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.
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.