FAQ: Scottish Terriers



For a loving friend in sorrow

For a frolicsome pal when you're gay.

For a stout and sturdy comrade

Whom storms will not dismay.

Take a bright little dog,

A shaggy little dog,

A little Scottie dog

From Aberdeen.

-- Clara Chew

1. What are Scottish Terriers like?

An extremely popular family dog in the 30's and 40's, Scotties have received some pretty unfair press in recent years...puzzling, because a Scottie bred and raised with kindness and care will be a loving and steadfast companion: well mannered, predictable, trustworthy, obedient, and wise. Unlike many small dogs in general and terriers in particular, Scotties are not snarly, excitable, vicious, or yappy. A good alarm dog, a Scottie will bark loud and long when strangers come, but given a modicum of kind correction, he will also be still upon your command. Most Scotties are quick to recognize the footsteps and voices of their friends, and will merely run happily to greet them, making the peculiar low woo-woo growl which is a Scottie's way expressing utter joy.

Scottish Terriers are not large dogs; the breed standard calls for a dog of not more than 12" at the shoulder and not more than 23 pounds, although pet stock may run a very few pounds larger. He should fit the description "four-poster", being very square, well knit, and solidly built. A Scottie should give the impression of enormous power in a small but capable package. There should be nothing dainty, delicate, skinny, or racy in a Scottish Terrier. Everything about him should be solid and square.

A Scottie will place his loyalty only where it is earned, but while there is a great deal of love and loyalty in that stout little heart, it is easily broken. Scotties are born sportsmen, agile, hardy, and fearless, but the least bit of emotional neglect or abuse will break his spirit. Most of all, Scotties need companionship, and need to feel they are well-loved members of a household. A Scottie raised with children will be devoted to them, given that the children are not allowed to treat him badly. (No child of any age should be permitted to pull any dog's fur, ears, tail, or poke fingers into the dog's eyes, ears, and mouth, or practice any of the other unconscious cruelties they are so often allowed to inflict on dogs).

Scotties are beautiful creatures, and come in black, silver brindles, caramel brindles, and wheaten tones. Of the wheaten tones, the deeper orange, rusty colours are the most highly prized (Scotties are never white, but are closely related to the West Highland White Terrier). A Scottie is possessed of a fine, woolly undercoat and a harsh, coarse outer jacket, which require regular grooming. Like all dogs, he will need regular brushing and cleaning, and attention to teeth and nails, but the Scottie requires special care to keep in "Scottie coat", so that he may look his best. Most groomers can scissor and trim a pet Scottie to look very much like the pictures you see. This grooming must be done three or four times a year, and can be learned easily and done at home (see Recommended Reading). Show dogs are hand plucked with stripping knives; their grooming is quite exacting, and can, if not done at home by a dedicated owner, be quite costly to maintain.

Scotties will not make you rich. They tend to have small litters, of 4-6 puppies, and because the high price of showing pushes breeders to keep fewer dogs but make them all pay, many bitches are not easy whelpers any longer. A bitch who cannot self whelp is generally not a good candidate for future motherhood, but there are strong economic pressures on breeders, who can now have her puppies delivered by Caesarean, to breed her anyway. Hence the proliferation of lines of dogs who cannot self-whelp. Neither do Scotties flourish in a kennel where their contact with humans is limited. Some people use the term "back yard breeder" disparagingly, but I would far rather see more pet Scotties bred in homes filled with love and care than bred for show potential in a puppy mill atmosphere of emotional neglect. NEVER buy a puppy from a pet store.

Properly cared for, all dogs are expensive and time consuming. If you cannot easily budget CAN$700 per year for your pet, think seriously about your purchase. Show fees and travel expenses can add up to much more. And if finances are tight, consider purchasing pet insurance, which can cover unexpected veterinary emergency costs, and a replacement sum in case you dog dies.

Happily, dogs, and particularly Scotties, will return the care and expense you lavish on them ten-fold. One loving look from those bright, dark, happy little eyes is worth a king's ransom.

2. Origin and History

Small, rough haired terriers have been indigenous to Scotland since time immemorial, but the Scottish Terrier began to take on a recognizable form and identity sometime in the 1500 and 1600's. By the late 1800's, the Scottie had reached a form we would find familiar today, and by 1930, when Scotties began their heyday as family pets, the magnificent form of the modern Scottie had been fixed.

Kept as hunters of vermin, Scotties were used to hunt rats, fox, and even badgers, going down into the quarry's burrow to make a kill. Bred for immense bravery, even a Scottie in mortal danger would not retreat from a hole into which he had been sent to do battle...hence the importance of the strong, thickly rooted tail, by which a Scottie could be dragged from a losing fight. His thick undercoat protected him from the teeth of his opponent, and his powerful legs helped him dig into the tunnel, and propel himself at his prey. Small and compact, Scotties were well suited to work underground, and were also easily transportable...I have heard that Scotties rode with their masters to the hounds, and once the fox had been put to earth by the bigger dogs, Scotties were tossed from the saddle and sent in to make the kill. The Scottie's wiry outer coat repels the weather, essential gear in Scotland! Finally, Scotties possess massive teeth for their size, using them to good advantage in the hunt.

Working trials, in which terriers are sent to earth after caged quarry, are still held, but most Scotties are now pets and show dogs. They can be obedience trained, and many now possess various field titles, but this requires persistence. If you are keenly interested in obedience trials, consider acquiring either a dog from one of the working breeds, or massive amounts of patience. Scotties, like most terriers, train slowly (what takes a lab 5 minutes to learn takes a terrier 15...), but once they learn, they never forget. In my experience, Scotties train best in a quiet, supportive atmosphere. They dislike the confusion and bustle of training class, although these provide exposure to gatherings of dogs, and an opportunity for learning to behave quietly and obediently in public. Scotties do not respond well to harsh, demanding training methods. Train your Scottie gently and patiently; he will eventually learn his lessons and find pleasure in them. But if you find yourself frustrated, or hitting the dog, or using harsh, physical corrections, you are on the wrong track. Do not continue in this vein. Scotties can tolerate harsh conditions, but never harsh treatment.

3. Conformation, points, and character

There are many points to be considered in evaluating the Scottie, but first and foremost, one must view the dog in his entirety, and he must present a balanced, harmonious whole. A typical Scottie should give the impression of enormous power and vitality in a very square and compact package. In spite of being a small breed, the Scottish Terrier should strike one as being extremely robust and heavy-boned.

Elegant, yet utilitarian, the Scottie must possess a true Scottie temperament. Scotties are justly famous for their distinct personalities, and as one wise old breeder told me: encourage his eccentricities, for these are what make him interesting and lovable. Scotties are reserved, and philosophers by nature. They are intense in their affections, but do not bestow them lightly, and while they rarely hold grudges, a Scottie never forgets an injustice. Quiet by nature, Scotties have very expressive voices, and there is nothing more delightful than a Scottie in conversation.

Finally, Scotties should display bravery and spirit when challenged, but should never be vicious, unpredictable, or have nasty tempers. Nor should a Scottie be nervous, shy, highly strung, or sly. Expert Betty Penn-Bull puts it best:

"There often seems to be a connection between build and temperament. A thick-set, sturdy dog with heavy bone, a powerful head and a deep voice is likely to possess the right character. The true Scottie is rugged and hard-bitten, but he is not an oaf or a country yokel. He is a gentleman and his outlook, bearing and carriage should stamp him so, and he should present an air of dignity and breeding."

4. Management, environment, and care


Is the maxim which should guide every dog owner. By providing your dog with the best of care, you spare yourself the worry and shame of knowing that you are failing to serve your dog's best interests. A clean, well-fed, well exercised, and healthy dog is a happy one; a pleasant and rewarding companion in whom you may justly take pride.

Apart from the general points of pet care which apply to all dogs and are best covered in other works (see Recommended Reading), the one thing which is critical to a Scottie's health and happiness is the emotional atmosphere of his home. Scotties are particularly sensitive to atmosphere, and if he is neglected or bullied, a Scottie will droop and become sad and withdrawn. Before bringing your puppy home, enlist the active commitment and participation of all the household in this new venture. Some dogs are naturally buoyant characters, and cheerfully withstand bad treatment or discord between their humans: not so the Scottie. He is especially vulnerable to meanness and teasing, and will be made very unhappy by these. And if there is unhappiness in the home, he will suffer greatly for you, and grieve that he cannot fix whatever is bothering you. A stout little dog, the Scottie has a peculiarly tender heart. Cherish and respect that heart.

5. Education and discipline

For general instruction on training dogs, refer to the titles in Recommended Reading, but there are some specifics to consider for Scotties.

Scotties tend to be late maturing, and so it is bet to be generous with your expectations for your puppy. Scottie pups are best left with their mother and littermates until they are at least 8 weeks old, and if the breeder wants to give them a little more time, so be it. There is an old wive's tale that holds that the younger the puppy when taken from his mother, the more he will bond with his new owners. This is completely false, and worse, is injurious to the puppy. To develop properly, both emotionally and physically, a puppy must remain with his mother for at least 8 weeks. If anyone offers to you a younger puppy, particularly a 5 or 6 weeks old puppy, politely decline, and resolve never to deal with them again.

Scotties cannot withstand aggressive training. Indulge in it at your peril.

Scotties are intelligent, but easily bored by pointless routine, and this makes them poor candidates for obedience titles. However, they should learn at least the basics of obedience offered in puppy kindergarten classes. Patience, understanding, and persistence will be required.

To corrct bad behaviour in a Scottie, one need only administer a brief scolding. Scotties should never be hit, except as an extreme measure when the dog commits an act which is dangerous to himself or others. At this time, be sure to hold him firmly, and administer a sharp slap to his rump while scolding. Do not hurt the dog, and make your corrections brief. NOTHING WILL BE GAINED BY BADGERING THE DOG. And when tempers have cooled, be sure to cuddle and make up. Do not hold a grudge against a dog; this will only weaken your relationship to no good purpose.

Scotties are certainly very loving, but are not servile. If you enjoy being the master, and desire a fawning, obedient slave, Scotties are not for you. Scotties think of you as an equal partner and companion; they will do much for you out of love and respect, but if a Scottie ever feels he is being casually manipulated, or trifled with, he will begin to withdraw his respect for you. He is an independent fellow, and if you abuse his trust, you will risk losing the staunchest of friends.

6. Grooming

The Scottie's coat is thick and strong, and as a consequence, must be attended to regularly if the dog is to be comfortable and look his best. It takes some skill and experience to keep a Scottie groomed, particularly if he is to compete in the show ring. A bungled trim can make a Scottie look ridiculous, so if you are not prepared to learn and practice the art yourself, you must pay a skilled groomer to do it for you. Pets can be trimmed up three or four times a year, but show dogs must be groomed almost daily; so you see, if you cannot willingly commit either the time or the grooming fees, a Scottie is not for you.

Ideally, one should set up a grooming table, at just above waist height, where a dog can be safely secured (but don't ever leave him there unattended, he can jump off and strangle himself). Stainless steel, rubber topped models are available through dog supply houses. Why the expense of a table? Scotties are just too short to groom comfortably on the ground, and you will be very grateful for having a well set up, comfortable place to work, particularly if you are doing much of the grooming yourself. Set up in a well lit, easily cleaned place, and have everything ready, then grooming can be done frequently and will be a pleasure, not a chore.

Tools include a stiff brush for brushing out the coat, a hound glove, which has wire pins on one side, and a flat side for slicking down the finished coat. A wide toothed comb is useful for brushing out the beard and furnishings, for they must not be broken if possible. You will also need blunt nosed scissors, and thinning scissors. If you plan to do your own stripping, you will need a set of good stripping knives. If you plan to use trimming shears to do your own trimming, you will need a good electric trimmer.

For a detailed analysis of how to trim a Scottie's coat, see Recommended Reading. The subject is simply too detailed to explore here.

Don't forget that your Scottie's nails will need regular attention, so get a pair of nail clips and have your vet or groomer show you how to use them. Overgrown nails can be painful and dangerous. Also remember to keep you dog's teeth clean; this can only be done by brushing the teeth with a nice big toothbrush and dentifrice made for dogs (human toothpaste is not good for dogs). Teeth should be brushed at least every other day, and will need to be scaled twice a year...get your vet to teach you, or take the dog in to have this done. Scottie teeth are large, and sit very close to one another. If they are allowed to be dirty, they will decay, set up gum disease, and the dog's breath will be foul. Veterinary dentistry is expensive, so practice good prevention.

Puppies are not too thrilled by all this poking and prodding, but begin with short, gentle sessions and work your way up. If he is accustomed to kind grooming from a young age, your Scottie will learn to accept your attentions. Praise good behaviour, and keep some liver treats at the grooming table. Be firm, and calm, and your Scottie will learn to behave himself at grooming time.

7. Showing

Dog shows are designed to recognize the best living examples of the breed standard, and offer an opportunity for the enthusiast to see various examples of the breed, and evaluate the merits of particular kennels. Unfortunately, showing has become Big Business, and the financial success of a kennel can be devastated if show champions are not produced, making winning imperative, at any price. Charges of ring-side politics, corruption, and cheating have and will continue to be made; sadly, they are all too often true.

But showing can be fun, and it is wonderful to see a deserving dog receive his due in the show ring. Go to shows, learn how points are won, and why one Scottie is more successful than another. Learn the breed standard, and take pleasure in seeing a ring full of beautifully groomed Scottish Terriers. If you are lucky, you will make some friends, and perhaps acquire a promising puppy of your own. When the wins come, enjoy them, and when they don't, just enjoy the outing. If you meet some unsavoury characters, or hear some unpleasant talk, just make a mental note to politely avoid those persons in future. There are many fine people and dogs at the shows, and you will eventually separate the wheat from the chaff, on both ends of the lead.

For more detailed information on ring-craft and shows, see Recommended Reading.

8. Pedigrees and breeding

The decision to bring more Scottie puppies into the world should never be made lightly. Before you acquire a bitch or dog and begin a breeding program, answer the following questions:

Are the dam and sire superior representatives of the breed, free of defects, good tempered, healthy, and sound? If your dogs fail on any of these points, then do not breed them.

Will the puppies have every chance of being contributions to the breed, and of being better examples of the breed than their parents?

Can you assume responsibility for all the puppies, including, if necessary, placing them in good, approved homes?

Can you commit the time and finances involved in caring for the bitch during pregnancy, whelping, and rearing of the puppies (including proper veterinary care for the pups until they are placed in approved homes)?

If you answer reluctantly or negatively to any of these questions, think of deferring your breeding program. If you decide to go ahead, read extensively, chat with experienced breeders, and your vet. Survey the ground in front of you carefully. Raising puppies is expensive and time consuming: be sure you will enjoy it, and strive to do it well.

Critical to a successful breeding program is a familiarity with the breed standard and the history of breed pedigrees. It is important to know what the ideal type is, and what families of Scotties have reliably conformed to that type, and how careful line breeding has kept them true to type. Scottie pedigrees have been recorded carefully for over 100 years, and there are several books on the subject: they are required reading for any serious student of the breed. For these and other books detailing the mechanics and minutiae of breeding, see Recommended Reading.

9. Health care

Scotties are generally robust and resilient, and as a breed are not particularly susceptible to much in the way of illness. Scottie cramp, a momentary paralysis brought on by strenuous exercise, was once a problem, but it has been largely bred out, and if breeders continue to use only dogs free of this condition, it should remain rare. Of more concern is Von Willebrand's Disease, a clotting disorder, but dogs can now be tested for this, and if positive, can be neutered. Once again, breeders can, and have, helped reduce the incidence of this disease by breeding only VWD clear stock.

A dog which conforms to the breed standard, and who has straight teeth and good movement will likely have fewer health problems as he ages. But all dogs are susceptible to the effects of bad housing, poor feeding, lack of exercise, and neglect. All dogs need regular veterinary checkups along with innocculations, testing for parasites, and tooth scaling. Any general book on dog care can expand on this subject. And if you spend time with your dog, paying attention to his mood and appearance, you will catch the little problems before they become big ones.

Scotties are long lived, and sixteen year old Scotties are not rare. By the age of 13 or 14, most have slowed down considerably, are deaf and beginning to lose some vision, but are otherwise healthy and happy. If a Scottie has had good care all his life, with luck he will have a flourishing old age, and can enjoy the special spoiling earned by an elderly, beloved pet. But the day will finally come when some trouble arises for which there can be no cure, and then if your old fellow is suffering with no hope, you must gently help him on his final journey. That bitter loss can be sweetened only by the knowledge that you were a wise guardian of his precious trust.

10. Who should get a Scottie dog?

There is no such thing as the perfect owner, but, aside from all the things all dogs need to be happy and healthy, Scotties really benefit from the following:

- a calm and happy home...Scotties are particularly vulnerable to neglect, meanness, teasing, and domestic turmoil

- regular exercise...because they are small dogs who love to eat, sedentary Scotties tend to get tubby as they age

- companionship...take your Scottie out with you when you run errands or go on outings where dogs are welcome. Scotties are bright and need stimulation and a change of scenery to stay "up". In addition, Scotties tend to bark defensively at new people and things...take him out often and demand good behaviour as this will keep him friendly.

I would urge you to read from the Recommended Reading list. You can never be too informed about your pet.

Finally, and most importantly, Scotties will love you in spite of any eccentricity, with the exceptions of cruelty and neglect. But no one will love your Scottie if he is not trained to be well mannered. Do not tolerate incessant barking, biting, or destructive behaviour. Examine the cause of this behaviour, and work to correct it, with the help of an experienced trainer, if necessary. Be mindful of the difference between loving your dog and spoiling him. Remember that a dog is not a child, and unless he is being grossly mistreated must defer to the humans around him. In particular, do not allow him to fall into the nasty habits of incessant barking, cat chasing, and stealing food (particularly from children, who present a real temptation, given that they carry their food at such an appealing altitude!). These habits may seem harmless, even cute, but you and your dog will face serious consequences when the neighbours complain about noise, or when the dog catches and maims a cat, or when a child gets nipped when your dog is stealing food. Properly trained and supervised, your Scottie should be an ambassador not only for his breed, but for all dogdom...make sure that even the "non-doggy" people among your acquaintance find him a pleasure and not a pest.

Recommended Reading

There are many good, general interest books on dogs in the libraries and bookstores...browse through as many as you can. Of particular interest to the Scottie owner are:

The Kennelgarth Scottish Terrier Book, by Betty Penn-Bull. This is the single best reference available.

This is the Scottish Terrier, by T. Allen Kirk, Jr., MD.

American Scottish Terrier Champion's Pedigrees, by T. Allen Kirk, Jr., MD.

The New Complete Scottish Terrier, by John T. Marvin

The Official Book of the Scottish Terrier, by Muriel Lee, TFH Publications, 1994. This book has an excellent selection of photos of both "classic" and contemporary Scotties, as well as informative articles.

A Guide to Grooming the Scottish Terrier, by Merle Taylor, published by the Scottish Terrier Club of America.

Clipping and Grooming Your Terrier, by Ben Stone and Mario Migliorini.

The Well Dog Book, by Terri McGinnis, DVM. General dog health.


Further Contacts

Scottish Terrier Club of America
Canadian Scottish Terrier Club