Get to Know the Yorkshire Terrier: From Blue Collar to Blue Blood

Don't let those baby-doll looks fool you, the Yorkie is one scrappy character among dog breeds!

Last Updated on June 23, 2022 by Carolyn Coile

Part lapdog, part ratter, and the biggest personality around, the Yorkshire Terrier is a blue blood with blue-collar roots. He’s a terrier at heart, ready to take on anything that scurries into a dark corner; but he also appreciates the finer things in life. He may be a dog with an identity crisis, but one thing’s for sure: He has no problem identifying himself as ruler of the world!

Yorkies are in the AKC Toy group, as they are the smallest terrier. But they are far more than a coddled lapdog; Yorkies excel in obedience and agility competitions and as therapy dogs. They really are big dogs in little packages.

More cool facts about Yorkies

  • The Yorkshire Terrier’s ancestors were used to rid homes and barns of rats and vermin. Today, Yorkshire Terriers can get back to their roots by competing in AKC Earthdog trials, in which they traverse an underground tunnel and bark at a caged rat, and in Barn Hunts, in which they locate a caged rat hidden in a barn.

  • The dog known as the father of the breed, “Huddersfield Ben,” was born in 1865. Unlike most of the other working terriers of his day, Ben was a show dog with a fancy silky coat. Ben was killed at an early age (run over by a carriage) but not before he sired many puppies and changed the perception of the breed.
  • Before Ben, Yorkies were called Broken-Haired Terriers. But a reporter said dogs like Ben needed a nicer name, so the breed name was changed to Yorkshire Terrier in 1870.
  • The exact color of the coat is more important in Yorkies than in perhaps any other breed. Puppies are born with a black and tan coat (the same genetic pattern you see in Doberman Pinschers). As they age, the black gradually fades to gray due to the action of a gene also found in Kerry Blue Terriers and a very few other breeds.

  • Biewer Terriers are a separate breed developed in Germany from Yorkshire Terriers. They look like spotted Yorkies.
  • The smallest war hero on record was a four-pound Yorkie named Smoky. Found in an abandoned foxhole in New Guinea, she accompanied her new partner on 12 combat missions and was awarded eight battle stars. It was her bravery in crawling 70 feet through an eight-inch culvert half-filled with dirt that earned her fame. By doing so she kept the airstrip operational and probably saved many lives. Smoky also entertained troops with her huge repertoire of tricks. She is credited as being the first therapy dog from her work visiting wounded troops for 12 years during and after the war. Her life is detailed in the book, Yorkie Doodle Dandy.
  • Yorkies have held several records as world’s smallest dog. The smallest dog on record is a Yorkie named Sylvia, born in 1943, who weighed a hard-to-believe four ounces and stood 2.9 inches at the shoulder. She died before age two.

  • There’s technically no such thing as either a “teacup” Yorkie or a “doll-faced” Yorkie, although some people use the terms.
  • Champion Cede Higgins is the only Yorkie to win Best in Show at the Westminster dog show.
  • Show Yorkies’ coats are kept in wraps, in which sections of hair are carefully enclosed in tissue, then folded up almost to the body and held closed with tiny rubber bands. This allows them to run and play without damaging their long tresses.

  • Yorkies are one of the most popular breeds among celebrities. Some of the more dedicated and well-known owners include entertainers Joan Rivers, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Mariah Carey, Posh Spice, Audrey Hepburn, Bruce Willis, Orlando Bloom, Simon Cowell ,and Raven-Symone; along with sports stars Jeff Gordon, Brett Favre, Venus Williams, and Tiger Woods.
  • Like many small dogs, Yorkies can suffer from luxating patellas, in which the knee cap slips out of the groove it normally slides up and down in. If your dog holds one hind leg up and forward for a few steps while hopping on the other, have your veterinarian check his knees.
  • In 2006, the Yorkshire Terrier became the second most popular AKC breed. They are currently the sixth most popular.

Do you own a Yorkie? Have you spent time with one? Let’s hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you’d like us to write about, let us know that, too!

About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier.

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