Airedale Terrier is a Breed With a Rich History and Many Talents

During wartime, acts of heroism can bring ordinary people into the public eye. Why not ask the Airedale Terrier?

The Airedale is known as the “King of Terriers” because it is the largest terrier in its family. It is believed that the Airedale is a result of crossing different terriers with another British dog breed called the Otterhound. The shaggy-haired hound had many valuable qualities that were important for the Airedale.

It was not only big and strong, but also had a good sense of smell and enjoyed being in the water. These qualities were important because the Airedale’s job was to hunt rats and otters in the streams and rivers of Yorkshire.

The Working Terrier

The Airedale is one of many terriers that were bred by working-class men who couldn’t afford to have many dogs due to limited space and resources. The Airedale was designed to be a versatile dog, not specialized in one task. Besides hunting small animals, it could also track and hunt larger animals, protect the family farm, fetch various animals like birds and rabbits, and even guide lost cows back home. Although he was larger than most terriers, he had the same amount of energy and enthusiasm as the smaller ones.

The Airedale’s ability to adapt and handle tough situations made it very popular with poachers. These poachers would secretly enter large Victorian estates to hunt the abundant game that was only allowed for the wealthy. Failure didn’t just mean returning without anything: If you encountered the patrolling gamekeeper and his Bullmastiff, you might not make it back home at all.

On Saturdays, the dogs often won the river-rat hunts organized by the factory and mill workers in the area. The men would bet a significant amount of money on the dog they believed could find a rat hole on the riverbank. They would then wait for a ferret to scare the rat out, and the dog would chase it through the water until it caught the rodent.

The Airedale did not participate in many dog shows in England during the late 19th Century, due to its humble beginnings. When he participated in local Yorkshire shows, he was shown with vague labels like “Broken-Haired Terrier,” “Working Terrier,” or “Waterside Terrier.”

A well-known breeder suggested naming the breed Bingley Terrier, but it was rejected to avoid giving too much credit to the town of Bingley in Yorkshire. The name Airedale was eventually chosen for this strong terrier because it refers to the Aire River and its valley, where the dog was originally bred.

Military Dogs of World War I

The Airedale terrier, originally from the Yorkshire countryside, gained popularity during the Great War. The Airedale dog became famous during World War I for its important roles as a sentry, messenger, explosives detector, and search dog for wounded soldiers. However, initially, the people in Britain did not fully recognize the dog’s worth in the trenches.

In the 1890s, the first Airedale was sent to Germany. At that time, Germany was trying out the idea of using dogs for police work. The Airedale dog blended in perfectly. He was a convenient size, with a coat that could withstand different weather conditions. He was great at tracking. Not only was he loyal and dependable, but he was also brave and would protect when needed. During the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900, the Germans effectively utilized Airedales for patrolling, delivering messages, and transporting munitions. When World War I started, the Airedale was a highly regarded military dog in Germany. They were joined by other German breeds like the Doberman Pinscher, German Shepherd Dog, and later on, the Rottweiler.

It was quite ironic that a breed that is typically associated with Britain was considered the top war dog in Germany. During the war, the British quickly realized the incredible versatility of a resource that was readily available to them.

In The Presence of the Enemy

During the late Victorian era, Col. Edwin Richardson, a gentleman farmer, developed a keen interest in how the ancient Greeks and Romans utilized war dogs. Soon, he gained international recognition for his expertise in providing dogs for similar purposes. During the Russo-Japanese War, he sent a mix of Airedales, Collies, and Bloodhounds to Russia. He also sent dogs to Turkey to protect a sultan’s harem of 700 women, and to India to assist ethnic Nepali Gurkhas in upholding British rule.

In 1910, Richardson started the British War Dog School in his own country. He used Airedales and different types of sheepdogs. Richardson was aware that the Germans had come to Britain to buy Collies for their military dogs and had found them to be effective. But it quickly became clear that the sharp, rough-coated terriers stood out among all the others. Richardson ultimately sent over 2,000 dogs to the frontlines, with a significant number of them being Airedales.

Many stories have been told about the bravery and determination of these Airedales during wartime. One of the most remarkable tales is about a dog named Jack. Jack, a resident of Richardson, bravely ran a half-mile despite being surrounded by mortar fire and gunfire. When he reached his destination, his jaw was broken, he lost his job, and his front leg was severely injured. He obediently allowed a crucial message to be taken off his collar – and then immediately died. He received the Victoria Cross, which is the highest honor in the British military. It is given to those who show bravery “in the presence of the enemy.”

From the Titanic to the Whitehouse

The public quickly noticed the impressive achievements of Airedales, such as Jack, and as a result, the breed became very popular. The Airedale Terrier, like many other breeds with working-class origins, started gaining attention from wealthy and influential individuals. Some notable people who promoted the breed were socialite Mrs. John Jacob Astor, whose Airedale named Kitty died on the Titanic and four United States presidents.

The breed is also connected to another important American figure who had a similar story of starting from nothing. This person is Garrett Augustus Morgan, a well-known black inventor and newspaper publisher. Morgan not only invented the traffic light and the gas mask, but he also created the first chemical hair straightener. He called it a “hair refining creme” and decided to test it on his neighbor’s Airedale. The dog’s owner didn’t recognize him at first and tried to run him out of the house because it worked so well.

President Warren Harding got a puppy named Laddie Boy, who was six months old, the day after he became president in 1921. The terrier dog became well-known for sitting on his chair which was specially made for him during cabinet meetings. This led to a lot of media attention, starting a tradition of the press closely following and reporting on the unique behaviors of the First Dog. They covered everything from his birthday parties where he had bone-shaped cakes, to his helpful act of retrieving President Harding’s lost golf balls. The 29th president had a thousand small bronze statues of Laddie made and gave them to his political supporters.

Today, some of those statuettes still exist and are eagerly sought after by collectors of political memorabilia. The Airedale has remained mostly unchanged for over a century, just like its small bronze statues. This is unlike many other breeds that have undergone significant changes.

The Airedale belongs to the Terrier Group, which values tradition and avoids following trends. The Airedale keeps going, having been baptized by the cold water of the River Aire and forged by the fire and smoke of the battlefield.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the origin of the Airedale Terrier?

The Airedale Terrier is a large terrier breed that originated in the Aire Valley in Yorkshire, England. It is believed to have been developed from a cross between the Otterhound and other terrier breeds.

What are some of the Airedale Terrier’s most notable qualities?

Airedale Terriers are known for their intelligence, loyalty, and versatility. They are also very good swimmers and have a strong sense of smell.

What were some of the Airedale Terrier’s roles during World War I?

Airedale Terriers were used in a variety of roles during World War I, including as messengers, sentries, and search dogs. They were also used to detect explosives and to help wounded soldiers.

What is the most famous Airedale Terrier?

The most famous Airedale Terrier is probably Jack, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery during World War I. Jack ran a half-mile through enemy fire to deliver a message, even though he was severely injured.

What are some of the Airedale Terrier’s health problems?

Airedale Terriers are generally healthy dogs, but they can be prone to certain health problems, such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and allergies.


The Airedale Terrier is a breed with a rich and varied history. Originally bred as a working dog, the Airedale quickly became known for its bravery and determination. During World War I, Airedales served as messengers, sentries, and search dogs, and many of them were awarded medals for their heroic actions.

After the war, the Airedale’s popularity soared, and the breed became a favorite among wealthy and influential individuals. Today, the Airedale remains a popular breed, and its loyalty, intelligence, and athleticism continue to make it a valuable companion.

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