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Acting Strange

When a Yorkshire Terrier is Acting Strange


Most owners are so in tune with their dogs, that any change in behavior is immediately noticed. The tricky part is actually understanding what that change may indicate. 

Dogs are capable of so many emotions, that some mood swings are normal and it’s also common for dogs to react to the vibe of the household and events that they see or even just hear. However, in many cases, there is simply not a clear cause of strange behavior.

This section will cover the most common odd behaviors and possible reasons for their occurrences, along with tips to help resolve the issue. 

We’ll cover:
  • Suddenly acting afraid
  • Seeming to see or respond to something that is not there
  • Becoming frustrated or agitated
  • Acting moody for no apparent reason
  • Sudden onset of lethargy
  • Growling
  • Acting as if drunk

Yorkie is Suddenly Acting Afraid 

There is sometimes an obvious reason why a dog may start to act afraid, such as when he was startled by a certain someone or situation. However, quite often we have received emails asking for help in regard to a Yorkie that for no clear reason, starts to act scared.

The dog may abruptly decide that he wants to hide in a closet or under a bed. He may hesitate to enter a certain room or even appear to shake with fear.

In many cases, an owner will need to do some investigating. There may indeed be something that happened out of an owner’s view that led to the Yorkie being shaken up. We’ve seen cases ranging from most likely an incidence of tumbling down steps to being mistreated by a visitor. In other cases, the reason for acting afraid has been very random. 

For example, one day a Yorkie started to be afraid to enter a certain room; this was a dining room that he normally entered and exited without issues. There were a few steps leading down into it, however it was determined that this was not the problem. When he was encouraged to go there with the lure of toys and treats, he would do so hesitantly and then would want to run right back out. 

What was causing him to display this odd behavior?

It turned out that a mirror had been placed down on one of the walls and the Yorkie was getting afraid of his own reflection! It is interesting to note that while dogs certainly do see reflections in mirrors, studies have shown that despite high levels of intelligencethey are not able to recognize that they are seeing themselves. Once the mirror was removed, the Yorkie was fine and went back to acting normal. 
What to do: Since the trigger can be just about anything, if your Yorkshire Terrier is acting frightened for no clear reason, take a moment to make a list of possible events that may have happened outside of your view and also make a note of any changes in the household that may have inadvertently be causing him to be fearful. 

And of course, it must be mentioned that with any sort of unusual behavior this can point to an injury or illness, even if there are no clinical symptoms. 

Yorkie is Acting Odd Right After a Visit to the Groomer

This is, by far, the most common reason for owners reaching out, looking for answers regarding strange behavior after a session. 

There are really just two possible reasons for this: The groomer performed a task that caused distress or the dog perceived an action to be scary or disturbing in some way. In some instances, a dog may have had a high number of mats that needed to be worked out or clipped or another task was performed that was not previously routinely done. 

In addition, even if a groomer is highly competent, trusted and professional, not every dog is going to do well with that person. 

Yorkshire Terriers are highly sensitive and observant; in some cases, it is a matter of gender with a dog preferring a female or a male handler. In other cases, a dog may not like a particular person’s scent (or the scent of other animals on that person) or their method of handling. 

Also, if a Yorkie always did great with a groomer and then suddenly seemed to have a bad experience, this may be due to the groomer passing off some tasks to a new person or having a rushed day and not handling the dog as he or she had done previously. 
What to do: There are a few options. You may wish to speak with the groomer to see if something unusual was done or if your Yorkie was handled by someone new. If so, you may receive assurance that this will be avoided in the future.  

If an unfamiliar task was done to a Yorkie, your groomer may suggest steps you can take at home to avoid having it done at the next visit. For example, if there was a grueling tangle removal performed, you can take steps to avoid this by brushing the coat more often while using a leave-in conditioner. 

Changing groomers is always a valid decision if a Yorkie responds badly. There are more and more grooming facilities popping up that allow owners to view the sessions via visitor windows.
rescued Yorkie in car
Buddy, at 4 years old
Photo courtesy of Amber Ramirez
Not only does this keep a groomer on their toes, it allows an owner a sense of relief to see exactly what is happening and how their dog reacts.

Another option is to look large veterinary clinics; some have special grooming facilities specifically for dogs that have been previously traumatized.

Yorkie is Barking or Responding to Nothing

This as well is common, and is certainly a puzzling behavior for owners to try and figure out. A Yorkshire Terrier may sit in the middle of a room and seemingly stare at something invisible, barking and acting agitated or nervous. The dog may bark at the air, the wall, the roof, etc. He may move his eyes as if he is tracing the path of an invisible object or even move from one room to another, seemingly in chase of something that is not there. 

Many owners wonder if maybe their dog has a sixth sense or is able to see or hear invisible objects. However, the answer is much more straightforward than that.  
  • Canines can hear things we can't - It is important to keep in mind that canines can hear a wide range of sounds that us humans simply cannot pick up. Not only can our dogs hear 4 times the distance that we can, they also hear on a much wider frequency range: 67 to 45,000 Hz compared to our limited 64 to 23,000 Hz. Dogs have 18 muscles that control their ear movement to hone in on a noise; we just have 6. 
  • Canines can smell things we can't - The canine sense of of smell is so incredible that studies on this are still be performed. It is clear that dogs can easily pick on on scents a mile away, can smell things up to 40 feet under the ground and that they smell tens of thousands times better than us. 
So, as you can imagine, at all times, your Yorkie is hearing and smelling things that are not being picked up by your senses and therefore for all intents and purposes, not existing from your viewpoint. 

When a Yorkie is looking at something that is not there and/or barking at it, most often he is looking in the direction of something that he is picking up on. This can be something far away such as sirens and alarms or even the barking of other dogs that you simply cannot hear. He may be picking up the scent of any other animal (pets or wild animals). 

He may also be barking at something that is on the other side of the wall or up on the roof such as a bird, squirrel or other animals that are on the house. This validates why a dog may bark at ‘nothing’ and follow that nothing from room to room (the animals is moving out of sight as well). 

In rare instance of a mouse being in between the walls, a dog will most certainly respond to the unseen, fasting moving creature.  
What to do: When a dog is not sure if he is correct to be alarmed or on alert for something, he looks to his owner for cues in this regard. And, of course, a dog has no idea that their human is not hearing the ‘intruder’ as well.

A mistake that many owners make is being alarmed themselves when their Yorkie starts to act in this odd way. However, once you realize that your Yorkie has a valid reason for his behavior, if you stay calm and relaxed, your dog will start to learn that the trigger is not one that need be bothered with. 

If this sort of strange behavior continues or worsens, you may want to take steps such as investigating if a family of squirrels has made a home in your attic or other such scenario.

In addition, staring oddly and barking in a repeated pattern (as if a dog is stuck on a video repeat) can be a sign of certain types of strokes; therefore, if you find the behavior to be alarming, do record the episodes and play these for the veterinarian. 
Cheaky, at 3 months old
Photo courtesy of Cyranda Barrett

Yorkie Acting Frustrated, Hyper or Agitated

Most Yorkshire Terriers are rather even-tempered and adaptable, so it can really throw an owner off if their Yorkie starts acting weirdly agitated or revved up. There are a few common reasons why this may happen:

1. Actual agitation – Easy going and friendly, this breed generally adapts to situations, however each dog does have his limits. 

Assess the environment to see if there have been any changes. Perhaps it’s school vacation time and your Yorkie is spending all day surrounded by rambunctious children all day as opposed to just a few hours a day. Or maybe his area has been moved and he does not feel as if he has a quiet spot to retreat to. If changes have occurred and it is possible to resolve them, by all means do this.

In cases of a dog acting aggravated for an actual reason, most often just allowing a dog to make a choice to retreat when things get too much can fix the issue; always give a dog a choice to interact, watch from a distance or withdraw. 

2. Increasing intolerance – This is particularly relevant with older, senior dogs that used to put with certain noises, people, tasks, events and situations but no longer does. There may be an issue such as hearing or vision loss that causes a dog to start having trouble with certain things. As with the previous bullet point, allowing a Yorkie to make choices can often resolve the issue.  

3. Need to be socialized - Though this is usually not a case of sudden, weird behavior, since a dog rarely has trouble with something that he is already socialized to, frustrated behavior can indeed occur if a dog is not familiar with a certain element. 

4. Pent up energy – If there was one element that brought about the most cases of a dog acting oddly with pacing, barking, hyperactivity, not listening, destructive chewing, and other such behavior it would be a need to release pent up energy. It rarely dissipates on its own. 

Canines can quickly develop the canine equivalent of cabin fever if they are not taken out for walks and other forms of outside activity on a regular basis. 

If you believe that your Yorkie’s energy is spilling over in a negative way, this is your cue to add another walk to his daily schedule or to increase his walking times by 10 minutes or so. 

5. Health issue – When a dog is ill, he will always have a change in behavior. This may be one of a wide range of odd behavior including acting clingy, scared, nervous, tired, etc. In some cases, if an illness or injury causes a dog to feel vulnerable, he may respond with agitation. 

We’ll touch on this more ahead, however whenever there is a marked change in behavior, health issues should always be ruled out. 

Yorkie is Acting Moody or Lethargic

Canines are very similar to us humans in regard to having fluctuations in behavior throughout the day. Even very friendly, happy-go-lucky dogs can have an off day. However, in some cases, acting moody or overly tired can certainly point to a health issue. Lethargy is a top sign of illness and the cause can be just about anything including but not limited to tick bite, heart issues, hypothyroidism, diabetes, liver problems and anemia.

Other possible reasons for not wanting to play or acting oddly tired may include:
1. Heat – for females, the heat cycle means a drastic raise and fall of hormones which can cause her to feel moody. Some become clingier, others want to rest by themselves away from others. 

2. Dehydration – Even dogs that do drink water can be dehydrated. This is most often applicable during hot summer months, but can happen at any time of the year. Just a 2 to 3% drop in water levels can cause trouble concentrating and decreased awareness. For Yorkies that need encouragement to hydrate, a canine water fountain can work well. Also, giving ice cubes (plain or flavored with 100% real apple juice) and/or fruits with high water content (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries) can aide as well. 

3. Age – Applicable for senior Yorkshire Terriers, much more rest and sleep is needed as the dog grows older. While this is a gradual process, owners may not notice the increased need for rest until it is quite marked. This said, do not pass off excessive weakness in seniors as being normal; always have health issues ruled out. 
4. Less sleep, more activity – Generally an acute instance, if a Yorkie happens to have both slept less and exercised more than normal, this can combine to cause him to act off. If there is the case, it should correct itself within a day.  

5. Sleep disturbances – While many dogs will alert their owners if they are awake, some do remain quiet. If you suspect that your Yorkie is waking up at night and staying awake, as always do have health issues ruled out as trouble sleeping and getting comfortable is a sign of illness or injury. 

However, this can also be due to something out of the ordinary such as a new noise at night or very early in the morning that is waking the dog up. Reassess his sleeping area. If there is a car door slamming, birds chirping, a train passing by, etc. it can help to either move his sleeping area or set up a white noise machine to block out disturbances. 


It can be very off-putting when a normally friendly dog suddenly starts growling and this can even be accompanied by some nips. In most cases, this can be attributed to 1 of 2 issues:

Health issue – When a dog is not feeling well, this can cause him to feel vulnerable. Acting out in this way is actually an element of canine instinct self-protection. 

Improper hierarchy – All dogs perceive their household to organized by a leader and followers (Alpha and betas). It is simply the canine way. Most owners assume that their dog sees them as leader. However, some dogs may have other ideas. If a dog thinks that he himself is leader or even if he starts to think that his human’s position may be weakening, he may start to test things. He may ignore commands, start to mark in the house, act out and in rare cases start to growl and/or bare his teeth. 

A dog may do this to all of his humans or just one; and this can be particularly troubling if it is directed towards a child. 
Growling, once health issues are ruled out, should never be acceptable behavior. Giving a time out for this behavior as well as making leadership clear by demanding a ‘sit’ before food is given are two methods to help correct this. However, in many cases of this sort of aggressive behavior, much more strict or even personal training must be done. 

Yorkie is Acting Drunk

The dog may walk in a wobbly way without proper balance, bump into walls or other objects, appear dizzy and/or confused in a way that makes him seem really out of it. This sort of strange behavior should be addressed immediately, as it may point to an emergency situation. 

This may be due to:

1. Poisoning - Unless your house is 100% puppy proofed and your Yorkie hasn’t been outside, there are potential hazards everywhere. Acting drunk with or without vomiting, dry heaving and other clinical signs is indeed a symptom of having ingested a toxic substance. This may be something from inside such as a cleanser or from outside such as poison mushrooms, plants, or other. 

If you have just recently used a flea product or given a medication, this can be a reaction from that. 

Never hesitate to call the veterinarian, even if you are unsure of what may have happened. If your Yorkie does end up vomiting, collect a sample for testing. If your vet’s office is not open, you may alternative opt to call the Pet Poison Helpline at 1-855-213-6680; do keep in mind that there is a fee for obtaining advice and help in this way. 
yorkie face close up
Rusty, at 2 years old
Photo courtesy of Melissa Varnakulasingham
2. Hypoglycemia – Most applicable to young puppies, though this can happen to a toy breed dog of any age, this is a rapid drop in blood sugar levels that can cause very odd behavior as described above. In minor cases, rubbing honey into the gums can correct things. In moderate to severe cases, a vet visit is warranted as IV intervention may be needed. Do not ignore this possible issues as coma and eventual death is a possibility in severe instances. 

3. Health issues – Infections may be the cause; ear infections can make a dog lose his sense of balance and other issues such as UTI or stroke can have this a symptom as well. With a stroke, typically other signs may include sudden weakness, loss of vision, loss of coordination and dizziness. 

4. Head injury – Even a short tumble to the ground can cause a head injury with this tiny toy breed. And a head injury can cause all sorts of odd behavior including uncontrolled shaking, shifts in behavior, a funny tilting of the head and/or loss of coordination. Even if you did not see your dog fall, if you think that this is a possibility, it will be important to have him examine ASAP. 

A Final Word

Yorkshire Terriers are known for having wonderful personalities; however, we cannot always expect our dogs to be 'on point' and acting perfect all of the time. Fluctuations in moods is normal. 

This said, if your Yorkie has been acting strange and you cannot pinpoint the cause, we would suggest a veterinarian checkup to have possible health issues ruled out. Our dogs depend on us to take care of them and we must strive to make decisions in their best interest at all times. 
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