It is in the details that breed type is stamped on Terriers, and Airedale Terrier aficionados place great emphasis on expression as an essential breed-specific characteristic. As noted by Gladys Edwards Brown (GEB) in her hallmark book, The Complete Airedale, “Expression is a combination of several factors: size, shape, color and placement of the eyes; size and carriage of the ears; together with the general shape of the head and it is sparked by the glow within.” The physical components of expression can be examined individually and then united with the spark from true Terrier temperament.
First, examining the eye, it is interesting to note that descriptions of the proper eye are almost unchanged from early written standards of the breed. For example, in All About Airedales (Palmer, 1911), the author quotes an early Airedale Terrier breed standard, which was published in Dogs of All Nations in 1905. The standard specifies, “Eyes – small, dark in color, not prominent but full of terrier expression.” Amazingly, the current AKC Airedale Terrier Standard uses almost the exact same words: “Eyes – should be dark, small, not prominent, full of terrier expression, keenness and intelligence.”
Over the years, other authors have added additional words, to paint a more detailed picture. It has been stated that the eyes should be full of fire and have a fierce, keen-eyed gaze known as the “look of eagles.” Others have described the expression as “hard-bitten,” with the dog seeming to look right through you. The Airedale Terrier’s official standard does not include information about the shape of the eye, but experts have noted that the eye should not be round.
GEB writes, “Rather they are oval, sometimes giving a somewhat triangular appearance, but not so exaggerated as the Bull Terrier.” The Airedale Terrier Club of America’s Illustrated Standard describes the eye as “almond.” While descriptions of shape vary, the elements of “small and dark”—and the nearer to black the better—are consistent. It should be noted that perception of the color and shape of the eyes can be altered by the presence of dark pigmentation or “mascara” around the eye, which makes the eye look larger.
The look of eagles or the hard-bitten expression that authors mention is not a physical characteristic, but is the intense gaze and alertness of a Terrier with proper temperament. It is best observed when the Airedale is looking at another dog; just one more of the many reasons for judges to spar Airedale Terriers!
The ears, too, play a large part in creating the Airedale Terrier expression. Again, current descriptions of the proper ear are consistent with early written remarks. In books from the 1900s, the ear is described as small, but not out of proportion to the size of the dog; V-shaped, carried close to the cheek, with the topline of the folded ear above the level of the skull. Today’s standard states, “Ears: Should be V-shaped with carriage rather to the side of the head, not pointing to the eyes, small but not out of proportion to the size of the dog. The topline of the folded ear should be above the level of the skull.” The ATCA Illustrated Standard reminds us that the ear is highly mobile, not fixed in a stationary position. The ear is best evaluated when two dogs face off against each other.
When eyes and ears are not as described above, expression will appear atypical. One writer has noted, “Nothing can so distract from the correct terrier expression as large, light eyes and houndy ears.” The Airedale Terrier standard lists seven faults, and two are related to expression: “Yellow eyes, hound ears… faults which should be severely penalized.”
The final component to proper Airedale Terrier expression is the “glow within” or true Airedale temperament. The Airedale should project an intelligent, steady, self-confident nature combined with keen awareness and interest in his surroundings. We fanciers say, “He owns the ground he stands on.” He is not aggressive nor is he passive, but instead is ready for any action that comes his way. He should never be fearful, and in the show ring, he should recover quickly from any unusual occurrence such as a fence falling or tent flapping. When he faces another dog, his gaze should intensify and become hard-bitten. A soft or sad expression is improper, and if the Airedale you are examining “needs a hug” or has a gentle, pleading expression, look elsewhere for your winner!
Correct Airedale expression is essential for breed type and for your BOB winner. It should be easy to spot the winner. He is standing on his own with head held high, ears breaking above the level of his skull and tight against his cheeks. His small, dark eyes are taking everything in and he’s projecting energy and confidence. While his owner has trained him to stand steady for examination, you can see his spirit on the spar. His expression reveals that he is the King of the Terriers!