I have met many of the AKC recognized breeds in my long and varied career, and one of the most interesting is the Airedale Terrier. The Airedale should not be confused with the Welsh Terrier, which is also black and tan, but quite a bit smaller and looks like a version of its larger cousin.
The Airedale Terrier is the largest of the recognized terrier breeds. Males stand between 22 and 24 inches at the shoulder and weigh between 50 to 65 pounds. Females are 22 and 23 inches at the shoulder and should tip the scales between 40 and 45 pounds. Airedales have a life span of about twelve years of age. They can be prone to hip dysplasia, bloat, skin infections and degenerative eye conditions.
The Airedale’s coat is medium length and consists of a harsh, wiry top coat with a soft shorter undercoat. They should be tan in color with a black saddle, or have a saddle of black mixed with gray and white, which is called a dark grizzle saddle. Grooming is done with a stripping comb, which is used to remove loose hair and can be very time consuming. When regularly groomed the Airedale may shed very little, but they are not a shed-less breed and do blow their coat with the seasonal weather changes.
The Airedale Terrier has boundless energy and is very alert. Because it was bred as a working dog, it needs plenty of daily exercise. They are good swimmers and love to retrieve objects thrown for them. They are a good breed for agility training, competitive obedience and Schutzhund, and work well as hunters. Before German Shepherds became commonly used as police dogs, many police departments in England and Germany used Airedale Terriers. They have also been used for hunting and rodent control. They can be used for herding livestock, but need proper training, as they have a propensity for chasing things. They need to be kept busy lest they become bored and restless. Like most of the larger breeds, they don’t become adults until the age of about two, so you could have your hands full until then.
Airedales are independent, strong-willed, intelligent, loyal and tenacious. They are loving, and like to be in the middle of any activity. They can be stubborn like many other terrier breeds, so obedience training is a must. While doing research for this article, I learned that they also have a sense of humor. This breed needs a mix of play along with their training regimen, or you will not get the results you desire.
Albert Payson Terhune wrote this about the Airedale: “He is swift, formidable, graceful, big of brain, and ideal chum and guard. To his master he is an adoring pal, to marauders he is a destructive lightning bolt.” Among their other fans are three presidents: Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding and Calvin Coolidge, all of whom owned Airedales. Two Airedales were among the casualties of the Titanic’s sinking. The author John Steinbeck also owned an Airedale. Perhaps the most famous Airedale owner was movie star John Wayne who reportedly had one named “Little Duke.” Since he didn’t like his own first name (Marion), the story goes that he became “Big Duke” and eventually just “Duke” when making movies.
The Airedale breed came to North America in the 1880’s. The first Airedale to win the Terrier class in New York was named Bruce, and that was around 1881. They were accepted into the Canadian stud book and were recorded in the year of 1888-1889. The Airedale Terrier was developed by working class people in the West Riding of Yorkshire in an area called Aire, which was a valley between the Wharfe and Aire Rivers during the mid-nineteenth century. They were also used by British miners in the area of the Aire River for working in the mines. They crossed the Otterhound with a dog called the English rough-coated Black and Tan Terrier, which we know today as the Welsh Terrier. The Kennel Club of England formally recognized the Airedale Terrier name in 1886. The breed was shown at a dog show sponsored by the Airedale Agricultural Society for the first time in 1864, and were known by many different names including the Waterside Terrier, Bingley and Rough Coated.
During World War I, Airedales were used for mail delivery and carrying messages to soldiers behind enemy lines. They were also used as wartime guard dogs and by the Red Cross for finding soldiers wounded on the battlefields. One story tells of an Airedale named Jack with a message attached to his collar that traversed half a mile of enemy fire to reach headquarters. Even with one leg severely injured and a broken jaw, he got through and delivered his message. There are many such stories of heroism for those four-legged warriors, which protect our troops in times of war. There was even a War Dog Training School established by Lieutenant Colonel Edwin Hautenville Richardson for use with the British Army.
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