The traditional Yorkie colors are very distinctive and an important characteristic of the breed, making it easy to recognize a purebred. Yorkshire Terrier puppies are born with black and tan colors, which change to blue and gold as they mature. However, other Yorkie colors, although rare, are also possible. Today we take a look at the unique coloring of the Yorkshire Terrier coat and the genes responsible.
Where Do Yorkshire Terrier Colors Come From?
The Yorkie was developed in Yorkshire, England, around 130 years ago. They were bred to catch rats in mines and factories. The exact breeds that helped create the Yorkshire Terrier are undocumented. However, it’s believed that they included the Maltese, Skye Terrier, black and tan Manchester Terrier and the now-extinct Leeds Terrier.
Yorkie Colors And Markings
The Yorkie is renowned for its perfectly straight, silky, glossy coat as well its unique coloring. The four Yorkie colors that combine on the coat are:
What Does A Yorkie Puppy Look Like?
Yorkie puppies are born black with tan points, although the amount varies from pup to pup. The tan is on the ears, muzzle, legs and above the eyes, as well as on the underside of the tail.
When does puppy fur change?
Yorkshire Terrier puppies usually start to change color at around six months old. This is a gradual process.
The Genetics of Yorkie Colors
A dog color genetics chart is a shockingly complicated thing to compile. But there are some simple ideas behind it which we can all get on board with.
Genetically, the Yorkie is a black and brown terrier that turns to a blue color as it matures because it possesses the unique graying gene. The graying gene affects production of eumelanin, the black pigment occurring in their hair and skin. However, it doesn’t change the color of the eyes or nose.
Since genes come in pairs at each location in a dog’s DNA, Yorkies can have one, or two copies of the graying gene. Two copies results in a light steel blue coat when your pup is grown up. One copy produces a dark steel blue coat. Good breeders are likely to know by the colors in their dog’s family tree what colors are likely to appear in their litter.
Yorkie Colors and Markings in Adults
The AKC recognizes five categories of Yorkie dog fur colors:
• Black and tan Yorkie
• Black and gold Yorkie
• Blue and tan Yorkie
• Blue and gold Yorkie
• Parti Yorkie (black, white and tan – eligible as of 2000)
Yorkshire Terriers do not achieve their true colors until they are two to three years old, so may fit into any of the possible categories when registering. As the Yorkie changes from a puppy to adult, there is more tan/gold coloring than black or blue. Therefore, an adult has a much lighter coat color than a puppy.
The hair on a Yorkie’s head, breast and belly is golden and should not include any blue. Legs are also golden up to the elbows and knees. The blue color stretches from the neck to the base of the tail, and no tan or gold is visible. The tail is a darker shade of blue compared to the rest of the body. This isn’t a truly blonde Yorkie therefore, but they do have that distinctive golden coloration.
Blue Yorkie Puppies
So we’ve seen how blue Yorkies start out black as puppies, then gradually turn blue as they grow up, thanks to the graying gene. But perhaps you’ve heard about blue born Yorkie puppies. A blue born Yorkie puppy carries two copies of a recessive gene which gives them a blue coat from birth. Sadly, this genetic combination is also lethal.
Blue born Yorkie puppies rarely live much more than a year. Some do survive, however, when they reach the age at which they would typically transition from black to blue, they lose their coat instead, showing leathery skin.
Many are in extreme pain, and it is kinder to have them put down. Although some blue born pups do go on to live healthy lives, most develop skin issues and allergies. Beware of unethical breeders who knowingly produce blue born Yorkie puppies.
Teacup Yorkie Colors
Teacup Yorkies are not an actual breed, but a micro version of the breed standard weighing four pounds or less. The colors for these micro dogs are the same as for standard Yorkshire Terriers. So you can get a Teacup parti Yorkie, black or golden Yorkie. However, we cannot recommend a teacup Yorkshire Terrier as a pet, as they require special care and have numerous health problems due to their tiny size.
Rare Yorkie Colors
99.9% of Yorkshire Terriers are the traditional blue and gold colors. However, other Yorkie colors are sometimes seen. Although you are unlikely to ever meet a purebred black and white Yorkie, there are some other pretty cool color combinations.
The parti Yorkie is a unique color combination of traditional blue, with added white and tan. It’s caused by a rare, recessive gene.
Many theories surround how the gene was introduced to the Yorkie population. One such theory is that the white Maltese was crossbred with the Yorkie to improve the texture of the coat. When this cross-breeding occurred, it is possible that Yorkies were produced carrying the white recessive gene. There is also a blonde parti color and a chocolate parti color.
This tri-colored Yorkie has become extremely popular over the last few years, but many breeders refuse to accept that it is a purebred because of the white coloring. However, as of 2000, the AKC accepted registrations for the parti Yorkie after conducting studies on 42 litters, sires and dams, with DNA revealing a purebred Yorkie.
Despite popular belief, the parti colors are not new. They have been around since the 1800s, but were unknown to the general public. These dogs were considered “low quality” and either killed or secretly given away with the understanding that the owners would not acknowledge their origin, to save the breeder’s reputation.
The parti gene can remain hidden for many generations and only expressed if breeding from two dogs that are carriers. As a result:
• 25% of the offspring will be traditional Yorkie colors but non-carriers of the recessive gene
• 50% will also be traditional Yorkie colors but carriers of the recessive gene
• 25% will be parti
Parti colored Yorkies are neither mutts nor unhealthy. They only differ from the traditional Yorkshire Terrier in color.
It is quite impossible to find a purebred black Yorkshire Terrier. If you do see one, it is usually the result of cross-breeding with other breeds that have a black coat. A solid black dog carries a dominant gene for blackness. When Yorkies carry this gene, it usually has one of two results:
1. Black with dull hair
Yorkies with black, dull hair have a thick coat that grows faster than it should, lacks shine and often makes the dog look like it has a short neck.
2. Rigid hair
The hair does not grow to the required length for a Yorkie and has a rough texture.
If you are looking for a black Yorkie puppy and find one that is purebred, then it won’t stay black forever. And it won’t have an all black coat either! Any all black Yorkie, is a mixed breed. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but might not be what you are looking for. Black is not a standard Yorkie color.
Traditional Yorkies are born virtually black in color but chocolate Yorkies are completely brown from the get-go. It is not known how the chocolate Yorkie developed. Many think it is because some dogs carry the recessive gene for brow coat, probably as a result of crossbreeding with something like the Dachshund.
Technically if your brown Yorkie had picked up a dilute gene from being mixed with another breed then you could end up with a silver Yorkie in the same way that Weimaraners are silver. But this wouldn’t be a purebred dog.
Chocolate Yorkies can be registered with the AKC as either Chocolate/Tan or Liver/Tan, but are not allowed to show. There are no known health or temperament issues with these chocolate Yorkie colors.
Although most breeds of dogs acquire their appearance from their parents, some can obtain physical traits that go back five generations. This is often the case with the red legged Yorkie. This genetic jump is often known as a throwback gene.
Red legged Yorkie pups are born when both parents carry two copies of a specific recessive gene. While the red legged Yorkie does not meet the AKC breed standard requirements and is not allowed to show, it is 100% purebred and can be registered.
Instead of changing to blue, the black on a puppy remains, whereas the tan color turns to a deep shiny red. The texture of the coat is not as silky as traditional Yorkies and tends to be wiry, with the facial hair growing longer than that on the body.
Using red legged Yorkies to improve bloodlines
Quite often, the true Yorkie colors of blue and gold can appear faded, and over generations, their silky coats become excessively thin. Serious Yorkie breeders occasionally use red legged Yorkies to add color and improve coat texture in future litters.
Yorkie colors that are “off-standard” are rare to find mainly because of the strict regulations of the AKC, with many believing they are not purebred. As a result, breeders wish to produce dogs that have the colors typical for the Yorkshire Terrier.
However, as we have seen, there is still a place for non-standard colors in responsible Yorkie breeding. And if you don’t want to show your dog, and non-standard coat is a great talking point!
If you do wish to buy a rare-colored Yorkie, we recommend you go to a reputable breeder who can provide AKC registration details of the puppy’s parents and DNA documents.
Do you have a rare-colored Yorkie?
Please tell us about them in the comments box!
References and Further Reading
- Parti Yorkshire Terrier Club
- Genetics Basics – Coat Color Genetics in Dogs
- Red Legged Yorkies