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The Hunting Airedale

The Airedale Terrier was developed in in England in the mid-19th century specifically for hunting both fur and feathered game. The men who began the blend of breeds that was to become the Airedale Terrier were not gentlemen of the sporting world, but rather practical farmers who needed a game dog that would go after vermin as well as bring in birds for their table.

The Airedale Terrier began to be imported into the US in the mid 1880’s and was recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1988. A further insurgence of the Airedale into North America in the early 20th century brought expanded hunting opportunities for the breed. The Airedale’s outstanding performance, both as an efficient farm dog and as hunter of “big game” such as bear and wildcat, soon shaped the breed’s reputation. However, early accounts of Airedales hunting also regularly included references to the breed’s abilities as a gun dog, used to flush and retrieve a variety of upland birds and water fowl. In the May 1909 issue of Country Life in America, Airedales were described as “having a very strong hunting instinct, with few dogs better equipped for shooting over in the cover or in the open. The Airedale’s speed, endurance, and imperviousness to climactic conditions fit him for bird hunting. He loves the water and can stay in it by the hour on the coldest winter day, making an ideal dog for snipe or to retrieve ducks and geese”. While traditional sporting breeds such as retrievers and spaniels shaped public perception of a “gun dog”, there have always been a number of fanciers who continued to use Airedales as bird dogs.

TCATC member Scott Lichty and Airedale Regent Wasabi UD JH GN RA (aka "BOB") who became the first Airedale to earn a AKC Hunting Flushing Title when it became available to the Airedale breed in 2009.   

Training Puppy

A Good Day Hunting

By the mid-1980’s some of these fanciers met through their participation in Airedale Terrier Club of America (ATCA) activities. They determined that there was significant interest among fellow breeders in preserving and developing the Airedale’s hunting abilities. So, in 1985, the ATCA Hunting/Working Committee (the HWC) was formed by the club’s board of directors.

Meanwhile, at about the same time (mid 1980’s), the AKC began holding hunt tests for dog breeds belonging to their “Sporting Group”. Hunting tests for retrievers, spaniels and pointing breeds were devised and run that allowed dogs to earn AKC hunting titles for the first time. The Hunting/Working Committee did not think the Airedale fit into any of these three categories, believing instead that the best way to truly test a hunting Airedale was to test the breed’s skill at hunting fur, upland birds and water fowl, - a three-in-one gun dog test. 

One of the first acts of the HWC was to apply to the AKC for them to hold a three-in-one test for Airedales. The request was denied. Instead, the AKC encouraged the HWC to develop and hold its own club hunt tests. So, in 1986, the HWC held its first national Hunting Working Weekend in Ohio. The event was improved in 1989 when the HWC instituted AKC approved guidelines for their club tests. It was improved again in 1993 when official ATCA Hunt Tests and Hunt Titles became a reality. These ATCA tests showcased the Airedale’s ability to flush and retrieve as well as track and trail fur bearing game. Dogs who successfully completed tests at ATCA sanctioned events received Flushing, Retrieving, and Fur titles from the Airedale Terrier Club of America.

Training Day Fun

One of the ongoing ATCA Hunting and Field Committee events is the Randy Cooley Memorial Hunt Test, held every May near the town of Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, North of Madison. Randy had started a regional ATCA hunting test in Wisconsin in 1998. Sadly, he died suddenly of a heart attack in 2002. The following year the ATCA decided to carry on the hunt test in his honor. In 2010 we celebrated the 8th year of the Randall Cooley Memorial Hunt Test by holding the test as a licensed AKC Spaniel test for the first time. Randy would be very proud to be part of what the event has become and the ATCA is proud to hold the test in his memory.

As Airedales have trained and competed side by side with Spaniels breeds, they have earned respect and acceptance within that community. The Spaniel community has been exceptionally welcoming and helpful to Airedale handlers. Their mentoring of the ATCA Hunting and Field Committee has been noteworthy and generous. To find AKC Spaniel Hunting Tests or Clubs near you, see the AKC website and search ‘Spaniel Hunting Tests’ or ‘Spaniel Clubs’ under the “Events Search” button.

Annie at a Hunt Test

Bob retrieving a Bird at a Hunt

Years of hard work and perseverance by many ATCA members paid off in July of 2009, when Airedales became eligible to earn AKC Hunting Test titles through their upland hunt tests for Spaniels program. With this one decision by the AKC to include our breed, a whole new world opened for Airedales as they instantly became recognized by the entire hunting public as legitimate gun dogs! Today there are many training and testing opportunities open to Airedales that were not available prior to 2009.

Bob Chasing a Pheasant

Cooley Hunt Test Qualifiers

New in the Airedale world for 2018 is the Parent Club Title (PCT) recognition that has been awarded to the ATCA Fur Tracking and Trailing Test by the AKC. For the first time, Airedales who earn fur tracking titles at ATCA tests can record Junior Fur Tracker (JFT), Senior Fur Tracker (SFT) or Master Fur Tracker (MFT) titles on their AKC pedigrees through the PCT program. In addition, owners can apply to the PCT program retroactively for dogs who earned titles at ATCA events going back as far as 1996. See the ATCA website for links to information about the AKC PCT program.

Bruce at a Hunt Test

The ATCA Hunting and Field Committee is a group of breeders, hunters and hunt testers who are committed to preserving and promoting the Airedale Terrier’s hunting tradition. They promote the breed by supporting a booth at Pheasants Forever’s National Pheasant Fest each year and by their involvement in AKC Spaniel hunt tests. They also mentor people new to training an Airedale for hunting.

Several Hunting and Field Committee members live in the Minneapolis / St. Paul metro area. We are available to help find a hunting puppy, recommend local spaniel and retriever clubs, recommend local trainers to work with, and/or help train Airedale handlers in our training group.

For any further information about hunting Airedales contact TCATC member and ATCA Hunting and Field Committee Chair, Scott Lichty at [email protected]