The Airedale Terrier — What to Expect of This Dog Breed

Airedales do well on high-quality dog foods.

The Valley of the Aire in West Riding, Yorkshire, was the birthplace of the Airedale Terrier. The exact date is unknown but indications are that the breed began to be developed in the middle of the nineteenth century. They were bred as an answer to the average factory workers desire to hunt otter. To hunt this game properly required a pack of Otterhounds and a “Terrier” or two.

The Airedale is believed to be the “Old English Black-and-Tan Terrier,” the “Broken-coated Working Terrier” and the “Rough-coated Black-and-Tan Terrier” outcrossed to the Otter Hound among others. All accounts of the “creation” of the point to a possible cross with a Border Collie or some other sheepdog. Some accounts also point to the Bull Terrier, while others insist that this outcross never took place.

These dogs were known for their gritty ability to take on any adversary and give a good account of themselves. They were broken to guns and trained to retrieve. They were fierce competitors in the water-rat matches.

Albert Payson Terhune sums up the Airedale concisely: “Among the mine-pits of the Aire, the various groups of miners each sought to develop a dog which could outfight and outhunt and OUTTHINK the other miner’s dog. Out of the experiments emerged the modern Airedale. He is swift, formidable, graceful, big of brain, an ideal chum and guard. There is almost nothing he cannot be taught if his trainer has the slightest gift of teaching. Every inch of him is in use. No flabby by-products. a perfect machine- a machine with a brain, plus.”

The first Airedale known to come to America was Bruce brought over by C. H. Mason. Bruce was the sire of Bess, who was the dam of Airedale Jerry, root of the family tree.

Airedales have successfully mastered everything from big-game hunting, coon-hunting, being excellent police dogs to obedience work. Not every Airedale excels in every area, but over time many have done a variety of duties very well.

Today Airedales are still used as hunting dogs, watch dogs, and even obedience and agility dogs, but they are, first and foremost, faithful, loyal and entertaining companions.



Airedales do well on high-quality foods. Some may have slightly dry “itchy” skin and can be supplemented with certain oils and kelp. Also many Airedales respond well to lamb and rice foods.

One thing worth mentioning here is how long to feed puppy food. Some research indicates that feeding puppy food for too long can increase the incidence of hip dysplasia in dogs that are susceptible to it. The theory is that the higher percentage of protein found in puppy formulas can accelerate growth before the developing skeleton can support the weight. Some breeders start feeding adult food very early. Most people tend to gradually switch to adult food at 8-10 months. Again, this is something to discuss with the breeder and your veterinarian.


Many pet Airedales are clippered to the characteristic King of Terriers look. A good groomer should be able to provide this service. If not, contact a breeder in your area, many will be willing to provide grooming assistance on a limited basis. Airedales should be brushed with a pin brush on a daily basis to remove dead hair, since they do not “shed.” Slickering their furnishings (leg hair and face hair) will also remove dead hair, allowing new hair to grow in.

Airedales do “blow” their coat if it is allowed to grow out.

Dogs to be shown are stripped and trimmed. This is described in a couple of the books at the end of this FAQ. It is a very time consuming endeavor and somewhat difficult art to master.


Airedales prefer to be with their families but also love to romp and play. A fenced area is great for exercise and play, while after play, they are ready to make great house dogs.

Airedales are lovers of digging. They are definitely “terre-iers.” Always keep that in mind when preparing an exercise area.

Crate training is a good idea for the young dog. As he gets older he may tend to use this as his “den” and has a secure area for travelling or your long days at work.


Airedales are very active dogs and need lots of exercise. They need a fairly large area to romp and play. Daily walks are great exercise and fun time for both you and your Airedale.

Airedales can tend to be “dog aggressive,” which makes socialization and obedience training a must.


As with other breeds, begin socializing your Airedale at an early age. Socialization will begin to lay the groundwork for a happy and obedient companion by increasing the dog’s confidence. Airedales can tend to be “dog aggressive,” which makes socialization and obedience training a must. Your dog must respect you but you have to earn that respect. Your puppy needs a consistent set of rules to live by. For example, will he be allowed on the couch or not? Consistent rules will produce a reliable companion. Puppy classes, if available, are a good idea.

Airedales do not respond well to harsh methods of training. They want to make you happy, but they have to understand what is expected of them.

Several hints for successful training are:

  • Don’t bore your dog. Airedales will not become “robots.” He will go check out an interesting onlooker before repeating the same “silly” heeling pattern over and over.
  • Remember that Airedales are “thinkers.” Don’t ask them to do foolish things. The only time my old girl ever broke a down was because the “judge person” was foolish enough to set the dogs up in the sun so that the judge could stand in the shade on a hot July afternoon.
  • Use positive motivation. It doesn’t matter how silly you feel, he has to feel as though he is making you happy. Be creative. Remember, Airedales are thinkers, not robots.
  • Approach each “training” session as an opportunity to learn more about your companion. Try to look at each command from your dog’s point of view. This way of thinking will increase the mutual respect that should develop while training.
  • Increase your chances for success by working with people who appreciate and understand terriers. Do NOT allow any obedience instructor or anyone else to compare your Airedale to those “perfect” Shelties, Borders and GSDs. I heard a story of a woman working an Airedale in an obedience class taught by a Border Collie trainer. During one class, they were working on heeling patterns. The instructor was busy pointing out the Airedale’s inability to follow the pattern as the instructor and Border Collie tumbled over a jump while the Airedale watched from a perfect sit just in front of the jump. The “stupid” terrier just “smiled.”

You must be very flexible in training your Airedale. Expect the unexpected and know your companion. Do not try to put a square peg into a round hole. It is a very common misconception that Airedales cannot be trained. Airedales simply require more ingenious and patient trainers.


Look for a reputable breeder when selecting your Airedale puppy. If possible, visit the home of your potential puppy. Remember that the first 8 weeks of any puppy’s life are very important. A great companion/show dog begins at birth.

Make list of questions before talking to or visiting the breeder. Observe the puppy’s environment. How do the puppies react to the breeders? How do they react to you? Is their area clean? Ask the breeder if the parents have been checked for dysplasia? Has there been a family history of allergies? Have the puppies been around children? Have they been around cats? Will the breeder be available to answer questions in the future? Does the breeder offer a contract?

It is virtually impossible for a breeder to guarantee that the health of any animal, but the breeder should be willing to take the animal back and replace it! Responsible breeders will often require that the animal be returned to them, if for any reason, you are unable to keep the animal. This ensures them that the animal will be cared for in the future. What vaccines have been given? Have the puppies been wormed? (various areas need various levels of worming, due to climates.)These are just examples of some of the questions that you should ask.

If possible, go look at several litters and talk to several breeders.

Remember that you are selecting a companion for many years to come, so take your time, make sure that your are choosing not only a compatible breed, but also a compatible animal and breeder!! Expect a lot of questions from your breeder. He/she is also selecting a companion for an animal into which many hours of love, thought and energy have been invested.

When you pick up your puppy, your breeder can tell you the puppy’s schedule, brand of food and can recommend a future diet. Then you can gradually change the diet to suit your preferences. Remember that sudden changes in diet can severely disrupt the puppy’s digestive system and cause gastric distress. The Airedale can eat quite a bit, especially as a young and rapidly growing puppy.

For additional information on learning to live with your new puppy, see the RPD FAQ entitled “Your New Puppy” written by Cindy Moore.

Remember in many cases, an older dog may suit your particular situation much better than a young puppy. Many breeders place older puppies and dogs. These dogs are often “show prospects” that didn’t mature as was expected or maybe were returned to the breeder for various reasons. (My personal experience with adopting an older dog has been very successful.) Every breed rescue organization is in search of good potential adoptive homes. Rescue dogs often require additional work but can also be very rewarding.

If considering an older puppy or dog, please read the RPD FAQ entitled “Your New Dog” also written by Cindy Moore, for more information.


Remember that Airedales and other terriers are very smart and personable dogs. They are not dogs that should be left to their own devices. You could be quite surprised at their ingenuity. A trained Airedale could become the best friend that you will ever have. Keep your sense of humor and a consistent set of rules for your dog, and you will be rewarded with a companion without compare. You must be as smart, patient and assertive as the friend you are choosing.

General Health and Special Medical Problems

Airedales, in general, are very healthy and hardy animals. Some do have health problems, but in many cases, these are only minor.

Airedales, like all other larger breeds, have occurrences of hip dysplasia. These cases are not common but the possibility should be addressed. When selecting a puppy, always question the breeder about the condition of the parents’ hips. Many breeders have preliminary hip x-rays done at a year of age (these x-rays cannot be sent in for an OFA number), prior to beginning a “show” career.

Airedales, like many terriers, may have “itchy” skin. This could be a sign of many things. Sometimes it is nothing more than a dietary problem, and sometimes it is an symptom of hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. All of the above can normally be treated and controlled easily. “Itchy” skin may also be a symptom of allergies. These allergies may be food or other. My experience has been that the first place to start is with the diet. Some Airedales do better on a quality lamb and rice food, others do not.

Always take the time to keep your Airedale’s ears clean and dry (this helps prevent infections or irritations.), toe nails trimmed, teeth cleaned (doing this at home on a regular basis can prevent gum disease and other dental problems, and it is good practice for trips to the vet.), and remember to keep the hair trimmed between the pads.

Always consult with your veterinarian and breeder about any health concerns.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where can I find Airedale breeders in my area?

The Airedale Terrier Club of America maintains a membership list. Or, check with an Airedale Rescue Organization

How should I choose a breeder? What should I expect from my breeder?

Choosing a breeder is equally as important as choosing a breed or a puppy. You should contact sources such as the ones listed above, go to dog shows, or talk to vets in the area. Talk to as many different breeders as possible. You should choose a breeder that is willing to work with you and help you choose the right animal for you. Your breeder should ask questions of you. He/she should be very concerned with the welfare of the puppy that is being placed in your care. If you can visit the breeder, you should. You should observe the interaction between the breeder and his/her animals. Do the animals seem happy, well-cared for, and clean?

A good breeder will present you with health records, a pedigree and, in most cases, a contract. Most of these contracts will at a minimum stipulate that:

  • the animal is in good health
  • the animal shall be kept up-to-date on vaccinations (and other health concerns cared for; i.e. heartworm, intestinal parasites, flea control, etc.)
  • all local leash laws be obeyed
  • the animal shall be returned to the breeder, if for any reason, you are unable to keep the dog
  • the animal shall be replaced in the case of hereditary health issues that are debilitating to the animal
  • the animal shall be spayed or neutered (unless there is a special agreement; i.e. potential show prospect)

Many breeders will sell puppies only on a limited registration with the AKC, unless there is a special agreement. Your breeder should make himself/herself available to answer questions and try to help solve problems (should they arise) in the future. As noted in the 1998 ATCA Roster and Information Booklet, good breeders accept responsibility for dogs they produce and take them back if they need help, re-evaluating and placing them in suitable new homes. Irresponsible breeders fail to live up to these expectations.

Limited Registration

Limited Registration, with AKC, means that the dog is registered but no litters produced by that dog are eligible for registration. Limited registration means that the dog may not be entered in breed competition at AKC licensed events, but may compete in other licensed events such as Herding Trials and Obedience Tests.

Are Airedales good with children?

As is the case with all dogs, both the children and the dog must be taught to respect each other. Children must be taught that taking toys or bothering the dog while he/she is eating are not good habits. Also, the dog should be taught that jumping on people or “mouthing” are not acceptable traits. Every household will have a different set of rules (which should be carefully considered before getting any dog) which must be clearly and consistently conveyed to everyone (adults, children, and the dog). With proper training and patience, Airedales are wonderful with older children. I, personally, would never leave a young child and any dog together unattended.

It is very advisable to seek the advice of an expert in training when introducing your dog to children. It is very important for the dog to maintain the position of “dog” within the hierarchy without discounting the importance and needs of the dog.

Is a fenced yard “required” for owning an Airedale?

Although a fenced yard is not a requirement for owning an Airedale, it is a very big plus! Before bringing a dog in to your household, you should consider what you will do on days that you are sick, running late, or for some other reason unable to walk the dog. Many areas have some type of leash law and, for the health of the dog, you should never allow the dog to run freely, without some type of boundary. Remember that Airedales were bred to hunt and terriers, in general, will chase “furry creatures” with reckless abandon for fun.

Is it true that Airedales are good for people with allergies?

While it is true that many people that are allergic to some other breeds seem to have fewer problems living with Airedales, the fact that you have allergies is not a sufficient reason to get an Airedale. You are adding a member to your household and should consider the temperament, size, your schedule and many other things when selecting a pet. There are other breeds, (for example; Poodles) which are also “less allergic”, which may suit you and yours better.

Are older Airedales adaptable into new environments? When is a rescue or older dog a good choice for me?

Airedales are very adaptable into new environments. Like most animals, they respond very well to loving and structured situations. Older dogs are sometimes more desirable for a specific situation than puppies. One example is a family or person that simply doesn’t want to deal with housebreaking a puppy. Maybe you are a little older and want the companionship of a dog but not the energy of a puppy. What if you are a jogger and want a companion? (It is not advisable for a young puppy to jog!) There are lots of situations where an older animal may be a better fit into your home.

Older animals may include rescues (for whatever reason) or older animals that a breeder may desire to place into a good home. Always get as much background on an animal as possible. Medical information should be provided. If you think that an older animal is better for you, then you must also consider the “re-training” that may be needed. Dependent upon the situation that the animal comes from this could vary from housebreaking to teaching the animal that even though it was OK to sleep on the couch at the old house, the rules here are, on the dog bed in front of the fireplace. One breeder suggested that a good approach when dealing with an older animal is to treat it like a puppy, assume that he/she knows nothing and let him/her earn their freedom.

Should I “crate-train” my Airedale?

In my opinion, crate training is a definite plus. It should not be used as a substitute for training your Airedale to have manners and live within the rules of the household but rather as a safe, comfortable “den” for your pet to rest in. It is also a safer way for your dog to travel. Teaching your dog that his/her crate is his/her space can be invaluable when company arrives, when he is being house-broken, and if your pet ever has to be confined for medical reasons. I have experienced having a dog which went in for major surgery and had to be sent home early, because she was “freaking-out” at being confined. I decided then that I will never own another animal that is not crate trained.

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