Origins of the Airedale Terrier

Author’s note: I am fortunate to have some old and rare books about the Airedale and have used them for the research in this article. I gave the greatest weight to those who did actual interviews, or spoke from personal experience. Later into the 20th century, writers began to summarize what other writers had written, in some cases, representing opinion as fact. I have footnoted my information and listed my sources in the bibliography. Meanwhile: this is rather a lengthy page…enjoy!

Origins of the Airedale Terrier:
A Dog Bred To Be The Jack of All Trades

The Airedale Terrier is a muscular, squarely built dog, standing somewhere close to 23 inches tall at the shoulder, and usually 50-70 pounds. The largest of the terrier breeds that originate from the British Isles, the Airedale sports a wiry stiff black and tan coat of hair with dense black or gray undercoat. Their dark eyes are set in a head of rectangular outline, set off with a drop ear of triangular shape. The body is a combination of moderate features, including a level topline, and a high set and carried tail. Their mischievous character makes them unique and unmistakable. Although not as old a breed as some, Airedales have a dedicated following of owners and fanciers.(12)

Owners of Airedales may wonder at the tendencies of their dogs to chase cats, commence ambitious and extensive excavation projects in inconvenient locations, and to persistently carry around the TV remote or other inappropriate items. So when your freshly bathed and groomed Airedale starts prancing through every available water puddle, or comes happily up to you caked in mud, this information will help you understand just why they like it so much!

The crosses that produced the Airedale Terrier as we know it today were unrecorded by the men who developed the dogs to help them in their daily pursuits. Fifty years later, R.M. Palmer, author of All About Airedales interviewed one reputable, international judge, Airedale breeder and longtime Yorkshire resident, Mr. George Raper, who remarked:

…those who were responsible for the making of the breed had but meager exact knowledge of what constituted their make-up, for they seemingly “just grew” into being, from a general pot-pouri (sic) of the sporting dogs in the dale of the Aire, which comprised all sorts and conditions of a dog useful to the poacher….(1)

As you might be aware, a poacher is one who trespasses onto privately or publicly owned lands for the purpose of hunting game.

Another early author, F.M. Jowett, wrote The Complete Story of The Airedale Terrier, copyrighted 1913, and personally interviewed the oldest waterside hunters of Aire, finding that:

…all generally agreed on one point, and that was that the Airedale Terrier was first created by a series of crosses between the Otter Hound, and the rough-haired black and tan Old English Terrier, and that the cross was usually made by an Old English Terrier dog to an Otter Hound bitch.(2)

Figure 1: Internet source: [ accessed 5/4/01]
Title: Otterhounds Breaking Cover
Walter Hunt oil painting
circa 1900

Both these two breeds were kept and hunted from Bingley for many years. Otter Hounds are still with us today, but the Old English Black and Tan Terrier no longer exists as it did before the turn of the twentieth century. The modern Welsh Terrier is descended from them. The same author described them as follows:

My father kept these Old English Terriers and I remember them very well. In appearance they were somewhat similar to the modern Welsh Terrier, but much larger, weighing about 25 to 30 pounds. Judged by modern show standards, they would be considered coarse and cloddy all through. They were strong in skull, with deep, powerful jaws, plenty of bone and substance all through, with a good close, hard wiry coat, black on back and tan on head and legs, their general appearance giving one the impression of a game, sturdy, hardy Terrier. These dogs were thorough vermin killers, good water dogs, and would fight till they were dead.… These Old English Terriers were originally used for waterside hunting, but they were somewhat deficient in nose and had not always the power to cross the river at all points, as the river Aire runs very strongly in places.(2)

Decades later, writers credit the Otter Hound and Welsh Harrier with providing the genetic beginnings of the Airedale breed. The Welsh Harrier is not defined and may be another name for the Black and Tan. Still other writers credit the Bull-terrier as well as sheep herding breeds. All of this is speculation and the literature indicates that some authors seem to be borrowing others’ guesses and quoting them as fact. The earliest and most reliable sources quoted above were based on interviews with sportsmen living in that area during the time the Airedales were developed.

While the origins of the breed were unrecorded, we can say that the place is known. It is called Airedale, which is a manufacturing district in West Riding of Yorkshire, England, especially between Skipton and Bradford, an area of about twenty miles, which embraces the townships of Cononley, Silsden, Keighley, Bingley and Shipley. Through this valley runs the river Aire, which played a part in shaping the Airedale as the function of the dog required a form able to do the work required of it.

As a breed of dog that “just grew”, the Airedale Terrier was shaped by the conditions and events engaged in by the people owning them. The Yorkshire man, mainly factory workers, wanted a practical dog, one that could be useful in whatever type of hunting available. On Saturdays, a large crowd of men would watch with keen interest and bet on the results of a waterside hunt on the banks of the River Aire for water rats. No doubt the winners of large stakes were bred to more often, since word of mouth was the most powerful advertising of the day. Unlike many kenneled dogs of the day, these dogs were the companions of their owners and their intelligence was developed by living in their owners’ houses where they were treated like one of the family. During the day, when the men were at work, the dog would be left to protect the home and family. After work, the dog and master would go out for a walk on the riverside-as hares, rabbits, pheasants, partridges, and grouse were all said to be plentiful at the time. Master and dog would look for something to supplement the family’s supper, and quite probably, getting onto the gamekeeper’s grounds to do it!

Figure 2: Handley, L. deB., A Brief for the Airedale Terrier, Country Life, May, 1909, p 68.
Title: Waterside Wizard
Example of stocky, solid body type
circa 1909

Two body types were soon evident. A solid, stocky type was reported as early as 1909, that was somewhat round boned, analogous to the Quarter Horse or Shetland pony style of build in horses. The bones are rounded, and the cross-section of the chest is also rounded. The muscles are thick and compact, and dogs of this type tend to be very strong. Breeders must take care to avoid extremes in this build showing up as problems of coarseness, with a lack of breed type. The other type of build is flat boned, with a more oval cross-section to the chest. The muscles are relatively flatter and longer also, more analogous to the Thorobred racehorse, or the Arabian. Dogs of this build tend to be fast and have stamina over distance. Breeders must guard against the extreme of a weedy, racy dog without substance. Some are so well balanced in the middle that they are difficult to categorize as one or the other and seem to have many of the advantages of both body types.(12)

Figure 3: Handley, L. deB., A Brief for the Airedale Terrier, Country Life, May, 1909, p 68.
Title: Briar Masterpiece
Example of flatter boned body type
circa 1909

Early proponents of the breed were defensive of the “common” origins of the breed and it was hotly debated with too few known facts to prove any one theory. There are a few genetic facts that reflect well on the origin of the breed. First, it is unlikely that there were too many breeds involved-within 50 years Airedales were breeding true to the standard, with parents of litters reproducing their own traits in a reliable, predictable fashion. This allowed breeders to make steady improvements of conformation and type in the Airedale. Breeds stemming from many breeds take hundreds of generations to sort, such as the Dobermann Pinscher. Another interesting occurrence in the early nineteen-eighties from a pair of AKC Champions, bred on the East Coast, where a breeding resulted in a normal litter of 8 or 10-two of which were liver factored. These two puppies had brown skin pigment instead of black, beige hair where tan was normal and brown saddles. They were placed in non-breeding pet homes. Since liver is a recognized color in the Otter Hound, the source of this recessive is easily traced.

The breed was proving so popular that classes were established in 1879 at the Airedale Agricultural Show in Bingley, and by 1885 were recognized as a separate breed, earning Championships in England. The breed began to gain popularity steadily after that early formative period. The first Airedale to come to America was named “Bruce” and he was exhibited at Westminster Kennel Club in 1881. Classes were established for Airedales in 1899. The Airedale Terrier Club of America (ATCA) was founded in 1900. The Yorkshire factory worker’s dog was now selling for amounts as high as £400 to export to the United States, purchased by influential and wealthy men.

Figure 4: Lithographic reproduction of oil painting by Arthur Wardle titled: Mistress Royal and Master Royal, Airedales of the Twentieth Century, circa 1900,from the collection of Nancy Secrist.
Title: Airedales of the Twentieth Century
Ch. Mistress Royal and Ch. Master Royal
circa 1900

There followed a heyday of popularity where the Airedale became THE dog to have in America. The hyperbole began. In an agricultural magazine dated 1909, the Airedale was promoted is just this fashion:

He is peacefully disposed and hard to arouse, for he hates an undignified brawl. But once his ire is provoked, woe to man or beast who suffers the consequences. He is a wonderfully bitter and clever fighter when driven into battle. Once let loose he becomes a fiend incarnate. Fast on his feet, cunning, and merciless, he fights to kill, and what with his punishing jaw and great strength he seldom loses. (3)

The Yorkshire factory worker’s dog proved adaptable to many uses. Airedales began to gain many strong proponents in the American West with bounty hunters as they hunted large predators such as cougar, lynx, bear, and just about anything else. Airedale became the third most popular breed in the United States by 1910.

While much of the hyperbole was impossible, factual reports of the Airedale’s activities were near unbelievable, yet true. Accounts abound of Airedales bravely taking on bears, cougars, bobcats, and even African Lion. One such example was published in the book, The Airedale for Work and Show, by A.F. Hochwalt and copyrighted 1921:

E.R. Shelley has had considerable experience in handling the Paul Rainey pack in Africa. Perhaps no man alive today has had more varied adventures with dogs in Africa than Shelley….Some Airedales,” says Shelley, “are more careful fighters than others and a careful fighting Airedale is most valuable of all fighting dogs when it comes to lions or the other big game of Africa….I admire the Airedale for his extreme gameness, but when I get one that is game and careful, too, I think I have a treasure.” (13)

The popularity of the breed in the United States continued to rise. Within 10 years of “Bruce’s” first ring appearance, a specialty entry of 139 was judged and the English imported CH Kenmare Sorceress won Best In Show at Westminster, the most prestigious show of the United States. Beautiful sterling silver trophies were awarded at many shows, where the stream of expensive English imports dominated, though there were good American breeders to challenge them with domestically bred dogs. During the early days of American Kennel Club shows, the American-bred classes were instituted as a way to showcase the American dogs while the English imports tended to dominate competition in most of the terrier breeds at the higher levels. In 1910, the ATCA offered the impressive Airedale Bowl as a perpetual trophy, and continues to this day, now mounted on three hardwood pedestal bases, added as needed to hold the engraved plates detailing the names of hundreds of dogs that have been awarded Best of Breed at the National Specialties. The kennel names of Shelterock, Briarcroft, York, Vickery, Kenmare, and others were found on many of the winning dogs of the day.

Figure 6: Cover of Saturday Evening Post, November 18, 1918 from the collection of Nancy Secrist.

The years before World War I provided a dynamic time of growth in numbers, quality, and keen interest among the fanciers of the breed. During World War I, the Airedale was trained to help Red Cross workers to help find wounded soldiers, as well as guard and sentry uses, not only by the United States, but also by Germans, British, and Russians.
Airedale became the most popular breed of the United States in 1920. Many more dogs were showing in American Kennel Club (AKC) licensed events for the title of champion. To earn the required 15 points for a championship, a required number of dogs must be defeated in competition. The number of points assigned to a win is determined by the AKC and adjusted each year based on the number of dogs entered the previous year. Further, at least 2 wins of 3 or more points called “majors” are required as well as the total of 15 points total. By 1925, now third again in popularity, 30 of one sex were required for a 3 point major and 65 of one sex for the winner to earn a 5 point major. By comparison, in the year 2000, an entry of 6 or 9 depending on the sex were required for a 3 point major and 11 or 15 depending on sex for the winner to earn a 5 point major, in the state of New York.14 By 1930, they had fallen to eighteenth place in popularity, and gradually drifted lower after that. Less than one tenth as many in 1930 were registered as compared to 1920. Just 4 members attended the ATCA annual meeting in 1930 and many regional clubs were dissolved.6 The Great Depression had begun.

This is a good point at which to clarify the facts concerning a kennel which one author in the early 1980’s termed the source of “Dogdom’s Greatest Sales Pitch”. Walter Lingo, of LaRou in Central Ohio, bred his first litter when he was 9 years old. He found that by leasing to area farmers, and contracting with them to purchase the puppies, he was able to maintain a breeding base of up to 2,000 bitches, producing 15,000 to 26,000 puppies in one year at the peak. An original catalog of the Oorang Kennels promotes 12 stud dogs, with a stud fee of $25, or just $10 plus a male puppy from the resulting litter. The pedigrees are given, and the dogs are second and third generation descendants of the current show lines, namely Soudan, Rockley, Colne, even CH Abbey King Nobbler, a top winner of the era. (8)

Figure 8: From Oorang Comments and Catalog, No. 26, p. 165.

Dogs were given as promotion to winners of contests, silent film stars, baseball player Ty Cobb, and two were given to the editor of Field & Stream magazine, who favored the kennel with complimentary ads and even a fictional book or two, featuring Oorang Airedales. A stud dog was donated for Red Cross work in Europe to the military during WWI, then, after the war, promoted in advertising for the purpose of breeding. The kennel sponsored a football team headed by Jim Thorpe, who had been acknowledged as a top athlete in the Olympics and later as first president of the National Football League. One of the Airedales was presented during a Memorial Day game in a home plate ceremony to the 1922 manager of the Cleveland Indians. An original catalog published by the kennel consists mostly of testimonials from recipients of the dogs. (8)

The promotion resulted in high demand and recognition of the Oorang name. Farmers brought bitches in season to the breeding and shipping kennels. After whelping them, farmers brought their weaned puppies into the LaRue headquarters, they were paid $10-15 and the pups went to the sorting sheds. There some were sold immediately for $35 to $50, others were sorted out for different reasons-their catalog promised conformation show dogs, hunters, watch dogs, Red Cross trained dogs, and in any size from 40 to 100 pounds. The catalog lists 60 pounds and up as “large type”. There were training buildings, conditioning buildings, and an office for the orders and breeding records. Wild game such as bear and foxes were kept on the premises to train young dogs. Adolescents were sent west to be trained as hunting packs on bear, cougar, and other game for sport or bounty fees. After a period of months, the survivors were sold as a trained pack. A trained lion pack consisting of 3 Airedales and 3 hounds would sell for up to $5,000. Keep in mind that this is the dollar of the ninteen-twenties!

Figure 7: From Oorang Comments and Catalog, No. 26, p. 90.

By 1926, the bottom fell out of the market for Airedales. One source quotes that 12,000 of the Oorang dogs and puppies were put down, many were given away to any who would take them, and the kennel went bankrupt. Walter Lingo sold Airedales on a much smaller scale in the ninteen-forties and fifties under the name Lingo Rue Kennels. He died in 1967. (7)

Even today, you can find kennels advertising “Oorang Airedales”. These breeders seek to mislead the public with the idea that their dogs are a breed apart, or a consistent, recognizable strain. The Oorang dogs were never standardized because the boom conditions lasted only a few short years and the kennel supplied all types and sizes of dogs to owners for many different reasons. Any breeder may use the prefix “Oorang” on any puppy, and often does. Sometimes descriptions of “large type”, “mountain bred”, or “hunting type” are used. (12)

Anyone researching what type of Airedale to purchase needs to ask the same questions concerning health, care, and temperament that are asked of any breeder. One source quoted as “a guidepost of the early days” in the ATCA Yearbook 1900-1950 is as follows:

There is no such thing as a working type of Airedale and a show type. There is only one correct type of Airedale for any purpose he may be put to. There is no more excuse for breeding soft-coated, houndy eared, thick skulled, light eyed mutts, and calling them working type of Airedale (sic), than there is for small, nervous, all quality show type, so called, lacking in bone, substance, gameness, or any essential of the real working dog. It must be firmly fixed in the breeder’s mind that the one and only correct ideal is the combination of the best qualities of the real champion show dog with all the abilities and qualities of the true Waterside Terrier, bred for business and show ring, and bred to conform to the Standard as it is. (5)

The decades that followed were hard times for the United States and for the Airedale. From 1930 to the mid-forties, Airedales comprised approximately 1% of the registrations of all breeds in the American Kennel Club. Problems of shy and spooky temperament and the opposite extreme of overly aggressive behavior both to other dogs and to people were all too common. The reputation of the breed suffered. Only the dedicated breeders remained to work with the breed to undo the damage of exploitive breeding practices.5
In 1942, with the entry of the United States into World War II, Dogs for Defense, Inc. was founded. The 1900-1950 ATCA Yearbook notes a parade of Airedales at the North Westchester Show, prior to their donation to the program. In England, the breed was quite extensively used by the military. Once again, the Airedale played an important role in messenger, guard, sentry, and other war time efforts. Sadly, any dogs not directly used by Britain’s military were often put down due to the food shortages and other war time hardships. In the United States, the middle of the nineteen-forties brought a healthy steady increase to moderate popularity for the Airedale. In England, the recovery was slower due to the effects of war, but the dogs were perhaps of higher quality, without the effects of faddish popularity experienced earlier in the United States. (6,12)

During the early sixties the American Airedales received a much needed boost with the importation of new English imports. The master breeders of England had had a little over 10 years to recover from the effects of World War II, and resume the propagation of the breed. These imports revitalized the breed with new genetics from the homeland of the Airedale Terrier. Many conformation faults were minimized or corrected. Temperament further improved and the Airedale’s success in the show ring increased very noticeably. A new wave of English imports all through the sixties and seventies contributed to the Airedale’s current healthy situation.(12)

Figure 9: Edwards, Gladys Brown, The New Complete Airedale Terrier, third edition, Howell
Publishing, 1978, p 94.

In modern times, the breed serves many useful purposes. Most Airedale puppies are purchased by previous owners who specifically desire the Airedale brand of companionship. They have been a long term favorite in Germany as a personal protection dog in the sport of Schutzhund. This European sport has been compared to a triathlon for dogs and consists of tracking, obedience, and protection exercises. In the United States, they have received certification in Search and Rescue, Drug Detection, and in the many performance sports offered through the AKC, including obedience, tracking, and agility.(14, 15)

The Airedale Terrier breed continues today at or near the 40th position among the more than 130 AKC recognized breeds. Moderate popularity assures a vital gene pool with sufficient diversity for the breed to prosper. Moderate popularity also protects the breed from the effects of exploitation common with rapid increases in numbers and poor selection of breeding stock-you could say, been there, done that! The breed has a similar basis of popularity in many countries of the world including Canada, Northern Europe, Japan and Australia. Nicknamed “The King of Terriers” they are owned largely by owners and breeders who are strong proponents and fanciers of the breed, dedicated to maintaining temperament, health, and the many characteristics that define the Airedale Terrier. (12, 14)


1. Palmer, R.M., All About Airedales, The AAA Publishing Co., 1911-1913, p 4.
2. Jowett, F.M., The Complete Story of The Airedale Terrier, Dogs In America Publishing Co., 1913, p 5, 7.
3. Handley, L. deB., A Brief for the Airedale Terrier, Country Life, May, 1909, pp 67, 68, 78.
4. AKC Calendar of Events, supplement to the AKC Gazette, Volume 117, Number 3, March, 2000.
5. Airedale Terrier Club of America Yearbook 1900-1960, Club Publication, 1960, p 36.
6. Airedale Terrier Club of America Yearbook 1900-1950, Club Publication, 1950.
7. Duffy, David Michael, Dogdom’s Greatest Sale Pitch, Outdoor Life, Volume 168, Number 1, pp96-98.
8. Oorang Comments and Oorang Catalog, Number 26, 1924.
9. Bruette, William A., The Airedale: History, Breeding, Training, Forest and Stream Publishing Co., 1916-1920.
10. Aspinall, J.L. Ethel, The Airedale Terrier, The Hotspur Press, 1950.
11. Cummins, Bryan, The Working Airedale, OTR Publishing, 1994.
12. Edwards, Gladys Brown, The New Complete Airedale Terrier, third edition, Howell Publishing, 1978.
13. Hochwalt, A.F., The Airedale for Work and Show, Sportsman’s Review Publishing Company, 1921
14. The American Kennel Club, Internet website: [ accessed 5/6/01]
15. Dr. Christa von Bardeleben, Das Rasse-Portrait: Airedale Terrier, (German) Kylos Verlag, 1989.

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