The Airedale Terrier

Airedale TerrierAiredale Terrier

The Airedale Terrier is the 'King of the Terriers' with a character and personality all of his own. As part of my family's life for 48 years, their whimsical ways helped keep my sanity whist raising my human family. Today, the Airedale's medium size and adaptability make him an ideal family pet that fits into the many demands of modern society.

History of the Airedale Terrier

Airedale Pre - 1900Airedale Pre - 1900

The Airedale Terrier was developed two centuries ago in Yorkshire, in the North of England, from a mixture of the Terriers of the Border Region, and Otterhounds. He was known by various names, such as the Bingley Terrier, the Waterside Terrier, and the Broken Coated Terrier large variety. Resources confirm this 'Working Terrier' or 'Waterside Terrier' was no uncommon sight in the 1860's with entries of 200 common at Shows like Bingley[3]. Apparently, it was at one of these Shows that the Airedale was given his name after a good deal of correspondence in the 'Live Stock Journal'.

Mr Reginald Knight's 'Thunder'Mr Reginald Knight's 'Thunder'

There it was acknowledged that the first breed description of the Airedale Terrier was written by Mr Reginald Knight and agreed to 'by most of the leading admirers and judges of the breed.' His word description and measurements made up the first Airedale breed standard. They were based on Mr. Reginald Knight's own dog 'Thunder', considered to be 'a first-rate specimen of the breed'. But a Mr Mason caustically wrote that this description 'probably fitted Mr Knight's own dog 'Thunder', but was radically wrong in many respects'[3]. This confirmed by 'Thunder's' height which is quoted a 21¼ inches at the shoulder and 21¾ inches at the rump[4]! So this  excited a great amount of interest.

Airedales as Sentry Dogs c 1910Airedales as Sentry Dogs c 1910

It was then agreed that:

"readers who are unacquainted with the breed will be able to see that the Airedale Terrier must certainly be placed among the front rank of those vermin terriers which are notorious for gameness and endurance"

Airedale with carrier pigeonAiredale with carrier pigeon

This led to his amazing proficiency and fame as a sentry and communications dog during World War One (1914 - 1918)[10].

The Airedale Terrier becomes a Pure Breed

Airedale - 'Fracture' 1883Airedale - 'Fracture' 1883

The first standard of the Airedale Terrier Club (England) was written in 1879 with the Size of Dogs, 40 - 55 lbs, bitches 30 - 55 lbs and recognized by the Kennel Club in 1885. But in 1883, an Airedale Terrier had appeared for the first time by that name in the catalogue of the National Dog Show held at Birmingham. The bitch named 'Fracture' of whom an engraving appears here, was considered 'An extremely well-made Airedale, her head, body and feet being very good but her coat is somewhat too soft in texture'[9].

After the Breed Standard was written, the following was added:

Airedale c 1913Airedale c 1913

"That, as it is the unanimous opinion of the ATC the size of the Airedale given in the (above)standard is one of, if not the most important characteristics of the breed, all judges who shall henceforth adjudicate on the merits of the Airedale Terrier shall consider undersized specimens of the breed severely handicapped when competing with dogs of the standard weight. Any of the Club's judges who, in the opinion of the Committee, shall give prizes to or otherwise push to the front dogs of a small type shall be at once struck from the list of specialist judges".[4] 

Airedale 'Jerry' 1888Airedale 'Jerry' 1888

Under the guidance of the above Breed Standard, the Airedale developed from the undersized Irish Terrier looking dog, into a bigger, stronger type more typical of the breed today, whilst maintaining a very hard wire jacket. This could have been due to a dog  called 'Airedale Jerry' who many breeders regard as 'the father of the breed' because most Airedales world-wide can trace their pedigrees back to him[8].

Airedales c 1930'sAiredales c 1930's

By following this link: History of Airedales in Australia you can explore our continuous history from 1890 to 2012.

The Airedale Terrier Today

Airedale TerrierAiredale Terrier

The Airedale Terrier is the largest breed in the Terrier Group[7], standing 22"-24" (56 - 61 cms) tall. His saddle is always black or dark grizzle and his shoulders, legs, and head ars always tan. Often called 'The King of Terriers', his size and character should dominate the terrier ring. Attaining and maintaining correct size has been a problem plaguing Airedales for decades. This is why this has been the subject of so many articles I have written over the years[5a,b,c,d,e].

Airedale TerrierAiredale Terrier

He has an elongated head, flat skull with side placement ears set slightly above the level of the skull. He has a particularly strong foreface without fullness in the cheeks, and a normal scissors bite. His neck is of sufficient length to balance the dog but set so it flows into the shoulders, allowing his head to be carried proudly.

Airedale BitchAiredale Bitch

With the construction of the long legged terriers his body length is short or compact, with a Terrier front, and a chest with well sprung ribs that just reaches the elbows. His character is epitomized by high set tail which acts as a thermometer of his mood.

His body coat is always black or dark grizzle with his other parts being tan. He has a hard dense broken coat which must be groomed correctly[1]. In order to keep both the skin and the coat healthy, there are definite advantages of hand stripping.

Airedale BitchAiredale Bitch

It is important for breeders and enthusiasts alike to pay special attention to the correct Airedale coat as this remains a problem in the breed today. Breeders over more than a century have worked very hard to obtain a hard textured coat. But this has not been without major problems as many early Airedales like those featured in the history section below and in the History of Airedales in Australia had coats so hard, the hair barely covered the skin and legs.

Incorrect "Sheep Coats"

A Sheep-Coated Adult A Sheep-Coated Adult

As the show scene developed, those with thicker and longer coats enjoyed success. So 'sheep coats' remain a problem in the breed today. In direct contrast to the sparse coats of the hard coated Airedales of past, occasionally a puppy is born with an incorrect 'sheep coat'.

Sheep Coated AiredaleSheep Coated Airedale

Because of their 'fluff', sheep coated puppies can be tantalizingly cute! But on maturity, this fluff rarely becomes hard in texture, especially on the legs. This type of coat is not only foreign for an Airedale, it is almost impossible to obtain a correct jacket, let alone maintain it!

Sheep coated Airedales are easy to detect as apart from their fluffy legs, they never lose the black on their ears. Pictured here is are two adult dogs with excellent structure and expertly trimmed. This is not to be confused with the black on the ears and face of a very young puppy.

Otter Drags - The Airedale's Original Function

An Otter DragAn Otter Drag

As stated in the History section above, the development of the Airedale in Yorkshire in the north of England relied on their original function which was otter drags.

To set the scene, the streams around Yorkshire were plagued with vermin such as water rats and otters which polluted the water. This vermin usually co-habitated burrows, living and breeding in dens with escape holes often beneath the surface of the water. So, huntsmen required a terrier that filled the dual role of being capable of swimming as well as retaining the instinct to go to ground.

An Otter Hunt - Note the Terrier and two HoundsAn Otter Hunt - Note the Terrier and two Hounds

The terrier was required to enter otter's den and bolt the vermin into the stream. Then, with the assistance of a pack of Otterhounds, the vermin was driven to swim towards the huntsmen. This occurred within the rivers and streams, where the huntsmen were positioned wading at least knee deep in water. The otter, often accompanied by water rats was eventually caught in the huntsman's nets. This process, called an otter drag, often went on for hours. Not only did otter drags assist in keeping the streams hygienic, the huntsmen of Yorkshire enjoyed the sheer sport of working their dogs in this two-fold role. So, during the latter part of the 1800's otter drags developed first as a necessity and later as a sport.[6] 

The huntsmen of Yorkshire would have obviously used the type of dogs that existed in the North of England at that time. So it was logical the two types of dogs that were already specialized in these two functions required were used.

Border Terrier 1806Border Terrier 1806The first was a Terrier of the Border Region somewhat like the dog on the left, the Fox Terrier 1806, which was already proven and adept with entering dens and bolting its quarry, including otters.

Otterhound c 1886Otterhound c 1886

Secondly was an Otterhound, a hairy powerful hound with large ears and an oily water repellent coat somewhat like the dog on the right that was already being used for hunting otters in the streams at that time.

Sometimes huntsmen also dug quarry out of their holes. Note the hounds working with the Terrier pictured above. This is why, when the Airedale was developed, the terrier front was retained[2].

Remnants of the Airedale's Otterhound ancestry also remain today in that, in selecting for sufficient size plus the power and substance required in the largest of the terriers, somewhat heavy ears and coats that are soft and oily or even sheep coats, are all too often seen.

References and Further Reading

[1] Jane Harvey, DVD "How to Groom an Airedale" (Rangeaire Vision 1984, 2004) ISBN 978-0-9804296-0-2,

[2] Jane Harvey, "Airedale and other Fronts" in National Dog Newspaper (Windsor NSW) October 1976

[3] Holland Buckley "The Airedale Terrier" Eighth Revised Edition (Our Dogs Publishing Company Ltd Manchester, England) Approx 1906

[4] Vero Shaw B.A "Points of The Airedale Terrier" by Reginald Knight, in the Illustrated Book of the Dog (Published by Cassell, Petter, Galpin & Co, London, Paris & New York) 1881 Chapter XX 'The Airedale Terrier' Page 153

[5a] Jane Harvey, "Is Today's Breed Still the King" in National Dog Airedale Terrier Special Breed Workshop (Sterling Media Pty Ltd, Seven Hills NSW) Vol 28 No 3 September 1997 Page 31

[5b] Jane Harvey, "The King of Terriers.. But is he Still the King?" in Airedale Terrier Year Book 1992 (National Airedale Terrier Association published 1993 UK) Pages 97-98

[5c] Jane Harvey, "More Thoughts on Size" in The Airedale Terrier Year Book 1978 (National Airedale Terrier Association of England published 1979) Pages 56-57

[5d] Jane Harvey, "Airedale Type" in Special Airedale Edition January 1985 Terrier Type (Dan Kiedrowski La Honda California USA) ISSN 0199-6495

[5e] Jane Harvey, "Keeping the Airedale Unique" in The Airedale Terrier Year Book 1977 (National Airedale Terrier Association of England published 1977) Pages 52-54

[6] Jane Harvey, DVD "Terriers Then & Now" (Rangeaire Vision 2002, 2004) ISBN 978-0-9804296-4-0

[7] Jane Harvey, "Recipe for an Airedale" in National Dog Newspaper Special Supplement (Windsor NSW) July 1978 Page (iv) continued on Page (viii)

[8] Jane Harvey, "We Adopted Early Airedales" in National Dog Airedale Terrier Special Breed Workshop (Sterling Media Pty Ltd, Seven Hills NSW) Vol 28 No 3 September 1997 Page 37-38

[9] J.H.Walsh, under the name 'Stonehenge', 'The Dogs of the British Islands' (Fifth Edition) Published by 'The Field' Office, 346 Strand, W.C.London 1886. Book lll, 'Terriers (Other than Fox and Toy)', Chapter l, Special Breeds of Rough Terriers. The Airedale Page 251

[10] Lieut-Colonel E.H Richardson, 'Forty Years with Dogs' Published by Hutchinson & Co (Publishers) Ltd. London E.C.4 Chapter V Watch-Dogs and Others - a Proud Boast Opposite Page 80.


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