The Yorkshire Terrier aka Yorkie is a diminutive dog, but 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, though. Before you shop our Yorkie skin care and hair grooming products, take a moment to read about how the breed began. Yorkshire Terrier history is full of big stories with style, flash and attitude – just like the Yorkie!
Rats, Badgers & More Rats
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 many Scottish families moved to the cities in England. They brought scrappy little rat hunting dogs with them, called appropriately enough - Scotch Terriers.
The Yorkshire Terrier dogs were much larger at this time and proved their mettle as ratters. This strong ratting trait led to Yorkshire Terriers 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 this terrier had to pull its own weight and more with its strong Yorkie dog traits.
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.”
Life was a hardscrabble time during the Mid-1800s for people and animals. People were leaving the pastoral life of the farms and moving into towns and cities for the first time in history, most of which had no infrastructure for the basics we take for granted: sewage, garbage, running water.
RATS also moved into town and multiplied as fast as possible. A good ratting dog was faster than a cat and had more drive for the work. Most cats would kill a mouse or so, but not just for the kill as the dogs would.
Ratting contests began in Great Britain as a pastime for the lower class, though I bet a high-born Count or two partook of the ratting competitions. During those contests dogs were placed in a ring, or “pit,” with a large number of rats. Observers placed bets on how many rats each dog could kill within a set period of time, 8-10 minutes usually.
HUDDELSFIELD BEN The Adam of Yorkshire Terriers
In 1865, with the birth of Huddelsfield Ben, the course of Yorkshire Terrier history was about to change. Born in Huddelsfield 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 Huddelsfield 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 “threw” or produced smaller offspring of less than five pounds each. This is being prepotentin 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.