Yorkshire Terrier

Gemma Gaitskell
Dr Gemma Gaitskell (BVetMed MSc MRCVS, Royal Veterinary College, London)
Photo of adult Yorkshire Terrier

Yorkshire Terriers are small, intelligent dogs with very loving characters. Originally developed in Yorkshire, as the name suggests, they were bred to control rat populations in cotton mills and coal mines. Today they are kept solely as companions although they still retain their strong terrier character. Yorkies should be compact and square but well proportioned in appearance and are renowned for their long, silky coats. If allowed to grow they can require intensive grooming, but for companion dogs, the coat can be clipped short and is easy to maintain.

The Yorkshire Terrier is extremely affectionate and curious, but can be overprotective and may become snappy if allowed to behave in this way. The breed is easy to train and especially quick to learn, so recall and house training is not a problem. They do not require large amounts of walking, but should be exercised and provided with plenty of mental stimulation. Yorkshire Terriers are surprisingly strong for their size but can suffer from some health problems.

About & History

The Yorkshire Terrier, or Yorkie as it is otherwise known is a small breed of dog belonging to the toy group. It originates from the same area of Yorkshire as the Airedale Terrier and was developed during the 1800’s from several breeds including the now extinct Black & Tan Terrier, the Broken-Haired Scotch Terrier, the Waterside Terrier, the Paisley Terrier and the Skye Terrier amongst others.

Despite its small size and graceful looks, the Yorkshire Terrier was initially bred as a working dog to help control the rat populations in the cotton mills and coal mines of the are. These origins are often reflected in the strong characters that these little dogs possess alongside their hunting instinct. Today the Yorkshire Terrier is a popular breed around the world and is seldom kept for any purpose other than companionship, where their intelligent, loyal and loving characters provide excellent company.

Some people use the term ‘teacup’ to refer to Yorkshire Terriers which are extremely small, weighing less than 1.8 kg as an adult. This classification is not recognised by the UK or other Kennel Clubs and is used by breeders to appeal to current trends for very small dogs with juvenile features. Deliberately breeding dogs for these characteristics is irresponsible, as there are many associated health problems and ‘teacup’ dogs often have a reduced life expectancy.


Yorkshire Terrier Large Photo

There are various different coat colour combinations which the UK Kennel Club accepts for registration of Yorkshire Terriers:

  • Black & Tan
  • Black Blue & Tan
  • Blue & Tan
  • Blue Steel & Tan
  • Steel Blue
  • Steel Blue & Tan
  • Steel Blue, Black & Tan
  • Steel Grey & Tan

Yorkies can weigh up a maximum of 3.2 kg. They should appear compact and tidy with a square but well proportioned body and upright carriage. They have a long silky coat, but no undercoat. The neck should have length and lead to shoulders that are laid back. The front legs should be straight and typically covered with tan coloured hair, which is darker at the roots. The body should be compact with a level back leading to muscular, sturdy, straight hind legs again covered by tan coloured hair. Feet should be round with black nails. Their tails should be covered with plenty of hair and carried slightly higher than the level of the back.

Yorkies have a small, flat head, and their skull should not be rounded. Their muzzle should not be too long with a black nose and they should have a scissor bite with evenly arranged teeth and jaws. They should have dark, sharp, expressive, medium sized eyes, which are not prominent and dark eyelids. Ears should be V-shaped and small and carried upright, covered with short tan coloured hair.

Yorkshire Terriers should have a free, flowing gait with plenty of drive. Their front and hind legs should have a straight action and their topline should remain level while they are moving. Their long hair should never hinder their movement.

Character & Temperament

The Yorkshire Terrier is a curious, alert, and intelligent little dog, which is also extremely affectionate. The breed should transmit an air of importance, and can have strong terrier characters, often being overprotective despite their size. They can be snappy so do not always make ideal dogs for families with children, but this is often a case of education, and if a puppy is used to well educated children from a young age they can happily form part of the family. With regards to character, family line is important and some lines may be easier going than others.

Yorkshire Terriers enjoy and need plenty of company but are also secure little dogs and therefore not especially prone to separation anxiety if properly accustomed to being left alone for short periods from a young age. Yorkies normally get on well with other dogs but may prefer to play with smaller dogs similar to their own size. Their size means they are not typically used as guard dogs, but they do often like to bark, so will raise the alarm if anything unusual is going on.


Photo of Yorkshire Terrier puppy

Yorkshire Terriers are clever and extremely quick to learn, whilst also liking to please their owners. This means all types of training are usually quickly absorbed and relatively easy. However, this ability for learning can also apply to bad behaviours so it is important not to unknowingly reinforce these.

As they are small people often find their bad habits/behaviours amusing and repeated failure to do anything about them can lead to serious behavioural problems and snappy dogs. Good recall is not typically a problem, as they like to stay near their owners, although Yorkies can be prone to chasing other small animals and cats if their hunting instincts kick in.


Yorkshire Terriers typically have a lifespan of at least 12 years, but often live for considerably longer. Despite their size, Yorkies are relatively strong, tough little dogs and the UK Kennel Club does not currently require breeders to participate in any screening or DNA testing schemes for diseases affecting the breed. However, they can suffer from some of the following health problems:

Teeth Problems

Yorkies have small mouths and this predisposes them to teeth problems. They often suffer from teeth overcrowding, and fail to lose their puppy teeth, as well as being prone to gum disease and losing teeth. This means that regular dental check-ups are important to identify any problems and brushing from a young age can help to reduce the build up of tartar and gum disease.

Tracheal Collapse

Many small dogs suffer from tracheal collapse as the cartilage rings which support the trachea are delicate and collapse easily. It is therefore essential to avoid any pressure on the neck area, and always use a harness as opposed to a collar. Ultimately the condition can interfere with a dogs ability to breathe and often causes coughing.

Patellar Luxation

The patellar is a small bone found in the stifle of the back leg and this condition causes it to slip out of place. This can cause pain and stiffness, making movement uncomfortable. Treatment options depend on the severity, but surgery may be required. Choosing a healthy family line is important to try and avoid this problem.

Legg-Calvé Perthes Disease

This disease causes the head of the femur to degenerate where it articulates with the hip. Problems with the blood supply to the bone are thought to cause this and the result is chronic pain, eventually leading to arthritis. Treatment options are based around minimising pain and ultimately surgery may be necessary.

Portosystemic Shunt

This is a condition where blood does not pass through the liver as it should, but instead is shunted past it. This means that blood is not properly filtered by the liver leading to a build-up of toxins and a poor use of nutrients. This can cause many different clinical signs and needs to either be managed medically or corrected surgically depending on severity.


When blood sugar levels become too low hypoglycaemia occurs. Small breeds, and especially puppies, are commonly affected as they use more calories than they are able to consume. If allowed to become severe hypoglycaemia can cause severe effects, such as a loss of coordination, glazed eyes, seizures, and eventually death.

If a dog is seen to be suffering from hypoglycaemia it should be given glucose via the mouth as quickly as possible and taken for a check up at a vets. The key to avoiding the condition is regular feeding of small meals, several times a day.

Eye Conditions

Some of these conditions have not yet been proven to be of inherited origin but are on the Schedule B list of conditions under investigation, suspected to be of inherited origin in the British Veterinary Association (BVA) Eye Scheme. Two conditions in particular affect Yorkshire Terriers:

Primary Lens Luxation (PLL)

A condition where one of the ligaments which keeps the lens of the eye in position is defective. This can eventually lead to movement of the lens to varying degrees. If a dog carries the defect it often occurs at around 4 – 5 years of age. This can subsequently cause glaucoma and vision loss, as well as being painful. Surgery is needed to strop progression of the condition.

Hereditary Cataracts (HC)

Cataracts are when the lens becomes opaque, disturbing normal vision and often leading to blindness. Treatment requires surgery.

Generalised Progressive Retinal Atrophy (GPRA)

This can refer to various conditions affecting the retina, which can be classed as either developmental or degenerative. Developmental types occur in young dogs and have a more rapid progression, whereas degenerative types occur in older dogs and have a slower progression.

Exercise and Activity Levels

Yorkies do not require large amounts of exercise and around 30 - 45 minutes of walking a day should be more than enough to keep them happy and healthy. In addition, they enjoy spending time playing with toys and in a garden if available.

Although they do not have high exercise requirements, it is important that they are walked, as a lack of exercise can lead to behavioural problems, and their working origins as rat catchers should be taken into account. As with any dog, Yorkshire Terriers enjoy spending some time off the lead but this is not essential and they therefore make ideal dogs for city and urban environments.


The Yorkie is famous for is famous for its beautiful, fine, silky coat. This is traditionally left long and should be glossy and hang straight, and should be parted down the back of the dog from its nose to its tail. When allowed to grow long it requires daily brushing and may need regular bathing to keep it in good condition.

The Yorkshire Terrier does not have an undercoat and barely sheds other then when brushed. For ease of care in most non-showing environments the coat can be kept short by clipping a couple of times a year and occasional brushing in between.

Famous Yorkshire Terriers

Numerous celebrities own Yorkshire Terriers, but some examples of Yorkshire Terriers in popular culture include:

  • Toto, the dog from L. Frank Baum's book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was most likely a Yorkshire Terrier, however, the very famous film adaptation, The Wizard of Oz, used a Cairn Terrier
  • Mr Famous from the film, Funny Face
  • Moses from the film, Meet the Fockers
  • Hootie from the movie, Urban Legend
  • Pickles from the film, Daltry Calhoun
  • Boi from the film, High School Musical 2
  • Mignon from the television series, Green Acres
  • Smoky, the Yorkshire Terrier owned by William Wynne, who made him part of his troop in World War II


Some popular Yorkshire Terrier cross-breeds include:

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