Airedale Terrier

Gemma Gaitskell
Dr Gemma Gaitskell (BVetMed MSc MRCVS, Royal Veterinary College, London)
Photo of adult Airedale Terrier

Airedale Terriers are large, intelligent, loyal and versatile dogs that were originally bred as all round working farm, hunting and guard dogs in Yorkshire. Today they are mainly kept as companions but still make excellent working dogs and excel at sports, such as agility. They have a majestic look to them and are hardy and athletic. The Airedale has a wire coat made up of two layers, which requires occasional brushing at home and stripping out a couple of times a year.

The Airedale is an outgoing, playful dog and should not be aggressive, but can have a strong and independent character, which means that appropriate training and early socialisation is essential. The breed is quick to learn, but can easily become bored, and therefore needs a stimulating environment with plenty of exercise. Recall training is essential, as if left to its own devices, the Airedale can be prone to reverting back to its hunting instincts and chasing other animals. The Airedale Terrier is a generally healthy breed with few inherited health problems.

About & History

The Airedale is the largest terrier breed. It possesses all the typical characteristics of a terrier and is often known as ‘The King of Terriers’. Originally from the Aire Valley in Yorkshire, England it is thought that the Airedale Terrier was developed in the mid 1800s by crossing Otterhounds with the Black & Tan Terrier, which no longer exists. The Airedale Terrier was first called both the Working Waterside or Bingley Terrier but after a good turnout of dogs at the Airedale Show was renamed. Unlike many other terriers, the Airedale Terrier was bred to work in water, as well as on ground, and was used to hunt otters, water rats, and other large animals. The Airedale became a multi-purpose dog, used on farms and as a guard dog in addition to it hunting roots.

Airedale Terriers were first imported to America in the late 1800s where they were used for multiple purposes, such as retrieving, hunting, driving cattle and sheep and providing protection from bears and wolves proving their worth as an all-round utility dog. Despite being a terrier, the Airedale also has good scenting capabilities and has been used in Africa, India, and Canada for tracking.

The breed has also served in the Red Cross as a search and rescue dog on the battlefield, as well as in the police and army in Great Britain and Russia before the German Shepherd became popular. In the First World War the Airedale Terrier was used as a messenger dog and was renowned for its bravery and loyalty. The Airedale Terrier saw a rise in popularity after World War I after word spread about tales of their abilities and fearless characters. They continued to be popular during the first half of the 1900s, even being ranked as the most popular breed in the USA at one point, but since then they have seen a decrease in popularity and are not a breed which is commonly seen. Today the Airedale Terrier is more often kept as a companion dog but is also used as a guard dog and excels in agility.


Airedale Terrier Large Photo

The Airedale Terrier has a wiry coat and only has two colours which are accepted for registration with the UK Kennel Club, including black & gold and black & tan.

The Airedale Terrier is a large dog which should stand between 56-61 cm tall at the withers with females being slightly smaller than males. Overall, the Airedale is a muscular, strong looking dog, which should look square and well-proportioned and not have an unnecessarily long body or legs.

Airedale Terriers have a medium length neck, which is well-defined and muscled, widening towards the base and joining long, laid back, sloping shoulders. The front legs should be straight with elbows held away from a deep chest. The feet should be reasonably small and compact. The back should be strong but short and straight leading to a powerful back end, and hind legs with strong stifles and hocks. The Airedale’s tail should be high set and carried upright.

The breed has a long skull, which is flat and well balanced, without being overly broad. The mouth should contain strong teeth with a scissor bite and jaws should be powerful and muscular, giving an impression of strength, without any overdevelopment of the cheeks. Ears should be fairly small but in proportion to the size of the dog and V-shaped, folding delicately over. Eyes should be dark and on the small side, but full of an intense terrier expression and intelligence.

The Airedale should have a free gait, and legs should move straight forward and parallel to the axis of the body. The back legs should add propulsion and power to the movement.

Character & Temperament

The Airedale is an extremely loyal, brave, and intelligent dog, but is also independent and strong minded and often likes to do things its own way. It can have a dominant character and is not a breed that is appropriate for first time dog owners, requiring a firm but loving regime and plenty of consistency to get the best out of its temperament. Airedales can be good family dogs if they are educated around children from a young age, and enjoy playing but may not be as tolerant of prodding and poking as some other more laid back breeds, so education of children is also important.

Airedales should not be aggressive with other dogs but can be prone to scrapping if allowed to develop this type of behaviour, so plenty of socialisation from puppyhood is important. Their independent nature mean that Airedales are not especially prone to separation anxiety, however, if left to become bored at home alone for long periods of time they may run riot and be destructive around the house. Airedales make exceptional guard dogs, due to their size and loyal and intrinsically brave characters.


Photo of Airedale Terrier puppy

The Airedale Terrier’s origins as a multi-purpose farm dog mean that the breed often exhibits both hunting and herding behaviours and can be prone to chasing other smaller animals. It is therefore especially important to work on recall training from a young age.

The Airedale is intelligent and quick to learn but often has its own ideas about how to do things so requires plenty of mental and physical stimulation in addition to patience to keep them attentive and on their best behaviour. If a regular routine is established and dogs have access to outside space, house-training is not normally an issue.


The Airedale Terrier is generally a healthy breed which suffer from few inherited health problems. Their average lifespan is 10-12 years old. The UK Kennel Club strongly recommends that female dogs under two years should not be mated. Kennel Club Assured Breeders are required to test dogs for:

Hip Dysplasia (HD)

A condition where one or various different developmental abnormalities of the hips can lead to joint problems in older dogs. X-rays of the hips are scored using criteria by experts in dogs over one year old. The lower the score, the less signs there are of dysplasia, the maximum score is 106, which is combination of both hips. HD is influenced by both genetics and environment.

In addition Airedales can also suffer from some other health conditions, although not all have been proven to be inherited:


Many wire coated breeds seem to have a higher probability of suffering from allergies than other coat types, although this can often be linked to climate. Some Airedales can suffer from itchy skin and this may cause them to lick irritated areas excessively causing further irritation and inflammation.

Some people claim that stripping as opposed to clipping Airedales can help avoid skin irritation. If an Airedale does suffer from skin problems it should be examined by a veterinarian to try and identify the cause of the problem and provide appropriate treatment.

Autoimmune Haemolytic Anaemia

A condition where the immune system causes the body to attack its own red blood cells, causing anaemia. Sometimes the condition can be successfully treated but in other cases it can be fatal. There is thought to be a genetic predisposition but it is relatively uncommon.

Heart Murmurs

A heart murmur is when there is an abnormal heart sound. Some older Airedales suffer from heart murmurs, although it is not the murmur itself, but the cause of it, which is the problem. Heart murmurs are graded between 1 and 4 and, the lower the grade, the less severe the murmur. Dogs with heart murmurs should have regular check ups with their veterinarian.

Cataracts and Eye Problems

There are some references to older Airedales suffering from cataracts (opacity of the lens), however, the breed is not mentioned in the British Veterinary Association (BVA) Eye Scheme information indicating a genetic predisposition.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The Airedale Terrier enjoys an active lifestyle and needs plenty of exercise and mental stimulation to discourage it from getting into mischief with adult dogs requiring around 1.5 – 2 hours of walking a day. It is essential that some of this time be spent off the lead as the breed benefits from being able to do plenty of running. These outgoing, happy dogs are always game for an outing and excel in stimulating environments, either as working or agility dogs or in busy, energetic households.


The Airedale Terrier has a harsh, wiry coat made up of both a tough outer coat and soft undercoat and barely sheds. Most of the year brushing at home is enough to keep their coat in order, but Airedale Terriers usually need to be stripped by a groomer a couple of times a year to remove any dead hair when they are changing their coat.

Famous Airedale Terriers

Some examples of famous Airedale Terriers include:

  • Duke, an Airedale Terrier owned by the actor, John Wayne
  • Hector from the film The Ballad of Hector
  • The Airedale from the film Big Trouble
  • Laddie Boy, the Airedale Terrier owned by US President, Warren G. Harding
  • Kitty who was owned by John Jacob Astor IV and died when the Titanic sank


Some popular Airedale Terrier cross-breeds are:

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