Airedale Terrier -  The Early Days

1850 - 1910


The Airedale Terrier was formally known as the Waterside or Bingley terrier. It's roots can be traced back to the valley of the river Aire in Yorkshire district of Great Britain. It's most important ancestor was the local rough coated working terrier. Mostly black & tan with a fearless temperament and strong hunting instinct. Being a medium sized dog in general appearance for a terrier the Airedale was big. This gave him later the name "king of terriers". The Airedale was always a breed which was known for its versatile working abilities.

The famous Thunder - Airedale from approx 1876 - an a unknown Airedale in a drawing from 1887 - three champions from the Tone kennel

Around 1850 Mr. Holmes carefully crossed otterhound with the local working terrier to get a stronger and bigger dog with the brain, the temperament and the coat of the terrier and the retrieving ability, the nose and the qualities in water work of the otterhound. To better the breed other breeds like collies and bullterrier have been crossed in. Like the most other breeds too, the Airedale and his ancestors have been workers in those days and their look has rapidly changed in the last 150 years mostly because the show breeders got a hold of them.

The early otterhound and his descendant of today - heavier and bigger with a lot more fur

An extreme is the the old working and the "new" show bullterrier. It is hard to believe that people really think they have bettered something and forgot all the health and temperament problems of the modern breed. This old English Bullterrier was a healthy breed - the sporting dog par excellence!

The white athlete at work and his descendant of today - no comment!

The third breed which was used to create the Airedale was the collie. Exactly it was the mostly black & tan working collie which was known for its working abilities and its intelligence. Even today the working collies and heelers are often used to breed outstanding lurchers. The collie blood is used as balance to make dogs with strong hunting drive and a lot grit a little easier to handle and more trainable.

A type of working collie as service dogs during the WWI - the job which made the Airedale famous.

But first of all even today the Airedale was and should be a typical terrier in build and temperament. Anyway there have been differences in build and size as it is usual in breeds which are mostly selected for their working abilities. But none of those early dogs looked like the show Airedales of today which rather need a hairstylist than a serious handler and a job.

This five pictures give us a impression of the varieties between the first Airedales - all pictures are from approx 1900.

The Airedale is from its roots a pure hunting dog as its ancestors the old rough coated working terrier was used for fox and badger hunting mostly. Through the time it became a terrier of the stronger type like Irish or Kerry Blue and was more used for otter hunting or as draw dogs when hunting fox or badger. The Airedale was a breed of the working class and as such it should be able to be handled with less afford and fit the needs of those days. That means a dog has to guard the owners property without being a over aggressive dog, tolerate the children on the streets and work for the pleasure of its master, be it rat catching or otter hunting. Coming from this background, it is no wonder that the Airedale was appreciated in America as ideal farm all around and hunting dog. A stable temperament, true grit and a lot of brain is what it needs to handle the big game like bear or mountain lion and survive the encounter.

In the middle there is a Airedale from Lionheart kennel and the next to the right is a picture with a pair of the Oorange Airedales and the coons they treed or caught.

During the WWI the Airedales become famous for its rock solid temperament and for its loyalty to its master. There are several reports of Airedales which have saved a lot of lives and got their job done even badly wounded. The Airedales did their job between fire and explosions next to them and searched wounded soldiers or brought messages from one group to another. When it is called a war dog nobody with knowledge is going to think about the Airedale as a man aggressive dog. What it should never be!

In 1893 the first Airedale was imported to Germany. Quickly the Airedale become recognized for his loyal temperament and its working qualities. We know that the Airedale was used as hunting dog in Germany on every game which was hunted at this time. Especially when hunting wild boars the Airedale performed as outstanding hunting partner because of the combination which let him work in the USA so well, too: brain & grit! But the Airedale became more and more a official working and service dog. The German club the Klub für rauhaarige Terrier (later the Klub für Terrier) forced this development and became a supporter of raising the size for the Airedale to 60cm / 23,62 inch. This was just logical because a bigger dog better fits the needs of the police work than a smaller dog. By selecting the Airedales for abilities which are needed in police and military work and knowing that around 1910 the beginning of protection sport started it seemed not surprising that nobody cares about the hunting qualities. The opposite was the case and the most breeder in Germany did not like to see any hunting instinct in their dogs. As a result of this today there are no lines left which are used for hunting in Germany.

Airedales of the Magdeburger Jäger Batallion approx 1904 and a few other German breed Dales.


And doesn't matter if you prefer the traditional farm, all around and hunting dog or a dog for sport or official duty:

There are even today Airedales which get the job done to make you proud!





I like to thank Mr. Henry S. Johnson for all he has done to me and to the Airedale as working breed.

Finally I have to thank Matt Thom for finding a little place on his website for my report and first and for most for sending his great Annie across the pond to proselytize us over here.



Martin Reinartz




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