Choosing a Scottish Terrier

Choosing a Scottish Terrier

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The Scottish terrier is a curious and playful dog. A low slung companion for the right family, many Scotties have been both watchdog and nanny for their families.

History and Origin

Scotland is the native home of many small active terriers, all with strong characters, short legs and harsh shaggy coats. Centuries ago, Scottish farmers used these spunky little dogs to help keep their farms vermin free. Eventually, through selective breeding, five different terrier breeds emerged.

One important person in the history of the Scottish terrier was King James VI of Scotland. In the 17th century, when King James VI became James I of England, he sent six terriers, thought to be forerunners of the Scottish terrier, to France as a present. His love and adoration for the breed increased their popularity throughout the world.

As with most breeds, there is some dispute over the true history of the Scottie. Some believe that the Scottie is the most ancient of any highland terrier. The other terrier breeds then developed from the Scottie. For these people, the Skye terrier mentioned in early historical accounts is not the Skye terrier we know today but is actually the forerunner of the Scottie. Though this is a good story, it is difficult to prove.

What is known is that the Scottie has been bred pure for many years. In 1860, a show in Birmingham, England had the first Scottish terrier class. Despite having the class open, true Scottish terriers were not shown. By 1882, the Scottish Terrier Club was organized.

Appearance and Size

The Scottish terrier is a thick set, muscular dog that exudes power, symmetry and balance. Small and compact, the Scottie has a long head, which is carried proudly. The eyes are deep set under prominent eyebrows. The ears are pointed and carried erect and his short tail is carried erect. The adult Scottie is low to the ground but a man's clenched fist held upright should just fit beneath his chest and the earth.

For the novice dog person, the West Highland white terrier and the Scottish terrier are often confused. Though their body appearance is similar, their hair coat gives them away. Westies are always a shade of white. The Scottie is never white.

The outer hair coat, wiry, hard and weather resistant, is about 2 inches long. The undercoat is dense and soft. To keep the coat tangle free, twice weekly brushing is recommended. The Scottie is most often black but brindle, gray, sandy and wheaten are also possible.

The hair coat of the Scottie is trimmed into a distinctive look. The hair on the face is left long in the form of a beard. The legs and lower body is left long and the top and sides are trimmed short.

The adult Scottie stands 10 to 12 inches at the shoulder and weighs 18 to 22 pounds.


The Scottish terrier is a bold and dignified dog. Willing to go anywhere and do anything, the Scottie is not one to give his love freely. He will usually sit back and survey the scene before making a decision. Very intelligent but with a streak of independence, the Scottie can be hard to control around squirrels, rabbits and even some cats.

The Scottie does have a tendency to be territorial and some have dominant personalities. A few can be aggressive toward other dogs. Early socialization will help the Scottie learn to accept other dogs and even cats. With a strong innate hunting instinct, the Scottie may take off chasing small creatures so one should never be trusted off lead.

Though not a gushing breed, once the Scottie becomes your friend, he is yours for life.

Home and Family Relations

The Scottish terrier is at home in a house, apartment or even a country manor, as long as people are around. Regardless of where he lives, the Scottie needs room to run but must have a fenced yard or secure patio area.

As with other terriers, the Scottie is a good watchdog and does not usually bark without reason. Their primary concern is the safety of their family. When raised with children, the Scottie is a great friend, but they are not tolerant of the rambunctious activity of very young children.


The Scottish terrier can be stubborn and may not be as easy to train as other breeds. But, when trained with lots of love and praise, the Scottie can do well in obedience and even agility training.

Special Concerns

As with other terriers, the Scottie loves activity and human companionship. When deprived of this, the Scottie can develop behavior problems. Some enjoy digging in the yard and others have an overwhelming desire to chase small critters.

Common Diseases and Disorders

In general, the Scottish Terrier is a healthy dog with few medical concerns. However, the following diseases or disorders have been reported:

  • Hypothyroidism results when the thyroid gland does not function adequately. Without enough thyroid hormone, illness can occur.
  • Demodectic mange is a parasitic skin disease caused by a mite. Hair loss and itchiness are common.
  • Atopy is an skin disease caused by various allergies.
  • Mast cell tumors are malignant tumors than can occur in the skin or within the body.
  • Melanoma is a tumor arising from melanocytes, which are the cells that produce pigment.
  • Cutaneous histiocytoma – is a benign tumor of the skin that can affect young dogs.
  • Von Willebrand Disease is a blood clotting disorder that can result in prolonged or excessive bleeding.
  • Cataracts cause a loss of the normal transparency of the lens of the eye. The problem can occur in one or both eyes and can lead to blindness.
  • Lens luxation is a dislocation or displacement of the lens within the eye.
  • Dystocia is the term used to describe difficult birthing. Due to their large heads, it is difficult for the mother to pass the puppies vaginally and most bulldogs have cesareans to deliver their babies.
  • Bladder cancer is unfortunately relatively common. Of all the AKC breeds, the Scottie has the highest rate of this type of cancer.
  • Scottie cramp is a rare neurologic disorder that results in periodic muscle cramping.
  • Lymphosarcoma, also known as lymphoma, is a malignant cancer that involves the lymphoid system.
  • Craniomandibular osteopathy (CMO) is a non-cancerous disorder that almost exclusively affects the bones of the head.
  • Congenital deafness can be present at birth in some dogs.

    Life Span

    The average life span of the Scottish terrier is approximately 10 to 13 years.

    We realize that each dog is unique and may display other characteristics. This profile provides generally accepted breed information only.

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