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Yorkshire terrier with red bow

The History of the Yorkshire Terrier

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Spunky is usually one of the first traits that come to mind when one thinks of the Yorkshire Terrier breed. Fun and fierce, this toy-breed dog is consistently rated one of the top dog breeds by the American Kennel Club. Affectionately called Yorkies, these pint-sized pooches pack a larger-than-life personality into their small size.

Yorkshire terrier with red bow

The stand out feature of a Yorkshire Terrier is its long, silky coat of blue and tan, reaching the floor. They weigh no more than 7 pounds.

Yorkies are loyal and devoted to their owners, making them excellent companion animals or family pets. Their small size allows them to adjust well to crowded urban areas. Size also makes them compatible with people who are unable to care for a larger, stronger dog.

They have been used as therapy dogs, as they seem to have a sense when someone needs comfort. They have a sweet temperament and are spunky.

Because their coat is more like human hair and they have no undercoat, they don’t shed much. This makes Yorkies ideal for people with allergies, but also time-consuming to groom. Many owners choose to keep their Yorkies hair clipped short.

You may know all about their sweet looks and playful personalities, but how well do you know Yorkshire Terrier history?

Yorkies As Part of the Terrier Group

yorkie with short haircut

Terriers are, perhaps, one of the best-known dog types. And now there are numerous types of Yorkshire Terriers.

On the whole, they are energetic, cheerful, and playful. Some can lean toward being mischievous and stubborn, but with proper training, they make lovely pets. 

Originating mostly from England, terriers were bred to dig and hunt for prey, as vermin control, and as guard dogs. Larger breeds were often used in fox hunting. Smaller breeds were used as pest control for vermin, such as moles and rats. In modern times, terriers range from large to toy-sized.

Yorkies share several surprising traits with the other members of the Terrier group, most notably their original purpose. Yorkshire Terrier history may not be extensive, but it is exciting!

From Humble Beginnings…

Yorkshire Terriers first appeared in the Northern England counties of Yorkshire and Lancashire in the mid-1840s.

Scottish weavers brought their small terriers with them, and several breeds were mixed to create what we now call the Yorkshire Terrier.

They were bred to control rodent populations in the textile mills and mines of the area. Their small size allowed them to squeeze into tight places. The dog’s long, silky coat, a hallmark of the breed, was jokingly attributed to the product of the mill looms.

As records of breeding did not exist at the time, no one is precisely sure what breeds contributed to the Yorkshire line.

Some think Yorkies are a mix of the now-extinct Clydesdale and Paisley Terriers, and the Skye and Dandie Dinmont Terriers. Others say they are a mix of the Clydesdale, Waterside, and Old English Terriers, all now extinct.

Like some of their larger cousins, the Yorkshire terrier went out into the forest and hedgerows of the English countryside. Unlike larger terriers, Yorkies could be carried in a pocket.

They hunted small to medium den-dwelling animals. They had a reputation for being fierce and brave, going after prey such as foxes and badgers, without hesitation.

Yorkies were initially shown under the name Broken Haired Scotch Terrier. Then they were called Toy Terriers. These dogs were not called Yorkshire Terriers until 1874.

…To the Lap of Luxury…

Yorkshire Terrier in show coat. Isolated on a white background

During the latter part of the Victorian Era, Yorkshires transitioned from working dogs excelling at pest control to pampered lapdogs of the wealthy.

First recognized as a unique breed by the Kennel Club in England in 1886, Yorkies quickly gained a considerable following among well-to-do ladies. 

While growing in popularity, Yorkies shrank in size during this time. Their smaller size fit their new role as lapdog and companion to wealthy ladies and their households. Their loyalty to their owner made them ideal house dogs. In general, small dogs were popular, but the Yorkies’ beautiful appearance made them stand out. 

As interest in Yorkies took off in England, they also became popular in the United States. Like many trends of the time, immigrants brought their dogs with them.

People began breeding Yorkies in American in the 1870s. The American Kennel Club officially recognized Yorkshire Terriers in 1885.

…To Today

Yorkies are consistently one of the most popular dog breeds in the United States and the UK. Their size makes them easy to travel with and keep in small homes and apartments. They are smart and energetic and excel at dog sports like agility courses.

A Yorkie won the Westminster Dog Show for the first time in 1978.

Despite being owned mostly by women at the height of their popularity in the Victorian era, they are equally popular with men and women today.

Famous Yorkies

Huddersfield Ben

The most famous Yorkshire Terrier is a show dog named Huddersfield Ben. He won over 70 dog show events in his short life spanning 1865 to 1871. His owner, Mary Foster, was an early supporter of the breed and the first woman to judge dogs in England.  

He is considered the father of the breed through 11 of his offspring. While large for the breed standard at the time, he consistently produced litters that were under 5 pounds. Despite only living for six years, he had a lasting impact on the breed.

Smokey

Yorkies were going out of fashion in the 1940s. That is until the sensational story of Smokey, found in the jungle of Papua New Guinea. She was adopted by William Wynne and aided the 5th Air Force in multiple missions, including surviving a typhoon.

She entertained the unit with tricks and even had a parachute allowing her to jump from a 30-foot tower. Most notably, she saved many lives by pulling a telegraph wire through a 60-foot-long drainage pipe.

She later visited wounded soldiers in hospitals, making her one of the first recorded therapy dogs. 

Small Dog, Large Heart

Yorkie under white blanket

After reading Yorkshire Terrier history, it’s easy to see why they have captured the hearts of so many dog lovers. With their large dog personality in a compact size, there is no reason to think the Yorkshire Terrier breed will lose popularity in the coming years.

Check out some more interesting Yorkie facts!

Cathy Bendzunas with yorkie and yorkie mix

Cathy Bendzunas

Dog Blogger

I have always loved Yorkies and got my first on when I was 19. I bred and showed them back in the 80’s. Though I love other breeds too, Yorkshire Terriers will always be my first love. I have lived and worked with dogs all my life.

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2 comments

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