History of the Airedale:
The Airedale is a breed that evolved in the mid to late 19th century in Airedale (a geographical area in Yorkshire, in and around the valleys of the River Aire, in England).
Airedales were bred by working men in the Yorkshire Dales by crossing the old black and tan Welsh Terrier with the Otterhound and, according to some, the old English White Terrier (which accounts for the white chest flash and feet of some Airedales) with the idea to breed a versatile dog that could do everything!
Their versatility and intelligence made them popular during wars, they have been used in police forces in the UK and used for hunting.
Airedales are a trimmed breed – traditionally called the “King of Terriers” because it is the largest of the terrier breeds. It is a medium / large muscular, active, fairly ‘cobby’ dog. There should be no suspicion of legginess or undue length of body.
For the Official Breed Standard please refer to the Kennel Union of South Africa website.
Characteristics of Airedale Terriers:
Airedale Terriers make good all-round family pets – they are strong, alert, quick of movement, agile, ‘standing with expectation on its tiptoes at any movement’.
Their character is shown in a keen eye expression, erect tail and ear carriage. They should not be shy, nor aggressive towards other dogs.
Airedales are fun-loving dogs with lots of energy. They are devoted companions, are fearless protectors, and do not shed hair if brushed regularly – a plus for allergy sufferers.
Black and tan – the body/saddle is a black or a dark grizzle (black mixed with grey and white or tan) extending along the back of the neck and top surface of the tail.
All other parts are tan, with darker shading to ears, skull, and neck (particularly when the coat is ‘stripped’). It is acceptable to have a few white hairs between the forelegs.
They weigh 25–30 kilograms (55–66 lb) and have a height at the top of the shoulder of 58–61 cms (23–24 in) for dogs, with females slightly smaller (22-23in). Any gross deviation from these sizes is a major fault, although the American standard specifies a smaller dog.
The Airedale Temperament:
These dogs are outgoing and confident, intelligent, friendly, courageous – fearless but not aggressive.
Airedales thrive on human interaction – they love children and demand to be part of the family and participate in all activities.
You can expect your airedale puppy to dig where you have been digging, eat the weeds you have pulled out, chew the branches you have trimmed, attack the broom you are wielding, and do anything to get your approval and attention!
They cannot be ignored, are intelligent and I have found relatively easy to train with positive reinforcement, but can be stubborn at times – even dominant if allowed!
Airedales have a high pain threshold so take note of any changes in the character of your pet. They are usually a healthy breed although hip dysplasia can be a problem.
Recent studies have identified PLN-associated variant alleles in Airedales as well as Soft Coated Wheatens which in occasional cases may manifest as kidney failure in later years. As with all dogs genetic diseases do occur in very rare occasions.
All breeding stock should be hip X-Rayed and hold an International Hip Dysplasia Certificate. Skin irritations (eg. Eczema) can become a problem if the diet is incorrect or the coat is not regularly groomed.
The Airedale Coat:
The Airedale is a trimmed breed, so some time needs to be spent on the coat. Like many terriers, they have a ‘broken’ coat (this means that they have a harsh, wiry topcoat and a soft undercoat).
They do not moult, but need regular brushing and combing. A little shedding may happen when your dog needs a trim.
In South Africa, most home pet Airedales are clipped. The current trend is to give a clip almost like a Schnauzer cut (I have found that some grooming parlours really have no idea what to do and often a poodle cut is produced).
Clipping leaves the coat very soft – totally unsuitable for showing!
For showing purposes the coat will need to be hand stripped to bring out the hard, wiry texture and rich colour of the coat. Your breeder can give guidelines on hand stripping. Go along to shows and chat with exhibitors (after they have shown) and most are friendly and prepared to help, but there are very few that will strip your dog for you!
The old topcoat should be hand stripped two or three times a year, depending on the coat, and regular brushing and coat maintenance should keep the coat tidy. Keep the leg hair tidy, and clean out the hairs between the pads (where burrs or clumps of mud can accumulate) and keep the nails short to keep the feet compact.
The hardest coats are crinkling or just slightly waved. Curly soft coats are highly undesirable. If possible give your pup a brush for a few minutes a day on a grooming table to teach it to stand on a table for trimming.
Your pup will be ready for its first trim at around six months – it takes a little time to master the art of hand trimming, your breeder will be able to give advice, and there are tutorial DVDs and books available.
As with any large breed, some training is essential – with an Airedale early, consistent training is recommended. Remember each dog is different, and some will be easier to train than others.
Puppy socializing and training should be started as soon as the puppy inoculations are complete.
Remember – an Airedale’s natural exuberance can get out of hand – leaving you with a delinquent at 9 months – so start your basic training from day one.
Airedales can be stubborn, but respond well to fun and a reward – praise system with lavish praise and loving. I have found that they learn quickly from older dogs and each other, and they take to agility and obedience training fairly well – but can go completely deaf and leave you way behind should some small animal cross their path!
They are terriers, so will chase/hunt small animals – take care with your cat and socialize them when young. Early recall training is a must if you ever venture into public places off-lead.
Please remember to take along some disposable nappy packets to ‘pick up’ after your dog – a basic consideration for others, health risks and in some areas there are fines imposed on owners who fail to comply.
This is generally not too difficult as your pup naturally will avoid soiling its home area – take it outside when it awakes and after eating or drinking. A piece of newspaper or artificial grass by the door helps if you are not around.
Airedale puppies grow very rapidly – to avoid hip problems they should not be over-exercised, although they may be taken on short socializing walks. Gradually build up activity when your pup is nearly fully grown.
Pups should not go up and down stairs or become overweight as this puts too much strain on their fast-growing bones. All dogs need exercise for mental and physical health – an Airedale is happy to take as much exercise and play as you can give!
They enjoy a large property to run on, or a run in an open field. In a smaller property a good daily walk (or two shorter walks), and some playtime is needed.
Generally, feeding an adult airedale is not expensive – the amount varying with individuals and lifestyle.
During the first year, while your puppy is growing, your puppy will need a good diet of good quality food as it grows very rapidly – making this period expensive.
I supplement a top brand dog food with a raw diet.
An Airedale enjoys space to run, but if its exercise needs are met – it can fit into most home environments if not too crowded. A well fenced garden is needed (with fencing going below ground level as some airedales will dig. Airedales are social dogs – ideally, someone should be at home during the day – a lonely, bored puppy can become very mischievous – perhaps destructive and vocal.
What can you expect from your breeder:
A puppy contract/sale agreement as recommended by the Kennel Union of South Africa. Your breeder should be knowledgeable – advice and support should be available and given willingly.
A caring breeder will try and find the best possible home for her pups – a questionnaire may help the breeder and prospective owner identify any pitfalls that need discussing, and determine whether this breed is really wanted.
Your best breeders will be involved in shows, as they generally are keen to produce sounder, better-looking dogs – so be prepared to wait for your pup! These breeders usually have their breeding stock hip X-Rayed and scored, and are members of the Kennel Union. The litter is bred as potential show winners, not for monetary gain.
Pups will be well socialized and have a sound start – with dew claws removed, sometimes with the tail docked in South Africa (legislation prevents vets doing this, but breeders may dock the pup’s tails due to popular demand), inoculations and deworming.
Pups will be weaned and will be microchipped wherever possible. Pups are usually released at 8 weeks or later. Breeding restrictions are generally placed on pups from reputable breeders – the purpose of this is to ensure that pups are bred from proven, hip X-Rayed stock.
Generally, breeders are happy to lift restrictions upon receipt of relevant hip certification.