The Airedale Terrier can trace its history more accurately and with greater certainty than most dog breeds. The Airedale was created by working class dog owners in the West Riding of Yorkshire in the mid-19th century by crossing the rough-coated Black and Tan Terrier (later to become the Welsh Terrier), and the Otterhound. Airedale being the river valley in Yorkshire through which runs the river Aire. The breed was formally recognised by the Kennel Club in 1886.

The Airedale Terrier went on to become the terrier of choice, although it appears to have been originally designed as a ratter. While it was far too large to go underground to search for its prey, it could do everything else once the rats were flushed from their riverside homes on the river Aire. Its waterproof coat, which came courtesy of the Otterhound element of its breeding, and its large size, made it more than a match for the large rats that inhabited the river Aire during that time.

But the combination of terrier and hound within the breed meant that the Airedale could also scent rather well. Its size too made it a formidable opponent for most game. Thus the Airedale Terrier became arguably the most complete terrier of them all.

Its courage, intelligence and size also made the Airedale Terrier ideal for other purposes. Airedales were used during the First World War to carry supplies and messages through the trenches, and to assist the Red Cross in locating wounded soldiers. Around this time they were also introduced as police dogs, providing yet more evidence of the considerable versatility of the Airedale Terrier.