Bronco was a big dog. As an adult, when he was not overweight, he tipped the scales at 135 pounds. He was significantly bigger than a German shepherd, and when he stood on his hind legs, he could easily put his big paws on a person’s shoulders, even if that person was almost six feet tall. Naturally, his size, combined with his energetic nature, made him a perfect dance partner, and Bronco loved dancing. His size and energy also combined to produce a lot of good stories.
When Bronco arrived at our house from the airport, for example, we had prepared a very large crate for him to sleep in. Unfortunately, even though it was spacious, he didn’t like it very much. As time went on, he decided that he wanted to abandon the crate and sleep with us in our bed. It was difficult to say no and listen to him whine at night. So Claudia lay down on the floor next to him and put her hand into the crate and petted him and held his paw. He loved that and was able to fall asleep that way.
Eventually, though, we relented and let him sleep in our bed. As the saying goes, “First they take your heart, then your bed.” But as Bronco quickly grew to 120 pounds, and then to 130 pounds, that arrangement didn’t work very well. We were three in the bed, and Bronco would sleep between us, a situation that became a bit crowded. Sometimes Bronco would push me with his paws until I fell off the bed and onto the floor. To my great relief, as time passed, he started to prefer the dog mattresses that we bought for him. On the other hand, Bronco was relatively easy to potty train. He quickly learned to go number two outside, but the peeing outside took a little longer, so Claudia hired a trainer from our veterinarian’s office to help us out. As a result, Bronco was mostly potty trained by four months old.
I was often working long hours, and Claudia was at home with our kids, so it was she who mostly took care of Bronco, especially in the early years. She took him for walks every morning; she took him to the dog park, to go shopping, to Starbucks, and other places. She socialized him well. She also brushed him a few times a week, kept him clean, gave him medication to prevent heartworm and repel fleas and ticks,* and took him to the veterinarian’s office and the groomer. All of us in the family helped with the training, but Claudia did most of it. She grew up with dogs, so she knew what she was doing, and she did a very good job.
This medication also protects against infestations of chewing lice: see “Dog Lice:
What They Are, How to Avoid Them,” American Kennel Club, June 24, 2020, at
Bronco was eager to learn, and he liked to go for walks, but he didn’t always finish them. When he got tired, he lifted his front paws up and scratched our legs. Then we picked him up and carried him. He loved being carried around like a baby. We carried him when he was thirty pounds and when he was fifty pounds, but at one hundred pounds it was time to stop.
Walking a big strong dog like Bronco presents special challenges. You need to be physically fit in order to control a Leonberger who isn’t listening to you. On several occasions Bronco yanked the leash so hard when I walked him that I almost fell forward. Did I mention that it’s not a good idea to wear flip-flops while you’re walking a big strong dog? When our daughter, Rachel, did, she fell face-first after. Bronco got excited and took off in pursuit of something. She shouted at him to come back, and he did. I guess he felt bad for her and returned. That was his personality.
One time, when Claudia was walking Bronco at White Rock Lake Park, just outside Dallas, Bronco saw a dog whom, for whatever reason, he did not like. He started running toward the dog and its owner. Claudia, taken by surprise, had a hard time controlling the situation. Bronco pulled her along as she tried to keep her balance. The man with the other dog saw that a potential confrontation was developing, and he loudly screamed, “Noooooo,” at Bronco. Then Bronco just stopped. He understood, and it all ended well.
It was incidents like these that prompted us to hire a professional dog trainer from Bark Busters and buy a Gentle Leader harness, which has a loop that fits around your dog’s nose. When your dog pulls forward, the motion gently moves his head to the side, redirecting his attention back to you. It may be a little bit uncomfortable for the dog, but it is certainly infinitely better than a shock collar, which is something you should never use.
One day I was standing in our living room, talking to the Bark Busters trainer. Bronco was standing behind me, and he kept poking my leg with his paw. I ignored him because I was in the middle of a conversation. Suddenly Bronco bit me on the rear end. It was not an aggressive bite, but it was a big one, and it hurt. He could easily have bitten me much harder, of course.
I turned around, and there stood Bronco, looking at me with his happy eyes and wagging his tail as if he were completely innocent. I forgave him instantly.
I asked the trainer, “Why did he do that?” She said, “He was trying to get your attention, but you were ignoring him, so he bit you.” She continued, “He should know that he is not the one in charge, and he shouldn’t do that.” She knew what she was talking about. I should add that this was the only time Bronco bit anyone.