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

A Yorkie and a Silky Terrier

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

So – what IS the difference?

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

In the 1840s and ’50s, the northern English pub owners latched on to these “mini Skyes”. They needed small scrappy terriers for their rat pits (where dogs would be thrown into a pit full of rats and bets laid as to how fast they could kill the vermin). The smaller the dog, the greater the betting. The idea is 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 we see today.

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

Huddersfield Ben, the father of the Yorkshire Terrier.

The Yorkshire then developed from Ben, but what about the Silky? Ben’s granddam, Katie immigrated with her owners to Tasmania in Australia, where the Silky Terrier (also known as the Australian Silky Terrier) was developed.

The facts as we know them are these. 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 mostly pioneers who prized the Silkys’ joy of life, independent thinking, and scrappy, terrier qualities, resulting in a somewhat larger, hardier breed.

Silkys tend to be a larger dog than the Yorkie – Yorkies up to 7 lbs and Silkys roughly 8 to 12 lbs. Silkys have a longer muzzle and a longer back. Both breeds can 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. Yorkies are the 13th most popular breed in the US, according to the AKC. Silkys, unfortunately, rank 116th. So, if you see a small silver-coated dog walking down the street, chances are – it’s a Yorkie.


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