Breed facts: Toy Group
In association with the Kennel Club, Nick Mays provides you with all you need to know about the Yorkshire Terrier. Could one of these charismatic little fellows be your next four-legged friend?
The Yorkshire Terrier is a dog of contradictions. We’ve all seen the primped, be-ribboned and carefully coiffured show Yorkies on the TV coverage of Crufts, but how many of us have witnessed the game, feisty little terrier grubbing around in a ditch or chasing after rats or mice? It’s all a case of perception, because you can get a tough little cookie alongside the charming, friendly family pet in one small, dynamic package. In fact, the Yorkshire Terrier is aptly named because, like its county of origin, it can be very lovely to look at, friendly and welcoming, but also tough, rugged and unyielding.
Of all the British dog breeds, the Yorkie is perhaps the most democratic – it was originally bred not by the landed gentry, but by ordinary working men. In the mid 19th century the Industrial Revolution was in full swing, and thousands of workers from all over the country converged on the big towns and cities in the north of England to work in factories and mills, or to toil in coal mines. A large proportion of these immigrant workers came from Scotland to Yorkshire and Lancashire, and among the few possessions they brought with them were several types of small terrier dogs. In the vast melting pot of the industrial towns, these disparate types of terrier were bred together and produced what may be called a new terrier breed. Naturally enough, as most working people were illiterate and too busy to keep any sort of breeding records, the origins of the Yorkshire Terrier can never be fully clear. It is, however, generally agreed by breed enthusiasts today that the Paisley Terrier, the Skye Terrier, the Scotch Terrier (not to be confused with the Scottish Terrier) and possibly even the Maltese were the principal core stock that made up the Yorkie.
Tenacity & ‘gameness’
The purpose of the new terrier was simple: it was bred to catch rats and mice and to be useful in rabbiting expeditions, so the traits of speed, tenacity and ‘gameness’ were bred into these feisty little dogs. In time, the new breed acquired the general name of Yorkshire Terrier, as they were most prevalent in the county of Yorkshire, although a fair percentage of the terriers were also to be found across the border in Lancashire. In due course, the Yorkie was picked up on by canine enthusiasts as a show dog and was recognised by the Kennel Club in 1874, just one year after its formation. Even then, there was a great deal of confusion, with several different types of Yorkie abounding, going by the description of ‘rough and broken-coated Yorkshire Terriers’, or, even more confusingly, ‘broken-haired Scotch and Yorkshire Terriers’. The breed made a move towards standardisation after the birth of a successful show dog named Huddersfield Ben. Bred by a Mr Eastwood and owned by Mr M A Foster, Huddersfield Ben fathered hundreds of puppies, which favoured his looks, and so he became known as the father of the modern Yorkie. Eventually the gentry got their hands on this working man’s breed, and one top breeder who greatly influenced the breed was Lady Edith Wyndham-Dawson, secretary of the Yorkshire Terrier Club, founded in 1898. Later, her kennel maid Miss Palmer established her own famous Yorkie breeding line.
Temperament, training & exercise
Yorkies are appealing little dogs. They are highly intelligent and, despite their size, they are full of courage and prepared to take on any perceived threat, irrespective of size – true terrier temperament! They have a casual charm about them and are extremely affectionate and loyal to their owners. Being small, they are as happy in an apartment as they are an ordinary-sized house. They have a great deal of energy and enjoy going for long walks, but are equally content to run around a small garden or in the home. However, being so intelligent, they get bored easily, so plenty of toys and other distractions are needed to occupy their lively minds.
A Yorkie will defend his territory robustly against all perceived threats. This often leads to them barking a lot, so careful training to temper this trait needs to be undertaken. Yorkies will live happily with cats and other dogs or pets if brought up with them or carefully introduced by their owners. However, they are very possessive of their owners, so care must be taken with any new introductions. Yorkies are very good with children but must be taught not to become over-exuberant in play, as the odd nip here and there can lead to tears. Children should be taught to handle Yorkies with care, around because they are prone to jumping and a fall from even three or four feet will be enough to break their bones. Also, be careful of household accidents – small dogs can be trodden on unwittingly! Training is relatively simple with Yorkies – they are quick to learn and soon master basic commands. They can even accept quite complicated instructions, although they sometimes question whether they should bother, so gentle but firm enforcement is needed! Pat Mitchell, secretary of the Yorkshire Terrier Club, says: “It’s a good idea to take your Yorkie to dog training classes so he can gain important socialisation with other dogs and not come to see any strange dog as a potential threat. Further advanced training, such as formal obedience, is also worthwhile, so Yorkies respond positively to using their quick little brains. “As with all intelligent breeds of dog, Yorkies get bored very quickly and do not like being left alone for long periods. Many Yorkie owners prefer to put their dogs in a crate if they are likely to be away for more than three hours. If you choose to do this, make sure your Yorkie has plenty of toys in his crate to keep him occupied, as well as food and water.”
General care & maintenance
Pat continues: “Yorkies are quite cosmopolitan in their feeding tastes and will happily eat a good, well-balanced proprietary dog food as well as a natural diet of chicken meat and fish. However, care must be taken not to overfeed them – Yorkies may only be small dogs but they have healthy appetites!” As far as grooming is concerned, Yorkies do need regular attention due to their long coats, although some owners opt to have them clipped regularly, which is beneficial for hygiene, not to mention convenience. The Yorkie’s coat doesn’t shed or have an undercoat, which makes the breed ideal for some people with allergies. It will continue to grow unless trimmed and is very similar to human hair in texture. Regular grooming with a good comb and brush will remove any dead hair and dirt, while any matted areas should be carefully teased out.
Special attention should be given to the areas around the dog’s tail, which can become easily matted and thus lead to unpleasant hygiene problems. The hair on the Yorkie’s feet also needs to be kept neatly trimmed to prevent any problems with walking. Care should be taken with the eyes and ears too, and owners should ensure that these are kept clean. Yorkies are usually hardy and long-lived, with the average lifespan ranging between 10 and 15 years. Like all breeds, Yorkies do have some incidences of genetic or hereditary ailments, such as hip dysplasia or progressive retinal atrophy (PRA), although thanks to the Kennel Club/British Veterinary Association Health Screening programme, many of these conditions are being eliminated. So it is wise to purchase your Yorkie from a reputable, Kennel Club approved breeder.
The Yorkshire Terrier is an immensely popular breed in the UK. In 2008, it was ranked 16th in the Kennel Club’s top 20 most popular breeds with no fewer than 3,951 dogs registered.
Yorkshire Terrier rescue
There is a very good Yorkshire Terrier breed rescue service in operation, operated between the various breed clubs throughout the UK. It is a sad fact that there are Yorkies in this country that are in need of help. The reasons are varied but one thing that they all have in common is that they need a loving home. Anybody wishing to take on a rescued Yorkie should contact the UK rescue coordinator. Home checks will generally be undertaken and the potential owners vetted. For more information contact Mrs Beryl Evans; tel. 01234 262515.
- A small, loyal dog
- Good family pet, usually fine with children
- Will mix well with other animals
- A fast thinker, highly intelligent
- Never dull
- Always busy and on the go
- Responds well to training
- Very handsome and noble appearance
- Always a faithful and loyal companion
- Easy to exercise and very energetic
- Happiest with a family
KENNEL CLUB BREED STANDARD Thinking of getting a Yorkshire Terrier?
Here’s what to look out for: A breed standard is the guideline which describes the ideal characteristics, temperament and appearance of a breed, and ensures that the breed is fit for function. Absolute soundness is essential. Breeders and judges should at all times be careful to avoid obvious conditions or exaggerations which would be detrimental in any way to the health, welfare or soundness of this breed.
From time to time certain conditions or exaggerations may be considered to have the potential to affect dogs in some breeds adversely, and judges and breeders are requested to refer to the Kennel Club website for details of any such current issues. If a feature or quality is desirable it should only be present in the right measure. At the time of going to press, the current Yorkshire Terrier breed standard is pending review.
Long-coated, coat hanging quite straight and evenly down each side, a parting extending from nose to end of tail. Very compact and neat, carriage very upright conveying an important air. General outline conveying impression of vigorous and well-proportioned body.
Alert, intelligent toy terrier.
Spirited with even disposition.
Head & skull
Rather small and flat, not too prominent or round in skull, nor too long in muzzle; black nose.
Medium, dark, sparkling, with sharp, intelligent expression and placed to look directly forward. Not prominent. Edge of eyelids are dark.
Small, V-shaped, carried erect and not too far apart. Covered with short hair, colour is a very deep, rich tan.
Perfect, regular and complete scissor bite (upper teeth closely overlapping lower teeth and set square to the jaws). Teeth well placed with even jaws.
Good reach. Forequarters Well-laid shoulders, legs straight, well covered with hair of rich golden tan a few shades lighter at ends than at roots, not extending higher on forelegs than elbow.
Compact with moderate spring of rib, good loin. Level back. Male animals should have two apparently normal testicles fully descended into the scrotum.
Legs quite straight when viewed from behind, moderate turn of stifle. Well covered with hair of rich golden tan a few shades lighter at ends than at roots, not extending higher on hind legs than stifles.
Previously customarily docked. Docked: medium length with plenty of hair, darker blue in colour than rest of body, especially at end of tail. Carried a little higher than level of back. Undocked: plenty of hair, darker blue in colour than rest of body, especially at end of tail. Carried a little higher than level of back. As straight as possible. Length to give a well-balanced appearance.
Gait & movement
Free with drive; straight action front and behind, retaining level topline.
Hair on body moderately long, perfectly straight (not wavy), glossy; fine silky texture, not woolly, must never impede movement. Fall on head long, rich golden tan, deeper in colour at sides of head, about ear roots and on muzzle where it should be very long. Tan on head not to extend on to neck, nor must any sooty or dark hair intermingle with any of the tan.
Dark steel blue (not silver blue), extending from occiput to root of tail, never mingled with fawn, bronze or dark hairs. Hair on chest is rich, bright tan. All tan hair darker at the roots than in middle, shading to still lighter at tips.
Weight up to 3.2kg (7lbs).
Any departure from the foregoing points should be considered a fault and the seriousness with which the fault should be regarded should be in exact proportion to its degree and its effect upon the health and welfare of the dog.
Where to get a Yorkie puppy
It’s always best to contact the Breed Club (see ‘Useful contacts’ left) to enquire whether any members have puppies in your area. If you go to a breeder recommended by the club, you can meet the puppies with their mother – which is always the best option – and ask advice on selecting the ideal puppy for you by experts within the breed. It’s also useful to join a breed club, even if you don’t want to show your Yorkie, as you will maintain contact with other owners and there will always be an experienced owner or breeder on hand to ask for help if you encounter any problems with your dog, such as feeding, training and general care.
6 Yorkie facts
1. Sylvia, a ‘matchbox-sized’ Yorkshire Terrier owned by Arthur Marples of Lancashire, was the smallest dog in recorded history. When Sylvia died in 1945 she was almost two years old, at which point she stood 2.5in tall at the shoulder, measured 3.5in from nose tip to tail, and weighed just 4oz.
2. A Yorkie named Thumbelina, 5.5in tall and 8in long, held the Guinness World Record for the smallest living dog up to 1995.
3. Between 1995 and 2002, the Guinness Book of World Records listed a Yorkshire Terrier named ‘Big Boss’ as the smallest dog in the world. Big Boss, owned by Dr Chai Khanchanakom of Thailand, was listed at 4.7in.
4. Pinocchio, described as ‘an abnormally small Yorkshire Terrier’, has appeared on several television programmes including Oprah.
5. A Yorkie, Pasha, lived in the US White House between 1968 and 1974. Pasha was owned by President Richard Nixon’s wife Trisha.
6. Movie actress Audrey Hepburn owned a Yorkie appropriately named Mr Famous.
Yorkshire Terrier Club, Mrs P E Mitchell (secretary), tel. 01235 833171.
Yorkshire Terrier Club of Scotland, Ms M Burns (secretary), tel. 01592 759277.
Yorkshire Terrier Club of South Wales, Mr T M Evans (secretary), tel. 01443 431052.
Eastern Counties Yorkshire Terrier Club, Mrs L J Pooley (secretary), tel. 01638 712614.
Cheshire & North Wales Yorkshire Terrier Society, Mrs J Milner (secretary), tel. 01513 273376.
Midland Yorkshire Terrier Club, Mrs K Slaney (secretary), tel. 01283 226189.
Northern Counties Yorkshire Terrier Club, Ms L Watson (secretary), tel. 01226 781373. South Western Yorkshire Terrier Club, Mrs J Drake (secretary), tel. 01179 601592.
Ulster Yorkshire Terrier Club, Mr S Larkham (secretary), tel. 02893 378302.
Lincoln & Humberside Yorkshire Terrier Club, Mrs B Pipes (secretary), tel. 01904 631961.
Thanks! Special thanks to Pat Mitchell of the Yorkshire Terrier Club for her help and information for this feature.
About the author
Nick Mays is a journalist specialising in animal media. He lives in Yorkshire with his family and four dogs. Nick is also the author of several books on animal care.