The Yorkshire terrier was originally developed in the 19th century in Yorkshire, England. This was a working dog whose primary purpose was to catch rats in clothing mills. Nicknamed the Yorkie, this is classified as a toy dog by many clubs. Details as to how the breed actually originated are scarce; as a Mrs. A. Foster said in 1886, "If we consider that the mill operatives who originated the breed...were nearly all ignorant men, unaccustomed to imparting information for public use, we may see some reason why reliable facts have not been easily attained."•
However, in the 1860s, a Yorkshire terrier show dog named Huddersfield Ben began to be seen at dog shows throughout Great Britain, and became the defining "prototype," as it were, of the classic Yorkshire terrier. His coat was perhaps a little bit more wiry than today's Yorkshire terriers, but he was considered the best dog of this breed during his lifetime. Many of today's show worthy Yorkshire terriers have one or more crosses of his blood in their pedigrees. Ben himself was killed when he was hit by a carriage at the age of six in 1871, but he lives on in his breed and is in fact considered the father of the Yorkshire terrier breed. When he died, his body was preserved under glass so that people could continue to see this most famous dog.
In 1872, the Yorkshire terrier came to North America and was registered with the American Kennel Club in 1885. It became a very popular breed during the Victorian era both as a pet and as a show dog. As Americans, too, began to embrace a Victorian lifestyle, they also embraced the Yorkshire terrier.•
Although the breed fell off in popularity in the 1940s, a Yorkshire terrier named Smoky became a World War Two hero and helped create a resurgence in people's desire for Yorkshire terriers. Smoky was found by an American soldier in the jungles of New Guinea, who sold her to fellow soldier Bill Wynne for $6.44. Smoky accompanied her master on many missions; in total, she was credited with serving 12 combat missions. She survived 150 air raids and was awarded eight battle stars. Her master said that Smoky once saved his life by warning him of incoming fire on a transport ship. She died at the age of 14 at home in Cleveland with Wynne, long after her time on the battlefield was over. She was buried in a World War Two .30 caliber ammo box at the Rocky River Reservation in Lakewood, Ohio.
The Yorkshire terrier is a tiny dog, weighing only between 3 and 7 pounds in adulthood and standing just 6 to 7 inches high at the shoulder. Show dogs must have glossy, fine, straight and silky hair. It's traditionally kept long for show, parted down the middle of the back and combed straight on either side. The topcoat color is gray to steel blue, with dark hair on the tail as well and tan hair on the chest, head and legs.
When puppies are born, they are fully black with tan points; these markings fade and as they get older, their traditional colors come out. Occasionally, Yorkshire terriers are also a brown color, with no black pigment. However, it should be noted that Yorkshire terriers that don't have traditional colors may have health problems. Color alone does not necessarily mean a terrier won't be healthy, but colors beyond the typical blue and tan can simply mean health problems because they may also signal genetic abnormalities.
Yorkshire terriers are surprisingly confident, self-assured little dogs, and are active, affectionate and very loyal. They love attention, but they need a very strong disciplinary hand. Because they are so strong natured, and because their tiny, adorable appearance may erroneously cause owners to pamper or baby them, they can develop what's called Small Dog Syndrome.
With Small Dog Syndrome, little dogs that are not properly disciplined and trained by their owners can become, to put it bluntly, spoiled rotten brats. Yorkshire terriers need a calm but assertive "alpha" owner, an owner who will take charge and make sure the dog listens and obeys. With the proper structure and training and with the proper leader, though, Yorkshire terriers are intensely loyal, sweet and affectionate to their owners. As long as they are given the proper discipline, they can be trusted with children, although they should not be left with small children if they haven't been given the kind of structure and discipline they need. Undisciplined Yorkshire terriers can be high strung, snappish or jealous and could bite.
Yorkshire terriers must be kept active, and in fact if they're not given enough exercise, they'll misbehave simply because they need to use up some of that exuberant energy. In addition, Yorkshire terriers can become easily bored and need lots of attention from their human masters and mistresses. They need a daily walk in part to fulfill their instinctual need to walk. They also need it simply as a means to train and keep them in check to show them that you are the master. Yorkshire terriers are truly happiest and are the most well behaved when their owners are stern but loving, with clear boundaries.
They do very well with apartment living and beyond their daily walk, they don't need a lot of outdoor activity. Very active play, however, is necessary, because they have boundless energy. Although they don't need a yard, they love to romp and play outdoors and will be very happy if they can have an outdoor space so that they can play with abandon. (You can of course give them opportunities to do so even without a yard if you don't have one.)
They do okay in households with small children as long as they receive proper discipline; however, if you don't plan to be a completely hands-on "alpha" owner and may be at risk for spoiling a Yorkie, you should not get one, especially if you have small children. The aforementioned Small Dog Syndrome could make a Yorkie a danger to small children because they have a propensity to bite when they feel aggressive or have become very spoiled such that they think they should be boss.
Yorkshire terriers need regular clipping or trimming of their fur coats. For longhaired Yorkies with the typical show coat, they need regular brushing and combing, at least weekly. The topknot is tied back with a ribbon. For Yorkshire terriers that aren't doing the show circuit, a regular close shaggy clip is often the preferred cut of choice, which requires little to no care. Yorkies shed little to no hair.
These pets are somewhat prone to health problems particular to the breed, such as bronchitis, early tooth decay, digestive problems, and eye infections. They can also develop herniated disks and problems with the spine, resulting in hindquarters' paralysis. Because they are so tiny, they're also rather delicate, and falls or rough bumps or jars can cause broken bones. Female Yorkies may have difficulty delivering pups because of their small size, and they may need Caesarean sections to deliver. Yorkies can also have a propensity to skin allergies, and may have congenital difficulties like slipping kneecaps or degeneration of the top of the thigh bone called Legg–Calvé–Perthes syndrome.
In spite of this, though, Yorkies are remarkably long lived, living on average 12 to 15 years. As long as regular veterinary checkups are part of the regimen so that regular necessary care particular to this breed, like teeth cleaning, is performed, you can expect your pet to have a long and healthy life. It also important note that because of their delicate digestion, they do best with simple foods like high quality dog foods; they generally don't do very well with rich treats (even those specially formulated for dogs) or people food.
Are there any reasons you shouldn't get a Yorkshire terrier as a pet?
Above all, Yorkshire terriers need time, attention and leadership from their owners. If you can give your little family member a lot of attention, a lot of time, and plenty of gentle, targeted discipline, you'll do well with your Yorkie, even if you live in a small space. However, if you won't be spending a lot of time with your little pet, you'll probably do better with another breed.