The Airedale Heritage
Over the past thirty+ years, Airedale fanciers have been working to restore attention to the breed’s original purpose as a versatile hunting dog. Through the efforts of the Airedale Terrier Club of America and Hunting Working Airedales, Inc., the Airedale has regained its recognition in the sporting dog community. Airedales now may now compete and earn titles in AKC Spaniel Hunt Tests and UKC-based Hunting Retriever Club [HRC] Hunt Tests, as well as Airedale-only hunt tests.
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Airedale fame as a big-game hunter in the American West soon grew his reputation as big as Pecos Bill’s. In WWI, the Airedale’s courage and strength favored him among the war dogs used as sentries and messengers. By the 1920’s and 30’s, the Airedale was the most popular breed in the United States. Over time, demographics and society changed, and the Airedale's popularity shifted to a much smaller fan base that maintained the breed mainly as companions and home protectors.
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Airedale Terriers were born to be working hunting dogs. The men who developed the breed in the 1860’s weren’t gentlemen of the sporting dog world or moneyed aristocrats – instead they were farmers living near the Ayre (Aire) and Wharfe Rivers near Yorkshire, England. They wanted one “do everything” dog that could control vermin as well as bring in birds for the table. They needed a dog with a keen hunting instinct and a weather-resistant coat; the character to tenaciously stick to any job; the courage and ability to kill all manner of game; the capability and desire to guard his family and home; and the gentleness and sensitivity to live as part of the family household. They wanted a strong-swimming dog to hunt river rats, and they wanted an efficient bird dog to poach birds from the large landholdings.
To create this perfect dog, the Yorkshiremen combined the nose and swimming ability of the Otterhound with the spirit and grit of the Broken-Coated Terrier. In the manner of the day, other breeds may or may not have been put in the mix, but the end product first become known as the Waterside Terrier, then the Bingley Terrier, and finally – by 1879 – the breed was named the Airedale Terrier.
By 1900, the Airedale was considered a sporting dog as well as a terrier. Dog writer Holland Buckley wrote a book called “The Airedale Terrier” (c. 1900), in which he stated “he [the Airedale] is a three-in-one gun dog combining the virtues of the pointer, spaniel and retriever.” Add to that the breed’s tenacity and terrier spirit. The Airedale’s popularity grew and quickly spread to North America through the early 20th century.
To the owners who choose Airedales as their hunting companions, the Airedale Terrier brings its versatility as a three-in-one gundog, as well as possessing a unique and multi-dimensional personality that makes him both the home protector and family clown.
The Airedale is indeed a hunting dog, and then some.