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The Yorkshire Terrier

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A pampered Yorkshire terrier next to a mouse.

While a popular image of a Yorkshire Terrier - or 'Yorkie' - is that of a pampered, well-groomed dog proudly parading at a dog show, the reality is somewhat different.

From Rat Catcher to Show Dog

The ancestors of Yorkies were small, fierce terriers, bred and used as rat catchers down mines. They were small enough to fit in miners' pockets and down rodent holes, yet big enough to take on the hunting of rabbits, badgers and foxes.

Ancestry

It was the onset of the Industrial Revolution that brought many people to Yorkshire in the 1730s; people came seeking work in the coal mines, textile mills and factories. Some came from as far as Scotland, bringing with them their dogs, mostly Clydesdale or Paisley Terriers1 - working dogs that were used for catching rodents and small mammals. Although there is no documented evidence, it is believed these terriers were crossbred with various other terriers, such as the English Black and Tan Toy Terrier, Skye Terrier and possibly the Maltese Terrier.

Huddersfield Ben

One of the most famous Yorkie ancestors was 'Huddersfield Ben' (1865-1871). He was a popular stud dog and a champion in rat catching contests. He was just as comfortable in the show ring (where he won over 70 prizes) as he was hunting and chasing rats (both down the mines and in contests).

Ben is reputed to have been the foundation sire of the Yorkshire Terrier breed, and had immense influence in setting the Yorkshire Terrier breed type. Ben was bred by Mr W Eastwood of Huddersfield, and owned by Mrs MA Foster of Bradford. He first entered the show ring in 1869, in Manchester, and was later shown at many venues including London's Crystal Palace. Sadly, Ben only lived for six years; he passed away after being run over by a carriage. The breed lived on, however, and Mrs Foster continued to show and win prizes for her Yorkies over the next 35 years.

Officially a Breed

The breed was given its official name in 1870. Prior to that, they had been known as Broken-haired Scotch Terriers. It has been alleged that the name was changed after reporter Angus Sutherland wrote in an article for The Field, in regards to a show at Westmoreland, stating 'They ought no longer to be called Scotch Terriers, but Yorkshire Terriers for having been so improved there.'

A year after the founding of the British Kennel Club, Yorkshire terriers were registered in the club's stud book in 1874. However, they were initially referred to as both Broken Haired Scottish Terriers and Yorkshire Terriers. It was not until 1886 that the Kennel Club officially recognized the Yorkshire Terrier as an individual breed. Interestingly, this British breed had first been recognized by the American Kennel Club the year prior.

Subsequently, the first Yorkshire Terrier breed club was formed in 1898 with the purpose of producing a Breed Standard to ensure standardisation. Records were kept in a stud book of show-winning dogs and their puppies, thereby making it possible to trace the breed lines. Information recorded before this is rather vague.

It took many years of selective breeding from the rough terriers of that era to produce today's elegant pampered pet dog. Those early breeders would be astonished at the present popularity of the line they were developing.

The Yorkie of Today

It's difficult to believe that before the 1930s, the Yorkshire Terrier usually weighed around 30 lbs, rather than the three to seven pounds of today's Kennel Club Standard for the Yorkshire Terrier. However, as the popularity of the Yorkie has expanded, the breed has started to become larger again; most of today's family pet Yorkies are somewhat bigger than the Breed Standard. In large part due to their size, Yorkshire Terriers are actually classified as toy dogs rather than terriers by the Kennel Club.

Yorkies have an inquisitive, mischievous streak, and are always ready for a game and some fun, which can make owning one an amusing experience. Beyond the world of dog shows, Yorkies have also made a name for themselves in agility trials and flyball competitions, which are more athletic in nature.

The Yorkshire Terrier is considered one of the most popular dog breeds throughout the world. Only 300 were registered with the British Kennel Club in 1932, and by 1957 that had risen to 2313. The number continued to grow, and by the 1970s Yorkies were the most popular breed of dog in Britain. The Yorkie's popularity in Britain reached its peak in 1990, when there were a staggering 22,665 registered with the British Kennel club. After this, the numbers started to decline. However, with 12,343 registrations in 1994, the Yorkshire Terrier was still listed as the seventh most popular breed.

This popularity has clearly continued into the 21st Century, as is evident by the amount of Yorkies seen running round parks and woods. On the other hand, the downside is that many are not truly purebred Yorkshire Terriers, but are delightful dogs with the Yorkie's characteristics.

Puppy to adulthood and beyond

The Yorkie puppy is born smooth-coated, with black and tan colouring. It is mainly black with tan feet, nose and bottom, somewhat resembling a tiny Rottweiler. The true colouring of the coat is revealed after the first clipping or when the puppy coat grows out, at around six months.

The puppy will very soon grow into an intelligent, energetic, mischievous and naturally curious little dog that is always ready to play. Across breeds, small dogs tend to live longer than larger dogs; the average life expectancy of a Yorkie is 10 to 15 years.

Characteristics

The Yorkie may be small, but it is a terrier, with the requisite hunting instincts and behaviour traits. It has a loud bark, which is out of proportion to its size, and may account for their reputation for being 'yappy' dogs. However, like any other dog, they can be trained to cease barking on command.

Yorkies are sociable dogs, with a friendly disposition towards both humans and other dogs. They are not cowards, though, and will stand their ground and fiercely defend their territory when the need is perceived.

While the Yorkie is not necessarily the fastidious eater some believe, quality of food is preferable to quantity just as with any smaller dog. The Yorkshire Terrier also enjoys exercise, but is just as happy running around the garden as a run in the countryside. There, using the terrier instinct, it will chase prey - whether invisible or real.

Show Dogs

The life of a Yorkie show dog is different from that of a pet - no rolling in mud or scrambling down rabbit holes for the Yorkie destined for the red table of the show. The show dog needs to be trained for presentation, groomed to perfection and in excellent health.

Grooming is especially important for show Yorkies, which are bred to have longer and smoother coats than pet Yorkies. Routine grooming for a show Yorkie would include:

  • brushing and combing on a daily basis

  • having regular baths

  • using oils (such as almond oil) daily to soften the hair and prevent split ends

  • using paper crackers - rolling the oiled hair into thin strips of tissue-like paper, helping to further condition the coat and add to the elegant, flowing look

Winning a dog show today can lead to not only significant prize money, but also subsequent advertising contracts. For such well-sought prizes, owners will travel long distances, even to other countries, to enter their Yorkshire Terrier in a dog show.

1The Clydesdale and Paisley Terriers were originally two separate breeds that later merged into one.

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