A Snippet of Airedale Terrier History

The Airedale Terrier has its roots in the British Isles, specifically, the Aire river valley of Yorkshire less that one hundred miles from the Scottish border. The breed created from the old English rough-coated Black and Tan Terrier (now known as the Welsh Terrier) with the Otterhound was intended to catch otters and rats on the banks of the Aire and Wharfe Rivers, but proved to be such a versatile dog that it found itself with a range of tasks that included war dog, guide dog, herder, and police dog.

Airedales were exhibited at a championship dog show for the first time in 1864, this one sponsored by the Airedale Agricultural Society. They were classified under different names then, names that included the Bingley Terrier, Waterside Terrier, and Rough Coated Terrier.  Fanciers of the breed decided on the name of Airedale Terrier in 1879, a tribute to its birthplace, and in 1886, the Kennel Club of England formally recognized the breed by that name.

In World War I, Airedales were used as messengers, sentries, carriers of food and ammunition, scouts, ambulance dogs, ratters, Red Cross casualty dogs, sled dogs, farm dogs, and guard dogs. They were renowned for their ability to withstand devastating injuries and still deliver dispatches. One sources wrote that over 3,000 Airedales lost their lives in the trenches.

After the war, the popularity of Airedales spread, and the breed became beloved family pets, as well as one of the first breeds trained for police work in Germany and Great Britain.  Word of their hunting prowess spread, and with American hunters, Airedales became known as the three-in-one gun dog – perfectly suited to hunting waterfowl on water, game birds on land, and four-legged mammals.

The breed, the largest of the terrier breeds,  is in good shape today, and Albert Payson, in an article for Nature magazine summed up the breed thusly:

“He is swift, formidable, graceful, big of brain, an ideal chum and guard.  There is almost nothing he cannot be taught if his trainer has the slightest gift for teaching. Compact, wiry, he is ‘all there’…A perfect machine, a machine with a brain plus.” 

Airedale Terrier by Vitali V. Lobov. This piece and other fine works can be found here.

18 thoughts on “A Snippet of Airedale Terrier History”

  1. Meet Sophie- 11 months old. She is such a joy. She is our second Airedale. She gets along well with other dogs and is a people person. She is very smart, however Airedales can be stubborn! Right now she is showing off her ratter skills and we are working to re-direct her to an appropriate area other than our lawn!!! Loves to run and play, large yard is a plus!

  2. My first breed when I was an adult was the Alaskan Malamute. I was very outdoorsy and did lots of hiking, camping, and backpacking (the dogs carried theri own gear and some of mine). When my last Mal was getting older I took a good look at myself and realized I was no longer living that life. I needed a breed that was smaller and not so hairy. I researched, went to shows, and talked to owners of many breeds for two years.

    I didn’t think I liked terriers. I didn’t think Airedales were particularly attractive – the pets were too scruffy and the show dogs were too manicured. But there was something about them that kept bringing me back again and again. They are the right size. They are cheerful, playful, and confident. Independent thinkers but still trainable. I don’t want a dog whose default attitude towards people is suspicion. Airedales are outgoing or indifferent to strangers but they can be protective if really needed. They have good judgement about it. I was also impressed by how enthusiastic Airedale owners, and even people who had just known one, were about the breed. But more than anything, there was something about the look in thier eyes – intelligent, dignified and mischievious, more like interacting with another person than most dogs I had known.

    I knew I wanted to show and I knew showing Airedales requires skillful grooming, so I checked out the local club to see if members were suportive of newbies (they actually offered a series of classes). So I decided to give the breed a try. I brought Henry home when he was nine weeks old and I have never fallen in love with a puppy so quickly. In less than a week I thought Airedales were the most gorgeous things I had ever seen. With the help of many people I learned to groom and showed him to his championship myself (and a CD). That was 26 years ago and and at least one Airedale has been part of my life since then. I even discovered, to my surprise, that I am actually a terrier person!

    PS. when I take those one of those quizzes about which breed would be right for me, I never get Airedales.

    Here is Henry.

    • Henry is gorgeous, Linda, and we LOVE your story for how personal, and relatable it is to most of us. You explain the process of how you to came to the Airedale, the key word being “process.” You studied, did your homework, talked with other owners, and in the end, made an informed decision. It’s how it should be done. Thank you for sharing it with us (and go, Henry!!)

      • I met Biddy’s parents and it was love at first sight. The airedale face coat body nose paws please me and make me smile. 4 years later she has never disappointed. So good natured and funny. Gotta love her

        • You summed up what we love about the breed, Mary ann, Airedales make us smile!

    • I truly know what you mean about Airedales and I very much agree that there is a unique and human like quality to the expressiveness of their eyes. My wife and I have been fortunate in sharing life with Airedales for nearly 40 years.Each o ne had its own vibrant personality. Every pone of the was highly intelligent, loyal, protective and trusting. Most Airedale owners will also tell you that this bread has a definite and very amusing sense of humor.They kind of like to play little “head games” with you o. The most charming and adorable ways. There is this old saying about Airedales: “an Airedale can do anything any other dog can do and then eat the other dogs dinner” ( but not in a mean manner). I love dogs and like almost all breeds but I ADORE,cherish and really respect Airedales above all !

      • We have to agree, Richard, the Airedale is a true all-rounder.

  3. Airedales are tough, athletic and fun! But what I like most about mine is the way they think. They are super adaptable to various situations and don’t jump to conclusions easily. They watch and learn all the time. That is not always a plus though. If you’re doing something you don’t want them to do (opening a cabinet with cookies) you’ll have to make sure they don’t see you. At least until they are grown and well behaved. Mine learned how to use baby-gates on the 2nd try. My girl Airedale learned how to open doors at 4 months old and I NEVER could “fake toss ball” and get an Airedale to fall for it or even budge. They are super clean if cared for properly, very rarely needing a bath (especially the show dogs because they are brushed so often). But grooming them is a challenge. I enjoy it very much but it takes dedication and time. This is probably the only reason the Airedale isn’t a very popular breed. But us Airedale lovers wouldn’t have it any other way. We all know how popularity can be a breed’s downfall. Finding an ethical Airedale breeder who tests for health and temperament problems before breeding is rather easy. Really nice people. “Oldstyle” dog-fanciers who aren’t in it for the money.

    • A wonderful, and realistic, assessment of the breed, and very helpful to anyone considering an Airedale for themselves. We especially like the photo which to us, looks like a dog very comfortable in his own skin! Thanks for a great comment!

  4. My Dad taught me to love Airedales when I was a kid, calling the the one breed that can do anything – hunt, protect the family, play with the kids, and sleep in front of your fireplace. Over the years I’ve done a lot with my Airedales, including travels, conformation shows, obedience, and hunting. I’ve found that hunting brings out the true Airedale –there’s nothing my Airedales love more than competing in AKC Hunt Tests and doing hunting pheasants in season. Having just completed the 31st Annual Hunting Working Airedale Field Nationals in Ohio, I have to say lots of other Airedales share my dogs’ opinion. Here’s a photo of my dog Bruce retriever a chukar during last weekend’s test. Bruce is an AKC Master Hunter, as well as hold our breed club’s Master Fur Hunter and Senior Retriever titles. Can you tell he loves to hunt?

    • He’s wonderful, Chris – but we’re perplexed why we don’t see more Airedales as family pets. They are simply terrific!

  5. We got our first Airedale, Sophie, 3.5 years ago after researching the breed and now I don’t think that I’ll ever own another breed! I love that they are thinking dogs, and they have a sense of humor and an opinion about stuff. We added a second Airedale to our family this year, and Teddy is just as smart and personable as his sister. Wonderful dogs and true members of the family! They go everywhere with us!

  6. I have been blessed to have an Airedale for my best friend for over 40 years. I can not imagine life without an Airedale. At times I have had 2. Today I have a 3 year old girl who loves her Otter Hound heritage. She can’t get enough of Puget Sound and has had 2 friendly encounters with otters. She is The Best!

    • Connie, she’s wonderful! If you ever get a chance to snap a picture of your girl encountering otters, we’d love to see it!

  7. My third Airedale (large size) was my service dog for PTSD. I trained her myself and the VA told me she was the first they were aware of in Minnesota. I trained her to do specific things for me, like going to my right side facing my rear anytime I’m in a line of people. She keeps people just far enough away to make me comfortable, she’s always got my back. All my Airedale’s have been incredibly stubborn and they require a lot of patience to train. Once you’ve established trust, you’ll never have a more faithful breed. Babe is gone now, but I am training Airedale Major to take her place. I’ve learned a lot of dog park play keeps them well balanced. I tell all returning combat vets I run into to get a dog, bond with it, and they will never care about your happiness, sadness, or mood; they’ll just be there. An unconditional partner

    • Thank you so very much for your service, Mike, and thank you for sharing your story with us. You’ve summed up beautifully what dogs bring into our lives, but especially that extra something that no amount of money can buy.

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