Airedale, a valley in the West Riding of Yorkshire, between the Aire and the Wharfe Rivers, was the birthplace of the breed. In the mid-19th Century, working class people created the Airedale Terrier by crossing the old English rough-coated Black and Tan Terrier (now known as the Welsh Terrier) with the Otterhound. In 1886, the Kennel Club of England formally recognised the Airedale Terrier breed.
In 1864 they were exhibited for the first time at a championship dog show sponsored by the Airedale Agricultural Society. They were classified under different names, including Rough Coated, Bingley and Waterside Terrier. In 1879 breed fanciers decided to call the breed the Airedale Terrier, a name accepted by the Kennel Club (England) in 1886.
Well-to-do hunters of the era were typically accompanied by a pack of hounds and several terriers, often running them both together. The hounds would scent and pursue the quarry and the terriers would “go to ground” or enter into the quarry’s burrow and make the kill. Terriers were often the sporting dog of choice for the common man. Early sporting terriers needed to be big enough to tackle the quarry, but not so big as to prevent them from maneuvering through the quarry’s underground lair. As a result, these terriers had to have a very high degree of courage and pluck to face the foe in a tight, dark underground den without the help of human handlers.
During the middle of the nineteenth century, regular sporting events took place along the Aire River in which terriers pursued the large river rats that inhabited the area. A terrier was judged on its ability to locate a “live” hole in the riverbank and then, after the rat was driven from its hole by a ferret brought along for that purpose, the terrier would pursue the rat through water until it could make a kill. As these events became more popular, demand arose for a terrier that could excel in this activity. One such terrier was developed through judicious crossings of the Black-and-Tan Terrier and Bull-and-Terrier dog popular at the time with the Otter Hound. The result was a long-legged fellow that would soon develop into the dog we recognize today as the Airedale Terrier. This character was too big to “go to ground” in the manner of the smaller working terriers; however, it was good at everything else expected of a sporting terrier, and it was particularly adept at water work. This big terrier had other talents in addition to its skill as a ratter. Because of an infusion of hound blood it was blessed with the ability to scent game and the size to be able to tackle larger animals. It became more of a multipurpose terrier that could pursue game by powerful scenting ability, be broken to gun, and taught to retrieve. Its size and temperament made it an able guardian of farm and home. One of the colorful, but less-than legal, uses of the early Airedale Terrier was to assist its master in poaching game on the large estates that were off-limits to commoners. Rabbits, hare, and fowl were plentiful, and the Airedale could be taught to retrieve game killed by its master, or to pursue, kill, and bring it back itself.
The Airedale was extensively used in World War I to carry messages to soldiers behind enemy lines and transport mail. They were also used by the Red Cross to find wounded soldiers on the battlefield. There are numerous tales of Airedales delivering their messages despite terrible injury. An Airedale named ‘Jack’ ran through half a mile of enemy fire, with a message attached within his collar. He arrived at headquarters with his jaw broken and one leg badly splintered, and right after he delivered the message, he dropped dead in front of its recipient.
Lt.-Colonel Edwin Hautenville Richardson was responsible for the development of messenger and guard dogs in the British Army. He, along with his wife, established a War Dog Training School at Shoeburyness in Essex, England. In 1916, they provided two Airedales ( Wolf & Prince ) for use as message carriers. After both dogs proved themselves in battle, Airedales were given more duties, such as locating injured soldiers on the battlefield, an idea taken from the Red Cross.
Before the adoption of the German Shepherd as the dog of choice for law enforcement and search and rescue work, the Airedale terrier often filled this role.
In 1906, a dog trainer named “Lt. Colonel Edwin Hautenville Richardson” tried to interest the British Police in using dogs to accompany officers, for protection on patrol at night. When Mr.Geddes, Chief Goods Manager for Hull Docks in Yorkshire, was convinced after he went saw the impressive work of police dogs in Belgium. Geddes convince Superintendent Dobie, of the North Eastern Railway Police, arrange a plan for policing the docks. Airedale Terriers were selected for duty as police dogs because of intelligence, good scenting abilities and their hard, wiry coats that were easy to maintain from mud and grime.
At the beginning of the Russo-Japanese war in 1904, the Russian embassy in London contacted Lt. Colonel Richardson for help acquiring dogs for the Russian Army, trained to take the wounded away from the battlefields. He sent terriers, mostly Airedale Terriers, for communication and sanitary services. Although these original imports perished, Airedale Terriers were reintroduced in Russia in the early 1920s for use by the Red Army. Special service dog units were created in 1923, and Airedale Terriers were used as demolition dogs, guard dogs, police tracking dogs and casualty dogs.
Two Airedales were among the dogs lost with the sinking of the Titanic.
The Airedale, Kitty, belonged to Colonel John Jacob Astor IV, the real-estate mogul.
The second Airedale belonged to William E. Carter of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Mr. Carter was the owner of the Renault automobile in which Jack and Rose trysted in the movie “Titanic”. Carter, his wife and two children survived the sinking.
During the 1930s, when airedales were farmed like livestock, American breeders developed the Oorang airedale.
Capt. Walter Lingo, of LaRue, Ohio, developed the Oorang Airedale strain. The name came from a line of bench champions, headed by King Oorang 11, a dog which was said to have been the finest utility dog. King could retrieve waterfowl and upland game, tree raccoons, drive cattle and sheep, and bay mountain lions, bears, and wolves. King even fought one of the best fighting bull terriers, and killed his opponent. He also trained in Red Cross work, and served the American Expeditionary Force at the front in France.
Lingo simply wasn’t satisfied with the average strain of Airedale, and after an incredible series of breedings, for which he brought in great Airedales from all over the world, he created the “King Oorang.” At the time, Field and Stream magazine called it, “the greatest utility dog in the history of the world.” The Oorang Kennel Company continued until Walter Lingo’s death in 1969. Jerry Siebert, an Airedale breeder in Buckeye Lake, Ohio, followed in Lingo’s footsteps, and bred “Jerang Airedales.”
After the First World War, the Airedales’ popularity rapidly increased thanks to stories of their bravery on the battlefield and also because Presidents Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, and Warren Harding owned Airedales. President Harding’s Airedale was named Laddie Boy.
President Roosevelt claimed that “An Airedale can do anything any other dog can do and then lick the other dog, if he has to.”
1949 marked the peak of the Airedales’ popularity in the USA, ranked 20th out of 110 breeds by the American Kennel Club. The breed has since slipped to 50th out of 146.
Marion Robert Morrison, otherwise known as John Wayne, grew up in Glendale, California. His neighbors called him “Big Duke,” because he never went anywhere without his Airedale Terrier, “Little Duke”. He preferred “Duke” to “Marion,” and the name stuck for the rest of his life.
The Airedale Terrier was recognized by United Kennel Club in 1914.
The Airedale Terrier, because of its joyful disposition and energy, was one of the first breeds, along with the Giant Schnauzer and the Rottweiler, used to create the Black Russian Terrier.
The Airedale is the largest British terrier, weighing 20-33 kg and with a height at the withers of 58 – 61 cm for dogs, with bitches slightly smaller.
The Airedale has a medium length black and tan coat with a harsh topcoat and a soft undercoat. They are an alert and energetic breed, “not aggressive but fearless.”
Like many terriers, the breed has a ‘broken’ coat. The coat is hard, dense and wiry, not so long as to appear ragged, and lies straight and close, covering body and legs. The outer coat is hard, wiry and stiff, while the undercoat shorter and softer. Hardest coats are crinkling or just slightly waved. Curly or soft coats are highly undesirable. Airedales being shown are generally groomed by stripping: a small serrated edged knife is used to pull out loose hair from the dog’s coat. With regular grooming, the Airedale may shed very little. Although the Airedale often appears on lists of dogs that do not shed, this is misleading. Every hair in the dog coat grows from a hair follicle, which has a cycle of growing, then dying and being replaced by another follicle. When the follicle dies, the hair is shed. The length of time of the growing and shedding cycle varies by breed, age, and by whether the dog is an inside or outside dog. “There is no such thing as a nonshedding breed.” But it is said that the Airedale is at great dog for allergicans.
The correct coat color is a black saddle, with a tan head, ears and legs; or a dark grizzle saddle (black mixed with gray and white). Both are acceptable in the AKC breed standard.
The Airedale’s eyes should be dark in colour, small, not prominent, full of terrier expression, keenness and intelligence. Light or bold eyes are considered highly undesirable. Some Airedales do suffer from eye diseases, such as congenital retina condition. Airedales have a normal ‘scissor bite’, where the top teeth close over the bottom. Airedales’ teeth are the largest among terriers, and can inflict a strong bite. The airdale is not aggressive, but its bite can cause severe injury.
The Airedale can be used as a working dog and also as a hunter. Airedales exhibit some herding characteristics as well, and have a propensity to chase animals. They have no problem working with cattle and livestock. However, an Airedale that is not well trained will agitate and annoy the animals. Strong-willed, with the tenacity commonly seen in terriers, the Airedale is a formidable opponent. The Airedale Terrier, like most Terriers, has been bred to hunt independently. As a result, the dog is very intelligent, independent, strong-minded, stoic, and can be stubborn. The Airedale is a dog with a great sense of humor. For those who can laugh along with their Airedale, the dog can provide a unique and entertaining company. For those who don’t appreciate being outsmarted by their dog, owning an Airedale can be a trying experience. Patience and consistency in training will be rewarded as the Airedales have been known to reach great heights in competitive obedience, dog agility, and Schutzhund. Airedales can often be difficult to train. Being smart, Airedales pick up what is wanted from them very quickly; being smart, they do not want to keep repeating what they learned and can try to terminate a training session at the point when they “got it”. Changing the routine at this point or taking a play-break is much more productive than trying to force the Airedale to continue as they are a stubborn bunch. Airedales require constant reinforcement, or they may decide to start ignoring commands. When training is resumed, they can quickly recover their acceptance of the command. Airedales are a stoic and intrepid breed and as a result, young Airedales exhibit a general lack of common sense and require training. For the same reasons, they need socializing with other dogs early. Albert Payson Terhune wrote of the Airedale: “Among the mine-pits of the Aire, the various groups of miners each sought to develop a dog which could outfight and outhunt and outthink the other miner’s dogs. Tests of the first-named virtues were made in inter-mine dog fights. Bit by bit, thus, an active, strong, heroic, compactly graceful and clever dog was evolved – the earliest true form of the Airedale.” He is swift, formidable, graceful, big of brain, an ideal chum and guard. ….To his master he is an adoring pal. To marauders he is a destructive lightning bolt.” They are also very loving, always in the middle of the family activities. Airedales are also known for expressing exactly what they are thinking, unlike more aloof breeds. The Airedale is also a reliable and protective family pet. Airedales are exceedingly loyal and strong dogs; there is one story of an Airedale taking down a bear to protect its master. They are very energetic, and need plenty of exercise. The Airedale is also a stoic, able to withstand pain and injury, the Airedale’s hurts and illnesses often go unnoticed until they become severe and require veterinary attention.