CHAPTER XXXIV. THE AIREDALE TERRIER

There is perhaps no breed of dog that in so short a time has been improved so much as the Airedale. He is now a very beautiful animal, whereas but a few years back, although maybe there were a few fairly nice specimens, by far the greater number were certainly the reverse of this.

In place of the shaggy, soft-coated, ugly-coloured brute with large hound ears and big full eyes, we have now a very handsome creature, possessing all the points that go to make a really first-class terrier of taking colour, symmetrical build, full of character and “go,” amply justifying—in looks, at any rate—its existence as a terrier.

Whether it is common sense to call a dog weighing 40 lb. to 50 lb. a terrier is a question that one often hears discussed. The fact remains the dog is a terrier—a sort of glorified edition of what we understand by the word, it is true, but in points, looks, and character, a terrier nevertheless, and it is impossible otherwise to classify him.

People will ask: “How can he be a terrier? Why he is an outrage on the very word, which can only mean a dog to go to ground; and to what animal in the country of his birth can an Airedale go to ground?” Above ground and in water, however, an Airedale can, and does, perform in a very excellent manner everything that any other terrier can do. As a water dog he is, of course, in his element; for work on land requiring a hard, strong, fast and resolute terrier he is, needless to say, of great value; and he is said to be also, when trained—as can easily be imagined when one considers his power of scent, his strength, sagacity, and speed—a most excellent gun-dog. He is, in fact, a general utility dog, for add to the above-mentioned qualities those of probably an incomparable guard and a most excellent companion, faithful and true, and ask yourself what do you want more, and what breed of dog, taken all round, can beat him?

The Airedale is not of ancient origin. He was probably first heard of about the year 1850. He is undoubtedly the product of the Otterhound and the old Black and Tan wire-haired terrier referred to in the chapters on the wire-hair Fox and the Welsh Terriers. When one considers the magnificent nobleness, the great sagacity, courage, and stateliness of the Otterhound, the great gameness, cheek, and pertinacity of the old Black and Tan wire-hair, such a cross must surely produce an animal of excellent type and character.

Yorkshire, more especially that part of it round and about the town of Otley, is responsible for the birth of the Airedale. The inhabitants of the country of broad acres are, and always have been, exceedingly fond of any kind of sport—as, indeed, may also be said of their brothers of the Red Rose—but if in connection with that sport a dog has to be introduced, then indeed are they doubly blessed, for they have no compeers at the game.

Otter-hunting was formerly much indulged in by the people living in the dales of the Aire and the Wharfe, and not only were packs of Otterhounds kept, but many sportsmen maintained on their own account a few hounds for their personal delectation. These hounds were no doubt in some instances a nondescript lot, as, indeed, are several of the packs hunting the otter to-day, but there was unquestionably a good deal of Otterhound blood in them, and some pure bred hounds were also to be found. Yorkshire also has always been the great home of the terrier. Fox-terriers, as we now know them, had at this time hardly been seen. The terrier in existence then was the Black and Tan wire-hair, a hardy game terrier, a great workman on land or in water.

Whether by design or accident is not known, but the fact remains that in or about the year mentioned a cross took place between these same hounds and terriers. It was found that a handier dog was produced for the business for which he was required, and it did not take many years to populate the district with these terrier-hounds, which soon came to be recognised as a distinct breed. The Waterside Terrier was the name first vouchsafed to the new variety. After this they went by the name of Bingley Terriers, and eventually they came to be known under their present appellation.

The specimens of the Airedale which were first produced were not of very handsome appearance, being what would now be called bad in colour, very shaggy coated, and naturally big and ugly in ear. It, of course, took some time to breed the hound out at all satisfactorily; some authorities tell us that for this purpose the common fighting pit Bull-terrier and also the Irish Terrier were used, the latter to a considerable extent; and whether this is correct or not there is no doubt that there would also be many crosses back again into the small Black and Tan Terrier, primarily responsible for his existence.

In about twenty years' time, the breed seems to have settled down and become thoroughly recognised as a variety of the terrier. It was not, however, for some ten years after this that classes were given for the breed at any representative show. In 1883 the committee of the National Show at Birmingham included three classes for Airedales in their schedule, which were fairly well supported; and three years after this recognition was given to the breed in the stud-book of the ruling authority.

From this time on the breed prospered pretty well; several very good terriers were bred, the hound gradually almost disappeared, as also did to a great extent the bad-coloured ones. The best example amongst the early shown dogs was undoubtedly Newbold Test, who had a long and very successful career. This dog excelled in terrier character, and he was sound all over; his advent was opportune—he was just the dog that was wanted, and there is no doubt he did the breed a great amount of good.