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9 Versatile Facts About the Airedale Terrier

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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.

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Animals
Why Tiny 'Hedgehog Highways' Are Popping Up Around London
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Hedgehogs as pets have gained popularity in recent years, but in many parts of the world, they're still wild animals. That includes London, where close to a million of the creatures roam streets, parks, and gardens, seeking out wood and vegetation to take refuge in. Now, Atlas Obscura reports that animal activists are transforming the city into a more hospitable environment for hedgehogs.

Barnes Hedgehogs, a group founded by Michel Birkenwald in the London neighborhood of Barnes four years ago, is responsible for drilling tiny "hedgehog highways" through walls around London. The passages are just wide enough for the animals to climb through, making it easier for them to travel from one green space to the next.

London's wild hedgehog population has seen a sharp decline in recent decades. Though it's hard to pin down accurate numbers for the elusive animals, surveys have shown that the British population has dwindled by tens of millions since the 1950s. This is due to factors like human development and habitat destruction by farmers who aren't fond of the unattractive shrubs, hedges, and dead wood that hedgehogs use as their homes.

When such environments are left to grow, they can still be hard for hedgehogs to access. Carving hedgehog highways through the stone partitions and wooden fences bordering parks and gardens is one way Barnes Hedgehogs is making life in the big city a little easier for its most prickly residents.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

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