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Airedale terrier hunting dogs

Hunting and working Airedales in action
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Recognizing the Airedale's Hunting Abilities –
The Airedale Terrier Club of America's Hunting/Working Movement

by Chris Halvorson
The Airedale Terrier Club of America

Long before organized kennel clubs invented hunt tests, Airedale Terriers were practical and competitive hunters. Earliest records in Airedale history suggest the breed was developed in the mid- to late 1800s from a blend of many breeds, but most tellingly, a cross between the old English Black and Tan Terrier and the Otterhound. This created a dog that could win the water rat hunting competitions enjoyed by the Yorkshire farmers who lived along the River Aire. The farmers also found these same dogs useful on barnyard vermin and for poaching birds from wealthy landholdings. And so the original function of the Airedale Terrier was to hunt everything that needed to be hunted.

By the early 1900s, dog writers characterized the Airedale as the ultimate “three-in-one” gundog.

“On the border between the bird dog and fur dogs,” wrote Field and Stream editor Warren H. Miller in The American Hunting Dog (1926), “stands the Airedale, the one dog who can hunt both … Tackling bear or cougar, routing out woodchucks, jumping rabbits, tree marking squirrels, pointing grouse and quail, running pheasants, and retrieving any and all of them – the Airedale properly trained has done all these things in hundreds and hundreds of individual instances.” The breed’s courage, made even more legendary by its war dog service in World War I, helped make the Airedale the most popular breed in the United States in the 1920s.

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But over-popularity took its toll. America’s population moved from the country to cities, and hunting became recreational instead of a necessity. Specialized sporting breeds replaced the Airedale in popularity in home and field.

Yet there has always been a group of North American Airedale fanciers who appreciated their breed’s hunting nature. That group coalesced in 1985 with the formation of the Airedale Terrier Club of America’s Hunting/Working (“H/W” for short) Committee. The Airedale Terrier Club of America (ATCA) is an AKC-member Parent Club which has played an active role in preserving and promoting Airedale hunting abilities through its development of a Parent Club Hunt Test program.

In 1994, the H/W Committee offered an official ATCA Hunt Test program under guidelines approved by the American Kennel Club. Every year since then, the ATCA has offered its Hunt Tests at its Hunting/Working Nationals, a three day event, usually held the fourth weekend in March near Columbus, Ohio. All Airedales and owners are welcome, with participation from Canadian Airedalers a frequent and welcome occurrence.

The ATCA’s three-prong Hunt Test program consists of an Upland Game (flushing) Test, a Retriever Test, and a Fur Test. Each test is offered on the Junior, Senior, and Master level. In addition, a dog that qualifies in all three segments receives the Versatile title, also offered on Junior, Senior and Master level. By 1996, the effort expanded with regional Hunt Tests offered in Michigan, Wisconsin and Kentucky.

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The H/W Nationals weekend also includes training workshops intended for Airedales and owners with no prior hunting experience. Professional gun dog trainers offer an introduction to game and training techniques. Even owners who have no intention of continuing as recreational hunters enjoy the workshops as a chance to see how their Airedale takes to the field.

A long-range goal of the ATCA’s Hunt Test program is to promote the Airedales’ historic and current roles as a versatile hunter. The H/W Committee’s petitions to the American Kennel Club for admission of Airedales to AKC Hunt Tests in 1985 and again in 1999 were refused, but ongoing efforts for the development of an AKC Hunt Test program which includes Airedales continue.

More information on hunting Airedales can be found at the Hunting and Working Airedales Web site.