Bruno, or Feeding the Mouth that Bites You…

bruno21.jpgMany of you know by now that a few weeks ago, we welcomed a new, four-legged member to our family—an eight-and-a-half-week-old Airedale Terrier pup.

This is monumental in some ways. First and foremost, Jodi is not big on pets. Early in our marriage, not only did she deal with multiple dogs and pregnancies, sometimes simultaneously, but she also dealt with a boneheaded, dog-loving husband who was away from home a lot and failed to see why leaving her home with child and with a puppy was a big deal.

Second, I am a dog lover and do not remember a time when we didn’t have at least one dog, and usually two or more. Our most recent canine companion, a mini Schnauzer named Puck, passed away almost three years ago. The kids and I have been pining, but very carefully not pressing, for a dog ever since.

Over the past year we started talking seriously about getting a puppy. My family raised Airedales when I was young. The last one I had, Boomer, lived to be nearly 16 and was a wonderful dog. I had hoped to get a dog from the same lines as Boomer, but Mooreland Kennels, where his mother came from, closed years ago, and we’ve lost track of his pups over the years. I started following the Hunting and Working Airedales organization online, which led me to a short, plainspoken ad from Lawrence Alexander, who ran Hilltop Kennels in Alabama. When I finally called to ask about pups, however, he told me he was retiring. He pointed me to another Alabama breeder, Randy Nelson, who had recently acquired Hilltop’s stud dog. He also informed me that his original dogs came from Mooreland—decades earlier, of course—and his dogs had been used to hunt everything from squirrels and upland game birds to big fur-bearers and wild hogs.

Not long after, I contacted Randy and his wife, Pat. He called back and left a message that was music to our ears. Now, I’m guessing to Randy, we sound like stereotypical Minn-uh-SOOOH-tins from the great white North, and that’s okay—because when I heard him say he was calling us back about the dawgs (stretched almost to two syllables to my ears), I told Jodi it might be crazy, but I’d drive a lot of extra miles for a dawg, and not some run-of-the-mill dog. And they expected to have a litter or two this summer.

Emma, Trevor, and I visited them on the way back from our Florida Keys adventure in May, and that sealed the deal: we were getting a Ranpac Airedale. And so, a few weeks ago, my bride and I took a three-day jaunt to Alabama and back to pick up the bundle of fur and teeth we call Bruno.

He got sick once on the ride home from Alabama, about an hour after we left. The hardest part of the trip was that first late night in a motel, away from his mother and litter mates. I wound up sleep on the floor next to him to keep him relatively relaxed and calm so he didn’t wake the neighbors.

He did not seem skittish when we arrived home, except around the stairs, which he still hasn’t figured out. He began to explore immediately, and in true terrier fashion: looking for nooks, crannies, and holes in which something might be hiding, and belly-crawling rapidly beneath or inside. Shelves beneath end tables, under the futon, behind the couch, under shrubs and trees—you name it; he’s in. (It’s especially fun to watch him disappear into a pile of dry leaves, then come up for air, crunching a mouthful.)

One particular evergreen in our yard was his favorite to burrow beneath, until one morning he went under and began yelping like he’d been shot. A quick visual inspection (dodging his snapping jaws) revealed a yellow-jacket embedded stinger-first in the pad of a front paw. With some effort, I managed to remove it. A little Benadryl and a nap, and he was back to himself—and made a beeline for the same tree!

At 12 weeks (tomorrow), he still has a healthy dose of puppy awkwardness: running full-tilt while snapping at twigs and dandelions, then tripping over the grass and tumbling tail over snout, or deciding to scratch or bite his own feet or tail instead and sliding to a jumbled, gyrating stop. Not long after he joined us, he walked to the edge of a low retaining wall and looked over. “Careful!” I called, but he threw himself off with reckless abandon, landed gracelessly on his little puppy chest, rose quickly, shook himself, and jogged away as if it hadn’t happened.

He has adjusted remarkably well to his crate and, more recently, his leash. He still has a little ways to go on housetraining, or rather, the family does. Our biggest struggle is his bite. He explores the world with teeth like hard white needles and jaws that sound, at times, like mousetraps. Until just this week, Lily would not make contact with the floor if Bruno were loose. Unsupervised (and sometimes supervised, too!), he chews on his toys, cardboard boxes, shoes, furniture, sticks, rocks, the steel mesh of his crate; he shreds the mulch in front of the houses, crunches dry leaves, chews old grass clippings, grabs pant legs and shirt tails—and licks hands once, twice, three times before curling his lip for a subtle test nibble.

He bites hard (through not with aggressive intent) occasionally and has drawn blood once with me. Unfortunately he is hardheaded and tough, so that any discipline that doesn’t yield a cry (and even some that do) he regards as roughhousing, and his behavior escalates. But there is no halfway: either you haven’t phased him, or you’ve killed him—his yelps and kiyis would have the neighbors believing we must’ve done something terribly cruel, but in truth, he’s more like a dramatic toddler looking to see who’s watching.

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He is 12 weeks old and nearly Puck-size—almost 20 pounds. He’s beginning to meet the neighbors and their dogs (at a distance so far). He also met the neighbor’s horse a couple days ago: staring and sniffing silently, a far cry from his first encounter with a stationary soccer ball a couple weeks ago, which yielded growling, barking, lunges, and rapid retreats.

I believe he will be smart (too smart maybe), nosy, and fearless. I believe he will be my furry right arm.

I believe we may have our hands full for a spell. We have a dawg.

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4 thoughts on “Bruno, or Feeding the Mouth that Bites You…

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