Historical Background of the Airedale Terrier

According to legend, the Airedale, sometimes referred to as the “King of Terriers” since he is the largest member of the earth dog breed, is a cross between various terriers and the Otterhound, another British native. The shaggy-haired hound provided the comparatively amphibious Airedale with not just size and bone but also a keen nose and a love of water. The Airedale’s job description included hunting rats and otters in the streams and rivers of Yorkshire. What is the Airedale Terrier’s history? Together, let’s research this breed’s past.

The Working Terrier

The Airedale was bred as a working dog by working-class men who had the room or resources to raise many dogs, like so many terrier breeds. The Airedale was designed to be a generalist rather than a specialist because of this: in addition to eliminating vermin, he could pursue and kill bigger animals, protect the family farm, recover everything from birds to rabbits, and even herd the odd stray cow. He possessed just as much vigor and passion as his little brethren, despite being too large to dig like most other terriers.

Because of its tough adaptability, the Airedale became a favorite of poachers who sneaked into vast Victorian estates to capture some of the abundant wildlife that was off-limits to commoners. Failure didn’t simply mean returning empty-handed; it also meant not returning at all if you ran across the gamekeeper on patrol with his Bullmastiff. The men would wager as much as a week’s wages on the dog they believed could locate a rat hole on the riverbank, wait for a ferret to flush it out, and then chase its occupant through the water until it closed its powerful jaws around the fleeing rodent. The dogs were frequently successful in the river-rat hunts that the area’s factory and mill workers organized on Saturdays.

Given these humble beginnings, the Airedale was not often shown at dog exhibitions in England in the late 19th century. th Century. He was described fairly ambiguously as a “Broken-Haired Terrier,” “Working Terrier,” or “Waterside Terrier” when entered in local Yorkshire shows. One well-known breeder proposed the term Bingley Terrier as a way to give the breed a more precise name, but it was rejected since it would have given too much credit to the named Yorkshire town. The winding Aire River and its valley, or dale, where this sturdy terrier was bred, inspired the eventual adoption of the name Airedale.

Military Dogs of World War I

If the Great War hadn’t started, the Airedale would have remained a little-known terrier of the Yorkshire countryside. The Airedale established itself as the top military canine during World War I, serving as a sentry, courier, explosives detector, and search dog for injured men. However, his home Britain took some time to recognize his importance in the trenches.

In the 1890s, Germany began experimenting with the modern idea of a police dog when the first Airedale was shipped there. The Airedale fit in perfectly: He was a convenient size, good at tracking, had a weatherproof coat; he was not only devoted and dependable, but also brave and protective when called upon. During the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900, the Germans employed Airedales to patrol and transport messages and ammunition with tremendous effectiveness. By the start of World War I, the Airedale, together with domesticated Doberman Pinscher, German Shepherd Canine, and, in later years, Rottweiler, was a highly regarded military dog in Germany.

Of course, it was bitterly ironic that such a distinctly British breed was regarded as the pinnacle of the German breed. Kriegshund , or battle canine. The British were quick to see the very adaptable resource that was there in front of them as the conflict dragged on.

In The Presence of the Enemy

Col. Edwin Richardson, a gentleman farmer, had developed a keen interest in the usage of war dogs by the ancient Greeks and Romans in the closing years of the Victorian period. As a result, he quickly found himself in demand globally to provide canines for that purpose. Airedales, Collies, and Bloodhounds were among the breeds he sent to Russia during the Russo-Japanese War, as well as to Turkey to help protect a sultan’s 700-woman harem and to India to assist ethnic Nepali Gurkhas in upholding British control there.

Finally back home in 1910, Richardson started the British War Dog School using Airedales and several sheepdog breeds. (Richardson was aware that the Germans had successfully utilized Collies as stock for their military dogs when they came to Britain to buy them.) But quickly it became clear that the sharp, harsh-coated terriers outperformed them all. In the end, Richardson sent almost 2,000 dogs—many of them Airedales—to the front.

There are many tales of the perseverance and sheer bravery of these Airedales throughout the war, with Jack’s tale being the most spectacular. Jack, a member of Richardson, sprinted half a mile amid a hail of gunfire and mortars. His front leg was injured and his jaw was broken when he reached his location. He dutifully allowed the removal of a crucial message from his collar before passing out instantly. The Victoria Cross, the highest honour in the British military system, was subsequently granted to him in recognition of his bravery “in the midst of the enemy.”


From the Titanic to the Whitehouse

As soon as the public learned about the exploits of Airedales like Jack, the popularity of the breed skyrocketed. As with so many breeds with working-class foundations, individuals with the money and clout to advance them started to take note of the Airedale Terrier, including socialite Mrs. John Jacob Astor, whose Airedale Kitty died on the Titanic, and four US presidents.

The renowned black inventor and newspaper publisher Garrett Augustus Morgan, a well-known American who also had a similar rise-from-your-bootstraps tale, is also linked to the breed. Morgan created the first chemical hair straightener, a “hair refining crème,” which he initially tried on his neighbor’s Airedale, in addition to the traffic light and the gas mask. (It worked so well that the dog’s owner first tried to shoo him out of the home since she didn’t recognize him.)

The day following his inauguration in 1921, President Warren Harding bought Airedale, a six-month-old dog called Laddie Boy. The terrier received extensive press coverage for sitting in his own hand-carved chair during cabinet meetings, starting the modern tradition of having the First Dog’s eccentricities covered nonstop by the media, from his bone-cake birthday celebrations to his considerate retrieving of Harding’s lost golf balls. In contrast, the 29 th President ordered the production of 1,000 little bronze sculptures of Laddie and gave them to his followers.

Political memorabilia enthusiasts are still actively looking for some of those statuettes that are still around today. The Airedale has endured more than a century of existence with virtually as little alteration as his little bronze likenesses, which cannot be said of many other breeds outside the Terrier Group, which is highly tradition-focused and fad-averse. The Airedale continues to fight despite having been baptized by the chilly River Aire and formed by the heat and smoke of war.

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Michael Hogan

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