The Yorkshire Terrier’s tiny size and long, silky coat are its most unique physical characteristics, but it’s the terrier in this dog breed that gives the Yorkie its big dog outlook on life.
As glamorous as the Yorkshire Terrier is today, it was originally developed to kill rats in the mines and mills of Yorkshire, England. Cornered rats will turn and fight fiercely, so the dogs that hunted them had to be agile, tough and fearless. To this day, most Yorkies are willing to take on Rottweilers on street corners, often needing to be dragged away by their owners.
Terriers were expected to do their own killing, rather than wait for a human with a gun to show up, so terriers and their descendants tend to be independent warriors that live and die by their own wits.
As unassisted hunters, they developed a unique method of seizing and shaking their prey to break its neck; don’t be surprised to see your Yorkie apply this technique to sundry small, floppy objects. Excited, persistent barking is also a terrier trait: This was how the dog’s owner was able to locate his dog as it hunted underground.
Unlike dog breeds with very long backs, wide-set legs and pushed-in faces, the Yorkie is a well-proportioned dog, which means it is well-suited to an active lifestyle.
Beware, though, that Yorkies’ small bodies can store only limited amounts of energy, so frequent snacks are needed, and cold, wet weather should be avoided.
A healthy, well-conditioned Yorkshire Terrier can do pretty much anything that a larger dog can do, though probably not in a floor-length coat. Many Yorkie owners are loathe to cut their dogs’ coats until they’ve spent an afternoon undoing the coat damage from five fast minutes of outdoor frolics.
Cute as a button, a Yorkshire Terrier nevertheless possesses the full range of canine behaviors. It’s a social dog that wants to know where it fits into the household pack; it will bark at outsiders (Yorkies make excellent watchdogs); it can be either friendly and outgoing, or unfriendly and aloof (largely based on how you train the dog); and Yorkies will chew, dig, scratch and roll in smelly dead things whenever they possibly can.
Yorkies have the same capacity as the next dog to become spoiled, uncooperative, disagreeable and even aggressive.
Basic training for Yorkies, therefore, is the same as for any dog.
Even though Yorkshire Terriers can easily be trained to eliminate on newspapers or in litterboxes, papertraining makes it altogether too easy to forget to take your dog outdoors on a regular basis. There’s so much more to walking your dog than letting it relieve itself.
Walks are wonderful exercise; they improve digestion, circulation and attitude while they offer a chance to meet and greet, sniff and explore. As an added bonus, frequent walking on rough ground keeps nails worn down.
If you didn’t want the hair care, you picked the wrong dog breed. Training your Yorkshire Terrier from earliest puppyhood to lay quietly in your lap, first on one side, then the other, then on its back, will make the grooming process easier on both of you while subtly reinforcing that you call the shots. Eyes, ears, beard, teeth and nails are all part of the job.
Socialization does the lion’s share of making sure your Yorkie is confident and outgoing rather than fearful and clinging.
Expose your puppy to every sight, smell, sound and sensation that you can. Introduce your Yorkie to babies, toddlers, teens, seniors, other animals and pets, the city and the country.
Take your Yorkie to a party. Leave your dog home alone. If socialization opportunities don’t present themselves, set them up.
Many Yorkies have limited exposure to other puppies once they leave their litters and no experience at all with puppies of other breeds. A puppy playgroup meets the need of young puppies to learn how to be with other dogs — how to play, communicate and get along. It’s also tremendous fun to chase and be chased.
When your Yorkie puppy reaches 6 months of age, join a basic obedience class to learn how to train your dog in a group situation. Younger puppies can join a puppy kindergarten class.
Your Yorkshire Terrier will learn to walk at your side, come when called and sit and stay on command.
Most important, your dog will learn how to learn. This is the basis for any specialized training you may want to take up later on.
Dogs are always in the learning mode, so we are always teaching — whether we realize it or not. Try to be aware of opportunities to teach your Yorkie the rules you want it to live by. For example, when you come in from outdoors, have your dog wait while you wipe its feet.
Signal the end of play by taking the toy from him gently but firmly, using the same words every time. Encourage goodwill toward birds, squirrels and cats that you see on your walks by speaking to him calmly or chiding him gently if he shows too much predatory interest (the more concern you show, the more excitement he will feel).
Teach courageousness by praising your Yorkie for standing steady or moving toward whatever is new and threatening. Picking your Yorkie up to meet people, to avoid meeting people or other dogs, or when entering strange places, will teach him to be unsure of himself and constantly ask to be carried.
Always praise desirable behavior, and ignore behavior you don’t want to encourage.
Many people who own Yorkshire Terriers attest to how smart they are, but at the same time, claim they are impossible to train. Chances are they are working against, rather than with, the Yorkie’s basic terrier nature and temperament.
To be sure, the working terrier qualities of boldness, tenacity and independence present challenges to anyone who is expecting a Yorkshire Terrier to respond like a Labrador or Golden Retriever.
Like all dogs, the Yorkie will perform best what it truly enjoys doing and what allows it to follow its natural bents.
So spend time observing your dog. If his head is high and his ears and tail erect, he is enjoying itself. Experiment with many different activities, both games you invent as well as organized dog sports, and stick with the ones you both enjoy. Then, at the end of a 2-mile walk or a spirited game of tag with the neighbor’s new puppy, feel free to tuck your pooped-out Yorkie under your arm and carry it home.