Yorkshire Terrier | Complete Breed Characteristics Guide

Written by Dr. Marcelle Landestoy, DVM

Yorkie puppy

The Yorkshire Terrier is the most popular of the toy breeds and there is a lot you need to know about their personality, trainability, grooming, and even the most common health issues that affect Yorkies.

Using my experience as a veterinary doctor, I’ve put together this one-page guide for Yorkie owners. Read on to learn more about this popular breed and what you can expect from living with these dogs.

1- Interesting Facts About Your Little Furry Friend

  • Very adventurous for their small size, and have a high curiosity level
  • Because of their terrier heritage, they might hunt small animals like squirrels
  • Tenth most popular breed out of 196 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club
  • Low allergy risk because of a coat more similar to human hair

2- The Yorkshire Terrier’s Awesome History

This spirited breed had its origins in the Industrial Revolution of the mid-1800s when Scottish workers who came to Lancashire and Yorkshire, England, to work in factories, mills, and mines brought dogs known as Clydesdale Terriers with them.

These dogs, also known as Paisley Terriers, most likely served as ratters.

Other types of terriers were crossed with these dogs, including Dandie Dimont, English Black and Tan Toy Terriers, Skye Terriers, and Waterside Terriers, along with some probable Maltese.

One of these dogs appeared in a dog show in 1861, with the new breed being named the Yorkshire Terrier in 1870.

Yorkshire Terriers have been in the British studbook since 1886 and have had a breed club in England since 1898.

The first American-born Yorkie was born in 1872, and Yorkies appeared in shows as Yorkshire Terriers starting in 1878. The U.S. has had a Yorkshire Terrier Club since 1951.

3- The Yorkshire Terrier’s Characteristics

One of the first things that people will say about Yorkies is how full of personality they are.

For such small dogs, they have big personalities. Regardless of the setting where you acquire your Yorkshire Terrier, they will be glad to become a part of your family and want to be in the middle of all the action.

Don’t be surprised if your dog starts to become used to joining you on car rides or wanting to ride in a dog purse.

One thing that many people quickly discover when they acquire a Yorkie is that all these dogs have variations in personality.

Some have that very adventurous terrier spirit, while others are quiet lap dogs who want to be around their family all the time.

One thing that you can count on with this breed is that you’ll have a close partner for life.

yorkie in a suitcase

3.1- How Adaptable is the Yorkshire Terrier?

Yorkies adapt well to new people and other animals, for the most part. However, proper introductions are crucial to ensure these dogs don’t become overly possessive of their owners.

The more new faces and experiences they encounter, the better these little dogs will adapt to change.

As a small companion dog, a Yorkshire Terrier is particularly well-suited to urban settings and can also do well in the suburbs or country.

Yorkshire Terriers are a relatively amateur-friendly breed. If you’re prepared to give one of these dogs lots of love, you’re good to go, regardless of your experience with dogs in general or small dogs.

Every dog breed presents a unique set of challenges, but in Yorkies, these challenges are easy to overcome.

Yorkshire Terriers are great apartment pets due to their small size. However, you might need to work with your Yorkie to minimize their tendency to yap.

The excited yapping that seems cute to their human family could annoy your neighbors.

Yorkshire Terriers can be sensitive to anything they feel threatens their security or changes that they don’t have enough time to adapt to first.

However, owners need to find a proper balance between being reasonably protective and over-protecting their dogs.

Yorkies don’t like cold weather, especially settings where the weather is also damp.

yorkie under a sheet

These dogs get chilled quite easily, making dog coats or sweaters a good idea. Make sure your dog has a warm, comfortable bed where they can sleep to avoid the chill from the floor.

Yorkshire Terriers are also somewhat intolerant of extreme heat. As companion dogs, Yorkies will enjoy spending the bulk of their time in the house.

Because these dogs prefer spending much of their time indoors, either type of temperature extreme will be disagreeable.

3.2- Friendliness of the Yorkshire Terrier

Yorkies are usually friendly dogs but do best when socialized around other people at a young age. The more they interact with other people, the less they will resent others paying attention to their owners.

You want your dog to live harmoniously with everyone in the household, not just one person.

Yorkshire Terriers are excellent family dogs who are loving towards the whole family.

No matter what type of activity is occurring around your home, you can be sure that your Yorkie will probably be interested in taking part.

These dogs have a natural curiosity that will encourage them to investigate whatever goes on.

Yorkshire Terriers are a breed that will get along well with older kids who know how to interact with dogs appropriately. These dogs will love the attention that kids who treat them gently provide.

These dogs have a loyalty to their family members that encompasses the children, too.

A Yorkie will get along best with other dogs and cats already living in the household. New pets might prompt a sense of possessiveness surrounding the owner.

Because these dogs have retained their terrier instincts, they might react to new pets by fighting.

Having been bred from working terrier lines, Yorkshire Terriers could injure other small dogs or cats because of their unwillingness to give up a fight.

Yorkshire Terriers will get along with strangers whom they don’t see as a threat. When they see someone new, their protective instincts will prompt them to guard against this perceived threat.

You’ll need to make sure your dog understands commands given to help them calm down when told to.

yorkshire terrier on a sofa

3.3- Grooming and Care Needs

Yorkshire Terriers have long coats with a silky texture, with hair on their heads that makes a distinctive topknot. This topknot helps keep hair out of the dog’s eyes.

The coat color of most Yorkies sport is tan, with steel-blue markings.

Despite the long coat, these dogs don’t shed very much. Yorkies have single coats, rather than the double coat that is more common on many longhaired dogs.

Brushing will help keep the coat a lot cleaner and also help prevent painful matting.

Any hair loss that is unrelated to shedding or an obvious skin problem will require closer examination by your vet. Some of the most common causes include an overactive thyroid or intestinal issues that prevent certain nutrients from being properly absorbed.

Chemotherapy treatments and hormone imbalances might also cause hair loss.

Yorkshire Terrier puppies who are teething might have somewhat of a tendency to drool, and this is not something to be too concerned about.

However, if your dog is past the teething stage and drooling excessively, there may be an issue ranging from a bad tooth to an ingested foreign object.

You will be doing well to have a veterinarian check out the cause for the drooling.

For the most part, Yorkshire Terriers are healthy dogs. However, there are some health issues that you need to be aware of if one of these dogs is part of your family.

Ensuring that your Yorkie maintains a healthy weight is crucial, and proper grooming will help prevent a lot of skin and coat issues.

Yorkshire Terriers can develop weight problems more quickly than many owners realize. The food should always be measured before serving.

A Yorkie that’s a healthy weight should have a visible waist and ribs that you can feel relatively easily. Keeping your dog at a healthy weight will prevent a lot of health problems further down the road.

Grooming can be moderately easy to difficult, depending on whether your dog spends a lot of time doing things outside, has their coat long or short, and your comfort level with doing much in the way of grooming.

yorkshire terrier on a sofa

At least a moderate amount of grooming is necessary for maintaining a healthy coat and skin.

If you prefer not to spend a great amount of time grooming, consider keeping your dog’s coat short or using a groomer.

With a short stature but big personality, these dogs have a lot to add to any family.

Even though there is some slight variation with some dogs being over or under the breed standard, owners who acquire a Yorkie as a puppy can expect a small dog at adulthood.

In spite of the small size, these dogs will always be ready for action.

3.4- Yorkshire Terrier Trainability

Although Yorkies usually pick up commands relatively quickly, they have a reputation for being difficult to housebreak.

Although the messes that these terriers make are smaller than most other dogs’ you want to make sure you correct them when they have an accident, so they know they’re supposed to go outside.

Owners will have the most success housebreaking their Yorkshire Terriers if they use crate training.

Another option, especially if your dog resists going outside in bad weather, is paper or peed pad training.

Because Yorkshire Terriers are a smart breed, you should find training relatively easy. Incorporating obedience or agility work into their training will provide even more stimulation, which helps your dog stay more focused.

Although Yorkies are not hunting dogs in the traditional sense, they behave as you might expect a terrier to when they encounter rodents and similar types of animals.

These dogs are likely to harass, chase, or possibly kill small animals. Exercise care when your dog is around other little breed puppies, very young kittens, and pet birds, rabbits, guinea pigs, and mice, or rats.

Yorkshire Terriers do bark a lot more than many owners realize.

Training your Yorkie to know when they shouldn’t bark is a helpful tool for owners, especially those who live in apartments. Without proper training, these terriers will bark at almost everything they hear.

If you are not willing to take the time for training or feel unable to train your dog, use the services of a trainer.

Excessive mouthiness isn’t common in most Yorkies once they have passed the teething stage. However, some nippiness during play is to be expected.

yorkie collage

Nipping and biting are expected if the dog feels stressed or threatened, such as when a child plays too roughly.

3.5- Important Physical Needs

Yorkshire Terriers need sufficient stimulation because of their strong hunting instincts.

The sight of a rabbit, squirrel, or another small animal might encourage your dog to take off at a run across the yard. Play-related activities will help curb a lot of wild behavior.

A Yorkie can be a very intense breed of dog. When one of these dogs gets involved in something, they will do so at full-force.

If you expect a dog to show serious enthusiasm, Yorkshire Terriers won’t disappoint you.

Yorkies have a high energy level, something that may seem surprising in comparison to other small dogs.

However, the exercise needs of this breed are modest when you think about the exercise that big dogs usually require.

The good news is that these dogs have an energy level that is not too difficult for most people to manage.

Even though Yorkshire Terriers are small dogs, daily exercise is beneficial for their physical and mental health.

Once your dog is leash-trained, taking him or her out for walks is a great way to provide the exercise that they require.

When the weather doesn’t allow for it, a play session in the house or apartment will fit the bill.

Squeaky toys are great for Yorkies to play with because they tap into these dogs’ hunting instincts.

One of these toys, the more durable, the better, will provide hours of amusement.

Make sure you check these toys several times a week to make sure the squeaker hasn’t been exposed.

Toys that Yorkshire Terriers can fetch will also provide hours of fun. Balls smaller than tennis balls but bigger than golf balls are the perfect size for these terriers.

yorkie girl with a toy

Soft crochet materials or more durable materials like rubber are both excellent options.

3.6- Size of the Breed

These dogs stand eight to nine inches at the shoulder and weigh four to six pounds. Yorkies have been known to weigh over ten pounds, but this is unusual.

Most Yorkies will enjoy a lifespan of at least 11 to 15 years. So-called “teacup” Yorkshire Terriers are smaller than the usual breed standard are more likely to have genetic disorders that lead to health problems, which makes Yorkies that are a more conventional size a better choice.

3.7- Temperament

Yorkshire Terriers usually have sweet, affectionate dispositions. Because a Yorkie is thoroughly a terrier, you can expect them to bark at strangers or unfamiliar noises.

These dogs have an urge to protect their families that comes across very strongly in these situations.

Behavior with Children and Other Pets

Older children are more likely to have the maturity that Yorkshire Terriers require. Teasing or doing something that startles a Yorkie can cause snapping and biting.

Babies, toddlers, and other small children need a lot of supervision around these dogs, and Yorkies will do better in settings without young children.

An over-enthusiastic child might end up inadvertently hurting one of these dogs during play.

It’s not unusual for Yorkshire Terriers to react with aggression towards unfamiliar dogs.

Careful introductions will prevent a lot of problems from the start. Even though Yorkies are toy-sized dogs, they are unaware of their size.

Proper socialization and reasonable control will minimize the chances of your terrier trying to challenge larger dogs introduced into your household.

4- Health

Some of the health problems that Yorkshire Terriers might experience include:

  • Collapsed trachea
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Patellar Luxation
  • Portosystemic Shunt
  • Progressive Retinal Atrophy
  • Retained puppy teeth
  • Reverse sneezing

Smaller dogs like Yorkshire Terriers may be susceptible to a collapsed trachea, which happens more quickly than people realize sometimes.

yorkie in a mug

The most common symptom is a chronic dry cough that has somewhat of a honking sound.

There are surgical and non-surgical procedures that can treat this condition.

Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, often affects Yorkies and similar-sized dogs. Puppies are somewhat more susceptible, as well as Yorkies of any age experiencing stress.

Symptoms could include seizure-like behavior, difficulty walking, confusion, and weakness.

Your vet will be able to recommend options for treatment if your dog experiences this condition.

Patellar Luxation often affects toy-sized dogs and involves the three parts of the knee not lining up correctly.

Also known as slipped stifles, this condition could be present at birth or become an issue later in life. Yorkshire Terriers with this condition may walk abnormally or go lame.

There are four grades of the disease, with the most severe resulting in dogs becoming bowlegged. Severe cases might require surgery, and dogs with this condition have a greater arthritis risk.

Portosystemic Shunt occurs when blood flow to the liver is compromised. Because the liver plays such a vital role in eliminating drugs, the metabolic process, and detoxification, this condition is not one to take too lightly.

In most cases, Yorkies will show symptoms before turning two, and these symptoms include drug intolerance, low blood sugar, digestive problems, urinary tract issues, poor appetite, and neurological issues.

The treatment options include a special diet and, possibly, surgery.

yorkie laid down

Progressive Retinal Atrophy is a disease that progressively causes blindness in many Yorkies.

This condition causes photoreceptors located at the back of the eye. The good news is that a veterinarian can diagnose this condition before the start of vision loss.

Yorkshire Terriers may retain their puppy teeth past five months.

Schedule a visit with your vet if baby teeth seem to be keeping your Yorkie from having adult teeth come in. Unless these baby teeth get removed, the adult teeth will end up uneven, which contributes to dental disease and decay.

A condition that has startled many Yorkie owners the first time it happens is reverse sneezing.

Drinking or eating too fast, as well as inhaled allergens, can make nasal secretions drop onto the soft palate, which makes it start to close over the windpipe.

This unusual occurrence lasts for a few minutes at most but can make the dog stressed. Stroking the front of the throat usually eases the reverse sneezing.

5- Grooming and Care

A weekly brushing will keep your dog’s coat looking its best, regardless of whether your dog has a long natural coat or you can keep the coat trimmed.

Some Yorkies have softer coats more likely to tangle than others, which require a little bit of extra care during brushing.

A weekly brushing should be enjoyable for your dog, not something they consider painful.

Bathing is also recommended on a weekly basis. After you’ve wet the coat down well, run your fingers through it while applying the shampoo, instead of rubbing, for better coverage.

Apply the conditioner you’re using in the same way, then rinse their coat.

Use a light spray-on conditioner while you’re drying your dog’s coat to help prevent breakage.

These conditioners are also an essential to use during brushing.

Because a Yorkie’s coat is much more similar to human hair than other dogs’ hair, the coat is less able to withstand brushing while dirty or dry.

Always check the dog’s ears, especially being watchful for bad smells, redness, or swelling or discharge.

These symptoms signify a possible infection that requires veterinary care. Keeping the ear canal free of hair prevents a lot of moisture from accumulating that can cause infections.

yorkie with a coat in a store

Yorkies are one of the breeds most likely to have dental problems, and often lose some of their teeth while they are still young.

Because of the amount of tartar their teeth can accumulate, brushing their teeth three times a week can help prevent a lot of diseases.

If your vet does a cleaning at least once a year, you’ll be able to keep a lot of potential dental trouble in check.

Nail trimming is a take that many owners find frustrating, but must do to prevent breakage, ingrown nails, and other problems.

Nail trimming should preferably take place on the same day you do baths.

If the nails stay at a length where you don’t hear clicking when your dog walks, they have gotten short enough.

Keeping the hair around the anal area trimmed to about half an inch will prevent a lot of bothersome odors.

Consider having your vet express the glands during an exam to relieve this common cause of odor. Full anal glands can make a dog unpleasant to be around in a closed room, so having them taken care of is a good idea.

During the weekly bathing and grooming sessions, you should check your dog’s eyes and other parts of their body.

A Yorkie’s eyes should always be free of discharge or redness. Watch for rashes or sores that have an infection risk.

6- How to Feed Your Yorkshire Terrier

Yorkies have a reputation for having sensitive digestive systems. In addition to having digestive systems somewhat on the delicate side, these dogs might be somewhat fussy about food.

Gum and teeth issues that cause discomfort during eating are sometimes a problem with this breed that owners need to be aware of so they can seek veterinary care when needed.

A food designed explicitly for the breed, toy-sized dogs, or dogs with digestive issues is usually a good idea.

Most Yorkshire Terriers will eat 1/2 to 3/4 c. of dry food. Twice-daily feeding in equal portions is preferable to free-feeding.

Depending on whether your Yorkie is exceptionally fussy or has special dietary needs, a raw or other home-prepared diets might work well.

Should you choose this option for your dog, make sure they are getting the proper amounts of all the necessary nutrients.

Homemade foods are often tasty for our furry friends, but lacking in nutrition.

Regardless of whether your Yorkshire Terrier eats human food as part of their diet or as a treat, it is essential to know which foods are unsafe for dogs.

dog food

Foods that are the most dangerous for your dog to eat include chocolate, garlic, and macadamia nuts. Dogs should also avoid pitted fruits and apples that still have the core present.

The brand of food, as well as your dog’s activity level and age, can account for differences in the amount of food consumed.

Food that’s of higher quality goes a lot further for providing nourishment than cheaper foods.

Regardless of your dog’s diet, there should always be a supply of fresh water available.

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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