Description & History

The Airedale is known as the King of Terriers and is the largest dog in the terrier group.

The Airedale comes from the Vale of Aire in Yorkshire. For hundreds of years the river banks and nearby countryside were infested with different types of wildlife - then thought to be vermin - including otters, water rats and polecats.

In the middle of the nineteenth century the men who hunted these animals, mostly otter-hunters and mill workers, realised they did not have a dog that was suitable for this purpose.

They required a dog with a love of water, good swimming ability and with a terrier's tenacity to chase quarry into its lair.

The breeds that were evolved for this task were a cross between the now extinct wire-coated Old English Black and Tan Terrier and the Otterhound. Strains from other terrier breeds were introduced in the course of the Airedale's development, mainly to breed out certain hound characteristics which were unacceptable - large ears, light eyes and a heavy coat.

The breed was given different names - Waterside Terrier and Bingley Terrier - until 1882 when the name Airedale was finally chosen.

By the turn of the century the breed was being utilised in various ways. Like other working dogs that had been successful in the past, the Airedale was being trained for different jobs other than controlling vermin along the river banks.

It was one of the few British breeds that were being used specifically for guarding. These talents were put to good use by the railway and dockyard police in Great Britain and by the French and Russian police.

In the First World War, Airedales were used by both the Allied forces as well as by the Germans. They were mostly used to carry dispatches and to give warning of any movement in the enemy lines.

When hostilities ceased, the dogs that survived the war returned to peacetime activities. Besides hunting they were also guard dogs and some were trained as guide dogs for the blind.

Nowadays this talented breed is no longer used by the authorities as a guard dog. Instead it guards its home and will adapt to town or country living.

Rosamund Walters.

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