The Airedale Terrier is sometimes called the King of Terriers...

...but those who know and love them more often think of them as "The Clown Prince"

The dauntless Airedale Terrier. Their ever playful, rowdy and game disposition along with their constant smile endears them to many the world over. He is always ready for a little mischief and his curiosity can sometimes get him into hot water. Almost impervious to pain this breed rarely gives up once he has started something.

Airedale Terrier picture
Airedale Terrier

Airedale Terriers are not the oldest of the Terrier breeds. The largest and finest is what many people who know the breed would call them. The Airedale Terrier is about the size of a pointer and have a versatility unrivaled by any dog no matter the breed.

The Airedale Terrier is equally at home tracking bears in the southeast or baby-sitting in the family home. She pulls sleds in the snow and when hunting otters in rivers her strong legs are more than adequate to keep up with strong currents when after her prey. She is equally at home in the fields and swamps serving her master as a gun dog, pointing and retrieving. Able to cope with the cold of the arctic as well as the heat of the dessert the Airedale will follow his master to the tallest mountain.

The biggest problem I have found with an Airedale Terrier is that although he is rarely ill, when he is he will not let you know until the final minute. Airedale owners must get to know their charges in order to see the slight indications of illness or pain.

While rarely initiating a fight the Airedale Terrier will not shrink from one. As one owner told me "He never starts a fight but he always finishes them." Very slow to anger but willing to put everything he has into protecting his human family.

At the same time he is a true Terrier. Highly intelligent he does well in agility training or in the show ring. Being a terrier he is can be stubborn. I have seen one of these animals learn a new trick quite easily and when asked to do it again just look at his master as if to say "Why would you want me to do that again? I showed you I could do it the first time."

Airedale Terriers are A Modern breed...

At the time of this story dogs were a much different part of a man's life than today. A dog and his man were more truly partners. A dog worked for his living as did the owner. Developed a little over a century ago the Airedale is considered a modern breed. He was developed for a special purpose.

Our noble boy originated in a woody and hilly part of England, fine hunting country. This was the Bradford district of Yorkshire in the Aire valley.

A view of modern Bingley some say Airedale terriers came from here.
A view of modern Bingley some say Airedale terriers came from here

The Yorkshiremen had many different game animals to hunt but loved nothing more than to match their wits against the crafty otters which swam the rivers stealing the fish. When fish are a part of your subsistence it is rather important to protect them from other predators.

A star is whelped...

Of course there were game laws and otters could only be hunted from April to September. The favorite hunting companion for this purpose was called the Otterhound. This dog is thought to be a cross between a southern hound and a Welsh Terrier.

The Otterhound was fine for this pursuit. They loved the water and were persistent hunters. The hunters and gamekeepers were still not quite satisfied. The breed was still not a terrier. They were looking for a dog who exhibited 24-7 courage, exceptional hearing, excellent eyesight and of course the spirit to continue until the job was done.

They decided to mate the Otterhound to either the Tangrizzle Terrier or the Old Broken Haired English Terrier [thought to be the sire of most of the terriers]. From this pairing arose the ancestor of the Airedale.

The Yorkshiremen realized they had struck gold. They didn't want word to get out however and kept the creature close to the vest. Eventually rumors were rife in the dog world. Some said that the dog was crossbred with all manner of breeds from Bull Terriers, Old English Sheep Dogs, Irish Terriers maybe even a Collie. The new dog was at that time called a Working Terrier or Waterside Terrier.

The Airedale Terrier was born...

Of course being in the position of a working dog and since his "partner" had bred him for a specific purpose he probably didn't look much like today's fine examples of the breed. The working men wanted a dog who was fearless and worked as easily in the water as on land. They wanted the persistence that never gave in and brains that could figure out just what the prey was thinking. They got that and more with this new breed.

Even today there is a prejudice among terrier owners and lovers. If a dog was too large to go down a rat hole to dig out his prey how could he be considered a terrier? When an Airedale first came down from the Yorkshire hills there was an uproar. Dog aficionados decried him as a fake as there could be no terriers above 20 pounds.

But... he wasn't called an Airedale quite yet...

Until at least 1879 the Airedale Terrier was still called variously a Working Terrier or Waterside Terrier. Since these names were mostly regional, fanciers of the breed wished to standardize a name for the breed. However as things go they all had opinions about just what the name should be. The town in the middle of the region was Bingely thus the Bingley Terrier perhaps suggested by one of the most famous writers about dogs at the time known as Stonehenge [J.H. Walsh].

Certainly the name was appropriate but other Yorkshire breeders felt slighted. Their towns were just as important as Bingley so why wasn't the dog named by their towns?

The controversy raged until one of the pioneer breeders, maybe Hugh Dalziel proposed that since the breed had been developed in the Aire River Valley it should carry that name. This was the origin of the Airedale Terrier name. That same year saw the first acceptance of the breed in a dog show in Bingley. By 1883 the breed was brought to Birmingham, the most important arena of all.

In 1886, the Kennel Club of England

...formally recognized the Airedale Terrier breed.

Remember that the Airedale Terrier was developed as a working terrier. As long as he did his work no one much cared about his appearance. He looked more like a small bear or a dirty sheep than a show dog. In fact most considered him ugly. The beast had hound like ears and his coat was shaggy and it didn't even look like a dog.

The breeders and fanciers went to work with a selective program. Soon the breed was exhibiting the higher cocked ears and a more uniform coat. Further, bone structure was improved. His long legs give him a regal bearing.

Here is a story about Airedales from an old issue of Nature Magazine.

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