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Insider's Guide to Life With an Airedale Terrier

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Gus Thompson Dog
Credit: The Author, Jeannine Thompson

Airedales Are Relentlessly Cheerful, Not Aloof or Dignified

The single most inaccurate sentence ever written about the Airedale Terrier was this fallacious gem that I discovered in a dog breed encyclopedia: "Aloof and dignified, he is always a gentleman in the home".  

I was honored to share my life with an Airedale for over 11 years. He was aloof exactly one inexplicable time when he gave a friendly stranger at an agility meet the canine cold shoulder. As for dignified, well that never happened. 

The Airedale Terrier is simple not genetically wired for aloof dignity and being gentlemanly does not exactly come naturally. Mine was a sparkly-eyed, relentlessly cheerful rascal who was born to thrust his big body into gopher tortoise burrows, tussle with the local varmints (aka our house cats), chase yellow tennis balls across the back yard, and develop sudden phobias of common household objects like the ceiling fan in the living room. He was more like an electrified black and tan tumbleweed than a genteel, country gentleman. 

Airedales Are Creative Problem Solvers 

When I was oh so new to Airedale ways, I thought that dog training would be a linear process in which Gus would perform any requested behavior in his simple-minded zeal to please me. But Gus proved to be no y = mx + z kind of dog. He lived to please himself and any training activity had to have something in it for Gus or it just was not going to happen. 

So I hired a professional trainer, one of those guys who will come to your home because your dog's behavior is so wildly embarrassing that taking him to a class with other dogs is not an option. Gus and I learned quite a bit. One day the trainer was teaching us the sit/stay in the road in front of the house when there was a sudden loud noise that came from directly behind Gus and his ears twitched with the desire to investigate.  He kept his butt approximately one nanometer above the pavement while taking the numerous dainty steps required to rotate precisely 180 degrees so that Gus could see what was going on.  The trainer's shoulders slumped in defeat as he said in a tone mixed with admiration and exasperation "I can't correct him because he didn't break the sit or the stay."

I looked at Gus with heightened respect because it was clear that he was a gifted creature who knew how to solve a problem. He didn't get down and he didn't give up. He just carried on with the sweet task of bending the rules of life to suite his terrier whims.  

Airedales Can't Be Forced to Perform

We got over the "too embarrassing to be seen in public" phase and I thought it would be fun to try some agility with my Gus so I took him to the Dog Training Club of Tampa, where their motto turned out to be (ironically) "You can't train an Airedale". Well, you most certainly CAN train an Airedale but you can't train them using force. One evening the no-nonsense, old battle axe style trainer yelled at me because Gus did not want to jump over the hurdle. She thought that she would show me how skilled trainers handled a stubborn dog like Gus. She stood on one side of the hurdle, positioned Gus on the opposite side and then tried to pull him across by the leash. Gus hit the brakes hard, Airedale style, and clung to his side of the hurdle like an obstinate camel in the Sarah desert. It was so damned gratifying because if I knew anything about dogs, I knew that Gus was never going to let that hardcore beast drag him anywhere. 

She gave up and told me to go practice by myself. Each time I told Gus to "jump" he willingly and enthusiastically sailed over the hurdle. Each time he jumped he looked back over his shoulder at the trainer as if to say "I'll jump for her but I will never jump for YOU". 

Airedales Are Loyal, Life Enhancing Companions

It was now clear that this dynamic and intelligent creature had my back. We were wildly imperfect both separately and together and this made us the most perfect team. I loved how he vexed the trainers. I loved how he scooped up mouthfuls of wet dog food, spit the food onto the floor and then ate the food one kibble at a time. I loved how he got mud in his scruffy beard and then shook his head the moment he got inside, flinging mud all over the kitchen. I loved him with all my heart at every moment in time even when he nearly swallowed a kitten and I threatened to ship him off to Airedale rescue. The kitten was just fine and she grew into a compassionate, connected cat who sat with Gus and licked his head while he was dying of an exotic cancer that a vet predicted would kill him with sudden cardiac blowout.

Sudden cardiac blowout never happened and the time came for me to have Gus' back. I wished we could have gone on forever together in a merciful state of perpetual merriment. I suspect that I may have let him linger too long only because I wanted him to have every pleasurable moment that he was meant to have. Please forgive me Gus; I was inexperienced but my heart was pure. 

I'm so happy that I never got that aloof and dignified dog that was promised to me by the breed encyclopedia. I got something much better than that, a one-of-a-kind, genuine Airedale Terrier full of sparkle and grace. Thank you Gus. I love you forever.



Feb 28, 2014 7:46am
I literally grew up with an Airedale, Tori, at my side. Reading your article bought back some nice memories, thanks.
Feb 28, 2014 8:04am
You're welcome! How wonderful to share your childhood with an Airedale. Gus was a huge part of my children's lives. He loved to steal toys and had a special fondness for tearing the eyes out of stuffed animals and chewing up Barbie doll heads. I have a great picture of my daughter and Gus "playing" with one of those ring stacking toys. They were facing each other, the stack was between them, Gus was chewing the big red ring that goes on the bottom and my daughter was full-throttle crying. Ah, good times! I'm glad you enjoyed the article and your memories of Tori. Airedales are grand dogs!
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