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Today’s Yorkshire Terrier is very different from the early Yorkshire Terriers of the North of England. There are varying accounts of the origins of this breed and its development. I have tried to give the most accurate, and most widely agreed upon history of the Yorkshire Terrier assembled from books and publications written be reliable and experienced fanciers of the breed in the UK.
Before 1750, most British people worked in agriculture. The onset of the Industrial Revolution brought great changes to family life. In Yorkshire, small communities grew up around coal mines, textile mills and factories. People were drawn to these areas to seek work from as far away as Scotland. They brought with them a breed known as the Clydesdale Terrier, or Paisley Terrier. These were primarily working dogs, much larger than today’s Yorkies, and were used for catching rats and other small mammals.
These terriers were inevitably crossed with other types of terrier, probably the English Black and Tan Toy Terrier, and the Skye Terrier; it is also thought that at some stage the Maltese Terrier was crossed with these breeds to help produce long coats. As the outline of the Maltese resembles that of many of today’s Yorkies, this is very likely.
Unfortunately, no records in the form of pedigrees exist to confirm these crosses (possibly because of the poor level of literacy in these times), but a great deal is known about the type of people who bred them, and there can be no doubt that early breeders had a very clear idea of the type of dogs they were attempting to produce. We can see in today’s Yorkies how strongly the terrier temperament has been retained.
Early Yorkshire Terriers and Breeders
One of the most famous early Yorkies was Huddersfield Ben, bred by a Mr. Eastwood and owned by Mr. M.A. Foster. Huddersfield Ben was born in 1865 and died in 1871, and can be said to be the father of the modern Yorkie. In his day “Ben” was a very popular stud dog who won many prizes in the show ring, and had tremendous influence in setting breed type.
In 1874 the first Yorkies were registered in the British Kennel Club stud book. They were referred to as “Broken Haired Scottish Terriers” or “Yorkshire Terriers”, until 1886, when the Kennel Club recognised the Yorkshire Terrier as an individual breed. The first Yorkshire Terrier breed club was formed in 1898. During these early years, one who greatly influenced the breed was Lady Edith Wyndham-Dawson. Lady Edith was secretary of the Yorkshire Terrier Club for some time and did much early work for the improvement of the breed.
Later, a Miss Palmer, who was Lady Edith’s kennel maid, started her own Yorkie kennel under the “Winpal” prefix. When Lady Edith returned to Ireland at the start of World War I, Miss Palmer went to work for Mrs. Crookshank of the famous Johnstounburn prefix, a name with a long list of champions, which is now in the care of Daphne Hillman, who was entrusted with this prefix, and still uses it along with her own Yorkfold prefix.
Many others have worked very hard since these early years to improve this breed, and to these breeders much is owed. Many of their early dogs became the foundation stock of kennels in North America and elsewhere.
The Yorkshire Terrier now flourishes throughout the world, and the early breeders who were instrumental in producing the diminutive toy terrier of today would surely be astounded at the success of this delightful breed. In 1932 only 300 Yorkies were registered with the British Kennel Club, in 1957 the number was 2,313, and in the 1970s Yorkies were the most popular breed in Britain. This trend continued until 1990 with a record of 25,665 Yorkies registered.
The most famous Yorkshire Terrier of modern times in the UK was CH Blairsville Royal Seal. He was by CH Beechrise Surprise and his dam was CH Blairsville Most Royale. “Tosha” to his friends (of whom he had many) was bred, owned and handled by Mr. Brian Lister and his wife, Rita. Tosha was definitely a ‘King’ among dogs and no one who saw him flowing around the ring could ever forget him. His presence could be felt, even by a complete novice, and many say that just thinking of him brings a lump to the throat.
During his show career Tosha won 50 CCs, all under different judges. He was 12 times Best In Show at all breed CH shows, and 16 times Reserve Best In Show. He took 33 Group wins, and went Reserve Best In Show at Cruft’s in 1978, just as his dam had done before him. Tosha was Top Dog, all breeds, for two consecutive years. He became the sire of many prolific Champions and still features in the pedigree of many of today’s Yorkies.
Ironically, when Royal Seal died, aged 15, in 1988, that year his breed record for the highest number of CCs in the breed was broken by Osman Sameja’s CH Ozmilion Dedication “Jamie”, who finished his show career with 52 CCs, although a few of these were duplicated under the same judges. Jamie also has two all breed CH show wins, and his many Toy group wins helped him to win the Top Dog title in 1987. The Ozmilion kennel is the top Yorkshire Terrier kennel of all time, and holds the record for the number of Champions produced.
Following on from this, Jamie’s grandson, Ch. Ozmilion Mystification broke another record in 1997 by being the first Yorkie ever to win the coveted Best In Show award at the most prestigious dog show, Cruft’s. “Justin” was retired after this event, having to his credit a total 51 CCs, 48 with Best of Breed, 22 Group wins, 9 Club BIS, and at All Breed Shows, 7 RBIS and 3 BIS awards.
Yorkies in North America
The first Yorkie to become an American Champion was Bradford Harry, who gained his title in 1889. He was the great-great-grandson of Huddersfield Ben, and was imported from England by P.H. Coombs of Bangor, Maine. Some of the most notable early American kennels are Janet Bennet and Joan Gordon (Wildweir) who imported many English Yorkies, including lines from Johnstounburn, Haringay and Buranthea. The Mayfield-Barban kennels owned by Anne Seranne and Barbara Wolferman have also done much to improve the breed.
While CH Blairsville Royal Seal dominated the British show scene, his American counterpart, CH Cede Higgens was making his mark in the USA. These two dogs were both shown during the same era, and were inevitably, constantly being compared. However, although they were both outstanding specimens of the breed, those who had seen them both, agreed that they were totally different in type. Bred by C.D. Lawrence, Cede Higgens was closely line-bred to the Clarkwyns and Wildweir lines, by CH. Wildweir Pomp ‘N Circumstance.
Another dog who had significant influence on the North American Yorkies was CH Finstal Royal Icing, bred by Sybil Pritchard in the UK and exported to the Jentre kennels after Sybil died. He is by CH Finstal Johnathan, who still has winning progeny in the UK today. Johnathan was looked after by Wendy White (Wenwytes) after Sybil’s death, until he died in 1994 aged about 17.
The Yorkshire Terrier is also very popular in North America today.
Yorkshire Terriers are a small glamorous dog which compete in the Toy Group in most countries, as in the UK and USA. Showing this breed is very specialized and time consuming and only for the really dedicated enthusiasts. To grow the Yorkie coat and prepare it to show standard is not an easy task.
In the UK, the Yorkshire Terrier is traditionally displayed in line in the show ring, on its own individual wooden box, which is draped with a cover, usually red, but as there is no rule about the box cover, some exhibitors use blue or tartan covers. The Yorkie is still examined on the judge’s table, as in most other countries. A ring full of mature Yorkies displayed on their little red boxes is truly a sight to behold!
The Yorkie is without doubt one of the most appealing of all Toy breeds. It is charming and intelligent, and despite its size, is full of courage, loyalty and affection.
Although this breed is small, the Yorkie still retains the true Terrier temperament.
Yorkies are small enough to carry and are ideal for anyone with a small home or apartment. The Yorkie is happy to go on quite long walks, but is equally happy to run around a small garden or home, providing it has enough toys and distractions to occupy its lively mind.
These are little dogs who think they are much bigger. They will defend their territory decisively. They have an acute sense of hearing and will alert their owners to the slightest sign of intruders. They can be noisy, so consideration must be given to neighbors when considering this breed as a pet.
Because they have a long coat, Yorkies are not suitable for anyone who does not have the time or inclination to spend on the grooming and bathing this breed requires.
Most pet Yorkies do in fact have their coats trimmed short or shaved for convenience and hygiene. Therefore, anyone obtaining a pet Yorkie must remember that there will be additional grooming expenses to take into consideration.
The Yorkie coat does not shed, and does not have an undercoat, making Yorkies desirable for some people with allergies, and those who do not want a breed that has a messy moult. The correct texture of the coat is described as long, straight and silky. It will continue to grow unless trimmed. In fact, the Yorkie coat is very similar to human hair.
Special care must be taken to ensure that the hair around the anus of these dogs is kept clean. Because of their long hair, it is common for these dogs to become matted in this area, and this can lead to compacted feces. Apart from making the dog very sore and uncomfortable, this may, if left unattended, cause more serious problems, such as fly strike, that would require veterinary assistance.
Yorkie puppies may have “tipped” or “tilted” ears until they are around 6 months old. I am frequently asked about this when owners purchase a 10 week old puppy with nice erect ears, only to find that the ears drop again around 4 months of age. This is often because at this time the Yorkie is shedding it’s milk teeth and cutting it’s adult teeth, which can cause the ears to go up and down daily, and owner’s should not be unduly concerned during this natural stage.
However, it is important to keep the hair on the top third of the ear flap trimmed very short. This will stop the ears from being weighed down by excessive hair until they are firmly “set”. Also the hair should be plucked from inside the ears, and ears checked regularly for excessive wax and for mites.
Yorkies should also have special attention paid to their eyes, and teeth. The long hair should be prevented from falling into their eyes, thus causing irritation and infection, either by tying it back or trimming it. As with most Toy breeds, Yorkies may have a tendency to tartar build-up on the teeth, but if regular attention is given to the teeth this should not be a serious problem.
Yorkies do not have an undercoat, and even with a long coat, they feel the cold very easily, and like most Toy breeds prefer the comfort of cosiness and warmth. They enjoy being pampered. Yorkies are difinitely not a breed to keep outside in a kennel. When going out in cold or wet weather they will appreciate a warm dog coat to wear.
Although regular grooming may be an added expense for the Yorkie owner, Yorkies eat very little, and are not expensive to feed.
Suitability as Pets
Yorkies will live happily with cats and other dogs if brought up with them, but being terriers, they are also very possessive of their owners, so care should be taken when introducing this breed to a new animal household member. If they do fight, they can fight to the death.
As with all small dogs, great care should be taken when allowing small children to handle them, as they are prone to jump from any height, and of course, being small, are more susceptible to accidents around the home, by way of careless human feet and the opening and closing of doors. They do however love to play with sensible children. Their favorite sleeping place is their owner’s lap.
Yorkies are generally easy to house train. For their own safety it is better to crate train them and to leave them in a crate when they are left alone, e.g., during the night or if their owners are out of the home. Always leave them some toys and fresh water, and be sure they have a cosy bed inside the crate. Remember that as they do enjoy human company they will not appreciate being left alone for long periods.
Obedience training is highly recommended for Yorkies.
Although few Yorkies compete in obedience in the UK today, a little dog called “Shandy” did compete successfully, and was placed in the highly acclaimed obedience championships at Cruft’s in 1973. All breeds can and do benefit nevertheless from basic obedience training.
Health and Longevity
Yorkies are generally hardy and healthy and long-lived. Like many Toy breeds however, there is some incidence of hereditary/congenital disease in the form of patella luxation, open fontanellas, Perthe’s disease and a smaller incidence of elongated soft palate and a tendency to collapsed trachea.
However, conscientious breeders only breed from sound, selected stock, and do their best to eliminate these defects. Therefore, it is strongly recommended that one buy only from a reputable breeder, and never purchase a puppy from a pet shop or puppy mill.
Wherever possible, you should see the puppy in the home where it was bred, and view its parents, or at least its mother. A reputable breeder will offer constant support and assistance throughout the dog’s life. To purchase a puppy from an unreliable source may invite future heartbreak (and huge vet’s bills).
Choosing a Puppy
What color will my dog be?
All Yorkshire Terriers are born with smooth coats and are black with small tan points. It is only with maturity that the beautiful long, dark steel blue and shaded tan coat develops. This feature can vary in age depending on the individual, but when buying a puppy you can expect it to still be black on its body, and for its head markings to still be very “sooty” looking. In puppyhood this is not a fault.
Some Yorkies do stay black, whilst others become very light and silver. Although these are considered faults for showing, it is impossible to determine in a young puppy what color it will become as a young adult. In any case, the color will not of course, affect the dog’s quality as a companion.
Do Yorkies come in Miniature and Standard varieties?
Many beginning Yorkie fanciers believe that there are two types of Yorkie, Miniature and Standard — this is not so. However, many pet Yorkies are somewhat larger than the show Yorkies. Again, this does not affect their suitability as pets or make them any less desirable as companions.
How soon can a puppy be sold to a new home?
If a Yorkie is wanted only as a pet, a reputable breeder may be prepared to let a puppy go to a new home between 8-10 weeks of age (although 12 weeks is more desirable). A pet-quality Yorkie will be far cheaper than a show quality specimen (which most breeders will not sell until much older). It is quite impossible to have any indication of show quality in this breed until the dog is at least 6 months of age.
What sex is best as a pet?
This is a matter of personal preference. Most breeders believe both dogs and bitches are equally loving, loyal and intelligent, and make good companions. A bitch may come into season from 6 months onwards, when extra care must be taken to prevent unwanted matings. Pet Yorkies are better neutered. This will prevent unwanted puppies and the possibility of disease in later life.
Many breeders may not wish to issue registration papers for pet puppies, or may do so only on proof of neutering.
What should I feed my Yorkie?
When collecting your puppy be sure to get a diet sheet from the breeder and try to stick to its recommendations, especially in the first few weeks. The breeder should also provide you with documentation of worming preparations given, any vaccinations the puppy may have had, and a pedigree form.
How should I keep my Yorkie confined when traveling?
Always make sure that your dog is safe and secure when traveling in a vehicle. The best way to do this is to train it to travel in a special traveling box or crate. Should you need to brake suddenly, your little dog will then be less likely to be thrown forward and injured. Keeping your dog in a crate while traveling will also prevent it from distracting the driver and causing an accident.
One further word of warning: If you have a swimming pool, please ensure that your Yorkie cannot jump or fall into the pool in your absence. I have had reports of Yorkies getting into pools and then being unable to get out again, with drastic consequences as the poor little dog becomes exhausted and drowns. If you do have a pool, please ensure that it is fenced off or covered when not in use.