9 Versatile Facts About the Airedale Terrier
The Airedale terrier, also known as the King of Terriers, is known for its good looks and adaptability. Learn more about the multifaceted dog and its history.
1. THEY HAIL FROM MERRY OLD ENGLAND.
As the name suggests, these dogs come from the Aire River valley in England. It’s believed that the dog was created by crossbreeding a number of different terrier breeds with the otter hound. Although the dog's exact lineage isn't clear, experts suspect that the now-extinct black and tan terrier and the English bullterrier may be ancestors of the Airedale.
2. FARMERS BRED THEM TO WEAR MANY HATS.
People living by the English Aire and Wharfe Rivers in the 1800s had a severe vermin problem. Animals like rats, foxes, and martens would burrow through the riverbanks and invade nearby fields. Exhausted and overrun, villages worked to create the perfect dog to flush out the pests. Because of the variety of creatures plaguing the area, local farmers decided that they needed a multi-purpose dog that could do the work of many—namely, a breed the right size to catch both a small rat and a large fox, capable of hunting on the ground or in the water.
The Airedale terrier was bred to possess traits that made it valuable to farming households: courage, tenacity, intelligence, hunting instinct, natural swimming abilities, and gentleness around families. By the 1900s, the dog was considered an all-around sporting dog. As such, the dog was able to satisfy the qualifications of a pointer, spaniel, and retriever all in one.
3. THEY’RE THE LARGEST OF THE TERRIERS.
Terriers get their name from the Latin word, terra, meaning earth or ground. Terriers were bred to “go to ground” or burrow underground to flush out prey like badgers and rodents; many, as a result, are small in stature. But the terrier group as a whole is wide and diverse. The biggest of the breed is the Airedale terrier, which can grow to be up to two feet tall and weigh as much as 60 pounds. Thanks to their relatively large size, they've earned the nickname “King of Terriers.”
4. ONE LIVED IN THE WHITE HOUSE.
Laddie Boy the Airedale terrier was arguably the most famous dog to ever live in the White House. The dog accompanied President Harding everywhere, from important cabinet meetings to golf games. Ever the media darling, Laddie Boy attended fundraising events, met celebrities, and “wrote” letters to the press (Harding penned them). The Washington Star and The New York Times breathlessly followed every movement the beloved pup made.
Harding loved his curly-haired terrier and even had 1000 bronze miniatures of the dog’s likeness made to hand out to his friends and colleagues. Still, Harding never chose to profit from the dog’s fame. Although he was approached by several toy companies, the president refused to endorse any of their products.
When Harding passed away from a heart attack, news reports of the day were full of concern for Laddie Boy's future. In a nod to Harding's newspaper background, more than 19,000 newsboys came together, each donating a penny to the memory of the fallen president. The copper was melted down and shaped into a Laddie Boy statue by sculptor Bashka Paeff. Laddie Boy served as a live model for the work of art and had to attend 15 sittings with Paeff before it was complete. After leaving the White House, Harding's widow, Florence Harding, gave Laddie Boy to secret service agent Harry L. Barker, who took the dog home to live in Massachusetts for the remainder of his life.
5. THE BRITISH ARMY USED THEM AS MESSENGERS.
The Airedale’s tenacity, athleticism, and eagerness to please made them perfect army dogs in World War I. Britain began to use dogs as soldiers after Lieutenant Colonel Edwin Hautenville Richardson demonstrated their helpfulness. Airedales were used for everything from carrying messages to locating fallen soldiers. Often they were sent out in the field with packs of medicine strapped to their bodies, in the hopes they'd stumble upon injured men.
Richardson's training program for would-be canine soldiers was thorough. The lieutenant colonel would pay local men to pretend to be dead or injured so his trainees could locate them. The dogs were also taught to feel comfortable wearing gas masks and, most importantly, to move quickly.
6. JOHN WAYNE HAD ONE.
You can thank an Airedale terrier for John Wayne’s iconic nickname. Growing up, the future actor had an Airedale named Duke. After a while, people started calling the dog Little Duke and Wayne Big Duke. The nickname stuck and has since been the cause of some legal trouble between Wayne’s family and Duke University.
7. THEY DON’T REALLY SHED.
Unlike some other dogs (we’re looking at you, German shepherds), Airedale terriers don’t leave a trail of fur wherever they go. Instead of continuous shedding, the dogs shed just a few times a year (some don’t even shed at all). The canines have thick, bristly hair that needs occasional brushing to remove dead hair. Other than that, they really only need one trip to the groomer per year.
8. THEY’RE SMART.
Airedales are very intelligent, which means they can learn tasks and tricks very quickly. But this intelligence can be a double-edged sword: Airedales can be willful and difficult to train if you don’t start early. Positive reinforcement is the way to go with these dogs—they don’t respond well to yelling or roughness. They also get bored easily if they’re not properly stimulated. They need about 20 minutes of brisk walking twice a day to stay happy.
9. THEY’RE INCREDIBLY ADAPTABLE.
Airedales do well in both houses and apartments and can live in most climates. Their coats can be altered to fit whatever the temperature is: Strip their coats in hotter climates and let it grow out in colder ones.