When thinking about classic bird dogs, most hunters would leave the Airedale terrier off the list. That would be a mistake.
Historically, farmers honed terriers for a specific type of hunting: vermin. And the Airedale terrier — commonly called the “King of Terriers” — is no outlier. Developed in Aire River Valley, England, the Airedale was commonly used in rat hunting competitions. This is commonly referred to as a “fur” breed, a dog bred to hunt mammals rather than birds.
But working farmers also needed dogs that could bring birds home to the dinner table. Because of this, the Airedale of today hunts both the feathered as well as the furred. And in the past few decades, the breed continues to gain ground as a better-known versatile bird dog capable of flushing, retrieving, and hunting birds both on land and water.
About the Airedale Terrier
The largest of the terrier group, Airedale tops out between 50 and 70 pounds and 23 inches at the shoulder. Its medium size mirrors that of many bird dogs and lends consistency to its 11- to 13-year-old lifespan.
Physically, the Airedale is athletically built, with a look associated more with its smaller terrier relatives than that of a pointer, spaniel, or retriever. Pert ears top an inquisitive face, and the wiry coat is always tan with black markings. The density of its coat protects the Airedale from cold conditions, and it’s hardy enough to both swim and hunt in cold conditions without issue.
The personality of the Airedale also mimics its smaller cousins. Comical, intelligent, fiercely protective, and often stubborn, the large terrier makes for an entertaining and loyal companion. Though these traits also lend to a trainable personality, bumps along the road might occasionally occur due to the innate terrier belief that it knows better than most.
Hunting the Airedale
Though obviously not a spaniel, the Airedale’s hunting style best fits the spaniel category. More of a flushing retriever, Airedales are methodical and brave in the field. They cover ground with ease, though in closer quarters than a typical ranging pointer. And though they aren’t born with the quartering instincts of a bred flusher, they can pick up on the habit with training.
Retrieving comes naturally to the breed; many terriers are voracious in the pursuit of any small creature or tennis ball, and the Airedale is no different. Prey instincts are high in the terrier class, and the trained Airedale proves excellent at marking, searching for, and bringing birds to hand.
Folks who hunt with Airedales refer to themselves as “Airedalers,” and their dogged belief that their breed deserved a shot at AKC titles earned them the right to compete in AKC Spaniel Tests in 2009. Since then, the Airedale Terrier Club of America has developed many tests to promote excellence and recognition for the Airedale breed.
A responsible breeder should have health certifications, immunizations, and vet records on hand for puppies. Known issues in the Airedale include hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, and gastric issues. The dense coat also requires grooming and clipping on a regular basis.
Final Thoughts About the Airedale Terrier
If you’re looking for an athletic, goofy, all-around friend, it’s worth considering the Airedale terrier as a less-conventional but uber-talented versatile bird dog.
This is a high-energy partner that’s ready to play at all times. Not only can you train this dog to hunt, but it’s also a competitive athlete that can crossover into all sorts of activities. Be it hiking, agility, a jogging partner, or all of the above.
Not to be overlooked as a great hunting dog, the spunky and eye-catching Airedale terrier offers a unique and fun partnership for the bird hunters among us.