The single most common thing I hear from puppy people is: “I’ve had an Airedale – best dog I ever had – but now I need a smaller version.” While Welshes and Airedales may look like big and little versions of the same dog, nothing could be further from the truth. Guess which one’s really the big dog? The Welsh, of course! And here’s why:

Welsh Terriers are the most ancient pure terrier breed in existence, harking back to the now-extinct Old English Black and Tan Terrier, an all-around hunt terrier, farm dog and vermin fighter. Indeed, these were the WT’s jobs also. Though the first Welshes would be almost unrecognizable to our eyes, their independent spirit is very much a part of our present-day dogs. Welshes are independent hunters, courageous to a fault, who were bred to think nothing of dragging game a lot bigger than they were out of a hole – teeth first. When work was done, Welshes filled the role of Welsh farmer’s watchdog and family pet.

Airedales, on the other hand, are a relatively recent amalgam of Black and Tan/ Welsh Terrier, other terriers and Otterhound. The admixture of hound produces a very different temperament, much less “hot” with other dogs and also more amenable to working under man’s commands. Airedales have been war dogs, land and water retrievers, seeing eye dogs, big game hunters, varmint dogs, and police dogs, among other achievements. These big fellows have a sweet, biddable, clownish nature that’s easy to love.

Some Other Comparisons

Appearance: And what about that “same” appearance? Both breeds have roughly the same silhouette, with the Welsh stout, short-backed and “square.” Though substantial, the Airedale is often built along racier lines. ‘Dale heads show their Otterhound ancestry, with soulful eyes and largish ears which should point to the ground, not toward the eye, as with Welshes. Coat color is much the same, though texture differs between the breeds.

Small Children: A good breeder of both WTs and Airedales whom I know says that he wouldn’t sell a WT puppy to a household with little kids, but he wouldn’t hesitate to sell an Airedale to such a family. Why?

WTs have a hard time remembering that a baby/toddler/5-year-old isn’t another puppy for them to dominate as they would a littermate. Such “play” from a little WT tends to upset parents – a lot. Welshes all have something of a Napoleon complex.
Airedales, even young ones, often assume the role of nursemaid to “their” little ones. They are much more likely to protect their family than a WT. They’re bigger, thus unlikely to be accidentally hurt by a toddler – and much less likely to retaliate if they are.

Temperament: Welshes are often tough with other dogs, especially if they haven’t been around lots of dogs since babyhood. Socialization is needed to civilize them. WTs generally fear nothing, love everybody and might tend to scare small kids with their exuberance. Strange noises and experiences might make them jump back and reassess, but never turn tail. Most WTs make good show dogs because very little fazes them.

Airedales are much “softer,” needing tactful handling and no bad experiences if they are to succeed in the show ring or be confident pets. Socializing a ‘Dale is vital to his future happiness. In this regard they are much more like sporting dogs than terriers. Yelling a reprimand at an Airedale makes him beg forgiveness. A Welsh wouldn’t even notice.

Which is it to be?

Obviously I like Airedales and often recommend them to people who think they want a Welsh Terrier. My daughter, who grew up with WTs, has an Airedale which is devoted to her. But on balance I find them a teeny bit dull. I like more sass and independence.

Welshes need firm handling and don’t-give-up training, since they usually think they have something better to do than “sit” or “come.” They live long, healthy lives, staying young a lot longer than larger dogs. Their activity level and intensity appeal to me, though their dog-aggressiveness (really variable and hard to predict) is a nuisance. They are lap dogs on occasion, but not nauseatingly so.

For me, Welshes win. What about you?

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