Airedale Terrier: Dog Breed Profile

Characteristics, History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

An Airedale Terrier running on grass

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The Airedale Terrier, also often referred to as 'the King of Terriers', is a strong-willed, sharp-witted, adaptable and energetic breed that is full of character. Their strong personality means they may not be the best choice for the novice dog owner.

Breed Overview

Group: Terrier

Height: 23 to 24 inches (male), the female is slightly smaller

Weight: 40 to 65 pounds

Coat: Hard, wiry, dense, straight, short topcoat, with a softer undercoat

Coat Color: The head and ears are tan, and the body is a mix of tan and black or dark grizzle

Life Expectancy: 11 to 13 years

Characteristics of the Airedale Terrier

Affection Level Medium
Friendliness Medium
Kid-Friendly  Medium
Pet-Friendly  Medium
Exercise Needs  High
Playfulness  High
Energy Level  High
Trainability Medium
Intelligence  High
Tendency to Bark  High
Amount of Shedding Medium

History of the Airedale Terrier

The largest of all the terriers, the breed gets its name from the Aire Valley in Yorkshire, North England, where it was first developed as a versatile all-rounder.

During the middle of the 19th century, when the Industrial Revolution was booming, these dogs were bred by the working class factory workers and farmers of the area.

They're a mix of a number of breeds including the Otterhound and the, now extinct, Black and Tan Terrier. They may also have traces of Bedlington and Irish Terrier, amongst others, in there too.

Known for their versatility, they were often employed to hunt out vermin like rats in factories and farms, and they would help herd and protect livestock, and could even work to the gun on land and in water.

In the early days, they would also often be used in rat hunting competitions held along the banks of the River Aire.

The first Airedales arrived in North America in the 1880s, where their skills as a multi-purpose hunting companion were much appreciated. They were recognized by the AKC in 1888.

The bravery and intelligence of the Airedale was utilized during World War I, and they often acted as lookouts, guard dogs, ratters, supply carriers and messengers.

An Airedale called Jack was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for valor, after managing to deliver a crucial message for reinforcements, despite having been grievously injured by shrapnel.

They also served as police dogs, before they were replaced by the more eager-to-please German Shepherd.

Through the years, there have been many high profile Airedale enthusiasts including Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Warren Harding, and John Wayne.

Airedale Terrier Care

This handsome breed is often quoted as being the smartest of all the Terriers. Their intelligence, combined with their independent streak, means that they have bags of character, but they can also be a challenge. They aren't necessarily going to be the best choice for a novice dog owner.

They will benefit from living in a household that has the time and energy to give them enough exercise to satisfy their athletic and high-spirited nature.

If they don't get enough stimulation, they will look for ways to keep themselves entertained. Along with plenty of exercise, they would benefit from lots of other enrichment around the home.

Making sure you have lots of interactive and tough chew toys and that you'll have time to do short, fun training sessions and other brain train games will greatly reduce the chance of any destructive or wild behavior.

If you're looking for a lapdog, the Airedale isn't for you. They're exceptionally loyal to their family, and they can be very affectionate, but it will be on their terms. They aren't natural-born snugglers.

Their playful, sometimes clown-like, nature means that they often get on well with the children in the household. Because of their size and boisterousness, they may be better suited to a household with older children and ones that have been taught how to be respectful of the dog's space.

While Airedales are usually very affectionate with their own family, they can be aloof with strangers, and their protective instincts can come out if provoked. If not kept under control, they can become prolific barkers and will always alert you to an approaching strangers presence.

With careful introductions, they can form strong bonds with other dogs in the household, but they don't always enjoy the company of other canines, especially those of the same sex.

Early and ongoing socialization can be helpful, but these are often not dogs that will love to romp with other four-legged chums in a dog park.

Their owners will need to have a good understanding of dog behavior and training or be prepared to learn. They can be stubborn and very strong-willed and may also test their owner's patience with their antics.

You won't be able to force an Airedale to do something they don't want to, and they may begin to try to challenge you if you push them too far. It's much better to encourage them to make good choices themselves using reward-based training methods.

If you're able to channel the Airedales fierce intelligence, natural athleticism and exuberant spirit appropriately, they can excel in dog sports or canicross. This can be a great way to keep them enriched and to strengthen the bond between you both.

Airedales, like many terriers, love to dig. If you have a pristine, well-manicured garden, you may want to work on training and provide additional enrichment in this space. A designated digging pit can be useful.

As with many terriers, Airedales can have a high prey drive. You'll have to work hard to achieve a rock-solid recall, and you may have to keep them on-leash in areas where there's a lot of wildlife.

Airedales don't have a high maintenance grooming regime. They aren't prolific shedders either, and a weekly brush out of their hard and wiry, broken coat is usually enough to lift out any dead hairs and keep it in a healthy condition.

Many Airedale owners have their dog's coat hand stripped a few times a year to prevent it from becoming too thick and untidy looking.

An Airedale Terrier standing against a white background
Kamil / Getty Images
Puppy Airedale Terrier licking a teddy bear
Airedale Terrier pups tend to have a darker, less coarse coat than adults. Willee Cole / Getty Images

Common Health Problems

Airedale Terriers are generally regarded as being robust and healthy but, as with any breed, they can be prone to certain inheritable health conditions.

While obtaining a puppy from a reputable breeder that performs health tests will reduce the risk of some of the known conditions developing, there are no guarantees.

Some of the conditions it's worth being aware of include:

Hip Dysplasia: Common amongst many breeds, this relates to the abnormal positioning of one or both of the hip joints. It can cause pain and mobility issues and, in severe cases, surgery can be required to help correct the problem.

Hypothyroidism: This relates to the thyroid underperforming, and this can slow down the metabolism. Symptoms include weight gain, hair loss, coat and skin problems and lethargy. Once diagnosed, the condition can usually be successfully managed through the use of specific thyroid medication.

Heart Disease: It's thought that Airedales could be at higher than average risk of developing heart murmurs or the heart disease Dilated Cardiomyopathy. Good breeders will have a cardiac exam performed on prospective parents.

Allergies: Airedales can be more prone to developing environmental or food allergies, most commonly those affecting the skin. Often a process of elimination will be required to try to identify the cause, and medications and management techniques may be needed to prevent the allergies from flaring up.

Diet and Nutrition

Airedale Terriers, with their deep chests, are more prone to developing Gastric Torsion, commonly referred to as Bloat. This life-threatening condition occurs when the stomach twists abnormally.

There are still a lot of questions surrounding the causes and possible treatments but, for breeds at higher risk, feeding two or three smaller meals a day rather than one large one is recommended. Giving meals from a slow feeder or treat toy, if your dog is a fast eater, is also recommended.

Pros
  • Fun-loving and adaptable

  • Loyal and affectionate with their family

  • Low maintenance grooming regime

Cons
  • Can be stubborn and strong-willed

  • Needs a lot of exercise and enrichment

  • Won't always get on well with other dogs or small furries

Where to Adopt or Buy an Airedale Terrier

Making sure that you select a puppy from a reputable breeder will greatly increase the chances of having a healthy and well-socialized pup. It also means you won't inadvertently be supporting the thriving cruel and unethical puppy farming trade.

Checking out listed breeders through the Airedale Terrier Club of America would be a good place to start.

If you're considering opening your home up to an Airedale in need of a forever home, you could reach out to a breed-specific rescue like Airedale Terrier Rescue and Adoption, or the American Terrier Club of America also have a rescue website.

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

If you're interested in dogs similar to the Airedale Terrier you could also consider the following breeds:

There are lots of wonderful dog breeds out there. By doing your research, you'll find one that will be best suited to having a forever home with you.