This section is from the book "The Terriers. A History And Description Of The Modern Dogs Of Great Britain And Ireland", by Rawdon B. Lee. Also available from Amazon: A History and Description of the Modern Dogs of Great Britain and Ireland: The Terriers.
Here we have the largest variety of the terrier admirers of the dog have yet produced, and big though he may be, our best specimens are now thoroughly terrier-like in type, and perfectly free from any of the hound-like appearance which at one time appeared to prevail. How he was originally produced there is, as usual, no record to tell, but that he is a comparatively modern institution is an undoubted fact.
For forty or fifty years, perhaps more, the big terriers of this kind were found in some parts of Yorkshire, commonest in the valley of the Aire, and round about Bradford. Some of the gamekeepers had them, the sporting innkeepers kept two or three, and generally they were favourite dogs in the locality. They were strong and useful, good at vermin in the water, fond of hunting, and were by no means quarrelsome even amongst themselves. I fancy that at one time or another they had been produced by judicious crossing with hounds and terriers, otter hounds most likely. A few couple of the latter and of cross-bred hounds had always been kept in Yorkshire, where they were used for mart hunting, once a most favourite pastime with north country sportsmen, and the above crossed with some ordinary dark-coloured, wire-haired terriers could very easily bring about such a dog as the Airedale terrier is now.
Of late years he has been most carefully bred, the over-sized ears have almost entirely disappeared, and in their place is a neat, drop ear quite in keeping with the character of the dog and the work he has to do, and there are few varieties of the terrier that have made greater progress in popularity than the one of which I write Personally, I have been astonished at the number of Airedale terriers I have seen in the south of England and in the suburbs of the metropolis; after the fox terrier, who comes first in numbers, he certainly appears to divide favouritism with the Irish terrier. This is, perhaps, because he is a sensible sort of dog, and too big for the dog stealer to pick up and hide away in the pockets of his greatcoat. Then he is not without his admirers in America and on the Continent, and is a special favourite in Holland and in various parts of Germany.
Although he has been kept in some localities (Yorkshire chiefly) for fifty years or so, it was not until quite recently he was acknowledged as a distinct variety. Sundry newspaper correspondence had taken place about this dog, when some of his admirers called him the Bingley terrier, others the Waterside terrier, but a consensus of opinion decided that he be called the Airedale terrier, because he was most commonly found in the valley of the Aire, which is now one of the most important industrial districts in Yorkshire. Birmingham provided him with a class at the National Dog Show in 1883, where he was called the Airedale or Waterside terrier. This dual cognomen continued for two years, when the second name was dropped, and he became the Airedale terrier, as he remains at present. In 1886 he was given a place in the Stud Book, and, unlike some later additions thereto, commenced well with an entry of twenty-four, and with about three exceptions all had pedigrees - a fact which certainly proved that they were worthy of the position in which they had been placed. As I have said, some of these earlier dogs had more than a leaning to the hound type, but by careful selection this has been entirely obliterated, and a high-class Airedale is as perfect a terrier as man need desire. He has a hard, close coat, long, well-shaped expressive head, bright dark eyes, good shoulders, and I am sure no dog exists that can boast of better legs and feet than a good specimen of this variety, and their uniformity of type is now thoroughly established. That the latter is the case was in strong evidence at the Crystal Palace show in October, 1891, when Mr. H. M. Bryan's entry of Airedale terriers divided the special honours awarded to the best team of terriers in the show with Mr. Leatham's mustard Dandie Dinmonts. There were eleven batches competing, including fox, Scotch, Skye, Irish, and Bedlington terriers, and the divided victory of New-bold Test, Cholmondeley Briar, and Cholmondeley Bridesmaid was well received, pleasing the admirers of the variety immensely.
As to their gameness, opinions appear to be somewhat divided, and "Stonehenge," in his "Dogs of the British Isles," gave them a very bad character indeed, so far as courage was concerned, but I never knew that their admirers claimed for them this "commodity" to any extraordinary degree. One correspondent wrote : "Airedale terriers are a failure. The result of my experiences of them is that I find them to have good noses, they will beat a hedgerow, will find and kill rats and rabbits, and work well with ferrets. They are good water dogs and companions, possessing a fair amount of intelligence. This is the sum total of their excellence. They came to me with a great reputation for gameness, but out of fourteen that I have personally tried at badger and fighting with a bull terrier of 241b., I have never found one game - at least, to my idea of the word".
But any terrier that would do the above work better than another would be worth keeping. Were a dog like he of 451b. weight or more to be used at a badger he should kill the poor brute instead of merely "drawing" him. I think that those individuals who at Wolverhampton show about 1883 made a semi-public exhibition of him against a badger, an animal the like of which the poor dog had never seen before, were extremely badly advised. As for fighting, any terrier fond of it is a nuisance to his owner and to the owner of any other dog. For the Airedale terrier was claimed superiority as a worker of the riverside after rats, and as an assistant to the gun in working hedgerows and thick coppices, which, it was said, he could do better than a spaniel and take up less room than a retriever.