All Things Dog

Yorkshire Terriers: Yesterday and today

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When you look at your Yorkshire Terrier curled up peacefully on the couch, it’s hard to imagine that he comes from a long line of rugged working dogs that were the best friend to gritty coal miners. These ancestor dogs spent a lot of time with their heads in dark, dangerous rat holes. Obviously, your Yorkie is quite a bit different than his predecessors from Scotland and the North of England.

While the exact bloodlines of today’s Yorkshire Terrier remain unclear, it seems that several native terrier types were crossed. However, three of the primary breeds in your dog’s lineage are now extinct: The Clydesdale Terrier, the English Black and Tan Terrier, and the Skye Terrier. Some breed historians believe that the sturdy Scottish Terrier and the Maltese Terrier were added to the mix as well. What we do know about these native breeds is that they were rougher-coated than today’s Yorkie, much larger, and even more tenacious in temperament.

Becoming the "lap dog

During the mid-nineteenth century, workers living in Yorkshire, Manchester, and Leeds counties in Northern England used their most courageous terriers to control vermin in the mines and textile mills. The best of these Yorkshire vermin dogs competed in “rat pits,” where contestants competed to kill the most rats in a prescribed amount of time.

In 1865, Huddersfield Ben was born, a prodigious rat killer and prizewinning show dog considered to be the original sire of today’s modern Yorkshire Terrier. By 1874 the first miniaturized Yorkies were registered with the British Kennel Club and 100 years later, in the 1970s, the much loved and often pampered Yorkshire Terrier became the most popular breed in Great Britain. Today, it’s one of the most popular in the U.S., as well.

So the next time you’re brushing out that beautiful blue and tan coat, remember your little guy’s roots as a feisty friend to the hard-working miners and mill workers of Northern England.

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