The Airedale terrier can be used as a pet, a working dog or a hunting dog. It is hunting however where this dog really excels. It was originally bred to hunt otters, which is how it also got the name Waterside Terrier. Unlike many hunting dogs, the Airedale terrier was bred to hunt alone, which makes them very intelligent, independent and great at problem solving. They can be stubborn, but often use this to their advantage to help them in their daily work.
The Airedale terrier has also been used as a herding dog with cattle and other livestock. As small as there are compared to the herds, they show no fear and will more than hold their own. They do need to be trained to herd, however, so they don't bother the animals and agitate them. They do have the tendency, without proper training, to chase the livestock.
Originally in the 19th century, they took part in a sporting event by the Aire River where they would chase large river rats that commonly could be found there. A terrier would find the hole were the river rat was located, wait for a ferret to chase the rat out, and the terrier would chase the rat through the water to kill it. This event became very popular and, as a result, the terrier was in large demand. Breeders with the intent of getting the perfect dog crossed the Black-and-Tan Terrier with the Bull-and-Terrier dog. The result was what we know as the Airedale Terrier.
This Airedale terrier was too big for small holes but was good at everything else they wanted, and especially good at water work. Because it had a little hound blood in it, it was excellent at smelling game and had the size to catch them efficiently. It was the perfect size and temperament to make a great hunting dog as well as watchdog at home. The owners were able to train the Airedale terrier to assist in poaching. They were taught to retrieve game (fowl, rabbits and hares) as soon as it was shot and bring it back to the owner by itself.
Through the years, the Airedale has served many important purposes. In World War I, it was used as a messenger dog carrying messages to any soldiers behind the front lines as well as delivering mail. Their assistance to the Red Cross in finding injured soldiers was invaluable. Its bravery during this time made them a very popular war service dog. The Airedale was also used for search and rescue and law enforcement before the German shepherd took over that role.
The Airedale has proved its worth as a hunting and working dog over and over again. Whereas some hunting dogs excel in one type of game, the Airedale was classified as the ultimate "three-in-one" gundog. They were able to tackle down a bear, catch a cougar, chase and catch rabbits, tree squirrels, point and run grouse and pheasants and retrieve them all. There is very little this dog cannot accomplish provided it has the proper training.