A Yorkie or a Silky – What’s the Difference?

Left: Silky Terrier versus Right: Yorkshire Terrier


We’ve all walked down the street and complimented someone’s small, silver-coated “Silky Terrier,” only to be told, “This is a Yorkshire!” Then, to be politically correct, we call the next one we see a Yorkie, only to be told, “Can’t you tell the difference? This is a Silky!”

Left: Silky Terrier versus Right: Yorkshire Terrier


So, what IS the difference?

First, a bit of history of both breeds. The famous 19th century dog writer Edward C. Ash mentions “bonnie wee Skyes with long silky hair.” The idea here is that in the early 1800s, enterprising Skye breeders produced a miniature and silky-coated version of their 50 to 60 lb. breed, creating the now extinct Paisleys and Clydesdales. One breed was a beautiful silver blue, the other a deep silver blue and tan. Though smaller, they were long and low like a Skye.

In the 1840s and ‘50s, northern English pub owners latched on to these “mini Skyes.” They needed small, scrappy terriers for their rat pits (where dogs were thrown into a pit full of rats, and bets were laid as to how fast a dog could kill the vermin). The smaller the dog, the larger the betting. Conjecture says that these small but tough dogs were bred together with the equally scrappy, but slightly bigger, Black and Tans (progenitor of the Manchester Terrier) to produce the blue, tan, and fawn of the Silky Terrier and the blue and tan coloring of the Yorkshire Terrier we see today.

Huddersfield Ben illustration

The father of the Yorkshire Terrier is Huddersfield Ben who lived in the 1860s.

The Yorkshire developed from “Ben,” as pub owners recognized the “fancy” quality of Ben’s get. These quickly became a popular milady’s companion, despite the dogs’ regular desire to nip behind the curtains and grab a mouse or two.

Silky Terrier
Clou Mi

But what about the Silky? Ben’s granddam, “Katie,” emigrated with her owners to Tasmania in Australia, where the Silky Terrier (also known as the Australian Silky Terrier) was developed. Newspaper reports document this as early as 1860.

The facts, as we know them, are that Yorkshire Terriers and Silky Terriers are genetically just about the same.

But the Yorkie developed in an industrialized society—Northern England—where tiny size, long flowing coats, and the ability to hide in milady’s sleeve were prized. Silkys were also developed as companion dogs, but their owners were pioneers who prized the Silky’s joy of life, independent thinking, and scrappy terrier qualities, resulting in a somewhat larger,
hardier breed.

Silky terriers
Lou Barnicle

Silkys are larger than the Yorkie. Yorkies tend to be about 4 to 7 lbs. (though some are throwbacks to Ben and are much larger) and Silkys are roughly 8 to 12 lbs. Silkys have a longer muzzle and a longer back. Both breeds have distinctly terrier temperaments, and can take over their owners’ households, so both breeds require owners who can be very kind but very firm.

But there is one difference between the two breeds that is perhaps the most helpful to the casual passerby. In 2022, Yorkies are the 13th most popular breed in the US according to the AKC. Silkys rank 116th. So, if you see a small, silver-coated dog walking down the street, chances are—it’s a Yorkie.

Adult dog playing with a puppy in a yard

  • Sandy Mesmer’s mother took her to her first dog show when she was eight years old. This fascinated Sandy and she immediately wanted to show their Standard Poodle. Sandy’s mom explained the many reasons why this wasn’t possible, and Sandy understood, but there was a little voice in her head that said, “Someday, I’m going to do that.” Of course, being eight, the next week Sandy was telling everyone that she wanted to be a jockey. Sandy bought her first Silky Terrier in 1981 from Pat Walton, then later, another female, Ch. Silwynd Tessy of Tessier, from Rita Dawson. Sandy always treated the kennel as a profession, working at showing to breed rather than breeding to show. Sandy found it extremely helpful to go to National Specialties every year, as she could then see a true cross section of the best dogs in the country. Memorable dogs were the Silkys out of the fabulous Ch. Marina’s Houston, leading to the purchase of “Houston’s” son, Ch. Marina’s Marvelous Marvin. Many years later, Sandy was blown-away by three feisty and beautiful sisters at the Dallas National, owned by Karen Huey. Karen and Sandy have worked together ever since. In 1995, a friend of Sandy’s, Billie Pruitt, told her that she’d always wanted to show. One of her first Silkys was Ch. Tessier Thor of Tagalong, a kind dog who was happy to teach his newbie owner the ropes. Billie and Sandy traveled together to shows until Billie passed away in 2015. Tessier Silky Terriers has produced many Top 20 dogs over the years, and currently has the No. 1 Silky (Breed) and just finished their 175th homebred champion. But Sandy has also always felt that their biggest goal was not a top-winning dog—that’s just a weigh station—but a marvelous pet that epitomizes not only the looks of the breed but also its sparkly and feisty personality. Sandy is excited to be part of the Silky Terrier Club of Central Florida, as she feels it allows its members a strength in numbers in supporting, protecting, and furthering their chosen breed. She feels that members will all have better dogs because they have a club that gives them a forum for information and a greater ability for their voices to be heard. And, for the last two years, Sandy has been proud to be on the Board of the Silky Terrier Club of America.

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