Although the breed often confused with the much older Yorkshire Terrier, the Silky Terrier was in fact created from the Yorky at a much later date. This breed originates in Australia during the 19th century when imported Yorkshire Terriers were bred with native Australian Terriers in an attempt to improve the color of the indigenous breed. Small in stature, big in courage, the Silky Terrier carries with it all the tenacity of it's larger terrier brethren and despite its diminutive size is still perfectly capable of hunting and killing domestic rodents. This breed is typically described as friendly, loving and the ideal companion for those interested in owning a toy breed. The Silky Terrier is also known as the Australian Silky Terrier, the Sydney Terrier, the Sydney Silky, the Sydney Silky Terrier, and the Silky Toy Terrier.
The Silky Terrier shares its history with the Australian Terrier until the second half of the 1800’s. At that time, Australia was becoming more prosperous and more urbanized. Residents of the several of Australia’s coastal cities, primarily Sydney, were able to afford to keep dogs solely for the purpose of companionship. Smaller dogs were most desirable in this new urban environment. However, until that point almost all dogs in Australia were solely working animals. Most of these dogs exhibited very strong working instincts that would have made them unsuitable for life as a pet. Except for the diminutive Australian Terrier, all of these breeds or landraces were medium to large in size. Any small companion dogs in Australia would have to be imported from elsewhere, most likely the United Kingdom. During these years, one of the most popular companion dogs in the United Kingdom was the Yorkshire Terrier. The Yorkshire Terrier was unusual among British companion dogs because it was especially favored by the working classes.
The Yorkshire Terrier was developed in the northern regions of England, primarily Yorkshire and Lancashire. As the Industrial Revolution wore one, these communities became major mining and industrial cities. Attracted by the prospect of newfound opportunities, thousands of Scottish workers arrived from their neighboring country. These workers brought their terriers with them. At that point, the Skye Terrier and a smaller version of the breed known as the Paisley Terrier were by far the most popular dogs in Scotland. These dogs were unique among terriers because they possessed a long, silky coat, which is said to have originated from Maltese dogs brought to Scotland. These Scottish dogs were mixed with local terrier to create an entire new breed. This dog became known as the Yorkshire Terrier after the region where it was developed. Although the Yorkshire Terrier was primarily a companion dog, it was also famed as a ratter, a purpose which was almost as important as companionship for several decades. The earliest Yorkshire Terriers were significantly larger than the modern breed, although probably still smaller than most other terriers. The Yorkshire Terrier rapidly spread throughout the United Kingdom and became one of the most popular breeds in that country. The Yorkshire Terrier is unique among British companion dogs as it was developed primarily by the working classes, although it rapidly found admirers in high places as well.
Immigrants to Australia from several across the socioeconomic spectrum began to bring their Yorkshire Terriers. The breed quickly found new admirers in its new home, and more were imported. The city of Sydney quickly became the center of Yorkshire Terrier importation and population in Australia. For the better part of a century Australians had bred any new terrier to arrive on their shores with the continent’s existing terriers. The Yorkshire Terrier proved no exception. Mixes of Australian Terriers (then still known as Rough-Coated Terriers) and Yorkshire Terriers quickly became very popular in Sydney, and other Australian cities. This breed was initially informally treated as a variety of Australian Terrier, and became known as the Sydney Silky after the city which always most favored it. For many decades there was little separation between the Sydney Silky, the Australian Terrier, and the Yorkshire Terrier. Dogs of all three varieties were regularly interbred, and puppies of multiple varieties would frequently be born to the same litter. It was not uncommon for littermates to be registered as different breeds until the 1920’s.
During the latter decades of the 19th Century, dog shows became extremely popular in England, and breed and kennel clubs began to proliferate throughout the English-speaking world. Australia followed this trend and by the 1880’s there was a growing desire to standardize and formally recognize native breeds. By the end of the 1890’s, a breed club was formed for the Australian Terrier and formal Kennel Club recognition was granted. However, the relationship between the Sydney Silky, Australian Terrier, and Yorkshire Terrier remained confused. In Australia, the Australian Terrier remained primarily a working dog while the Yorkshire Terrier and Sydney Silky were bred primarily for companionship. The Sydney Silky retained a great amount of working ability, however, and this breed has a well-earned reputation as a snake killer. By the early years of the 20th Century, the Yorkshire Terrier was completely separated, but the Australian Terrier and Sydney Silky were treated as the same breed. Beginning in the final years of the 1920’s, there was a growing movement to separate the two coat varieties. In 1932, the process of crossing rough-coated Australian Terriers and Sydney Silkies was formally discouraged. In 1955, the ANKC officially named the breed the Australian Silky Terrier, although the names Sydney Silky and Silky were probably more commonly used colloquially. In 1958, the ANKC became the first major canine organization to officially recognize the Silky Terrier as a distinct breed.
The Silky Terrier was essentially unknown outside of its homeland until World War II. World War II saw thousands of American servicemen spend years in Australia. While present, many of these Americans encountered Silky Terriers, and some acquired them as pets or souvenirs. Beginning in the mid-1940’s, the first Silky Terriers arrived in the United States alongside their military owners. The breed quickly gained new admirers in America and more began to be imported. In 1954, newspapers across the United States depicted this attractive dog, spurring a minor craze. Hundreds of Silky Terriers were imported in the subsequent years. In 1959, the AKC granted official recognition to the Silky Terrier, only one year after the breed was first recognized in Australia. Interestingly, the Silky Terrier was actually recognized by the AKC a year before the Australian Terrier, and was placed in a different group, the Toy Group. The AKC chose the name Silky Terrier rather than Australian Silky Terrier to further differentiate it from the Australian Terrier in this country. The UKC granted the Silky Terrier official recognition in 1965.
The Silky Terrier experienced a brief surge of popularity in America in the 1950’s, and has always been considerably more popular that its close cousin the Australian Terrier here. However, this breed has never achieved anywhere near the popularity of some other breeds and has never ranked near the top of AKC registrations. It might be an exaggeration to say that the Silky Terrier is rare in America, but it is certainly not a common breed in this country. However, there is a sizable population of Silky Terriers in the United States and this breed is well-established. In 2010, the Silky Terrier ranked 78th out of 167 total breeds in terms of total AKC registrations. Most Silky Terrier fanciers are probably more than happy with their breed being relatively unknown as it has been spared the poor commercial breeding practices experienced by similar breeds such as the Yorkshire Terrier. The Silky Terrier retains more working ability than perhaps any other toy breed, and would likely make a competent (if not exceptional) ratter. However, few if any Silky Terrier serve this purpose today. As is the case with most breeds, the vast majority of modern Silky Terriers are either companion animals or show dogs.
In America, Silky Terriers are commonly mistaken for the much more numerous Yorkshire Terrier, and in fact the two breeds are very closely related. As is the case with all other toy breeds, the Silky Terrier is a very small dog. This breed is typically between 9 and 10 inches tall at the shoulder, with females normally being smaller than males. Breed standards do not give an ideal weight for Silky Terriers, but most breed members in healthy condition weigh between 8 and 11 pounds. The Silky Terrier is a long-bodied and short-legged breed, but not excessively so. The ideal Silky Terrier is approximately 20% longer than it is tall at the shoulder. The Silky Terrier is fine-boned, but is neither delicate nor frail. For a dog of this size, the Silky Terrier is incredibly sturdy and muscular.
This breed probably retains more working ability than any other member of the toy group, and should have a body capable of vermin eradication. In America, the tail of the Silky Terrier is customarily docked to an inch or two in length. However, this practice is falling into disfavor and is actually banned in a number of countries. The natural tail of a Silky Terrier is relatively short in length, completely free of feathering, and ideally should not curl over the back although those of many dogs do.
The head and face of the Silky Terrier are more refined than those of most working breeds, but exhibit more power than is commonly found among toy breeds. The head of a Silky Terrier is proportional to the body size of the dog. This breed has a muzzle that is shorter than those of most working terriers, but still relatively broad. This muzzle tapers towards the end and ends in a black nose. This breed has small, dark, and oval-shaped eyes that are set quite deeply in the head. The ears of a Silky Terrier are actually quite small for the size of the dog, but look much larger than they actually are because they stand erect. The overall expression of a Silky Terrier is piercingly keen.
The Silky Terrier is named for its beautiful coat which is very similar to that of the Yorkshire Terrier. This coat is fine, flat, straight, and glossy, as well as of course being silky. This breed should have hair that is quite long, but not enough to impede its movement. Daylight and feet should be clearly visible when looking at this breed directly from the side. The hair on the top of the head of the Silky Terrier is long enough to form a topknot, but the hair on the face and especially the ears are quite short. The legs and feet of an Australian Terrier also have shorter fur, and feathering on the tail is unacceptable.
There is only one acceptable color scheme for Australian Terriers, blue and tan. Darker and richer colors are most desirable, with the blue on the tail being especially dark. The ideal dog has a topknot which is lighter than the rest of the body. The breed’s tan markings should be present on its ears, muzzle, sides of its cheeks, lower legs, feet, and vent. Blue markings should extent from the top of the head to the tip of the tail and from the back to the elbows of the legs.
Of all the toy breeds, the Silky Terrier is probably the most capable and willing to be a working dog. It is definitely the case that the Silky Terrier is a terrier which happens to be toy-sized rather than a toy breed which happens to be a terrier. If you are an admirer of the tenacious terrier temperament, but want a dog that is considerably more adaptable to a variety of social and living situations, the Silky Terrier is perhaps the ideal breed for you. As is the case with all toy breeds, the Silky Terrier loves to be around its favorite people. This breed can be extremely affectionate with those it knows best, and is known for forming incredibly close attachments with them. However, this breed is considerably more independent than most other toys, and will spend hours wandering the house on its own. While many breed members will develop separation anxiety, this breed would probably tolerate being left alone for long periods better than many other toys. Silky Terriers are much more tolerant of strangers than other terriers, and some are actually even friendly with them. However, most breed members are merely polite and somewhat standoffish. The Silky Terrier prefers to be in the company of those it knows best, but it can accept the company of new people.
This is not a breed that generally makes friends quickly, but most will come around eventually, especially if their new friend properly balances providing the Silky Terrier with attention and personal space. Proper socialization and training are very important for Silky Terriers, but this breed can be quite sociable with them. Most Silky Terriers are bold and daring, but some may be shy or timid around people. Silky Terriers do not have the poor reputation with children that is common among most terriers and toy breeds. However, this breed is definitely not the ideal choice to have around young children. This is not a dog that will handle any rough housing, and they are frequently intimidated by the jerky movements and loud noises of children. While the average Silky Terrier is more likely to escape a situation it feels uncomfortable in than growl or bite, this breed is more than willing to defend itself if it feels the need to do so. Additionally, young children are likely to injure this small breed accidentally. Many Silky Terriers are quite fond of older children (7 or 8 and above) who are more gentle.
Silky Terriers are relatively tolerant of other dogs, but do have a number of issues with them. Most Silky Terriers are accepting of the presence of dogs that they know well, and can live in a multiple dog home with few serious issues. However, this is a breed which would prefer to live in a home with one other dog of the opposite sex. Silky Terriers are known to have some dominance issues and will try to take control of the pack, though these issues are usually not severe. Silky Terriers also tend to be possessive of their toys and favorite spots, and may have difficulty sharing them. When meeting strange dogs, Silky Terriers will display to attempt to take the dominant position immediately, though most will behave when properly trained and socialized. This breed is slightly less scrappy than most terriers, and the average Silky Terrier will not fight to the death on the basis of a perceived slight. However, this breed is more than willing to fight another dog if it feels the need, and seems to unaware of how much larger the dog it intends to fight is. This is a serious problem as the Silky Terrier is more than capable of seriously injuring or killing a dog of similar or smaller size, but also very easily injured or killed by a larger dog which has no intention of doing any real harm. Proper socialization and supervision are important for this breed.
Although most toy breeds are quite accepting of non-canine animals, this is not the case with the Silky Terrier. Although this breed was always bred primarily as a companion animal, it was regularly crossed with the hard working Australian Terrier until the 1930’s. As a result, this breed maintains a great deal of its predatory instincts and would most likely be a skilled if not exceptional ratter if given half a chance. In fact, the Silky Terrier has earned a reputation in Australia for being a dedicated and tenacious killer of snakes. If a Silky Terrier is left unsupervised on a porch or backyard for any length of time, its owner will almost surely receive, “presents,” of dead animals. As is the case with all dogs, a Silky Terrier can be trained or socialized to be considerably less aggressive with non-canine animals. However, if left unsupervised, a Silky Terrier would probably kill a small creature such as a gerbil or hamster, even one it has known for months or years. This is also not a breed which gets along well with cats. Although Silky Terriers can be trained to be more accepting of cats, breed members will almost surely harass any feline housemates on a regular basis.
Silky Terriers are quite intelligent, and learn very quickly. This breed performs very well in obedience and agility competitions. However, Silky Terriers provide a number of training difficulties. As is the case with almost all terriers, this breed is often stubborn and deliberately willful. Silky Terriers will often choose to disobey or break the rules, even though they know they are misbehaving. A firm but gentle hand is necessary to train one of these dogs. This breed is much more interested in pleasing itself than its owner and definitely responds best to training methods that emphasize positive reinforcement and treats. If you are accustomed to training breeds such as German Shepherds or Poodles, working with a Silky Terrier will definitely frustrate you. However, this breed is considerably less difficult than the average terrier and substantially more intelligent and capable than most toys, and owners who are familiar with other family or group members will likely be pleasantly surprised.
Although generally challenging to train, Silky Terriers provide major problems in two areas, manners and housebreaking. The natural terrier tendencies of the Silky Terrier mean that it can be challenging to properly socialize, and extra time and effort must be made to ensure a well-adjusted and adaptable dog. Remember that even the most well-socialized and polite Silky Terriers are still very vocal when greeting strangers. The small size of toys makes them difficult to housebreak. Their tiny bladders take extra time to develop, and their small accidents often go unnoticed and unpunished. When combined with this breed’s inherent stubbornness, new owners can expect to spend extra months housebreaking and frequent accidents.
The Silky Terrier is a very active and energetic breed. These dogs have a higher exercise requirement than most other toy breeds. A couple of daily potty walks will certainly not suffice for a Silky Terrier. This breed needs a long daily walk at the very least, and definitely prefers to run around in a secure area. However, this breed will be satisfied with less exercise than almost all other terriers and the average owner will be more than capable of meeting their needs. The Silky Terrier is very active indoors and will spend hours roaming its home, exercising itself in the process. It is imperative that owners meet the needs of their Silky Terriers, as this breed is very likely to develop behavioral problems if it becomes bored and unexercised. In particular, this breed is likely to become timid, aggressive, overly-excitable, destructive, and an excessive barker if it does not get the exercise it needs. Unlike many terriers, Silky Terriers love to play and most enjoy canine games such as fetch. This breed also loves to have a task, and is more than willing to run through an agility course. Silky Terrier are much more suited to traveling than most dog breeds and are almost always willing to accompany you on any adventure.
Any potential Silky Terrier owner needs to be aware of the fact that Silky Terriers tend to bark a great deal. It would not be unfair to label this breed yappy. The bark of a Silky Terrier can be incredibly high-pitched and shrill, and this breed usually barks repeatedly in quick succession. Proper training and exercise will greatly reduce how much a Silky Terrier barks, but even the quietest breed members bark a great deal more than the average dog.
Silky Terriers are particularly vulnerable to a behavioral problem known as Small Dog Syndrome. Small Dog Syndrome occurs when owners fail to discipline their small dogs in the same way in which they would a larger animal. There are many reasons why owners fail to do so, but the end result is the same. An undisciplined small dog grows up thinking that it is the boss of the world, and acts accordingly. Such dogs are typically aggressive, dominant, excessively vocal, and generally out-of-control. The terrier temperament makes the Silky Terrier more vulnerable to this condition than many breeds. Luckily, Small Dog Syndrome is almost entirely preventable with proper training and socialization.
As one would likely surmise from the breed’s coat, Silky Terriers have high grooming requirements. Almost all owners need to have their Silky Terrier’s coats professionally groomed several times a year. This breed needs to have the hair on several parts of its body, notably the feet and legs, trimmed regularly. Keeping this breed in a long, show coat requires that owners spend at least 15 minutes every day gently brushing their dogs. Mats and tangles must be carefully worked out before they become serious. Most owners of pet Silky Terrier choose to have their pets cut into a puppy coat to reduce the work. Silky Terriers need to be bathed quite regularly to keep their coats clean, and they must be carefully and thoroughly dried afterwards. For this extra work, owners will be rewarded with a dog that sheds very little.
The Silky Terrier is a very healthy breed, and is considered to be among the healthiest of both terriers and toy breeds. The average health expectancy of a Silky Terrier is comparable to most similarly-sized breeds at 12 to 15 years. This breed is descended from working dogs, unhealthy examples of which would not have been bred. This breed has also been spared the worst ravages of commercial breeding practices. This is not to say that the Silky Terrier is immune from inheritable health conditions, quite the contrary. It simply means that the Silky Terrier is not especially prone to any health conditions, in particular serious ones.
The Silky Terrier is hardier than most toy breeds, but it is still somewhat vulnerable to injury. These dogs are very small, and their bones and organs cannot take anywhere near the punishment of larger dogs. A three foot drop for an Australian Terrier would be like a 17 foot drop for a human being. This breed is also highly inquisitive, bold, and generally adept at getting itself into potentially risky situations such as climbing to high on the furniture or literally biting off more than it can chew against a larger dog. A can of soup falling off a counter top at an inopportune moment could easily kill a Silky Terrier. Owners of these dogs must be careful to prevent their dogs from getting themselves into trouble and avoid putting them in situations where they may be injured.
A fully list of health problems which have been found in Silky Terriers would have to include:
Intervertebral Disc Disease