Written by Dr. Marcelle Landestoy, DVM
Yorkshire Terriers may be prone to barking, but are they aggressive? This is a crucial question to ask before adopting a Yorkie.
After all, the last thing you want to do is rehome your new pup because they don’t get along with your kids, spouse, or current pets.
Yorkshire Terriers, also called Yorkies, aren’t naturally aggressive. They tend to get along best with children, and they may make excellent companions for small families and couples. That said, this breed is protective of their furless family and may become aggressive toward some strangers.
Fortunately, Yorkies aren’t an aggressive breed. That said, poor socialization and training can make any dog exhibit aggressive behaviors.
As such, let’s explore this breed’s aggressive tendencies a little more deeply to find out if they might be the right option for you and your family. Using my knowledge as a veterinary doctor, I put all of the essential information in the following article.
Are They Aggressive to Humans?
Any dog can become aggressive with humans if they’re poorly socialized, threatened, or in severe pain.
That said, some breeds are known for their natural aggressive behaviors and tendencies.
They are not aggressive to humans if they are socialized early in life. They are fiercely protective of their families, but they will react strongly to any visitors or intruders that come into your home.
Pups that are highly protective of their pet parents tend to be the most aggressive breeds.
However, dogs bred to hunt can also show aggressive tendencies, especially during playtime.
Terriers are a diverse group and were initially used as rat catchers and vermin hunters.
As such, some terriers can exhibit signs of aggressive behavior.
For example, Bull Terriers and Jack Russel Terriers are known for their possessiveness and protective nature.
They may bite or attack when defending their pet parents.
Again, it’s crucial to remember that these breeds aren’t naturally aggressive.
But when they’re unsocialized and untrained, inappropriate behavior is virtually unavoidable.
Still, Yorkshire Terriers tend to be far more passive and peaceful, especially toward humans.
When you form a bond with a Yorkie, you’ve made a lifelong friend.
A Yorkshire Terrier’s family members are likely to be their best friends.
This breed is incredibly affectionate toward their pet parents and other household members.
The average Yorkie is only about 8″ (20.3 cm) tall, and most weigh less than 10 pounds (4.5 kg).
As such, they’re just about the size of a newborn baby.
And in most cases, Yorkshire Terriers want nothing more than to snuggle up to babies and take a nap.
That said, it’s crucial to never leave your Yorkie alone with your newborn or infant.
While this breed tends to be affectionate toward young children and babies, loud crying can cause them to panic or bark loudly.
Even the best-trained dogs should be closely watched when they’re interacting with a baby.
The same can be said for toddlers.
Your Yorkie will likely consider them family by the time your child is toddling around the house.
But that doesn’t mean that your pup can’t get annoyed and nip at your little one.
After all, toddlers are notorious for their rough touch and insatiable curiosity.
If your toddler sticks their hands in your Yorkie’s ears, mouth, or nose, they might lightly nip or bark their displeasure.
To prevent defensive biting, you’ll want to teach your child to interact gently with your Yorkshire Terrier.
Older children tend to get along very well with Yorkies. That’s because Yorkshire Terriers love to play, go for walks, and learn new tricks.
Kids old enough to take on primary pet care responsibilities can form deep and meaningful connections with your affectionate Yorkie.
Single adults with a moderate amount of free time could make excellent pet parents for Yorkies.
However, these pups tend to be happiest when they’re part of a small family.
They’re energetic, loyal, and crave affection from their family members.
Additionally, adults are best suited to socialize and train their pups.
Consequently, adults that adopt Yorkshire Terriers may find that their dogs never show signs of aggression toward household members.
But, of course, they’re still likely to bark at strangers.
Yorkshire Terriers are excellent family dogs, as they tend to bond closely with household members.
But they can be wary of strangers, often barking when someone gets too close to your yard or front door.
That said, Yorkies are protective pups, which can be misjudged as aggressiveness.
However, this breed generally has positive interactions with strangers they meet during walks, house parties, and family get-together.
They’re most often aggressive toward strangers that they perceive to be threatening.
Intruders, uninvited guests, or individuals that act aggressively toward a Yorkie’s pet parents may endure the wrath of tiny teeth and hard bites.
In Your Home
You’ll need to consider how Yorkies react to strangers in the home.
To do this, let’s discuss how Yorkshire Terriers react to both guests and intruders.
After all, you’ll likely want your pup to remain calm around friends and family, but not burglars.
When you have guests arrive at your home, your Yorkie may bark at them for several minutes, especially if they can’t give your guests an investigative sniff.
However, this breed is generally amiable, and they tend to react to new people with affection and interest.
Yorkies are an intelligent breed, and their loyal natures also influence how they react to guests.
For example, your Yorkie may observe your interaction to gauge the current threat level when meeting new people.
So, if you’re relaxed, your pup is likely to calm down soon after guests arrive.
Yorkies won’t hesitate to let their pet parents know there’s an intruder about.
This breed is highly protective of its family members, so it may attack anyone that sneaks into your home.
However, Yorkshire Terriers are also relatively small. As such, they’re not the best choice for home defense.
Their barking is bound to alert you to any potential dangers, but they’re not typically capable of incapacitating intruders.
Outside Your Home
When you take your Yorkie outdoors for a walk or a trip to the dog park, they may be initially hesitant to socialize.
However, they likely won’t act aggressively toward other people they see or meet.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for other dogs or animals.
Yorkshire Terriers were originally bred as ratters, so they’re prone to chasing after rodents and smaller animals they see outdoors.
They can also be somewhat distrustful toward other dogs, so proper socialization and training are crucial.
Are They Aggressive to Other Animals?
Yorkshire Terriers tend to be fantastic companion dogs due to their affectionate natures.
However, their love for people doesn’t necessarily translate to other animals.
They are aggressive to other animals, such as small rodents, squirrels, or rabbits. When it comes to getting along with other dogs, this breed can struggle a little bit. Still, regular socialization from a young age can help your Yorkie become accustomed to being around other animals.
But don’t be surprised if your little pup dives after the occasional squirrel or wild mouse. Remember, this breed comes from rat-catching ancestors.
Other Animals in Your Household
Yorkies love being the center of attention, so living in multi-pet households can be a bit stressful for them.
They’re not afraid to try and boss around much larger breeds.
That said, Yorkshire Terriers that are used to spending time with other dogs don’t tend to mind living with other dogs, cats, and pets.
Taking your Yorkie to the dog park when they’re just a puppy is a great way to start socializing them with other dogs.
But remember, even a well-socialized Yorkie will yearn for your attention and affection.
If you’re not able to commit to that, they’re likely to act out toward other dogs in the home.
Additionally, Yorkies have pest-catching backgrounds.
So if you have rabbits, hamsters, or guinea pigs living in your home, you’ll need to keep a close eye on their interactions with your Yorkshire Terrier.
You may also want to restrict your pup’s unsupervised outdoor time.
After all, these dogs won’t hesitate to run down the unlucky rodent that happens into your backyard.
Animals They Encounter Outside
While you might be able to enjoy a peaceful multi-pet household with a Yorkie, these dogs can still end up acting aggressively toward animals they meet outdoors.
Of course, this isn’t particularly true of other dogs, but small animals are fair game for the average Yorkshire Terrier.
To keep your dog safe from rats and the illnesses they carry, you’ll want to watch them closely every time they go outdoors.
Because Yorkies are pretty tiny, they can also become prey to large predatory birds or wild animals.
Consequently, supervising your terrier’s outdoor time is a smart way to prevent them from harming other animals, and it’s an excellent way to keep them safe from harm.
Are Female or Male Yorkies More Aggressive?
As with most dog breeds, male Yorkies tend to be more aggressive than females. One of the major exceptions to this unwritten rule is a nursing female. Yorkies that have recently given birth and are caring for a young litter can become aggressive to protect their puppies.
Crucially, both males and females can become aggressive if abused, neglected, or trained to fight.
That’s why proper training and socialization are so vital to preventing unwanted behaviors in your four-legged family members.
What Can Cause Aggressive Behavior?
Any breed can show signs of aggression if they’re neglected, abused, or in pain.
But some of the most common causes of aggressive behavior in Yorkshire Terriers include:
- Lack of attention
- Restricted resources
- Poor socialization
- Illness and injury
- Inadequate training
- Perceived threats
A lack of attention can cause aggressive behavior, which exhibits itself as irritability toward pet parents or other animals in the household. Taking the time to shower your Yorkie with love is a great way to prevent them from acting out in this way.
Yorkies are companion dogs that crave attention.
They can act out when they don’t get the attention and affection they so badly desire.
If your pup shares a food or water bowl with the other dogs in your home, they can also develop some nasty, aggressive habits like growling and biting.
When a Yorkie thinks that their resources are restricted, they may seek to protect those limited resources through violence.
Providing a separate bowl for each of your pups can help eliminate this unwanted behavior.
However, if your terrier continues to pester your four-legged family members at mealtimes, you may want to consider taking them to a veterinarian.
When a Yorkie is injured or ill, they can growl or try to bite their loved ones.
A veterinary examination is the only way to determine whether this might be the cause of their frustration.
But, of course, pups that aren’t trained or socialized may act aggressively toward household members and strangers.
That’s because dogs raised in neglectful or abusive households tend to see much of the outside world as a potential threat.
So, in addition to regular veterinary care, you’ll want to provide your pup with plenty of socialization opportunities and training sessions.
Is Your Yorkie Being Aggressive or Protective?
Your Yorkie could be aggressive or protective, but discerning the difference between aggression and protectiveness can be challenging. After all, dogs in protective mode can growl, bark, and adopt a defensive stance, which are common aggression signs.
But taking the time to consider context can help you determine whether your pup is unnecessarily aggressive or dutifully protective.
For example, if your Yorkie is growling at you every time you pet it, it may be injured or ill.
But if your Yorkshire Terrier is in excellent health and still unaffectionate, withdrawn, and aggressive, you may be dealing with a behavioral problem.
Additionally, it’s common for Yorkies to bark or growl at strangers that approach your home.
This type of behavior is protective, but if you invite guests into your home, are relaxed and calm, and your Yorkie continues to growl and try to bite those guests, that’s aggressive behavior.
Considering the situation, environment, and your dog’s health are vital when telling the difference between protectiveness and aggression.
You’ll also want to familiarize yourself with the common signs of canine aggression.
Learn To Recognize the Signs That Your Dog Is About To Get Aggressive
Identifying the early signs of aggressive behavior can help you curtail any unwanted bites or attacks.
Generally, the first sign of aggression in a Yorkie is barking, followed by growling. After this, your pup may get into an attack stance.
This stance is typically box-like, with your Yorkie’s feet spread equally apart and its chest aimed at whatever perceived threat it’s growling at.
If your Yorkshire Terrier pulls its ears back, it might be fearful but preparing to attack.
What To Do During an Aggressive Episode
When your Yorkie is growling and trying to attack, you might want to panic.
However, staying calm is crucial. The more panicked you are, the more likely your Yorkshire Terrier is to react aggressively.
If your Yorkie is trying to bite a stranger, you’ll want to keep a firm hold on their leash or collar and remain very still and quiet.
Then, when the stranger is out of sight, your Yorkie has a chance to relax, allowing you to assess the situation and understand why they got aggressive.
But what if your Yorkie is trying to attack you? In this situation, you won’t want to approach them.
Instead, you’ll want to speak in a calm tone and remain still until they’ve stopped growling.
When To Get Professional Help
If your Yorkshire Terrier isn’t responding to commands and is consistently aggressive toward humans or animals, you’ll want to seek professional help.
The first thing you’ll want to do is take your Yorkie to your local veterinarian.
Pups that are ill or in extreme pain can act aggressively toward their pet parents.
Ensuring that your Yorkie is in excellent health can help you determine whether an illness is causing their aggression.
If they’re not injured or ill, you’ll want to contact an animal behavioral specialist.
These professionals can provide training sessions to help your pup re-learn proper socialization techniques.
They can also offer you some practical advice for at-home training and reinforcement.
What Does the Rehabilitation Process Look Like?
Aggressive dogs undergoing the behavior rehabilitation process tend to receive weekly or daily training lessons. Positive reinforcement is a significant aspect of this training. When your Yorkie remains calm during an interaction with other animals or humans, reward them with a treat and affection.
Over time, your pup will begin to associate positive behavior with these rewards.
As such, they’ll be less likely to act out.
Refraining from negative reactions is crucial to rehabilitating an aggressive dog.
Hitting, yelling, or punishing your Yorkie for their unwanted behavior is only bound to make them fear and distrust you.
It’s never OK to strike or punish your Yorkie when they become aggressive.
Not only is this kind of behavior abusive, but it could reinforce violent tendencies in your pup.
Positive reinforcement is a far kinder and more effective solution.
If you’re looking for a small-sized companion dog, a Yorkshire Terrier could be an excellent choice.
This breed is known for its affectionate nature and friendliness.
However, Yorkies are also heavy barkers and highly protective of their families.
When you own a Yorkie, you’ll never wonder if there’s someone at the door.
Still, with proper training and early socialization, there’s little chance that your Yorkshire Terrier will attack, bite, or become aggressive toward strangers or household members.
- American Kennel Club: Puppy Socialization: Why, When, and How to Do It Right
- American Kennel Club: Yorkshire Terrier
- The Gale Review: The Little Ratters We Know Little About: The A Brief History of the Yorkshire Terrier
- VCA Hospitals: Yorkshire Terrier
Learn more about this breed on my one-page Yorkie guide
Veterinary Hospital Director at UCE
Dr. Marcelle is a general veterinarian with a Small Animal Medicine Specialty | Director of the UCE School of Veterinary Medicine | Certified by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society