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Breeder Buzzwords – The Silky Terrier

What do you get when you cross an Australian Terrier with a Yorkshire Terrier? Well, during the turn of the last century, dog lovers Down Under discovered the answer in their search to improve color in the former through introductions of the latter. The active canine companion that resulted is the spirited little dog known in North America as the Silky Terrier.

During the late 19th century, fanciers in New South Wales and Victoria imported Yorkies from England and crossed the largest among them with the native Aussie breed. The puppies that resulted varied in type, naturally, and dogs from those early breedings could be exhibited as Australian Terriers, Yorkshire Terriers or the newly emerging Sydney Silky Terrier.

Two different standards were drafted for the new breed in 1906 and 1909, each requiring a distinct weight range and permissible ear carriage. According to a cover story published in the July 1986 AKC Gazette, “A revised standard was published in 1926, while efforts were made to stabilize weights.” In 1932, the Kennel Control Council of Victoria introduced legislation that prevented further crossings of the three breeds.

In 1955, the breed’s name officially became Australian Silky Terrier in its country of origin. During this time, American servicemen returning home via Sydney brought a few of the blue and tan dogs back to the States. The little dogs’ silky coats and joyful nature made them ideal companions among many of the returning GIs’ families.

The Australian National Kennel Council was formed in 1958, and one of their first acts of business was to recommend the development of a national standard for the Australian Silky Terrier,” according to the Gazette. A nationally recognized standard for the breed in Australia was approved in March of 1959, and AKC recognition was granted two months later.

Although a toy in size, the Silky Terrier Club of America’s breed brochure is quick to point out the typically Terrier-like characteristics of the sensational Silky. “Keep in mind that Silkys were used in Australia as a household pet, but they also had a purpose,” according to the brochure. “That was to keep the vermin ‘outside.’” As befits their Terrier background, Silkys can be territorial, and are said to be fearless of mice, snakes and even dogs far greater in size.

The alert, active and companionable Silky is a Toy dog of substance. Its radiant blue and tan coat presents a natural beauty, without relying on over-the-top glamour. Like its Terrier cousins, the personality of the Silky is keen and generally uncompromising.

The Silky Terrier is without a universally accepted classification among purebred dog registries. In Australia, New Zealand and the U.K., the Australian Silky Terrier is classified as a Toy dog, just as the Silky Terrier is in the U.S. and Canada. The Fédération Cynologique Internationale places the breed in Group 3, Section 4, together with the Yorkshire Terrier, the English Toy (Toy Manchester) Terrier and the Toy Fox Terrier.

By any name, the tough little two-toned Terrier is a popular fit for many devoted dog lovers. In the U.S. alone, registrations of the Silky Terrier in 2011 confirm its reputation as a companion of choice, placing it 85th of the 173 recognized breeds.

The Silky Terrier is a true “toy Terrier,” developed in Australia and registered throughout the world as either a Toy or a Terrier. Photo © Eastwest Imaging/Dreamstime.

A True Toy Terrier

The General Appearance section of the AKC breed standard describes the Silky Terrier as “a true ‘toy Terrier.’” The breed’s parent club, the Silky Terrier Club of America, defines the breed, in part, as having “refined bone structure, but of sufficient substance to suggest the ability to hunt and kill domestic rodents.”

The Toy and Terrier combination translates as a dog that measures “nine to ten inches” at the shoulder, with the “keenly alert air of the Terrier.” Though small in size, the breed is neither delicate in form, nor in character.

The Silky Terrier’s inquisitive nature and joy for life make it an ideal companion for those dog lovers who enjoy having a busybody around the house. Its manner is “quick, friendly, responsive,” according to the standard’s section on temperament, and any shy or excessively nervous behavior is considered faulty.

Terrier temperament in the breed is perhaps best expressed by the Silky’s (usually) docked tail. “Tail carriage is an excellent indication of proper, as well as improper, temperament,” according to the parent club’s “Discussion of the Silky Terrier Standard.” Set high and carried from a 12 to two o’clock position, a correctly carried tail exalts the breed’s typical Terrier temperament.

Slightly Longer Than Tall

The Silky Terrier is a rectangular breed in profile, with a silhouette that is “slightly longer than tall,” according to the General Appearance section of the standard. Its overall length is defined by the standard’s section on proportion as “about one fifth longer than the dog’s height at the withers.” A dog measuring 10 inches tall, therefore, would measure approximately 12 inches “from the point of the shoulder (or forechest) to the rearmost projection of the upper thigh (or point of the buttocks.)”

“Lightly built with strong but rather fine bone,” a Silky Terrier’s substance depends on the size of bone and overall muscular fitness. A correctly made Silky falls somewhere between the small and compactly built Yorkie and the more substantially made Aussie.

Although the Silky Terrier was bred primarily to be a companion, it is also a capable ratter and should possess the physical soundness of a working Terrier. According to the breed standard, a roach or dip in the topline is a serious fault, and excessive or inadequate body length is likewise faulty in the breed.

Silky, Not Sculpted

Named for its signature coat, Australia’s lively little ratter cleans up nicely for the Toy Group. Its straight, single, glossy coat is – obviously – silky in texture. According to the standard’s section on coat, the hair “falls below and follows the body outline.” Unlike the Yorkshire Terrier, the Silky’s coat should not approach floor length and should never be sculpted.

In the parent club’s breed brochure, the Silky Terrier is described as “naturally clean pointed,” which indicates the absence of long hair on the ears and feet. Otherwise the hair is moderate in length, and parted on the head, neck and over the back to the set-on of the tail. The hair on the face should not be long and the legs should have short hair “from the pastern and hock joints to the feet.” The tail should be well-coated, but devoid of any plume.

The Silky Terrier’s two-toned adult coat has a lustrous sheen that cannot be enhanced through sculpting. Coloring is blue and tan, with blue extending from the base of the skull to the tip of the tail, down the forelegs to the elbows, half way down the outside of the thighs and on the tail. Tan points are found on the muzzle and cheeks, around the base of the ears, on the legs and feet, and around the vent. The trademark topknot may be either silver or a fawn color that is lighter than the tan points.

The Silky Terrier combines many of the Australian and Yorkshire Terrier’s fine qualities without depending too heavily on either. The Silky is its own Toy Terrier, through and through.

Written by

Dan Sayers started “in dogs” through a chance encounter with a Springer Spaniel in 1980. A student of dogs ever since, he’s shown Spaniels and Hounds in the conformation ring and breeds Irish Water Spaniels under the Quiet Storm prefix. A dog lover with a passion for the creative arts, Dan has worked as a freelance writer, photographer and illustrator for many years. His feature articles and columns have appeared in Dogs in Review, Dog World and the AKC Gazette, and his design work has appeared in dozens of publications in North America and abroad. An interest in all things “dog” brought Dan to Best In Show Daily, where he gets to work with the most dynamic group of fanciers every day. He lives in Merchantville, New Jersey, with his partner, Rudy Raya, Irish Water Spaniel, Kurre, and the memory of Oscar, a once-in-a-lifetime Sussex Spaniel.
  • Nancy O'Roure December 10, 2012 at 5:05 AM

    Under the section, True Toy Terrier, you stated, the tail, usually docked. This is not the US standard, per the AKC accepted standard, and the standard followed by the Silky Terrier Club of America. The written US/AKC standard states, THE TAIL IS DOCKED!!

    I am not sure why you wrote your article with the, “usually docked” wording, but again, here in the United States, the accepted AKC and Parent Club wording of our standard, the standard we should all be following, is a docked tail. Anyone not following this wording of the standard, again in the US, is not following the accepted written standard for the Silky Terrier Breed.

    You should have written your article stating the AKC/US accepted standard and if you wanted to note anything, you should have said that in some European countries the tail need not be docked.

    • Dan Sayers December 10, 2012 at 10:08 AM

      Thank you, Nancy, for making it clear that the AKC-approved standard for the Silky Terrier indicates “the tail is docked.” The word (usually) was included in my article in parentheses to reference, as you say, “in some European countries the tail need not be docked.” This could have been made more clear on my part. Dan

  • Angela smith December 12, 2012 at 1:37 PM

    In European countries you can NOT dock
    the tails any longer. Nancy get over it!!

  • Maggie Keuser - Arizona December 12, 2012 at 3:19 PM

    Yes, I agree that the US Standard does indeed read the way Ms. O’Roure stated, however, there are many breeders in the U.S. that feel that school of thought is outdated, it doesn’t keep up with the rest of the world. In continents around this planet we call earth, breeders are no longer able to have choice in the matter of docking or not, many American breeders who choose to participate in the “bigger picture of the breed” are choosing not to dock tails so that the progeny of their dogs can travel to the rest of the globe, participate in, and earn titles in other countries on other continents. It will be a long time to come before the “wording” in the Silky Terrier’s United States Parent Club standard changes, but it will one day indeed do so.

    Maggie Keuser

  • Barbara Beissel December 13, 2012 at 6:01 AM

    I love it when people in glass houses throw stones. If one expects the standard should always be adhered to, then that should include ALL of the standard and not bits and peices that suit your likes and dislikes. Nancy, you have chosen to ignore a couple of faults in the standard. In my opinion, that is at
    the very same level as the breeders who are choosing to no longer dock tails. I would like for you to tell us why it is okay for you but not okay for others.
    My best,
    Barb Beissel

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