Life with Airedales

The Many Faces of the Airedale Terrier Pet and Family Member

– by Carole Kane

Perhaps the most often asked question about the Airedale Terrier is, “Does he make a good family pet?” The answer is a resounding yes, with some qualifications. His strongest admirers will be the first to tell you that even with all his sterling qualities, the Airedale terrier is not for everyone.

To truly answer the question so that you can make an informed decision on whether or not the “personality plus” Airedale is suitable for your family, you need to know a little about his background.

The Airedale is a relatively young breed who first saw the light of day around the mid 1800s in the Aire Valley in Yorkshire, England. He is the largest of the terriers. His reason for being was to be an all-purpose hunter, to be as equally agile in the water as he was on land, and strong enough to take on all manner of prey.

It has been said by those who do not know the Airedale well that he is stubborn and hard headed – nothing could be further from the truth! One must be mindful that Airedales are terriers, and were not bred to work like retrievers, who hang on your every word for direction. The Airedale was bred to hunt down vermin, and was used in combat. Once in combat, the dog was on his own, and there was no one to give him direction. His very survival depended on his ability to outthink and outwit his opponent. Bred to think on his own, the Airedale doesn’t look to be told what to do, he just does it. So, don’t expect him to look for permission to do something.

While the Airedale we know today has changed a great deal in outward looks from that of his ancestors, his character has not. He still retains the ability to do anything any other breed can do, and as such makes him your ideal family dog. He appeals to both men and women alike – to men because of his hunting and retrieving abilities, and to women because of his sweet nature and his regal good looks.

However, before considering buying an Airedale – or any dog, for that matter – you should ask yourself: “Am I prepared to make a 12-14 year commitment?” which is the life span of an Airedale. And, “Can I afford $10.00 to $15.00 a week for food? Can I afford the inevitable vet bills, and do I have adequate space for a dog of his size?”.

If you have answered yes, and can accept that there will be another independent mind in the house, thinking its own thoughts and pursuing its own interests, then let me introduce you to one of dogdom’s best kept secrets: the handsome, rugged Airedale Terrier.

Right off the top, if you are a perfectionist or are serious-natured with a need to be in charge, forget about the Airedale – he won’t be your cup of tea. But, if you’ve got a lively sense of humour, enjoy a bit of a challenge, and are physically strong enough to handle a dog of his size (up to 23 inches or more in height, 55 pounds or more in weight) then this “oversized lap dog” is your ideal family companion.

The Airedale is definitely a people dog, and needs to be part of the family. He is a house dog, not a dog to live outdoors. He is indeed the perfect house pet for he is a very basic dog, even his coat is a basic black and tan combination which does not show dirt, and it has practically no doggy odor, even when wet. Moreover, he doesn’t shed his hair all over the place which is greatly appreciated by allergy suffers and neat housekeepers.

The down side is that he needs to be professionally groomed three or four times a year, and thoroughly combed once a week to keep his stunning good looks, and to keep his skin healthy. Otherwise, you won’t be able to see him for hair. As with so many of the Airedale’s traits, this one too is like a double-edged sword: you don’t have hair all over the place, but it comes at a cost.

For most families, the Airedale’s size is ideal, making him adaptable to almost any situation, be it town or country. He is small enough to fit nicely into our modern homes, yet large enough not to be pushed aside by intruders. As a family protector he is one of the best; however, because he is so friendly and outgoing, sometimes we forget that protecting is part of his nature and one tends to discount him as a family guard.

Scientists say that dogs don’t think and can’t reason. Well, they haven’t met the Airedale Terrier! Here is a dog who can reason, he does not make mistakes, he knows the good guys for the bad.

Generally speaking, the Airedale is a pretty calm dog and fairly easy to live with. Keep in mind, however, that he is a terrier and while not known as a fighter he can, if pushed or challenged by another dog, be up and at it lickety-split, regardless of the other dog’s size.

To his credit, the Airedale is not known as a barker like some of his smaller cousins. This depends on the individual dog and whether or not he was discouraged when young. You’d be best advised to place his run in a quiet area and to use solid fencing to dissuade him of this habit.

Another question often asked is: “Is the Airedale hard to train?” The answer is no. They make excellent obedience dogs. The Airedale’s extroverted side will enjoy both training and classes with gusto, while his sensitive side will take your teaching seriously and lovingly. Just remember – he’s a thinker and has his own ideas, so he may question the sense of your command, but in his desire to please you he will obey. Never use force to train an Airedale – he has a very high tolerance for pain, it will get you nowhere, praise and reward will get the results you desire.

It goes without saying that the ideal family dog must be trustworthy around children. Just ask anyone who has ever owned an Airedale and they will tell you that Airedales and children were made for each other. His gentleness and patience with children is legendary due to his sensitive and loving nature. Still, one should be mindful that because of his playful nature, he may be a bit too boisterous for very young children. Consequently, supervision with young children is mandatory. Also, children must be taught never to tease, as teasing is a form of torture to a sensitive dog like the Airedale. It is a real cruelty, and has no place in a good home.

For those of us already dedicated to the Airedale, we think of him not only as the King Of Terriers, but king of all dogs. Known as an all-rounder, he excels as the perfect family dog. Still, he may not be right for you, if you think his stunning good looks come at grooming costs you can’t afford, and certainly not if you are unimpressed with drippy beards, and big sloppy kisses, and not if you don’t care to be entertained 24/7.

But he could be right for you if you’ve got a good sense of humour, and if you don’t mind being outsmarted every once in awhile, and if you’re looking for a strong active dog to integrate into your family.

Dora Wright, in her Airedale classic, Honorary Dog, observes:

“Supposedly, no dog is ever perfect and the Airedale must have some flaws, but it is hard to say what they are for he is truly a remarkable dog.”


Our Dog Club Affiliations

  • Canadian Kennel Club
  • Atlantic Terrier Association
  • The Airedale Terrier Club Of Canada


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