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  A Brief History of the Yorkshire Terrier [Yorkie]

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The Yorkshire Terrier
(Updated 11-8-12)

Cute Yorkie Puppy
The Yorkshire Terrier is in the Toy Group of AKC breeds. Of course they are, weighing in at an average of three to seven pounds; the Yorkie is valued for its purse portability. However, as pampered as this little dog breed is, it has all the fun loving energy that other terriers have. That helps to make the Yorkshire Terrier the fifth most popular dog breed registered with the American Kennel Club. The Yorkie originated in the county that gave the breed its name during the early nineteenth century.

Yorkshire and Lancashire is a rugged region in northern England. The Yorkshire Terrier was bred to hunt and kill rats and other rodents in the mines and cotton mills in the area. Those who initially developed the breed were the mill operators rather than dog enthusiasts so records are scarce. It is believed that the Yorkie was developed by crossing several breeds. The breed started out in Scotland, but was given the Yorkshire name for the location the Scottish weavers and other laborers migrated to in search of work. The workers brought their small Scottish terriers of non-descript heritage to Yorkshire where they were crossed with local terriers to create the "Broken-Haired Scotch Terrier." This dog became well known as a superb ratter in local textile factories and coal mines.

To create the Broken Haired Scotch Terrier, the breeders probably started with a small, fairly long-coated, bluish-gray dog that typically weighed about 10 pounds, called the Waterside Terrier. The Waterside Terrier was common in the Yorkshire region and was popular with miners in the area. The Dandie Dinmount Terrier, the old rough-coated Black and Tan English Terrier, the Manchester Terrier, and other now extinct breeds like the long-haired Leeds Terrier and the Clydesdale Terrier were thought to be crossed into the breed as well. Another breed used was the Paisley Terrier, a smaller version of the Skye Terrier, which introduced the long silky coat. Some sources list the Maltese as one of the ingredients as well. Whatever the recipe, in those days the Yorkshire Terrier could take on the biggest and most ferocious rodents they encountered.

When the Yorkie first entered a benched dog show in England in 1861, it was listed as the "Broken-Haired Scotch Terrier." Miss Mary Ann Foster of Yorkshire owned a Paisley type Yorkie named Huddersfeld Ben, born in 1865, who became very popular at dog shows throughout Great Britain. Huddersfeld Ben became a famous dog for defining the breed type for the Yorkshire Terrier and becoming known as the foundation sire of the breed. The Kennel Club of England recognized the breed commonly known as "Scotch Terriers" (not to be confused with today's Scottish Terriers, or "Scotties") in 1886. After the Westmoreland show of 1870, the breed officially became known as the Yorkshire Terrier. This action was probably based on the following comment in an article written by Angus Sutherland, a reporter for The Field: "They ought no longer to be called Scotch Terriers, but Yorkshire Terriers for having been so improved there."

The first litter of Yorkshire Terriers was reported to have been born in the United States in 1872. The American Kennel Club recognized the Yorkshire Terrier as a member of its Toy Group in 1885. The Yorkshire Terrier grew to be a popular pet and show dog in Victorian England. Since American society embraced all things Victorian, so it went with the Yorkshire Terrier. Yorkies have been shown in the United States since 1878. Early classes were divided by weight: under and over five pounds. Eventually, one class for dogs 3 to 7 pounds became part of the breed standard. Puppies are born black with tan markings, but mature to a dark, almost metallic steel blue from the top of the head to the base of the tail, with rich golden tan on the face, topknot, chest, and lower legs. Tails typically are docked to a medium length.

The Yorkie quickly became a highly prized fashion accessory for high society ladies who saw them first enter the dog shows of the latter nineteenth century. They were excellent companion dogs as they were small, pretty, playful with personality, and they were portable. With this demand, Yorkies were selectively bred to be smaller in size. However, their coat did not shrink with their bodies. The result was the Yorkshire Terrier we know today. It is a wee companion dog with an impressive and unusually long, metallic blue and rich golden coat. In the show ring, the Yorkie's coat usually flows (drags) along the ground and must be tied up in a number of "pony tails" to keep it tidy while waiting to enter the ring.

The breed's popularity waned in the United States during the 1940s when the percentage of small breed dogs registered fell to an all-time low. The popularity of Smoky, a Yorkshire Terrier and famous war dog from WWII, is credited with beginning a renewal of interest in the breed. Smoky served with the Fifth Air Force in the South Pacific, achieving the unofficial rank of corporal and receiving credit for flying twelve combat missions and earning eight battle stars. Here are a few other famous Yorkies:

  • " In 1997, Champion Ozmilion Mystification became the first Yorkie to win Best in Show at Crufts, the world's largest annual dog show.
  • " Sylvia, a matchbox-size Yorkshire Terrier owned by Arthur Marples of Blackburn, England, was the smallest dog in recorded history. Sylvia died in 1945 when she was only two years old. At that time she stood 2.5 inches tall at the shoulder, measured 3.5 inches from nose tip to tail, and weighed 4 ounces.
  • " Guinness World Records for 1995 through 2002 lists a Yorkshire Terrier named Big Boss as the smallest dog in the world. Big Boss was 4.7 inches tall when his owner, Dr. Chai Khanchanakom of Thailand, registered the toy dog with Guinness.
  • " A Yorkie named Thumbelina, 5.5 inches tall and 8 inches long, held the Guinness World Record for smallest living dog prior to 1995.
  • " Tiny Pinocchio, an abnormally small Yorkshire Terrier, has appeared on several television programs including Oprah and the Today Show.
  • " Pasha, Tricia Nixon Cox's pet Yorkie, lived in the White House during the Richard Nixon presidency.

Yorkshire Terriers have been declared hypoallergenic by many popular dog information websites. The typical fine, straight, silky coat of the Yorkie sheds very little. For this reason, the Yorkshire has been crossed with other breeds to create some recognized hybrids or "designer dogs." The most popular being the Yorkipoo, a cross between a Yorkie and a poodle. You will also here of the Borkie, a crossing of a Beagle and a Yorkie, as well as a Shorkie which is the breeding of a ShihTzu to a Yorkshire Terrier.


An adult Yorkshire Terrier

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Yorkshire Terrier photos © iStockphoto