The Airedale can hardly qualify as a dog that goes to ground for its quarry; it is just too big. However, it is probably the most versatile of terriers, having been bred to hunt fur and feather, retrieve over land and water, and used as a pit fighter, ratter, herder, guard and police dog, and as a guide dog for the blind. Needless to say that dogs of such a multitalented heritage have also excelled in obedience.
The Airedale originated in an area of Yorkshire, England, between the Aire and the Wharfe Rivers as the working man’s sporting dog. Otters fished the rivers and rats were an ever-present problem. Under such circumstances the ideal sporting dog combination would be a few water dogs to hunt the otter, and a couple of terriers to take care of the rats-a combination beyond the means of the average working man. The next best thing was to combine the bloods of both types of dog in the hope that the progeny would inherit all the desired working abilities. Such a cross was made in 1853. A Rough-Coated Black and Tan Terrier was mated to an Otterhound and the result was a dog that could swim and scent game, and was possessed of the keenness of the terrier.
More such crosses followed, and within twelve years the Waterside Terrier, as these cross-breeds were known, became a popular local sporting terrier. Working ability counted for more than appearance and it is said that these early dogs were a mixed lot. In 1864 these terriers were exhibited for the first time at a championship dog show sponsored by the Airedale Agricultural Society classified under various names including Rough-Coated, Bingley, and Waterside Terrier. This situation prevailed for the next few years. Then in 1879 fanciers decided to call their breed the Airedale Terrier, a name that was accepted by The Kennel Club (England) in 1886.
Subsequent crosses to other terrier breeds have been suggested in order to improve outline and standardize breed type. Thus the present-day Airedale has come a long way from its rough-looking progenitor. By selectively mating the “best to the best,” breeders have created a dog rightly known as “the King of Terriers”.
The 1880s saw the first imports of Airedales to this continent. First Canadian registrations are recorded in the StudBook of 1888-1889.