The Yorkshire Terrier aka Yorkie is a diminutive dog, but one that is FULL of big dog attitude. You may have seen them in the dog show ring, in person or on tv, and marveled at their perfect silky coats and that jaunty topknot (with the traditional red bow). There is a LOT more to this breed than just good looks and style. Yorkshire Terrier history is also full of big stories with style, flash and attitude – just like the Yorkie!
Rats, big mean rats that carried disease, ruined crops, infested homes and businesses, and made life miserable for most of mankind for eons, were the reason the Yorkie began as a distinct breed. Oh, how far they have come.
In the mid 1800s England was in the midst of the Industrial Revolution and in dire need of people to operate the new machinery. Lured by promises of easy factory work, I supposed that compared to working on a farm at that time it may have been, many Scottish families moved to the cities in England. They brought scrappy little rat hunting dogs with them, called appropriately enough Scotch Terriers. Other terrier types were also brought with their job seeking owners, such as the Skye Terrier, the Paisley, the Clydesdale and Black-and-Tan-Terriers.
The dogs were much larger at this time and proved their mettle as ratters. This strong ratting instinct led to them being used in mills, mines, and the homes of their owners. This versatile little dog was also used to hunt foxes, badgers (really!) and other smaller game. Life was tough for the working class and a dog had to pull its own weight and more.
Dog breeding record keeping was lax or nonexistent during this time, as people often bred the dogs for their own purposes or that of the two or village they lived in. Only those who were true fanciers of a breed kept any type of records. To those early OCD dog people we say, “Thanks for being so anal.”
The silky coat, which gleamed a distinct silvery blue-grey caught the eye of the upper class and soon the breed was moving “Upstairs.” In 1865, with the birth of Huddlersfield Ben, the course of Yorkie history was about to change. Born in Huddersfield in Yorkshire county, Ben took the dog show and ratting competition by storm. His owner, M.A. Foster showed him in dog shows and ratting contests, it is said he won over 70 ratting competitions.
Not only was Huddererfield Ben a top ratter and confirmation show dog, he became a very popular dog with the ladies, as in the girl dogs. Even though he was a bigger Yotkie at 11 pounds, he consistently “there” or produced smaller offspring of less than five pounds each. We call this being prepotent in dog breeding lingo. Unfortunately, Ben passed at the young age of six. Ben is rightfully considered the foundation of the Yorkshire Terrier to this day. By 1874 the breed was officially named the Yorkshire Terrier in homage to Ben and the area in which the breed type standard was firmly set.
One of the most famous Yorkie’s was undoubtable Smoky, a 4 pound Yorkie loved and owned by William Wynne. A soldier had found the underfed and matted little dog in a foxhole on the island of Papau New Guinea in March of 1944. During the next eighteen months Wynne and Smoky survive air raids, typhoons, and a dozen combat missions. When Wynne contracted dengue fever, he was sent to a military hospital and of course, his buddies smuggled Smoky in to see him. The nurses noticed how much he improved after her visits and asked him to allow her to visit other hospitalized soldiers. He taught her a repertoire of tricks and was soon touring military hospitals after Wynne’s tour was over.
Along the way Smoky pulled communication wires through long tunnels, allowing much needed message to be sent to the front. She also parachuted from a tower in her own custom parachute. Smoky passed at the age of 14 in her sleep. Read more of Smoky’s inspiring story in The National Geographic War Dogs Series. MORE ON SMOKY THE YORKIE WAR HERO
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