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Yorkshire Terrier - History and Health

Source: PetWave, Updated on May 26, 2016
Yorkshire Terrier


The Yorkshire Terrier’s original function was to hunt and kill rats and other rodents in the mines and cotton mills in county Yorkshire in northern England. It is thought to trace back to a small, fairly long-coated, bluish-gray dog that typically weighed about 10 pounds, called the Waterside Terrier. The Waterside Terrier was common in the Yorkshire region and was popular with miners in the West Riding area. In the middle of the 19th century, at the height of the Industrial Revolution, Scottish weavers and other laborers migrated south to England in search of work. They brought with them their small Scottish terriers of non-descript heritage. In Yorkshire, these dogs were crossed with local terriers to create the Broken-Haired Scotch Terrier, which became well-known as a superb ratter in local textile factories and coal mines. Over time, other crosses undoubtedly occurred. Although experts cannot agree on the Yorkie’s precise ancestors, the following breeds have been suggested: the Maltese Terrier, the Skye Terrier, the Dandie Dinmont Terrier, the Waterside Terrier, the old rough-coated Black-and-Tan English Terrier, the Manchester Terrier, the Paisley Terrier, the now-extinct long-haired Leeds Terrier and the Clydesdale Terrier. The end result of whatever crosses took place eventually was called the Yorkshire Terrier. It was larger than today’s Yorkie and was tenacious enough to tackle even the largest and fiercest of rodents.

The Yorkie first appeared at a benched dog show in England in 1861, entered as a “Broken-Haired Scotch Terrier.” In 1865, a dog named Huddersfeld Ben was born and eventually became known as the foundation sire of the Yorkshire Terrier breed, which The Kennel Club (Kennel Club (England) recognized in 1886. In 1870, after the Westmoreland show, the breed officially became known as the Yorkshire Terrier, based on the following comment in an article written by Angus Sutherland, a reporter for The Field: “They ought no longer to be called Scotch Terriers, but Yorkshire Terriers for having been so improved there.” For a time, the breed was shown as the Scotch Terrier and the Yorkshire Terrier, without distinction.

Yorkies quickly became prized as fashionable companion dogs, particularly for high society ladies, as they were pretty, playful, personable and portable. Yorkies were selectively bred down in size, but their coat apparently did not shrink with their bodies. The result was the Yorkie we know today: a diminutive companion dog with a dramatic and abnormally long, metallic blue and rich golden coat. In the show ring, the Yorkie’s coat usually flows (drags) along the ground and must be tied up in a number of “pony tails” to keep it tidy while waiting to enter the ring.

Yorkshire Terriers were in the United States by at least 1872, when the first Yorkie litter reportedly was born in this country. The American Kennel Club recognized the Yorkshire Terrier as a member of its Toy Group in 1885. Yorkies have been shown in America since 1878. Early classes were divided by weight: under and over five pounds. Eventually, one class for dogs 3 to 7 pounds became part of the breed standard. Puppies are born black with tan markings, but mature to a dark, almost metallic steel-blue from the top of the head to the base of the tail, with rich golden tan on the face, topknot, chest and lower legs. Tails typically are docked to a medium length.

Today’s Yorkshire Terrier retains its terrier feistiness and can participate in virtually all of the activities enjoyed by larger terriers. Yorkies are bright, bold, brave and beautiful. While they are highly competitive in the conformation ring, their most common role is as a tiny, affectionate, frisky and enormously pampered pet.

Health Characteristics

The average life expectancy of the Yorkshire Terrier dog breed is between 12 and 15 years. This is on par with the median lifespan of most purebred dogs (10 to 13 years), but consistant with most breeds similar in size. Potential hereditary defects and disorders more commonly found, but not necessarily found, in the Yorkshire Terrier are as follows:

  • Bladder Stones
  • Cataracts: Refers to any opacity of the lens of the eye. Dogs of either gender can develop cataracts.
  • Collapsing Trachea
  • Distichiasis
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Hypoplasia of the Dens
  • Keratitis
  • Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease: defined as the spontaneous degeneration of the hip (coxofemoral) joint.
  • Patellar Luxation: Patellar luxation, commonly known as a “slipped knee cap,” occurs when the patella is displaced from the joint.
  • Patent Ductus Arteriosus: Abnormal connections between different chambers of the heart, or between heart vessels.
  • Endocardiosis
  • Short-hair Syndrome of Silky Breeds
  • Alopecia (Hair Loss): Defined as any deficiency of the normal hair coat. It does not necessarily refer only to hair “loss.”
  • Hepatic Lipidosis
  • Microvascular Portal Dysplasia
  • Elbow Dysplasia: Leads to malformation and degeneration of the elbow joint, with accompanying front limb lameness
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy: Group of degenerative eye disorders that eventually lead to permanent blindness in both eyes.
  • Cryptorchidism: Cryptorchidism is the physical absence of one or both testicles in the scrotum of a dog.
  • Testicular Neoplasia
  • Hydrocephalus
  • Atlantoaxial Subluxation
  • Keratoconjunctivitis Sicca (Dry Eye): Simply put, the dog does not produce enough tear film to adequately lubricate its eyes.
  • Corneal Dystrophy
  • Portosystemic Shunts
  • Retinal Detachment: Separation of the inner layers of the retina from its underlying pigmented layers.
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