The Airedale

I place the Airedale first in the list of useful breeds because he has become a dog of all nations. Not only is his popularity undimmed on the show bench, but he has also become the all-around dog for the stockman, the farmer, the upland shooter, the big game hunter, the wild fowler, the squirrel the rabbit the coon and the possum hunter. Then by the way of variety he is also the playmate of children, the watch dog, and the companion for the automobile.

In referring to the Airedale, however, as the dog of a thousand roles, I have in mind the type bred from “Utility Strains”. There are a number of excellent bench strains whose usefulness has not been impaired, because members of the family are used continually for practical purposes, but on the other hand, many of the show strains have been so “improved” from generation to generation, and have had no work of any kind, hence much of the natural sagacity that is a heritage of the breed has been either bred out of them or lies dormant. The mad desire for fine show points has created havoc with many a useful breed of dog, and it is doing so with the Airedale in certain quarters. But thanks to the sportsman of the country, there are still numerous families of the breed still bred and used for practical purposes. Men who consider utility first and bench wins as a secondary feature. For this reason the Airedale will always remain a working dog, or rather there will aways be sufficient families to draw from in order to breed the service Airedale, even though some of the bench varieties are going the way of some strains of Pointers and Setters, namely being bred for looks alone.

I do not mean the man seeking for a practical strain of Airedales must disregard the essential qualities in the matter of proper coat, well carried ear, good color and varminty expression. In making his selection he must see to it that they come from strains which have been used for practical purposes in all the various ramifications. Dogs coming from strains which never see the outside of their kennels except when going to and from shows are not the kind that the farmer stockman or sportsman will find lucrative to cultivate. His market will be be among those people who want a useful all around dog and not a show dog, sans brains and the capacity for service.

In making one’s selection it is well to know something about the strain from which the puppies that one buys are descended. There are extremes both ways. In some localities one still finds Airedales ranging all the way from 65 to 90 pounds. Such a dog is too large to be shifty. It is therefore advisable to adhere to the lighter weights. Dogs ranging from 45 to 50 pounds and bitches slightly less are large enough for even big game hunting, such as bear, cougar, bobcats etc. Furthermore, if they came from a game family they are really of more use than the extreme weights, first because they are shiftier and secondly they represent less bulk. On the other hand undersized specimens running from 30 to 40 pounds are too small. Briefly, therefore it is well to bear in mind that you select your stock from game, working strains which mature near the desirable weights specified.

Why is the Airedale the “Jack Of All Trades” among dogs? The question may be rightfully asked, for it is well to know something of his history in order to properly understand the dog.Briefly he is a mixture of many breeds and at his fountain head he was no doubt similar in many respects to the all around farm dog “Shep” But unlike Shep, the Airedale was bred on succeeding generations to his own kind. The most likely and typical specimens being utilized for that purpose, for in the early days, the Airedale was not yet commercialized and those pioneer breeders of the valley of the Aire, the place of his origin, had but one object in view and that was to produce a useful all around dog. Suitable for a companion at home and a satisfactory tyke for any kind of sport that might be available. Along the banks of the Aire and it’s good tributaries there was aways good sport in hunting the rats that infested it’s banks and many a Saturday afternoon’s good sport was had by those hardy Yorkshire-men in making matches against their neighbor’s dog. As a matter of fact, it became a regular field trial in which dogs were judged with as much seriousness as one finds in bird dog trials.

Usually a given stretch along the river was designated. Two dogs were put down together. The dog spotting the hole which contained a rat scored two points and the dog that made the kill scored one point. Thus at the end of the stretch it was an easy matter to determine the winner. Even though those workmen were mill and factory hands they did not hesitate to back their favorites to the extent of their weekly wages on more than one occasion. In addition to the rats along the river banks there were polecats and martins, the badgers and the foxes in the rocky fastness of the nearby hill and these also furnished a world of sport, for those Yorkshiremen were and still are sportsmen. If, by the way of variety, one of those hardy tenants of the Aire valley wished for still more excitement, the was the manor not far away and it was a pretty easy matter to slip in upon those premises on a dark night when the keepers were unsuspecting, and take a hare or a pheasant, in work that the Airedale was taught to become equally adept. Again, there was the otter to be found in some streams occasionally, and fighting in the water is the special forte of the Airedale, for he comes to it by his right of heredity since one of his early progenitors is the Otterhound. It was from the latter breed that the Airedale inherited his pily undercoat which is impervious to water, while it helped to make up his early ancestry, he received the wiry outer jacket that is also so essential. Indeed even to this day one finds a throw-back occasionally to the houndy ears and the yellow eyes of the Otterhound that crop out now and then in the best families. Breeding generation after generation of these utility dogs by selecting the best specimens of the locality, these hardy Yorkshiremen produced an all around dog with no thought of bench shows in those early days. Naturally there was still much variety of type, it is true there were few dogs bred that did not inherit all the intelligence and sagacity of their many sided genealogy. If a worthless specimen was produced now and then he was promptly discarded and thus breeding by selection has it’s good effects.

While it required a number of years before the fame of the Airedale spread to other parts of England, he attained considerable local reputation and spread rapidly throughout Yorkshire, and there scarcely a cottager living in that thickly settled manufacturing district who did not possess his tyke of perhaps half a dozen.

It was along in the early 1870s that the first show for Airedales was held at Otley. Naturally those first shows brought together a heterogeneous lot of dogs with types as varied as there were entries. This was only a natural sequence of mixing up various breeds into one. It was the same thing years ago when the much lauded so called Llewellen setter was brought before the public. The Llewellen was a mixed breed at it’s foundation-head and the evidence of it was always apparent in the later generations. However it is surprising what the Airedale breeders did in a short time. As a matter of fact, they succeeded better than the setter breeders for now a type is fixed in the Airedale as it is in any of the oldest breeds.

Those shows at Otley did much toward attracting fanciers from other parts of England to see the newest and biggest of Terriers. There was considerable controversy about the name. For a time they were called Waterside Terriers and also Bingley Terriers in honor of the town where they were supposed to have originated. Finally, however, after various experiments in the way of a name Airedale Terrier was fixed upon, because it was really in the valley of Aire and not any particular town in that locality where the breed sprang up. Terrier may be a misnomer because of the dog’s size, but no matter how that may be, the dog has Terrier traits and whether the word Terrier is added or not, Airedale he will remain until the end of time.

Borders south of England soon began taking up the breed after he once received his start in the north and it was greatly due to them that the breed became so well advertised. The English Kennel Club eventually recognized the dog as a distinct breed and show men of the south of England began “fining him down”.
Whether this was a good or bad thing is a mooted question, but nevertheless it is a certainty that this assisted very materially in popularizing him. What kept the Airedale from going entirely the way of many of these fined down bench show breeds is the fact that he began to be taken up by sportsmen in all parts of the world. America soon became interested, and though we have our distinct line of demarkation in the way of working strains and pure show strains, the Airedale will ever remain the great all around dog.

It is not my intention of going into a prolix history of the breed in this little book, but the interested reader who is desirous of knowing more about the breed and the many strains that are popular, is referred to as an earlier work of mine entitled The Airedale For Work And Show. To the neophyte however a few words may not be amiss. If you are selecting a dog for all around work, endeavor to obtain puppies or young stock from strains that show the breed characteristics. Do not be too concerned in getting the extremely long heads, narrow flat skulls and weak quarters and stifles which so many simon pure show strains possess. Select a dog with good color, that is black and rich tan with rich markings, with a short back, an abundance of bone in the legs, well sprung ribs, a level mouth, small dark eyes and good strength of jaw. If the dog has a good long head and the other show points, all right, but do not discard a sound specimen from a working strain for an unsound one simply because it may be a better show dog. The working dog is one for which there will be a greater demand from the general public than the out and out show dog which may never be a service animal. In selecting bitches, size is not so essential, but procure one of the snappy, fiery kind with an abundance of Terrier character that is absolutely game. It is from these bitches that the best results are obtained, for though they may be somewhat small, by breeding to a dog of good substance and bone say fifty pounds in weight, the general average may be maintained. Study the bloodlines carefully. Ascertain everything possible about the family on both sises. Investigate whether or not the ancestors in the pedigree have been actual utility dogs and the more of these practical kind that are in the linage the more likely you are to succeed in perpetuating intelligent , sagacious and game Airedales.

This article is an extract from “The Airedale” chapter out of the book “The Farmer’s Dog” by Mr A.F. Hochwalt.

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