From the Park to Park Avenue: How Yorkies Went From Pest Control to Purse Guards

Love them or hate them, Yorkshire Terriers, or Yorkies, are one of the most popular dog breeds. From the couture handbags of heiresses to the laps of kids’-league soccer players, Yorkies have been welcomed with open arms all over. Despite their sweetness and high-society appearances, the Yorkie’s humble beginnings may surprise you.

During the Industrial Revolution, Scottish people began migrating from the cities and villages in Scotland to England. The people bound for England didn’t leave their pets behind, though. In the arms and carts of Scottish immigrants, the Skye Terrier and the Paisley Terrier entered England. The two dog breeds flourished in their new home, becoming popular breeds for their purpose. The two breeds were eventually bred together, and thus the Yorkshire Terrier emerged in Yorkshire, England.

Both the Skye and Paisley Terrier were hardy terriers bred to work in factories for long hours, alongside people. The Yorkshire Terrier is like them in that it had a job to do, too. Vermin was rampant in industrial England, and it was common for cats and small dogs to be kept for hunting rats. And that was precisely the job of the Yorkshire Terrier: to hunt and kill the rats and mice that lived in textile mills. Yorkies also did their job in barns, and eventually homes.

Yorkies were noticed for their quirky personalities and commanding stances. Like many working-class dogs, they were easy to train. But unlike many working-class dogs, they were small, dainty, and cute. Over the next few decades, Yorkies gradually became less known for their jobs as pest control, and more known as companion animals. They enjoyed immense popularity in Victorian England, and arrived in the United States about fifteen years after the end of the Civil War.

Once in the United States, the Yorkie became a popular breed, a status the breed enjoyed until just before The Great Depression, when registration for the breed fell to an all-time low. Though the breed was in no danger of extinction, it got a little boost from an unlikely source: a Yorkie used as a war dog in World War II, codenamed Smokey, became a hero in his own right, making the whole breed seem more heroic – especially to dog lovers in the United States.

The Yorkie became popular again, getting more and more popular over the next several decades. Breed popularity kept pace with beloved family breeds like The Golden Retrievers, Boxers, and Labradors. Other small, terrier breeds also burst onto the American dog owning scene. Pekingeses, Shih Tzus, Malteses and Chihuahuas also became popular mainstays in American culture.

With the love of Yorkies, though, come some sad points: Yorkies aren’t always bred kindly and ethically. Since their recent explosion of popularity, the breeding and selling of Yorkies has become increasingly competitive, creating quite a few irresponsible breeders. Local animal shelters and rescue groups are great ways to adopt a new friend. Most animal rescue groups are even breed-specific, so you can easily find a new little friend - and maybe they will catch a few mice!