The Airedale Terrier is one of the largest terrier type breeds, and the largest among those originating in Britain. However, Airedales bred for dog shows are often much smaller. The Airedale has a medium-length double-layered coat with a soft undercoat underneath a coarse, wiry topcoat. The coat is most often black around the back and sides of the dog, with tan around the head, legs and tail. The tail is sometimes docked shortly after birth, although this practise has been made illegal in Britain.
The Airedale Terrier was originally bred in the late 1800’s, and is most likely a cross between smaller Terrier breeds and a larger hunting dog known as the Otterhound. Like the Otterhound before it, the Airedale became popular among hunters. However, unlike Terriers before them who were often accompanied by a pack of Bloodhounds, and expected to enter the dens and burrows of prey after the Bloodhounds had sniffed them out, Airedales became more of a jack-of-all trades breed capable of both sniffing out and taking down larger animals. As well as being efficient hunting dogs, the size and temperament of the breed suited it well to work as a guard dog on British farms. During the the First World War, Airedales were used to deliver messages during battle. Later, they were also given the task of finding and retrieving wounded soldiers from the front lines.
After seeing the impressive work of Belgian Malinois police Protection Dogs in Belgium, Airedales were also adopted into British police forces. However, they were later replaced by the German Shepherd as the most common breed used for police work. During the 1930s, American breeders in Ohio developed what is known as the Oorang strain of Airedale Terrier. Bred to be larger and sturdier than previous Airedales, an attempt was made to market the Oorang as “the greatest utility dog in the history of the world.” The kennel closed and breeding of Oorangs ended in 1970 upon the death of its creator, Walter Lingo. However, some kennels still claim to produce original Oorang Airedale Terriers today.
Today, the Airedale Terrier is still an impressive breed. However, they have mostly been replaced by other breeds for work as Guard Dogs or police dogs, and their role as a hunting breed is now largely obsolete.