Appropriately nicknamed the King of Terriers, the Airedale Terrier conveys this by being remarkably adaptable, talented and a confident breed. Renowned for his independent problem solving, cleverness and hard-working nature, the Airedale yet finds time for fun, and even silliness. The breed is known for both his dedication to a job and to his family. This breed works best with active families that have plenty of time, energy and patience. The Airedale was among the top 10 most popular breeds in America in the early 20th century and came in at No. 65 in the 2022 AKC popularity ranking.
Airedale Terrier size
He’s the largest terrier, weighing in around 55 pounds or so. Males are 55 to 60 pounds or so with females Airedale Terriers being somewhat smaller. Larger Airedales are sometimes called Oorangs, the name of an Ohio kennel in the early 1900s that developed this variation.
Airedale Terrier temperament
A no-nonsense home guard, Airedales are characteristically watchful, yet not overly reactive. If company is greeted by the family, most Airedales likewise accept the guests. When it comes to canine company, Airedales aren’t typically enthused with visitors. They may be aloof and watchful or altogether annoyed and unfriendly with new dogs. While exposure to many animals and obedience training help the Airedale learn manners, even a well-socialized Airedale usually turns his nose up at the dog-park environment.
Since the Airedale has a strong chasing instinct, owners must supervise him around cats. And with the Airedale’s Terrier tendencies (code for rodent chasing!), he’s not the best match for the family’s rabbits, hamsters or guinea pigs.
The Airedale has a deeply held sense of family responsibility. Although certainly friendly with children, Airedale puppies may be a bit rambunctious, chaotic and exuberant around very small children. They show their affection with wild play, jumping or play biting. And they aren’t exactly quick to mature either. Although always high-energy, an Airedale calms down and starts to show reserve once he’s perhaps 3 years old.
While well-exercised Airedales possibly can live in apartments, preferably this action-focused breed has a fenced yard. Owners with limited time to exercise an Airedale might want to consider another breed: A dog bred to Do It All won’t likely sit around all day. Bred to work and work hard, Airedales have both the physical strength and mental versatility for about any dog sport: tracking, barn hunts, obedience, protection sports, agility and rally — to name but a few.
Although quick to learn, Airedales have independent natures. After all, they were taught to work under self-direction rather than side by side with man, waiting for each and every command. Because of their independence, many can’t be trusted off leash: their drive to chase is too pronounced. The Airedale’s curiosity, perseverance and resolve lead to success, but occasionally to mischief.
While they can excel in obedience, Airedales can also be hardheaded and inconsistent during routine exercises. Trainers must be creative, exciting and hold fast to their own sense of humor when the Airedale goes off in the weeds after prey. Many Airedales consider their owner’s obedience commands as requests. Some days they will concur, and other days they’ll disagree.
Airedale Terrier shedding and grooming
The Airedale is a light shedding breed. No breed is truly “hypoallergenic,” but the lower shedding breeds may match up better with families with allergies. Double-coated, the adult Airedale has a wiry topcoat and a soft undercoat that needs regular brushing and either trimmed or hand-stripped regularly.
Airedale pups are born almost black with small tan markings. Over time the tan areas get larger until the black coat is more of a saddle, only on the dog’s sides, upper back, up the neck, etc.
The texture of the pup’s coat changes as well. The Airedale pup’s coat will change from a soft fluffy coat to the trademark wiry coat. Grooming a full-grown Airedale includes brushing several times a week to remove dead hair and a haircut or stripping about four times per year. Most owners choose a professional groomer for trimming, or for the even trickier task of hand stripping (removing individual hairs). Families who plan to show their Airedale will likely ask a professional groomer to strip the dog’s coat. Stripping the coat best maintains the natural texture and colors.
Owners interested in grooming their Airedales at home need special tools, and ideally grooming instruction from professionals. Equipment for the home groomer would include blades, clippers, disinfectants, scissors, combs, brushes and a stripping knife.
Airedale Terrier health
This breed can live from 11 to 13 years. Be on the watch for hip dysplasia. Also note that because the Airedale has a stoical side, illnesses may go unnoticed until severe. His high pain threshold can make the timely recognition of injury after an accident difficult.
History of the Airedale Terrier
Originating in England’s Valley of Aire, Airedales appear to be crosses of Broken Coated Olde English Black and Tan Terriers, Otterhounds and possibly other breeds. The Otterhound scent skills, water-resistant coat, and swimming ability complemented the Terrier’s fearlessness, agility and tenacity genes.
Early Airedales were exceptionally versatile, all-around workers: They guarded the homes, hunted small game, kept track of livestock, and killed water rats and otters. Hunters (along with the occasional poacher) used Airedales to help find and retrieve birds. In contrast to some of the sporting breeds developed to hunt with English nobility, Airedales were developed by commoners for their own use. The regular folks didn’t have the resources for multiple dogs; they couldn’t afford a small Terrier for ratting plus a powerful dog for hunting bigger predators such as martens, foxes, badgers and otters.
So, the Airedale was developed to “do it all.” And he did! The breed combines the requisite adaptability, stamina, fortitude and hardiness. Yet notwithstanding his toughness, early Airedales needed to show an even temper with the family, including the children. After all, they were also a companion dog to the household.
Earlier names for the Airedale Terrier were Waterside Terrier, Bingley Terrier and Broken-Haired Terrier.
Airedale Terriers in the military
The Airedale was among the first British dogs trained for police and military work. In the early 20th century, Lt. Col. Edwin Richardson trained Airedales for military tasks, such as looking for the wounded and carrying messages in tins. Lt. Col. Richardson established the first British War Dogs training school at Shoeburyness, Essex. WWI was the first war Britain made distinct use of dogs: Airedales (and other breeds) served as sentries that guarded trenches and as messengers. They also carried first-aid and supplies for soldiers at the front.
In World War I as well as World War II, the multitalented and resilient Airedale was celebrated for his trustworthiness and dedicated work. Airedales were single-minded in a task; few would leave a job half done. When given a task they completed it, even when wounded.
Airedale Terrier AKC Group
Historically, terrier breeds were developed to hunt and kill vermin, badgers, foxes and other animals that go to ground. They’re celebrated for drive, fortitude, independence and plenty of courage. The Airedale Terrier today remains classified in the American Kennel Club’s Terrier Group. If you look through the AKC groups, you’ll find that some of the breeds with terrier in their names fall outside of the Terrier Group. For example, the Yorkshire Terrier is in the Toy Group, the Boston Terrier is in the Non-sporting Group and the Black Russian Terrier is in the Working Group. But the King of Terriers, the Airedale, remains a terrier both in classification and perhaps even more so, in personality.
Autor Lynn M. Hayner, JD