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What Were Airedales Bred For? Breed History Explained

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By Nicole Cosgrove

Airedale Terrier standing on the grass

The Airedale is a fiery, lively dog ​​with a strong character. It is the perfect companion for a sporty and active owner who is keen to offer him daily stimulating activities at all levels: physical, intellectual, and olfactory. But beware, his extraordinary hunting skills have earned him the nickname “King of Terriers”, which makes him potentially dangerous for your other small pets!

In fact, the very reason the Airedale breed was created was to hunt vermin of all shapes and sizes. Read on to discover the story of this breed’s fascinating origins!

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The King of Terriers Was Born

The breed’s history begins in the mid-1800s in Yorkshire, England. Originally, fiery but rather small terriers were not yet the Airedale we know, with its multiple qualities of swimmer and hunter. At that time, these dogs were mostly bred to control rat populations.

However, still in the 1800s, these terriers were crossed with Otterhounds in an effort to improve their flair and swimming skill. Indeed, the Yorkshiremen lived near the River Aire and struggled with growing populations of otters. So, it was about time they got a little help controlling these populations of otters, which are natural predators for fish in rivers and streams.

Therefore, the British Otterhound dog was the perfect candidate for the cross, not only thanks to its size and enviable frame but also for its great swimming skills. As a result, this cross created the powerful and versatile “King of Terriers”.

But it would take until the end of the 19th century for the name Airedale to finally be given to this large terrier. Indeed, when first created in the 1800s, this dog was referred to as the “Broken-Haired Terrier”, “Working Terrier,” or “Waterside Terrier”.

Airedale Terrier sitting on bench
Image Credit: PROMA1, Shutterstock

The Versatility of the Airedale

The Airedale is a working dog that comes from a modest background. It was developed by working-class men who could not afford to breed multiple dogs to perform different tasks. The Airedale, therefore, had to be able to do several different jobs: chasing rats from stables and houses, jumping into the river to hunt otters, defending the family farm from intruders, killing hares for the evening meal, and even serving as a herding dog on occasion.

The Arrival of the Airedale in America

The Airedale was a fantastic working dog; no one can deny that. However, due to his humble roots, this large terrier was not very popular at dog shows in England in the late 19th century. This big hirsute dog didn’t even have a specific name yet and still went by the vague name “Working Terrier”. Eventually, the name Airedale was adopted in reference to the River Aire of its origins.

Finally, the Airedale began to gain a bit more popularity in England. The breed arrived in America in the early 1900s, where its popularity skyrocketed thanks to Warren G. Harding, among others, who fell in love with this robust and resourceful dog.

The White House’s First Famous Dog

Indeed, the first famous dog in the White House was an Airedale Terrier, named Laddie Boy! He was President Warren G. Harding’s dog. Laddie Boy became a full member of the First Family the day after President Harding’s inauguration in March 1921.

A War Hero

Airedales were not only used as vermin hunters in the countryside of Yorkshire: they were also sent to the battlefield during the First World War! Ok, not directly in the front lines to fight alongside the soldiers, but these brave dogs served as messengers, explosives detectors, and search dogs for wounded soldiers. They continually risked their lives and physical integrity each time they crossed the battle lines. It is estimated that between 2,000 and 3,000 Airedales lost their lives during this war.

Airedale Terrier
Image By: jarobike, Shutterstock

The Other Side of the Coin

The fame of the Airedale during these war years, however, had a darker fallout. Indeed, this brave and determined breed of dog has become so popular that unscrupulous people have taken up breeding, but for the sole purpose of making a profit. Thus, little care was taken in the breeding choices, and problems of inbreeding and hereditary diseases appeared over time. However, conscientious breeders dedicated themselves to protecting and saving the breed in the 1940s, and their efforts paid off.

Modern Airedale Terriers

Today’s Airedale is no longer bred solely for its great working dog skills: it is now a cheerful, family-protective, brilliant, and lively dog. This alert pooch is an excellent companion for the whole family, except for the other small animals in the house. Indeed, don’t expect that this great hunter will ever be able to forget what it was created for!

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Featured Image Credit: Daniel Hedrich, Pixabay

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