The Yorkshire Terrier is a small, loyal companion known for its distinctive coat, adorable appearance, and lap-dog status but did you know this tiny companion comes from a hard-working past? From ratter hunting dog to fashionable ladies’ lap-dog the history of the Yorkshire Terrier is a real rags-to-riches tale that shines a light on the appearance and attitude of this breed.
Commonly called the “Yorkie,” the Yorkshire Terrier has a blue-collar hunting background. The industrial spike in England with its increase in job opportunities attracted immigrants from Scotland who brought along their small working and companion dogs, which contributed to the formation of the Yorkie breed. Ancestors of the Yorkshire Terrier include the Waterside Terrier, a Scottish breed also referred to as a “Weaver Dog.” Although there are no records of exactly what the other breeds contributed to their development, the Yorkie likely hails from multiple small breeds favored by the working classes brought with them to help with work in the mills and mines. Some of these breeds include the Clydesdale, Paisley, Skye, Maltese, Dandie Dinmont, Manchester, and rough-coated Black and Tan English Terriers.
The result was an aggressive and loyal dog used to hunt vermin like rats in the clothing mills and mines. They were also – literally – carried by hunters to help with tracking down difficult prey in hard-to-reach locations such as badger burrows and fox holes. Their lack of hesitation and high success rate led to their reputation as a fierce and courageous breed. Due to their prominence in the clothing mills they were the source of many jokes made at the time about the silky coat of the Yorkie being the ultimate product of the mills’ looms.
Their reputation and compact size led to a growing popularity across the social classes. The late Victorian era saw their rise as a fashionable pet. Victorian ladies carried their Yorkies around and were featured in portraits, further adding to their change in status from hunting dog to fashionable high society accessory.
At their first dog show in 1861 (a benched show where the dogs entered stay on assigned benches for the entire show) they were entered under the name “Broken-Haired Scotch Terrier.” Then in 1870 the name of the breed was changed to the Yorkshire Terrier after a reporter commented on the improvements made to the breed during their development in Yorkshire county. Yorkies became an American Kennel Club recognized breed in 1878. Accepted coat colors for this breed are of four varieties: either black or blue with either gold or tan. They weigh in between 3 and 7 pounds. The breed is smaller now than it once was, though their coat didn’t seem to follow the trend, leading to a long silky coat that drags along the ground in the show ring.
Yorkies are currently one of the most popular breeds. Their working past makes them an excellent watchdog, barking to sound the alert. They are also highly intelligent and love spending their time with their people.