The Yorkshire Terrier

Yorkshire Terrier
The Yorkshire Terrier
This tiny, terrific rat hunting dog breed rolls with the punches, reinvents self as lap ornament.


Most of us appreciate a good rags to riches story. A quick perusal of the shelves at any movie rental place reveals that Hollywood has tapped into this universal truth. Be it the kind cop who wins the lottery and shares his earnings with the waitress. Or a certain pretty woman who rises from the cruel street to the penthouse suite. A tale with a happy ending-where our hero not only survives, but thrives-warms the heart. Or, in the case of the lovable Yorkshire Terrier, the lap.

Yes, one of our lesser-known protagonists is sitting right under our noses, likely curled into a small ball.

The frequently well-dressed, jewel-collared petit chiens we see in the totes of fashionistas weren't always companions of choice for the dog-discerning, however. In the beginning, the Yorkie was a working dog. (If you've yet to break the news to Corky, don't let him read this.)

The exact origins of the Yorkshire Terrier are obscure. What is amply certain is that its original purpose was to control rats in the factories, coal mines and textile mills of Yorkshire, in northern England, during the Industrial Revolution. The breed is thought to be a mixture of several different small terriers. These include the now-extinct Paisley and Clydesdale terriers, small dogs with long, silky, bluish-grey coats, brought to Yorkshire by Scottish weavers in the mid-19th century. Plus something then called the Waterside Terrier-and an "Old English Black and Tan Terrier." An added dash of the Maltese may have seasoned the breed later in its development.

In 1861 the Yorkshire Terrier made its debut at a bench show in England under the name "broken-haired Scotch Terrier." However, after the 1870 Westmoreland Show, Angus Sutherland wrote in The Field magazine that "they ought no longer be called Scotch Terriers, but Yorkshire Terriers for having been so improved there." Later the name was officially proclaimed. Today, short and sweet like the dog itself, the breed is nicknamed simply "Yorkie."

After its transition from common ratcatcher to desirable arm warmer in the Victorian era, the Yorkie's popularity among seekers of fashionable four-legged friendship only snowballed. This surge is largely attributed to the dogs' intelligence, energy, good looks (looks, it could be argued, that have gone straight to their heads) and affection for their owners. They are suspicious of strangers and have an acute sense of hearing, making them effective watch dogs. Ideal for apartment living-although also good outdoor companions-Yorkies are not well suited to homes with young children, primarily due to their very small size. Yet their fierce loyalty and undying courage contribute to a reputation for believing they're much larger than they really are. (One Modern Dog editor describes witnessing her supposed AmStaff cross, having thought he'd just spotted some unwary cats-or better yet, rats-race a hundred yards at full speed just to be sharply rebuffed at the very last moment for his impertinent intrusion by a couple of startled and annoyed Yorkies. And then on a less comical note there was the Vancouver-area Yorkie who, upon spotting a bear in the family's backyard, valiantly charged out to challenge the intruder head-on, with predictably tragic consequences. The power of positive thought apparently still with its limitations.)

The famous Yorkie terrier attitude often presents itself in stubbornness and anti-social tendencies toward other animals. In a word, these dogs appear to think they're just "too cool." However, Corky would likely choke on his pâté if he got his paws on an old family album. A quick flip-through would reveal his ancestors' dark days in the mines and may be just the thing to humble him. (A picture, in this case, would indeed be worth a thousand barks.)

The American Kennel Club breed standard describes the Yorkshire Terrier as "neat, compact and well proportioned," while its "high head carriage and confident manner should give the appearance of vigor and self-importance." It has a medium-length muzzle, a black nose and a small flat head-ideal for any book-balancing a career in modelling may require. The eyes are lively and dark, the ears small, V-shaped and erect. Weight must not exceed seven pounds. (It is of interest that the early ratting dogs were reported to be substantially larger-more in the order of 15 to 20 pounds.)

Arguably the Yorkie's most stunning feature is its coat. Simon & Schuster's Guide to Dogs (1980) describes the coat as being "composed of straight, long, shiny, silky hair that is steel blue with golden areas on the head, chest, and limbs." (While many humans pay top dollar for highlights like that, the Yorkie's golden markings were supposedly developed so it could be easily seen in the darkness of the mines.) It's likely your puppy will be born black, but within a year he will develop the standard coat. Typically, the hair on the head is so long that it must be tied with a bow in the centre or parted in the middle and tied on the sides. While this is aesthetically pleasing from an adorability factor, more importantly it allows the dog to see better. (However, this doesn't negate the fact that today's tiny, bow-clad Yorkie would likely be laughed out of any working coal mine.)

Many people think the chic coats donned by our Yorkies are merely hip accessories. While partially correct, it's also true our tiny friends suffer tremendously from the cold. As such, sweaters are one-part luxury, two-parts necessity.

From working-class stiff to designer-clad lap ornament, the only rodent these dynamos are likely to get close to today is the mouse their urban owners double-click.

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Comments (8)

We had Yorkies in our lives for 20 years and currently have four. We're very faithful to the breed and wouldn't get anything else. I have noticed that the females love you but the boys are IN love with you. We adore their spunky personalities and always enjoy their antics. Yorkies are so very intelligent especially considering the size of their brain ! Master manipulators! They are great little dogs that make wonderful companions. This was a great article about them.
Mon, 11/26/2012 - 16:26
I love my yorkie so much. He provides us with companionship, especially for dad and I. Dad and I are both loners for the most part. I have very few friends and like to keep it that way most of the time. Bentley (our Yorkie) will be 5 years old this April 1 and he is the sweetest, cutest, loveable dog I've ever come across. The thing that isn't typical about him is his personality. He rarely shows any interest in other dogs, in fact he's quite afraid of them, even the little ones. I find that sad. He isn't very playful anymore as he's gotten older he's lost that zip. And he never learned how to fetch properly. It's annoying but kinda cute. I'll throw his toy and half the time he goes after it, the other half he just stares at me. When he does go to get it he never brings it back. He's very selective about when to listen to commands other than 'stay' which he is very good at. "Come" is practically non-existent. He just doesn't care much of the time I guess. But he's a great dog, I will be forever heartbroken when he passes away.
Sun, 01/13/2013 - 17:36
I'll be smiling all day. I once had a goat. His name was Gordy and his job was to keep my irnejud horse company. They were the best of friends until my horse recovered and was let back out to pasture with his other horse friends, at which point, he dropped Gordy like a ton of bricks. The poor goat wandered the farm aimlessly, pooping and consuming everything in sight boots, horse feed, riding gloves, tin cans, small children you name it, that goat ate it! I once watched him guzzle down tractor fluid like it was a chocolate milkshake. People began to complain and sadly, Gordy was asked to leave. The owner of the farm took him to a petting zoo in upstate New York or that's what he told me.
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Tue, 10/09/2018 - 08:13
I have 2 Yorkies, a 5lb and a 11lb. Didnt know the bigger one would be so big when I got her as pup, but I LOVE the bigger size. Substantial and she'll walk for 4-5 miles in cool weather without a problem. My little one has medical issues all her life, but is happy as clam. She's content with a casual stroll every day. And I dare any squirrel to pass our way! ha! Great great dogs. Smart, strong, quick, and tough as nails for such a small package...and manipulative of course.
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Wed, 07/04/2018 - 00:17

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