Airedale Terriers and Welsh Terriers are similar in appearance, which brings about many misconceptions about these breeds, and their relation to each other. Common assumptions are that Welsh terriers were bred from Airedales, that Welsh terriers are a newer breed, and/or that Welsh terriers are a smaller version of an Airedale. Many people like the look of these dogs, most have met Airedales, and think that a Welsh terrier will be a more “manageable” version of an Airedale. The truth is almost opposite to all of these assumptions. Welsh terriers and Airedales have looks and some classic terrier traits in common, but are distinctively different types of dogs.
Welsh Terrier History
Welsh terriers come from a very old type of dog, the rough-coated Black and Tan terrier, long known as Daeargi to the Welsh. Their job, prior to written records until recently, has been to hunt (and kill)— specifically foxes, badgers, and rodents. There are references to the dogs we now know as Welsh terriers as early as the 10th century. Welsh terriers were given a their “official” title in 1887 by the British, around the time many breeds were being created. During that time, as dog shows were becoming popular, Welsh terriers were mostly working dogs, and their inclusion in the ring was more of a novelty than anything. This is most likely because people could not brag about creating the breed, as they already existed.
Airedales, on the other hand, are a breed that was created in the mid 19th Century (less than 200 years ago) by combining existing terrier stock with Otterhounds. At the time there was a demand for a type of dog that would hunt water game with the passion of a terrier, but also posses some of the helpful attributes of a hound. Like many other breeds, their breed title was made official by the British in the late 1870’s. They were initially used for hunting water game, but were soon popular as working dogs in the public sector. This marks a main difference between Airedales and Welsh terriers, aside from the inclusion of hound genetics to the terrier gene pool. Airedales have long been used by law enforcement and the military, and have always worked closely with humans. Airedales were bred, again, to utilize key terrier hunting strengths, but to also bring versatility and sociability to an otherwise dedicated and fiercely independent hunter.
Different Breeds, Different Dogs
Airedales deserve their place alongside other terriers. Being the largest terrier, they live up to their title of the “King of terriers.” But physical size alone does not dictate the intensity of terrier personality a breed will have. Rather, look to the historical function of the dogs. If you are to judge by personality and historical use alone, Welsh terriers are meant to have a much more concentrated terrier personality. Being smaller actually made Welsh terriers more of hunting dogs than Airedales, for they were able to fit into small spaces and kill tough-to-catch creatures. Airedales are a bit hindered by their size for certain hunting pursuits, and therefore, were not just used to hunt, but also as service dogs for humans. For the longest time, people could not afford to keep dogs as pets, so they were bred for specific purposes.
Breed history may initially seem rather unimportant to prospective pet owners, but looking at history is paramount to selecting the right companion. As pets, Airedales and Welsh terriers have different needs and personalities. Living with and training a Welsh terrier is different than living with and training an Airedale. Both are wonderful examples of everything that is loved about terriers: their intelligence, drive, energy, and hilariously creative ways of thinking. But a quick look at the differing histories of the breeds can give one a good idea of just how unique each breed is.
Article © 2012 Miles & Emma.
* Images from The American Kennel Club Website
* Specific Welsh info from Welsh Terrier Owner's Guide, by Bardi McLennan
* Specific Airedale info from The Airedale Terrier Today, by Janet Huxley
* Interesting details on how Welsh terriers emerged from Black & Tans here.