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The largest of the terriers, the Airedale is a highly intelligent dog who is not only smart, but loyal and affectionate as well. Airedales have plenty of personality and make great family pets who love a good romp and backyard play session. When well-socialized, these pups are gentle with children and make excellent playmates. When you adopt an Airedale terrier, you're getting a robust breed with a long, healthy life.
Airedales have short and wiry fur that comes in black and tan or grizzle (a mix of dark and light hairs) and tan, and they have dark eyes. They aren't big shedders and don't require a lot of maintenance beyond a good brush and the occasional visit to the groomer.
Airedale terriers have a proud and alert stature, which fits well with their "ready for action" personality. They are larger than other dogs in the terrier breed group, at about 23 inches tall and 50–70 pounds. Their triangle-shaped ears fold forward on either side of their head, and their snouts are adorned with a signature mustache and beard.
Airedales are sometimes confused with Welsh terriers. And while both pups originate from the United Kingdom, size is the best way to determine if a dog is an Airedale terrier vs. Welsh terrier. Welshies are much smaller than Airedales, standing only 15.5 inches and weighing 20–22 pounds.
Airedale terriers are playful, fun, confident dogs who make excellent companions. They have a lot of personality, and it's easy to see why they're such an enduringly popular breed. "Airedales are comedians; they're such fun dogs to live with because they have a sense of humor," says Andrea Brown Berman, author of The Complete Guide to Airedale Terriers.
Highly intelligent, the Airedale excels at agility and other dog sports, and he loves being given a task. "They're clever," Berman says. "They can figure things out that you would never even think that they would."
The best owners are attentive and ensure their Airedale has plenty to do. "In general, terriers are in a class on their own as far as activity level and intelligence, but also mischief and challenges," says Shlomo Frieman, DVM, founder of the Animal Hospital of Factoria in Bellevue, Wash. "While an Airedale isn't as intense as, say, a Jack Russell terrier, they do need a lot of exercise and training from a very young age."
Like most terriers, Airedales are an active breed and will happily accompany you on hikes and other outings. "They're definitely not couch potatoes," Berman says. "If you're looking for a laid-back dog, I'd say forget the Airedale, as they need quite a bit of exercise when they are younger and often don't seem to slow down much as they get older."
The Airedale terrier's temperament makes them perfect family dogs. They're gentle with children, love other dogs, and adapt easily to different situations. "Airedales are always up for an adventure, whether that be a good long hike or a ride in the car," Berman says. "They've got a lot of energy and are happy to go anywhere with you."
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Because they're so smart, Airedales are considered relatively easy to train. As with all dogs, consistency is key, and the earlier you start training them, the better. Puppy kindergarten classes are always a good idea.
"They are very willing to learn, and they're the kind of dog that needs a job," Berman says. Use varied training sessions to keep these smart pups from getting bored, as well as puzzles and other challenging toys to help keep them occupied when you're not home.
Airedale terriers are highly adaptable dogs who are well-suited to just about any situation. They're fine living in apartments so long as you get them outside and give them the exercise they need, whether that be a good, long walk a couple of times a day or a romp at your local fenced-in dog park. Airedales can be diggers (they were originally bred to hunt rats and other small animals and still have those strong terrier instincts) so leaving them in a backyard alone is probably not a great idea—they might try to tunnel under the fence.
Because they are curious and smart, Airedales can be "naughty and barky" when left alone, Berman says, so they may not be the best dog for someone who needs to be out of the house all day.
They are definitely social animals who get on well with other dogs, although they may not always do well with cats (there go those terrier instincts again). Airedales may peacefully coexist if introduced to cats during puppyhood. "A lot of that comes down to how well the dog has been socialized with cats, and how they were introduced to them," Frieman adds.
Hikers and outdoorsy types will appreciate this breed's seemingly boundless energy, and many Airedales love being in the water.
Overall, Airedales are pretty easy to care for. Their short, wiry coat requires a weekly brush to keep them looking clean and tidy, though you may need a groomer to work their magic occasionally to clip the longer hair on their rather adorable beards and keep everything trim. Berman recommends professional grooming no more than four times a year. "It can dry out their skin and Airedales can be prone to allergies and skin conditions," she says.
In terms of exercise, you'll get worn out long before your Airedale does, so be prepared to give them good walks and incorporate lots of play into their day. Agility training and other dog sports are a fabulous way to keep your Airedale stimulated and happy. They are a super social breed and love spending time with their humans and playing with other dogs.
As they are so smart, training can be pretty easy with an Airedale so long as you are consistent and reward them with plenty of positive reinforcement and praise. "Start training early when your Airedale is a young puppy," Berman says. "If you have children, be sure to get the whole family involved … so everybody is doing the same thing with the dog and he knows exactly what he needs to do."
Airedales can live to the ripe old age of 15, and Frieman says they are generally robust and healthy dogs. "They can be prone to issues with their hips and knees, but terriers, as a rule, are solid creatures," Frieman says. "As with any purebred dog, you should ask the breeder about how they have screened for orthopedic and other issues."
Other things that can potentially crop up with Airedales are dental issues and allergies. It's important to talk with your vet to see what steps you can take to help prevent these from occurring in your Airedale.
Airedale terriers were first bred by mill workers in Northern England's Aire Valley in the mid-1800s, according to the Airedale Terrier Club of America. Their function was to hunt rats and other small prey, as well as to join in the hunt for ducks and other small animals. The dogs were soon recognized for their sharp intelligence, and they were used as working dogs on farms, in the police force, and even in the military.
During World War I, the British Army trained Airedales for a number of military uses. These brave and determined war dogs carried messages and first-aid supplies on the battlefield, located injured soldiers, and worked as guard dogs. Amazingly, they were trained to wear gas masks and find their way through treacherous battlefields. There are many stories of how these dogs saved lives and made a real difference in outcomes for the soldiers they supported.
- Airedales are often referred to as the "king of terriers" as they are the largest of the terrier breeds.
- In the 2019 live-action Lady and the Tramp movie, Tramp is played by Monty, a mixed-breed shelter rescue that is believed to be part Airedale and part schnauzer.
- Vogue proclaimed an Airedale one of the chicest dogs at the 2020 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
- Many notable Airedales made history as British military dogs whose heroic acts saved the lives of soldiers on the front lines in World War I. The dogs were trained as Red Cross first-aid carriers and military messengers, and their stories are shared in the book Colonel Richardson's Airedales and on the BBC show "Inside Out."
- President Warren G. Harding owned an Airedale terrier named Laddie Boy.