taught him.  It was something he just knew.

He made me laugh with his antics with a ball or a braided rope.  Sometimes they were toys we played with together.  Other times they were pretend deadly enemies he wrestled with until he subdued them to his satisfaction.

He helped me with chores.  He would carry a pack across his shoulders that held the hand tools I needed to work in the flower beds.  He helped me pull the hose when I dragged it across the yard to water plants.  If I bought bags of potting soil or fertilizer too heavy to carry, I could tie a rope around the bag, and Brahm would help me drag it to wherever I wanted it.

He was part of the warp and weave of my life.  He can never be replaced.  But the time of hard mourning is passing.  There is a hole in my heart that can never be filled, but there is a door to my heart that has not been opened.  The time is coming to open that door–to allow another dog to become a part of my life.  One chapter has ended.  It is becoming time to open another.

Getting to Know an Airedale Terrier


Alf was the dog who introduced me to the Airedale Terrier breed.  He convinced me there was no other breed for me.

Getting to Know an Airedale Terrier


Entry Three

Thinking about getting a new puppy makes me remember the other dogs I have had.  Three of them have been Airedale Terriers, so Brahm was not my first Airedale.  He was my third.  I’m not an expert on the breed, but I do have experience.

Alf, the first, was a surprise, and I thought at first he was a mistake.  My husband was working full-time and going to graduate school.  I was caring for two children, two dogs, a cat and two birds—and going to graduate school.  So when my son said all he wanted for Christmas was an Airedale Terrier, I didn’t resist much.  I didn’t see how another dog could add much to the confusion of our family life.  I was wrong.

When my son said Airedale Terrier, I just heard terrier.  I thought small to mid-sized, probably no bigger than our Cocker Spaniel—maybe not much bigger than the miniature poodle that was my daughter’s constant companion.  I was wrong.

There was so little time to think about the puppy my son wanted.  I was not just taking courses in grad school, I was a Teaching Assistant as well—which meant I taught two sections of Freshman English.  I had papers to write, and papers to grade. There were gifts to buy, packages to wrap and mail, presents to wrap and put under our tree.  There were cookies to bake—and a German Chocolate Cake was a Christmas tradition.  There was cleaning to do and a tree to decorate—and redecorate every time the cat decided to play with the ornaments.  My son persisted.  He found a litter of Airedale puppies and one cold winter night before Christmas we went to see the puppies.  They were cute.  What puppy isn’t?  The mother dog was there.  She seemed friendly and good-tempered.  She didn’t seem all that big.  Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention.  Maybe it was because it was dark that she seemed mid-sized.  Maybe she was mid-sized.

My son picked out the puppy he wanted—a puppy that didn’t rush to jump and chew on us.  It was a puppy that sat quietly, watching—and perhaps, thinking.

We paid for the puppy and climbed into the car to drive home to ride the whirlwind of Airedale puppyhood.

An Airedale Terrier puppy comes equipped with a mouthful of razor blades, the energy of a dervish, and the ability to figure out all sorts of things in nothing flat.  But the first night the puppy, Alf, was subdued in a strange place with strange people.  My son felt sorry for the little guy, and wanted the puppy to sleep with him.  Only if he was willing to sleep on the kitchen floor, I told him.  I was thinking of midnight potty accidents and all the things in the house I didn’t want chewed up.  And so for the first couple of weeks Alf and my son slept in the kitchen, bonding and playing long after my son was supposed to be asleep.  It was only a few days until school was out for Christmas break, so I didn’t think the loss of sleep would do my son much harm.  And I found I was charmed at the way they played together—Alf making adjustments for my son, and my son coming to understand how the world looked from a puppy’s angle.

There were, however, problems.  Like any puppy, Alf chewed incessantly.  One of his favorite spots was the place where the dining room carpet met the kitchen vinyl.  I watched as closely as I could, but he was making a mess of the carpet.  Someone told us that dogs hate vinegar.  Just putting vinegar on something would keep any dog away from anything.   It sounded like a great solution, so my husband put some vinegar in a bowl and began wiping vinegar into the carpet with a soft cloth.

I came on the scene and laughed even in my frustration.  My husband was soaking the carpet with vinegar, and Alf was right behind my husband drinking vinegar from the bowl.

Alf quickly learned to twist the little knobs on the kitchen cabinet doors.  He opened the doors and explored the pots and pans, the canned goods, and Lord help us, the sugar canister.  I rearranged the cabinets, putting anything dangerous or perishable in upper cabinets.  Eventually, I wired the latches closed.  It was inconvenient to have to find the pliers to open a cabinet to take out a cooking pan, but the pan was clean and ready to use.

When I took Alf to the vet for his third set of shots, I got the real shock.  I had noticed that the height of Alf’s shoulders was rapidly gaining on the height of Rose, the Cocker Spaniel.  I asked the vet if Alf wasn’t growing rather fast.

“No,” he said.  “Nice healthy dog.”

“How big do you thing he will get?” I asked with some trepidation.

“Oh, sixty or seventy pounds,” he said casually running his hand along Alf’s back.

“Can we do something to stunt his growth?” I shot back, not altogether kidding.

A sixty to seventy pound dog that could already open doors, a dog who could twist the top off a juice bottle and lap up the juice that spilled on the floor?  A sixty to seventy pound dog who could already shred a throw pillow in seconds?  What had I gotten myself into?  It was then that I began calling him the Wonder Dog because I wondered how we would ever cope.  Later I would call him the Wonder Dog for other reasons because later he would put his intelligence and energy into helping me, not driving me crazy.