The Airedale Terrier

Airedale TerrierAiredale Terrier

The Airedale Terrier began to develop two centuries ago in Yorkshire, in the North of England, from a mixture of the Terriers of the Border Region, and Otterhounds. An extended history appears below describing how he was first used for otter drags and known by various names, such as the Bingley Terrier, the Waterside Terrier, and the Broken Coated Terrier large variety. In Birmingham, England in 1883 the Airedale Terrier was first exhibited under the name we know him today.

The Airedale Today

Airedale TerrierAiredale Terrier

The Airedale Terrier is the largest breed in the Terrier Group, standing 22"-24" (56 - 61 cms) tall[7]. He is always black and tan or dark grizzle. Often called 'The King of Terriers', his size and character should dominate the terrier ring[5 a,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.

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.

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

Sheep Coated AiredaleSheep Coated Airedale

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

Two centuries ago when the Airedale first developed, breeds did not look anything like they do today. Additionally, dog shows and the English Stud books were in their infancy. But like many other modern breeds, 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 by vermin such as water rats and otters which polluted the water. These vermin 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 and, with the assistance of a pack of Otterhounds, drive them as they swam towards the huntsmen. As this occurred within the rivers and streams, 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. These were

Otterhound c 1800Otterhound c 1800

  1. The forerunner of the Terriers of the Border Region somewhat like the dog picture Fox Terrier 1806, which was already proven and adept with entering dens and bolting its quarry and
  2. The Otterhound, a hairy powerful hound with large ears and an oily water repellent coat somewhat like the dog pictured that was already being used for hunting otters in the streams at that time.

Fox Terrier 1806Fox Terrier 1806

Sometimes huntsmen also dug quarry out of their holes. Note the hounds working with the Terrier. So, 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.

Airedale Early Development

Airedale "Thunder" 1879Airedale "Thunder" 1879

In 1883, an Airedale Terrier appeared for the first time by that name in the catalogue of the National Dog Show held at Birmingham. Before that, according to Holland Buckley[3] a 'Working Terrier' or 'Waterside Terrier' was 'no uncommon sight with entries of 200 at Shows like Bingley'. Apparently, it was at one of these Shows that the Airedale was given this name after a good deal of correspondence in the 'Live Stock Journal'.

Airedale c 1930Airedale c 1930

Although this excited a great amount of interest, according to Mr Mason who supposedly took the first Airedale to America around this time, a 'vast deal of harm was inflicted on the breed by Mr Reginald Knight whose word description and scale of points probably fitted his dog Thunder, but was radically wrong in many respects'.

But it is 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.' Mr Knight had laid this document before these people in December 1879 so 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 c 1890Airedale c 1890

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'

Airedale c 1910Airedale c 1910

The first standard of the Airedale Terrier Club (England) was written with the Size of Dogs, 40 - 45 lbs, bitches slightly less.  But, the following was added:

"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 c 1893Airedale Jerry c 1893

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. This could have been due to a dog  called  'Airedale Jerry' who many breeders regard as 'the father of the breed' because most Airedales can trace their pedigrees back to him.

In Australia, Mr Steans of NSW who brought the import 'Jack' to NSW, Australia also traces his pedigree back to 'Airedale Jerry'.[8] The History of Airedales in Australia can be explored by following the link.

References and Further Reading

[1] Jane Harvey, DVD "How to Groom an Airedale" (Rangeaire Vision 1984, 2004) ISBN 978-0-9804296-0-2, also[6] Jane Harvey, DVD "Terriers Then & Now" (Rangeaire Vision 2002, 2004) ISBN 978-0-9804296-4-0

[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


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