Published on March 1st, 2016 | by Debbie Martin0
The Airedale Terrier is the largest of all terrier breeds, and has thus earned the title ‘King of Terriers’. It’s named after the Aire valley in Yorkshire, where it was bread to catch vermin like otters and rats. In this article, we’ll examine this breed in closer detail, and see whether it might make a good choice for your home.
Profile: What is an Airedale Terrier?
The Airedale Terrier is a famously square-shaped animal – its skull is long and flat and about the same shape as its muzzle, and covered with a layer of short fur. It has V-shaped ears which flop on the side of its head, a deep chest, a straight back and straight legs.
The Airedale’s fur is famously coarse and wiry, and comes in shades ranging from tan to black. It has two layers of fur, the topmost of which has adapted to repel water, which means that the dog is able to swim – and will take great pleasure in doing so, given the opportunity!
History: Where did the Airedale come from?
The Airedale terrier can trace its roots back to the middle of the 19th Century, when a terrier was crossbred with an otterhound. This breeding has a practical purpose; landowners in Yorkshire at the time were plagued by both rats and otters, and were looking for a dog with the qualities to fight both varieties of vermin.
These early crossbreeds were largely successful in producing an animal that could both scent prey and pursue it across water. They were then known as Waterside terriers, and became popular breeds very quickly, earning plaudits in an 1864 dog show in Aire Valley. Shortly thereafter, it was decided that the breed should be known as the Airedale Terrier – though exactly who first suggested this change is unclear. What is clear is that the change prompted considerable confusion, which wasn’t fully dispelled until 1886, when the English Kennel Club finally decided that the Airedale Terrier should be known as such.
This breed played a hugely important role in the First World War, where they served as scouts, messengers, ratters, sled dogs and much more besides. During this period, the breed earned significant repute. One dog in particular, named Jack, was singled out for praise, and awarded the Victoria Cross. Jack was part of a battalion which had been pinned down by artillery fire, and had to summon re-enforcements.
In doing so, Jack suffered several broken bones while completing his mission; a piece of shrapnel impacted his jaw, while another tore open his back. Nevertheless, Jack persisted for long enough to reach headquarters, at a crawl, complete his mission, and thereby saved his battalion. Unfortunately, Jack would die from his wounds shortly afterward, but many men lived as a result of his bravery.
It’s this sort of courage and stubbornness that makes the Airedale so revered among dog breeders; they’re loyal to a fault, and will even put their lives on the line if required to do so. Fortunately, that’s a rare requirement of the modern Airedale terrier – but they have other qualities that make them great household pets.
Personality: What’s the Airedale like to own?
Airedale terriers are both sporting and working dogs; they’re agile, obedient and full of energy. They make for excellent companions for joggers, and will be able to gleefully keep up the pace.
The breed does have a few foibles that might make it unsuitable for some households. One such drawback of the breed is its independent nature. Airedales were bred to think for themselves and pursue their instincts, seeking out their quarry without the supervision of humans. This makes them more independent-minded than many other breeds of dog: a quality that might not be to everyone’s liking.
If you’re in search of a dog that will await your command on everything, then the Airedale might not make a suitable candidate. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for an animal that’s capable of thinking for itself – and if you’re a disciplinarian looking for a challenge – then the breed is worth consideration.
Terriers are dogs which were bred to seek out rodents lurking just beneath the surface of the earth. It should probably come as no surprise, then, that they’re natural and enthusiastic diggers – if not discouraged, they’ll happily excavate a flowerbed that took days to get into order. They’re also curious animals with a strong sense of smell, and a strong interest in anything that excites that sense; they’ll therefore horde any memorabilia they find – particularly items that carry the scent of familiar humans, like old socks.
Airedales are also particularly enthusiastic chewers, and will wrap their considerable teeth around any suitable object. They should therefore be provided with chew toys – though only the sort that have been specially designed for dogs, as toys for humans invariably have sharp edges that will present a choking hazard.
Another potential drawback of the Airedale is its fierce sense of justice. The dog will mete out punishment to anyone who dares wrong them. Moreover, they’ll hold grudges until the perceived wrong has been righted. What this means in practice is aggression against other animals, and pre-emptive strikes. If you’re looking to avoid apologizing to other dog-walkers after your animal has harangued theirs, then you’ll need to be a strict disciplinarian, and maintain consistent obedience training from day one. You also might want to avoid mixing an untrained Airedale with small children, as the fun playtime can quickly escalate if the dog isn’t supervised.
These potential downsides might, in certain situations, be advantageous. If you’re looking for a guard-dog, then the Airedale possesses all of the qualities required – It’s fiercely loyal to family member, and suspicious of intruders, vocal and brave. That said, if you invite people into your home, it’s intelligent enough to know that they’re friends, and that they should be treated as such.
Airedales, for all their foibles, make for treasured and loyal family pets. With the right training, and a consistent, firm hand, they can become a source of joy and companionship for your household.