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Background of the Yorkshire Terrier

Updated: May 4, 2023

Dogs that flushed out and killed rats in clothing mills in Northern England in the mid 18th century were useful little dogs. These dogs came to be known by that county where they were found and developed. The counties of Yorkshire and its adjoining county of Lancashire had many clothing mills that needed these small but feisty dogs. Small dogs from Scotland of the terrier type influenced the look and utility of the developing breed. The Paisley Terrier and the Maltese breed were part of the early profile of the breed. At first, the breed clubs did not differentiate among the various types of long-haired terrier-type dogs—all were labeled “Yorkshire terriers”.

Huddersfield Ben

The differentiation of the breed as its own happened with the appearance of a famous show and stud dog named Huddersfield Ben. This dog is called the really first Yorkshire terrier, and the progenitor of the many that followed him. This dog was whelped in 1865. He was owned by Mary Ann Foster in Yorkshire, England.

Huddersfield Ben was the product of a mother-son pairing. The dog won 74 dog shows in its career. He sired many offspring in his short six years. Ben weighed about 9 pounds, but his offspring frequently weighed seven pounds or less. The memory of Ben was preserved both by a painting of him by George Earl and in the descendants he created. Huddersfield Ben has been called, the father of the breed.

Rise In Popularity

The success of Huddersfield Ben as a show dog and the interest of small companion dogs for ladies and gentlemen of the Victorian era helped grow its initial popularity in England. The Kennel Club was founded in 1873, and the Yorkshire terrier was one of the first breed to be recognized (in 1874). The breed became a success in the United States as well, and the breed was recognized by the AKC in 1885.

In the United States, the breed took a dip in popularity in the late 1930s and early 1940s. However, the war exploits of a dog named Smoky helped bring back interest in the breed. According to the story, Smoky was found in a foxhole in New Guinea by a soldier who sold it to another soldier, Corporal William Wynne. The dog remained with Wynne throughout some harrowing ordeals of combat. The dog was credited with saving its owner’s life by warning him of incoming shells. When Wynne and Smoky made it back home to Cleveland in 1945, a front-page story about the dog was featured in the Cleveland Press. This article brought fame to the breed, and soon Yorkie’s were again being registered in great numbers.

Recent Days

The arrival of the internet has been a big boom for Yorkie breeders. The size of the Yorkie makes it easy to transport them great distances, and their appealing look and size often go viral on social media. In the United States, an industry of breeders who market and sell dogs online has exploded. Some buyers, in fact, don’t see the dog for real until it is picked up at the airport. Yorkies are a favorite breed of unscrupulous puppy mills. More dogs capable of being crammed into the same space means more money for these unethical breeders. The parent club in America has taken steps to educate the public about the problem. The Yorkshire Terrier Club of America maintains a list of breeders that have promised to behave ethically.

The popularity of the Yorkie ebbs and wanes in the United States. The Yorkshire terrier breed was listed the third most popular breed in 2010. The Yorkshire terrier’s popularity has been declining somewhat with the rise in interest in larger dogs. In 2016, the Yorkshire terrier ranked 9th on the AKC list of most popular breeds. The breed has at times been featured at the sides of celebrities like Audrey Hepburn (1950), and more recently the first daughter, Ivanka Trump.

AKC standards of the Yorkshire terrier have largely gone unchanged since its beginning. The perky little terrier is a long-haired dog that does not exceed 7 pounds. It has a small head, alert eyes, and has four allowed colors combinations (black and tan, black and gold, blue and tan, blue and gold). The head and feet should be all tan, the body a dark blue, and all colors should exclude interspersed black color. Solid colors and any white markings (except a smidge on the chest) are disqualifications. According to AKC standards, the tail should be docked. The Kennel Club because of legal requirements allows docked and undocked tails.

Do Yorkies have hypoallergenic coats?

One of the popular selling points is that the breed is somewhat hypoallergenic. Yorkies have a silky coat that resembles human hair. It lacks the undercoat typical of other breeds. The breed only lightly sheds. However, people allergic to dogs are not always allergic to the fur itself. Many allergic reactions are due to the skin or dander of the dog. A dog that sheds little has less dander, but less is not the same thing as none. For highly allergic individuals a little is too much. Some people have allergies to the saliva of the dog.

Yorkies do not make the list of breeds recommended by the AKC for the ten percent of the population that suffers from dog allergies. The Maltese do, though. So is the Poodle. The Maltese is thought to be one of the breeds that were early on incorporated into the gene pool. The coats of the two are very similar. It is likely, therefore, that the low-shedding Yorkie would be tolerated well by someone with less severe dog allergies.

Health Concerns When Breeding Yorkshire Terriers

Yorkshire Terriers are affected by quite a few health conditions in comparison to other dog breeds. Generally, this is a direct consequence of their small size and a lot of inbreeding in a given dog’s pedigree. When you decide to breed Yorkies, you must ensure their good health and sound genetics before attempting to organize a copulatory tie.

Periodontal Health

In general, toy breeds have dental problems because they have small mouths lacking sufficient room for all teeth to grow properly. The genetics of downsizing the palate and the teeth sometimes have not quite kept up with the rest of the dog.

Dogs have two sets of teeth—puppy and adult. The 28 puppy teeth (or deciduous teeth) come in at 3 weeks and the adult teeth start erupting at 3 months. Normally, the adult tooth replaces the puppy tooth. Usually, by four months all the puppy teeth are gone. By six months a dog should have all of its 42 adult teeth. If a puppy tooth is not pushed out, it will cause crowding of teeth in the dog’s mouth. This crowding makes for a poor bite and is subject to tooth decay.

Yorkies will frequently retain some puppy teeth. The solution is to pull the baby tooth. All Yorkies should be given regular teeth cleanings to prevent gum disease and tooth decay. When breeding Yorkshire terriers, the breeder must have a schedule planned up with the vet for the year coming.

Common Genetic Defects

Progressive Retinal Atrophy is a genetic condition that crops up in Yorkies. In this condition, the rods and cones of in the dog’s eyes deteriorate. The first signs are night blindness. This disease usually begins in middle aged dogs. There is no cure. Dogs with it will ultimately be blind. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals recommends genetic testing and eye examination for dogs PRA is caused by recessive genes. There is a genetic test for it.

Yorkies are known for the strange goose-like honk they make when exposed to wind, exercise, or allergens. This sound results from the design of the windpipe (trachea) in the toy breed. It is a symptom of a serious condition called tracheal collapse. In this condition, the rings of cartilage that make up the trachea begin to collapse. Of course, obstruction of the airway for the dog can become a serious medical event. Most dogs develop the condition over time with obese dogs and older dogs most seriously affected. The condition is medically managed in most dogs. Surgery can repair a badly collapsed trachea, but it is a tricky surgery saved for the worst cases. This condition is generally thought to be genetic in Yorkies. There is no genetic test for it yet.Owners of the breed should not use collars or stress the neck (windpipe) of the dog.

Dr. Karen Tobias at the University of Tennessee has written extensively about liver conditions prevalent in the Yorkshire terrier. The risk of liver shunts in Yorkshire terrier has been reported to be as high as thirty-six times that of all breeds combined. The liver filters the blood of toxins. In a portosystemic shunt, a dog lacks the blood vessels leading to the liver resulting in toxins remaining in the animal’s blood. Dogs with this condition can become very ill. They often lose weight. They may, also, have seizures. This congenital problem stunts the development of puppies and its symptoms usually become more pronounced as the dog ages. The condition is treated medically and with a special diet. Severe cases require surgery. The evidence is highly suggestive of a genetic root to the condition, but there is currently no genetic test for it.

Sensitive Digestive Systems

Yorkies are known for having sensitive digestive systems. Yorkie breeders should feed a high-quality kibble. Dogs that exhibit digestive problems especially ones that get worse or do not seem to get better with better quality food should be thoroughly evaluated by a veterinarian. Liver shunts (as discussed above) do cause problems with the digestion. The problem is so common that the marketplace provides dog food for those dogs suffering from liver issues.


Hypoglycemia means low blood sugar. It is caused by the pancreas not producing enough insulin for the body’s metabolism. Dogs with the condition may be lethargic, tremble, not eat, show a lack of coordination, and, if left untreated, may lose consciousness. Untreated hypoglycemia can result in death. Yorkie puppies under three months are particularly susceptible to the condition, but all toy dogs run a risk. Hypoglycemia can be treated by meal management and awareness of the owner. Several small meals may be advised for toys that show radical spikes and valleys in their blood glucose levels.


Legg-Calve-Perthes disease is cropping up in the Yorkshire Terrier breed. In Legg-Calve-Perthes, the blood supply to the femur bone of the leg gets cut off. The bone tissue then dies. The irregularity in the structure of the femur causes leg problems like pain and lameness. It is a condition that first strikes puppies at about 6 months of age. Toys and especially Yorkies have high rates of the condition. Treatment involves surgical removal of the dead bone tissue. Research is ongoing in isolating the genes responsible for the condition.

Patellar Luxation

Yorkshire Terriers have a very high incidence of patellar luxation. In this condition, the kneecap of the dog comes out of place. Symptoms include pain, and lameness, becoming “knock-kneed” or suddenly becoming unable to stand. Surgery is the best way to put the kneecap in place and secure it, but the outcomes vary. The initial surgery has a success rate of 90 percent, but approximately half the time the problem recurs. Older dogs which also suffer osteoarthritis in the joint may not have as favorable surgical outcomes.

This is an inherited condition. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals maintains an extensive database on dogs with the condition. According to OFA information, Yorkshire terriers ranked second only to Pomeranians in incidence rates of patellar luxation. Twenty-three percent of the 828 dogs evaluated were positive for the condition.

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