When most people hear the word “terrier,” an image of a small dog comes to mind. The Airedale Terrier is the largest of the terrier breeds and known as the “King of the Terriers.” He may be a terrier, but the Airedale isn’t small and was bred to take on some large and fierce competitors. This working dog was one of the first breeds trained and used by police in Great Britain and Germany.
The Airedale Terrier hails from the Airedale valley – a region between the Aire and Wharfe rivers in Yorkshire, England. The breed was created by working class people sometime in the mid 1800s as a common man’s sporting dog. The two breeds most prominent in the Airedale’s creation are the now-extinct Old English Rough Coated Black and Tan Terrier and the Otterhound. Even though the development of the breed isn’t well documented, other breeds used were likely the Bedlington Terrier, the English Bull Terrier and an assortment of setters, retrievers and sheepdogs.
Considered to be the most versatile dog of the terrier breeds, the Airedale is capable of performing a variety of jobs. A good swimmer with an exceptional sense of smell, this dog was bred to hunt otter, waterfowl, fox, badger, weasel, water rat and other small game. An able hunter, he also excels as a retriever on land and in water, and is a top notch ratter, herder, police dog, guard dog and war dog. These brave, loyal and intelligent dogs were used in both World Wars as sentries, messengers, scouts and guard dogs. Airedales carried medical supplies, food and ammunition, worked as ratters and sled dogs, and were used by the Red Cross as ambulance dogs to locate wounded soldiers on the battlefield.
During WWI, the British military learned firsthand about the spunk and devotion of Airedale Terriers because of a dog who proved his worth on the battlefield. An Airedale named Jack mustered his courage and ran a half-mile through No Man’s Land and enemy fire to deliver a message. He completed his mission, but was severely injured and died soon after. Jack is credited with saving his entire battalion. Unfortunately, Britain’s highest award to honor the bravery of animals during wartime, the Dickin Medal, wasn’t created yet. But stories about Jack’s bravery swept across the country, and a grateful nation never forgets.
The Airedale Terrier is relentless in pursing small game. He is feisty, independent thinking, athletic and cunning, and capable of handling much larger prey. This breed has been used to hunt big game including mountain lions, bears and lions. Today, Airedales are still used to hunt big and small game, work as police dogs, in search and rescue, as therapy and assistance dogs, for herding, backpacking, sledding and carting. Airedales excel at agility, flyball, obedience and other dog sports, and is considered both a working and a sporting dog.
The “King of the Terriers” is a proud, loving and courageous canine, standing 22-24″ at the shoulder and weighing around 40-65 pounds, with an average lifespan of 10-13 years. They have a distinctive wiry coat with a dense topcoat and short soft undercoat that needs regular grooming to keep it from becoming unmanageable.
The Airedale is confident and can be a handful, and like other terriers likes to dig and has a high prey drive. He has lots of energy and needs daily exercise. This breed would be a good running companion for joggers. What an Airedale enjoys most, though, is playing in the backyard with his people. This dog won’t tolerate harsh treatment and is unforgiving towards people who don’t respect him. However, he is a playful and outgoing dog that likes to clown around with his family. He makes an excellent watchdog and will defend his family when necessary. They get along well with children, but Airedales can be aggressive with other pets in the home, and wary of people they don’t know. The breed can be a challenge for first time dog owners.
Canadian writer Margaret Marshall Saunders wrote the novel “Beautiful Joe” which was first published in 1893. She was inspired by a heartbreaking story of an abused dog told to her by her sister-in-law, Louise Moore. The real Joe had been rescued from his abuser by Moore’s father and given to Louise to care for and rehabilitate. After hearing about the things the dog had endured, Saunders wrote the novel from the dog’s point of view. She submitted it to a writing contest and won. The bestselling book was well received worldwide, and the subject matter helped usher in the modern day humane society movement.
The Airedale Terrier is currently at number 56 on AKC’s most popular dog breeds list and was recognized in 1888.
Photos by Lulu Hoeller/Flickr
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