Yorkies, Silkies, and Aussies

A tale of three terriers

The history of terrier breeds began in the British Isles where farmers and tradesmen developed more than a dozen breeds of hardy dogs to rid barns, kitchen, shops, and docks of rats and other vermin. Terriers come in short-legged and long-legged versions. Some have smooth coats (bull-and-terrier types) and one - the Soft-Coated Wheaten - has a longish soft coat, but most have hard, wiry outer coats to protect them from harsh climates and thick brush.

A few terriers came from the European Continent and from Australia, and breeders in North America put their stamp on some others, but the vast majority of these go-to-ground dogs got their start in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland.

Paramount among the characteristics prized in these terriers is a toughness that in many cases belied their size. Even the smallest terriers could be depended on to do the job of rooting out pests that plagued villages, factories, mills, castles, farms and ships. From the first mention in the literature of the mid-16th Century to Great Britain's through the Industrial Age, the terrier has more than earned its keep.

Today's terriers rarely are called on to rid pantries of mice or dig groundhogs out of gardens. Although they will do these things when given the opportunity, they are held in far higher esteem as pets.

Because many terrier breeds are closely related and have maintained similarity in size, color, temperament, and other characteristics, it is efficient and helpful to profile them together. Thus we have the Yorkshire Terrier, the Australian Terrier, and the Silky Terrier, each with the same bold, bright terrier demeanor but with slight differences in history, temperament, health, and suitability for particular families.

Yorkshire Terrier

At the end of the alphabet but tops among the three in AKC registrations, the Yorkie is by far the most popular terrier in the US. In 2005, the breed jumped past the German Shepherd and Beagle to take the number three spot in registrations behind number one Labrador Retriever and number two Golden Retriever. More than 47 thousand Yorkies were registered in 2005, up from the 43.5 thousand registered the previous year.

Many of these Yorkie owners would be astonished to learn that this groomed, pampered breed began life as a working dog as their Scottish masters moved south of the border into England's Yorkshire and Lancashire counties to work in the mines and mills. The Scotsmen brought their Clydesdale and Paisley terriers to their new country; these dogs in turn bred with English terriers to create a 10-to-14-pound, wire-coated dog that was eventually dubbed the Yorkshire Terrier.

The Yorkshire Terrier became popular as a pet and show dog in the mid-19th Century, and downsizing began. Today's Yorkie weighs seven pounds or less, has a long, silky coat that just wouldn't make it on the farm or in the mills or mines, and is a highly favored apartment and lap dog.

The Yorkie has one color pattern: adults are always dark steel blue with tan markings, but puppies are born black and tan and may have some random black hairs before they mature. The blue color covers the body from the back of the neck to the tail; the rich, golden tan markings cover the head, chest, ears, and legs.

The luxurious, silky coat is the breed's most striking feature. Parted along the back, the long straight drags on the floor if not trimmed. The fall on the head is long and is usually tied with one bow in the center of the forehead or parted in the middle and tied with two bows.

The flowing coat and diminutive size lead to misunderstanding: Although the Yorkie does like to be pampered, it is not a wimpy dog. Writing in the online version of Dog and Kennel Magazine, Richard Beauchamp describes several instances of tough Yorkie attitude and constitution and concludes:

"The Yorkshire Terrier's size and doll-like appearance - to say nothing of the dainty ribbons with which it is often adorned - belie its toughness and determination. Toy breed fanciers are wont to boast that their tykes are actually 'big dogs in little dog suits,' but the Yorkie is one dog that can walk the talk."

The Yorkie is long-lived with relatively few serious health problems. It is susceptible to a toy dog structural abnormality known as patellar luxation (dislocated or slipping kneecaps), so puppies should be purchased from breeders who test breeding stock for this problem. Other potential problems include hypothyroidism, portacaval liver shunt, hypoglycemia, allergies, diabetes, progressive retinal atrophy, and tooth and gum weaknesses.

Those who think that small size and appealing appearance equal daintiness and tractability should think again. Yorkie temperament is similar to that of other terriers - this little dog not only wants to be in charge, it will be in charge if given half a chance. Nothing sways him from his self-appointed superiority, not a Great Dane or a Rottweiler or a wimpy owner. He can be scrappy with other animals, manipulative if not trained, and stubborn.

Poorly-bred Yorkies can also be snappy, territorial with food and toys, and hard to housetrain. For these reasons, Yorkies are not the best choice for a family with babies or young children.

Yorkies also need more daily care than most terriers. Although they don't shed much, the long, silky hair will tangle and mat if not properly brushed. Diet is important; soft foods can exacerbate problems with already weak teeth and gums.

So why are they so popular? Yorkies can be perfect for apartments, for families with older children, for individuals or couples without children, and even for families on the go. They fit nicely in backpacks and shoulder bags and can even ride under the seat in special airline-approved carriers. They are bright, perky, fun dogs indoors, are alert watchdogs, and need little outdoor exercise. And for the competition-minded, they can hold their own in obedience and agility events.

Yorkie fads

Some folks think the tiny Yorkie isn't tiny enough at four-to-seven pounds and are producing what they call "teacup Yorkies" or "doll-faced" Yorkies that weigh in at three pounds or less. These tiny dogs sell for hundreds of dollars more than standard-sized dogs of the breed, often topping $2000 for a puppy. The code of ethics of the Yorkshire Terrier Club of America does not allow use of any words that indicate that adult dogs are extra small in size. Here's what the club website says about extra-small Yorkies:

"Special circumstances often come with extra tiny dogs. They are extremely susceptible to both hereditary and non-hereditary health problems, including birth defects that may go undetected for a long time. Other common problems may include, but are not limited to, diarrhea, vomiting, along with extra and expensive tests prior to routine teeth cleanings and surgeries. Small ones are more likely to have poor reactions to anesthesia and die from it. Tiny dogs are more easily injured by falls, being stepped on and being attacked by other dogs. These health problems nearly always result in large veterinary bills."

Yorkie's are also favorites for creating first-generation mixed breeds by crossing them with Toy Poodles. These "Yorkie-poos" are not a breed, and potential buyers should be wary of paying purebred prices for these mixes.

For more information about the Yorkie, visit the breed club website at http://www.ytca.org. Those who are considering the Yorkie for the first time should be sure to check out the breeder referral page at http://www.ytca.org/breeder2.html then continue on to breeder referral listings at http://www.ytca.org/breeder3.html.

Australian Terrier

The first breed developed and shown in the land down under, the Australian Terrier springs from the same basic stock as the Yorkshire Terrier but is a slightly larger, coarser dog without the flowing coat.

Know initially as "Australian Terriers, Rough-Coated," the Aussie developed from a native dog of the country's Tasmania Territory, a dog that was closely related to the same old Scotch dogs that produced the Yorkie. As with all breeds, historians do not always agree on the details, but according to the AKC Complete Dog Book, the breeds that were crossbred to produce the Aussie included the precursors of the Dandie Dinmont and Skye terriers along with the old Black-and-Tan Terrier and perhaps the Irish and Cairn terriers. The result was a hardy dog that served as a frontier helper and companion. Described in The Complete Dog Book as "fast, sturdy, rough, weatherproof, and fearless," the Aussies helped control rats and snakes, tend sheep, and alert settlers to intruders.

Standing 10-11 inches tall (the Yorkie is generally seven-to-nine inches tall), the Aussie weighs from 12-18 pounds to his cousin's seven pounds or less. He has upright ears; a harsh, straight coat with a distinctive ruff and apron; and a docked tail. He comes in two colors (sandy and red) and one pattern (blue and tan, a la the Yorkie). Although bold and plucky, he is quieter and more obedient than many other terriers. He adjusts well to apartment living, but he needs outdoor exercise. He's good with kids if raised with them, but he's a rascal with kids or adults who are pushovers.

Chris Walkowicz, author of A Perfect Match: A Dog Buyer's Guide, described the Aussie this way.

"Described as 'laid back for a terrier,' they still need to be taught their place. Otherwise, the Aussie will be the one lying by the fire while his owners fetch and carry."

Unlike the Yorkie, the Aussie needs very little grooming. He is generally a healthy breed, but prospective buyers should ask about luxating patellas, diabetes, allergies, progressive retinal atrophy, and Legg-Perthes disease, a skeletal problem that causes rear-end lameness.

His major drawback? Like most terriers, the Aussie digs. He'd probably dig all the way back to Australia if he's not stopped, so if a perfect lawn or a prize-winning garden is a family goal, the Aussie may not fit the picture.

Ranked 107 in popularity among the 154 AKC breeds and varieties, the Aussie had 416 individuals registered in 2005. Although not nearly as easy to find as a Yorkie and not as amenable to pampering, he is a lively, affectionate, willing companion. For more information about the Aussie, contact the Australian Terrier Club of America, http://www.australianterrier.org/, and if you decide to look for a puppy, check out the breeder referral pages at http://australianterrier.org/breeders.html.

Silky Terrier

Also developed in Australia, the Silky is a blend of the Aussie with some Yorkies that were brought into the territories of New South Wales and Victoria late in the 19th Century. The initial breedings were done to improve the coat color of the Aussies and the offspring were exhibited under all three breed names. Fanciers in each territory wrote standards in the first decade of the 20th Century, and it took another 17 years to iron out the differences. The breed was recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1959; it ranked 65 of 154 breeds and varieties in 2005 with 1610 individuals registered.

The Silky fits between the Aussie and the Yorkie in size, coat, temperament, and popularity. Nine-to-10 inches at the withers, his ideal weight is eight-to-10 pounds. His silky coat is five-to-six inches long and is parted in the middle. He is dark blue or silver blue with tan markings and has upright ears and the typical keen terrier expression and carriage.

Sharper than the Aussie, the Silky can be scrappy with other dogs and heck-on-wheels with small pets such as cats, rabbits, Guinea pigs, or hamsters. He sheds little, needs frequent grooming to prevent mats and tangles, and is an active, inquisitive indoor pet. Outdoors, he digs. He also barks, as most terriers are wont to do.

Another long-lived breed, the Silky is subject to patellar luxation, diabetes, epilepsy, underactive thyroid, portosystemic shunt (a disease in which the blood bypasses the liver), progressive retinal atrophy, and tracheal collapse. Those who are interested in the breed should seek a breeder who carefully selects breeding stock and uses available genetic screenings to minimize their occurrence.

The Silky can do well in an apartment if he is discouraged from barking. He is bright and responds well to low-key, training based on rewards, not punishment. He is an able competitor in obedience and agility, although he is not common in either sport. Like the Yorkie, his terrier hard-headedness and king-of-the-hill attitude can make him difficult to manage around small children.

Silkies are a bit easier to find than Aussies. There's more breed information and a list of breeders on the club website, http://silkyterrierclubofamerica.org/.

Norma Bennett Woolf

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