Courtesy of the ATCA Hunting/Working Committee ( March 25, 2000 )
AN APPRECIATION OF THE AIREDALE TERRIER
At the start of the Airedale Terrier Club of America’s Centennial Celebration, let us look at how our breed developed and appreciate the Airedale Terrier as it is today.
The short version of Airedale history is thus: The Airedale Terrier originated in the Aire Valley in Yorkshire in the second half of the 19 th century, though the exact mix of breeds which contributed is obscure. Most accounts agree that the Otterhound was crossed with some form of early rough-coated terrier.
A closer look at the Yorkshire farmers, miners, and workers who began the breed suggests that their intention wasn’t to develop a new kind of terrier, but rather to produce a do-it-all hunting machine. They wanted a swimming dog that was fast and game enough to excel at the sport of water-rat, a dog that could flush and fetch birds poached from the landowner’s estate, and a practical dog for vermin control. Since they couldn’t afford to keep all manner of hounds, retrievers, and game dogs, they set out to create one new multi-purpose breed.
The early developers of the breed weren’t literate record-keepers, nor did they necessarily share their breeding plans. Then, as now, there was competition to breed a dog that was better than the neighbor’s dog. Consequently, breeds such as the bull-and-terrier, setters, retrievers, sheepdogs, and sighthounds are among the earliest mentioned possible ingredients in the creative mix.
However, by the 1870's the gentry began to take interest in the breed. Influenced by several varieties of terriers they fancied, the dog they developed had a definite terrier type. The breed was first called the Bingley or Waterside Terrier, but by 1879, the first “Standard for the Airedale” was published.
In the early 1880's, there was a movement among some dog “experts” to oppose the Airedale’s classification as a “terrier.” The breed was to large to go-to-ground, they argued, and it “lacked gameness.” However, by this time the breed had developed a growing following among those who valued it as the ideal “three-in-one gundog” to be used on upland game birds, waterfowl, and fur. At the same time, the Airedale’s temperament, character, and carriage was unmistakably that of a terrier. By the turn of the century, the Airedale was a breed whose talents surpassed any of its predecessors.
Meanwhile, the first Airedales were imported to the United States in the early 1880s. The breed caught on quickly because its enthusiastic spirit and jack-of-all-trades abilities were well suited to the young, growing nation. Airedale kennels appeared on both coasts, and the breed soon captured the attention of America’s big-game hunters. Stories of wild and wooly adventures hunting bear and big cats out West became American legends, and Airedales were part of that history.
Most colorful among early Airedale fans was Theodore Roosevelt, who chose Airedales for his big-game hunting trips.
“The Airedale” declared Teddy Roosevelt, “can do anything any other dog can do, then lick the other dog, if he has to.”
World War I brought Airedales to the forefront because of their outstanding service. In Germany, Airedales had been used as police dogs since the turn of the century. As the Great War broke out, the German military chose Airedales over German Shepherds for service as messengers and guards.
The entire British War Dog program was developed by Colonel Edwin Richardson. His preference for Airedales soon make them famous as the first official British war dogs. Through battlefield accounts and wartime posters and sketches, the Airedale became a wartime hero. By 1920 the Airedale Terrier was the most popular breed in the United States and England.
Popularity breeds exploitation, and one of the most famous Airedale promoters/exploiters was Walter Lingo. Lingo founded his Oorang Kennel in LaRue, Ohio, basing the name and breeding program on show lines coming from Ch. Rockley Oorang and his own King Oorang II.
Lingo’s breeding program expanded to meet the enormous demand for Airedales. He did so by selling up to a thousand Airedale bitches to farmers throughout the Ohio countryside. Lingo took back the bitches for breeding and whelping, then returned them to their owners, while buying back the pups at a pre-agreed price. Lingo then resold the pups to buyers throughout the country. Reportedly Walter Lingo sold up to 15,000 Airedales per year, and aby the mid-1920s he claimed to be spending $2000 per month on advertising.
The mass-production of Airedales inevitably had negative effects on breed type and temperament. By the 1930s and 40s, the breed’s reputation and registration had declined.
It may be that the role of the Airedale Terrier Club of America (ATCA) was most important during the declining years of Airedale popularity. The ATCA was founded in 1900 by five distinguished gentlemen of the dog world. Membership of the club was at first confined largely to the East Coast establishment and was not inclusive of all the breed’s fans throughout the country. However, when the breed faltered, the fanciers who were members of the ATCA worked to preserve the breed’s worthy qualities.
As the ATCA celebrates the Club’s 100 th anniversary, prior officers and members of the Parent Club should be remembered for a legacy of continuity. The Airedale Terrier now ranks 49 th in AKC registrations. This decline in popularity is a blessing to serious breeders, who concentrate on quality, not quantity.
The Yorkshire working men who long ago created the Airedale Terrier would likely be surprised at how beloved their breed has become. They would no doubt be pleased to see Airedales once again being recognized as hunters in ATCA events. They would think it fitting for Airedales to exhibit working dog abilities in Obedience and Agility competitions. And thought the first Airedales were far from show dogs, it’s still gratifying to note how little the breed has actually changed in appearance over the 100 years of the ATCA’s existence.
Above all else, the Airedale is still valued in its most noble role - that of companion and protector of its human family. The Airedale’s historic and present-day versatility, devotion, humor, and courage may not be recognized every day, but during this Centennial we celebrate these characteristics of our wonderful breed.