The Airedale Terrier

The Airedale Terrier reigns as the King of Hearts


The Airedale Terrier, the largest member of the terrier group, is known to admirers as the King of Terriers, but he could just as easily be recognized as the King of Hearts who received his crown for his size, broad versatility, intelligence, and unswerving loyalty.

The Airedale Terrier was developed in his native England as a companion and hunter for the working class citizens of Yorkshire. Today the breed is loved around the world for it prowess in the military, police forces, the Red Cross, the duck blind, and other venues, including the family home.

Breed history

The Airedale Terrier is a relatively modern breed. The breed first appeared in the latter half of the 19th Century when Yorkshire men crossed smaller terriers with Otterhounds to produce a larger terrier with a keener nose and an ability to take to the water in the river valleys. Fame came in World War I when he served in both the British and German armies. As messengers, Airedales were renowned for their ability to withstand devastating injuries and still deliver dispatches. As ambulance dogs, they saved lives by helping to locate wounded soldiers from among the casualties on the battlefield.

Following the war, the Airedale Terrier gained immensely in popularity. Presidents, including Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, and Warren Harding, and the proverbial ‘people next door’ owned and admired the breed for its courage, intelligence, and adaptability.

With the success of movies starring Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart, both German Shepherds, and Lassie, a rough-coated Collie, the Airedale Terrier lost his place as the most popular dog in America. In 2000, the breed ranked 46th in individual registration with 3431 dogs enrolled that year and 60th in litter registrations with 797 litters. Today, the Airedale Terrier can be found in nearly every place on earth with active fancies in Australia, Europe, and South America.

Unlike some others, this breed still possesses strong working instincts and is favored by many families seeking a devoted and protective family dog. In Germany, the Airedale has long been admired for these same qualities and is one of a select group of breeds trained in schutzhund, the discipline that displays canine skills in obedience, tracking, and protection.

Airedale Terriers are natural athletes and can also be found working in search and rescue teams in Europe. They can also be found in obedience and agility competitions with owners who have the perseverance to work through their high-spirited hi-jinks and somewhat stubborn terrier character.

The look of kings

The Airedale Terrier is a medium-sized dog with males standing about 23 inches at the shoulder and weighing about 65 pounds. Bitches are about an inch shorter and weigh five-to-ten pounds less than the males.

In profile, the body and legs of an Airedale should form a square with the height at the shoulders equal to the length of the dog from the front of the chest to the farthest reach of the buttock. All Airedale Terriers are tan or reddish tan in color with a black or grizzle saddle that often extends from high on the neck over the body and tail.

The Airedale has a double coat with hard, dense, wiry outer hairs over a soft undercoat. Longer hair known as furnishings is found on the muzzle, where it is called a beard, and over the full length of the legs. The coat should never be curly, but a slight crinkling or wave, especially on the saddle, is acceptable.

Hand-stripping is necessary to maintain the proper color and texture in the coat. Hand-stripping is relatively easy to learn but time-consuming to accomplish. A professional groomer may charge hundreds of dollars to develop a show quality coat, a procedure that involves several sessions over the course of about three months. For these reasons, most pet owners have their pets clipped by a groomer and accept the resulting softening of the coat and lightening of the color.

Airedale ears fold naturally forward on a long head with large, brown-black eyes and a large dark nose. The tail is docked to about two-thirds of its original length so the tip is level with the top of the head when the dog stands erect and alert.


In describing the proper temperament and in recognition of the loyalty and protectiveness shown to the children of the family, fanciers claim that the Airedale is the only breed that babysits. Naturally alert, this is an excellent watchdog who can be trained to perform all the duties of a working police dog.

Airedales also have a clownish streak that both amuses and exasperates their owners. Often a failure in training results in behavior so comical that the owner and anyone watching will laugh. Unfortunately, the Airedale is such a ham and show-off that their owners may face a new problem from a dog who would rather perform for laughs than learn and display the intended action.

The Airedale Terrier is also highly intelligent and can be a quick learner, but true to his terrier heritage, he is often stubborn and unforgiving of harsh treatment. The way to his kingly heart is firm, consistent training – rough handling and punishment will get you nowhere fast. Hard or abusive training methods will bring failure because the Airedale is truly tougher than any trainer.
Airedale stoicism is a blessing and a curse. Because he is well able to withstand pain and injury, the Airedale’s hurts and illnesses often go unnoticed until they become severe and require veterinary attention.

Fortunately, the breed is hardy and has few health problems. Like many terriers, he is susceptible to skin problems and allergies, and all Airedales used for breeding should be screened for hip dysplasia, von Willebrand’s disease (a bleeding disorder), and low thyroid function.

The Airedale as pet

The moderate size of the Airedale Terrier makes him suitable for life in the city and suburbs as well as the countryside. He does need exercise, so a fenced yard or a long daily walk on a leash must be provided. The Airedale Terrier heritage makes him bold with other dogs, and neither will back down from a fight, so firm leash control is necessary when walking the dog in public. Allowing an Airedale the freedom of a retractable leash can result in disaster if other dogs are present.

Early socialization and training are essential to manage the dominant terrier temperament in a 60-pound body, so it is important to seek out a breeder who not only does the appropriate health screening for the breed, but also chooses breeding dogs for temperament and begins the socialization process from the day the pups are whelped.

If you value loyalty, protectiveness, strength, and a sense of humor and can accept the need for firm yet kind discipline, professional grooming bills, and a pet who demands exercise and companionship, there may be a handsome Airedale in your future. If you have small children, are impatient, don’t have time for training, are physically weak, or cannot naturally assert your authority over a strong-minded dog, think at least twice more before making the decision.

For more information about Airedales visit the club website at

By Gail Brookhart

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