What Were Airedales Bred For?

By John Martin - January 21, 2023

Airedale Terrier having fun outside

If you look into the wiry-coated Airedale Terrier’s keen dark eyes, you will notice the spark of intelligence in them. These goofy dogs have confident and outgoing personalities, which makes them popular among families.

They also have a very interesting history. Did you know they were initially bred for their vermin-hunting abilities? Dive into the sections below to discover the fascinating history of this terrier breed.

The Origin of Airedale Terriers

Airedale Terriers were first developed in the 1800s in Yorkshire, England, by working-class men who needed a versatile pooch to take care of multiple activities.

The modern-day Airedale was the result of crossing terriers with the shaggy-haired Otterhounds. This British breed was a large and hardy canine of uncertain origin. When it was crossed with terriers, the resulting breed took on its size and qualities, such as a keen nose, great stamina, and swimming abilities.

The cross resulted in the Airedale Terrier or the ‘King of Terriers’. This exceptional terrier stood out for their versatility and size. It was the largest among the terrier breed.

The Airedales were intended to help people living along the rivers dispatch vermin. They quickly took to several other activities, such as locating and killing bigger creatures, retrieving rabbits, birds, etc., and protecting families and farms.

Despite the bigger size, the Airedale showed just about the same spirit and spark as its compact cousins.

Airedales As the Working Terriers

The amphibious Airedale had several important qualities that allowed them to carry out various jobs ranging from poaching to guarding.

They especially became popular with poachers who liked to sneak onto estates to grab game that was out-of-bounds for the common man. Workers in the area liked to organize river-rat hunts on Saturdays and bet their wages on them. These hunts featured Airedales, who put their hunting skill to use by chasing rodents into the river.

In the 19th century, since the Airedale had modest roots, they did not have a popular presence at dog shows in England. In fact, they did not even have a specific moniker.

Until they earned a specific name, they were vaguely referred to as ‘Waterside Terrier,’ ‘Broken-Haired Terrier,’ or ‘Working Terrier.’ It was only in 1879 that the breed got its modern-day name—the Airedale Terrier.

Also Read: Do Airedale Terriers Smell?

Airedales and War

Airedale Terrier with soldier during war

There is a chance that this robust terrier would not have gained popularity if the Great War had not come knocking. The multifaceted Airedale earned a name for itself as a top-notch military dog during the first world war.

Airedales worked as messengers, sentries, explosives detectors, and even search dogs. However, the native land undervalued their efforts in the trenches for quite some time.

In the 1890s, when the first Airedale was shipped to Germany, Britain was working on the concept of police dogs. Airedales were a perfect fit. They had all the physical and mental abilities to act as police dogs.

They slowly gained recognition for their resourceful as the war raged on. They were highly valued for their courage and reliability. It is believed around 3,000 Airedales gave their life in the trenches during the first war.

War Dog School

Colonel Edwin Richardson explored the history of war dogs in ancient Rome and Greece. He grew very interested in the subject, and soon he was called upon to provide war dogs across the globe.

He was responsible for dispatching several breeds, including the Airedales, to Turkey, Russia, and India for war and guard duties.

It was in 1910 when he decided to start the British War Dog School on his home soil. The attendees included Airedales and several sheepdog breeds. The keen and robust terriers outshone every breed, resulting in many being sent to the frontlines during the war for their capabilities.

Among these dogs was Richardson’s own Airedale named Jack. Jack was awarded Victoria Cross for his tenacity and sheer pluck in the presence of the enemy.

Also Read: Airedale Terrier vs Fox Terrier

Journey to America

The heroic acts of the Airedales caught public attention, and the breed gained popularity. Despite their humble roots, they began to be recognized by the affluent members of society.

One such member was the socialite Mrs. John Jacob Astor. The billionaire’s Airedale Terrier Kitty traveled with her owner aboard the Titanic and sadly perished.

The breed made its way to the United States in the 1900s, where its popularity rose. They even made their way into the White House.

The first Presidential Airedale belong to the 29th president, Warren Harding. He was called Laddie Boy. Laddie famously made press stories and attended cabinet meetings while seated in his own chair. He was even featured in a gossip column.

After Harding, Woodrow Wilson and Calvin Coolidge, too, owned Airedale Terriers named Davie and Paul Pry, respectively.

Popularity and Its Side Effects

Though the Airedales shot up in popularity, the fame came with certain downsides. The popularity resulted in breeding for the sole purpose of monetary benefit.

There was a lack of proper care in the breeding choices. This lack of care resulted in hereditary diseases and inbreeding problems. Conscientious breeders rose to protect the breed and maintain a standard.

The modern-day Airedales are well-adjusted pooches. While they retain their original heritage, they can adapt well to modern environments. They are highly spirited, protective, and family-friendly.

They make excellent allies. While they get along with kids and most dogs, they may not be so friendly with smaller animals like cats.

Also Read: Airedale Terrier vs Welsh Terrier

The Bottom Line

Airedale Terriers boast size and strength over their much smaller cousins. They have an unflagging spirit and a do-it-all attitude that makes them a family favorite.

These lively dogs are distinguished companions, hunters, and athletes. Though their origin began as ratters, they climbed the ladder of fame as war dogs. In fact, they were the first canine breeds to receive police dog training in Britain and Germany.

Airedales are smart and determined enough to accomplish many a task even today. Aside from their working abilities, they possess a playfulness that is delightful to humans.

If you want a loving and loyal companion who is capable of doing it all, then an Airedale Terrier is the perfect pooch for you!