by Doris Donnerman
(last updated April 6, 2009)
Little is known of the Airedale Terrier prior to 1850. Although the origin of the breed, like the origin of all species, is somewhat uncertain, there is enough known to trace it back to the Broken-haired, Old English Terrier or Working Terrier. Antique art has revealed that there were English dogs which bore a distinct resemblance to the Terriers from which all these breeds were produced. The coloring of the Airedale is one of the oldest in the history of the dog group. The black and tan coloring is mentioned in the earliest printed books about dogs and it is interesting to note that the arrangement of the two colors was similar in scheme to that of the Airedale as it is today. The extinct Black and Tan Old English Terrier are believed by many authorities to have been the common ancestor, not only of the Airedale, but of the Fox, Welsh, and Irish Terriers as well.
The Airedale Terrier has come through a variety of names. Known early as the "broken-haired" or "working" Terrier, the names Waterside Terrier and Bingley Terrier were given to the breed and finally, it was called the Airedale.
The name, Airedale, is said to have originated in a novel manner. These Terriers, under all their then various names, were shown in increasing numbers at all the local agricultural shows at the time when dog shows were in their infancy. An extremely large entry of "Waterside Terriers" appeared at a show held at Bingley, Yorkshire, England. The judge, impressed by the number, remarked that so popular and important a breed ought to have a better name than they possessed. As this was known as the Airedale show, that name was given to the breed.
The mild disposition of the Airedale is said to have probably been inherited from hound blood. It was the early sportsmen of Yorkshire who developed the crossing that eventuated in the Airedale. The varying types of the Black and Tan Terrier were used by these sportsmen for hunting the fox, badger, weasel, otter, water rats, and small game around the rivers Colne, Calder, Warfe, and Aire. These Terriers, also used as guardians, were exceedingly agile, possessed excellent eyesight and tremendous courage, but they lacked the keen nose and swimming power of the rough-coated Otterhound. A constructive attempt to produce the virtues of both in a better breed of larger and stronger Terriers brought about the crossing of these breeds and produced the then "Waterside" Terrier.
The "Waterside" Terrier, on which the Airedale was founded, had a reputation of being able to lead a hard and rugged life. They were usually good vermin destroyers and excellent water dogs, able to swim against strong river currents, and had the ability to hunt in the manner of Spaniels if necessary. But, on the whole, they were a somewhat carelessly bred lot. Little of the "Waterside" Terrier has been carried over into the present-day handsome and well-built Airedale. Even as early as 1890, the change and progress was evident. In Shaw's Dog Book, the writer remarks that many of his readers who were acquainted with the old Yorkshire "Waterside" Terrier would probably fail to recognize him under his new designation the "Airedale Terrier."
In the late '90's the generally accepted description of the breed held that it was developed from a cross between one of the old rough-coated Scotch Terriers and Bull Terriers. The Scotch Terrier weighing twelve to twenty-two pounds with a bluish-grey back and tan legs and a hard, rough coat. Otterhound was then used and this produced a large, ungainly creature with big, falling ears and a soft coat. Crossed and re-crossed, first with a Scotch Terrier and then with a Bull terrier, better feet and good ears were obtained. The Otterhound again was used, and with further crosses of Bullterrier the original Airedale was developed.
At one time Airedale classes presented representatives of the breed that differed nearly as widely as his various names, not only in size and shape, but in colors and points. The breed had to face a hard, long road before a standard was finally established.
Airedale Terriers have been used on large game in Africa, in India, and in Canada. They are also widely used in this country on small game and have been included in a number of well-known bear, wolf, and mountain lion packs. At one time the Airedale Terrier was widely acclaimed in this country as "the dog that can do anything any other dog can do-and then lick the other dog." His versatility is unquestioned but it is hardly that wide. Airedales have also been used successfully for police duty in Great Britain and in Germany, but, like all breeds, their greatest appeal for their owners is their companionship and faithful attachment as pets.
A general description would be that the coat should be hard, dense, and wiry, lying straight and close, covering the dog well over the body and legs. Some of the hardest are crinkling or slightly waved. At the base of the hard, very stiff hair should be a shorter growth of softer hair termed the under coat. This breed should measure approximately twenty-three inches in height at the shoulder, with the females being slightly less. Both sexes are considered to be sturdy, well muscled and boned.
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