The Scottish Terrier

Independent and self-reliant, the Scottie is a spirited companion


The Scottish Terrier's unique appearance, jaunty attitude, and inseparable link to his highland homeland have contributed to the breed's popularity as adornment on clothing and personal accessories and his presence in advertisements of many products with a link to his country of origin. Scotties in plaid or black are painted or sewn on barrettes and skirts, purses and greeting cards, sweaters and wrapping paper and dozens of items in between. But the Scottie's nature is not consistent with this public image as a stylish trademark; rather he is much like the folks who people his native land - a stoic, independent canine, he is armed with fierce loyalty to his master and stubborn adherence to privacy.

These qualities make the Scottie a good choice as a companion for the leader of the free world. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Scottie Fala came to live in the White House and soon took over as the President's constant companion. (See the Fala page at

"Roosevelt had had pets before, but Fala became his friend in a way no other pet had been. Fala accompanied the President everywhere, eating his meals in Roosevelt's study, sleeping in a chair at the foot of his bed." (No Ordinary Time, a history of the Roosevelt Administration by Doris Kearns Goodwin )

The current White House is also graced by the presence of this lively, self-confident breed. Shortly after his election in 2000, President George W. Bush received a Scottie puppy as a gift from New Jersey Governor Christie Todd Whitman. Following in Fala's pawprints, Barney visits the West Wing offices in the White House and often accompanies the President on trips. Apparently captivated by the Scottie's tough, no nonsense manner, the President gave his wife another Scottie puppy shortly after his re-election in 2004. The new pup is a female named Mrs. Beazley; she will join Barney and black cat India at the White House before the end of the year.

Scottie history

The Scottie is a short-legged British terrier, one of several wire-coated go-to-ground terriers developed in the Scottish highlands. The origins of these terriers is obscure, but it is fairly certain that they all arose from the same basic stock. Progenitors of the fiery Scottie were sent to France's monarch by King James I of England in the 16th Century, but as late as 1882, three different terriers were exhibited as Scotch Terriers. These included the Scottie, Cairn, and West Highland White terriers. The Dandie Dinmont had been included earlier, but this dog's obviously different appearance gained it recognition as a separate breed.

Terriers developed in Britain to hunt vermin that plagued farmers by eating grain, eggs, and poultry. Courageous, scrappy dogs, eager to follow fox or badger into the den, they were built to dig their way in if necessary. They were unfazed by Scottish weather; their wiry outer coats and soft undercoats protected them in harsh climates and rugged terrain.

Appearance and care

To the novice, Scotties, Cairns, and Westies are similar in appearance. The Cairn and the Westie are closely related; the Westie looks like a white version of the any-color-but-white Cairn and indeed developed from white puppies born to a Cairn bitch in western Scotland. However, a second glance proves that the similarities are superficial: the Scottie is longer in head and body, generally darker in color, and always distinct in personality.

AKC registered 3,559 individual Scottish Terriers in 2003, up slightly from the 2002 figures. Litter registrations were down slightly to 1649 for the year.

The Scottie standard describes the perfect breed specimen as "compact, well-muscled, and powerful, giving the impression of immense power in a small package. The skull is long, moderately wide, and slightly domed; the eyes set wide apart and almond-shaped; and the ears small and pointed. The chest is broad and deep, bone is heavy in relation to the size of the dog, and the gait is both distinctive and strong.

The tail is naturally short and should be about seven inches long. A mature male should be 10 inches at the shoulder and weigh about 20 pounds; females should be the same height and a pound or two less. Whatever the weight, the dog should be well-balanced. The Scottie colors are steel or iron gray, black, sandy, or wheaten; the coat may also be grizzled or brindle, and the outer coat should be about two inches long.

The Scottie is basically a healthy breed but is susceptible to vonWillibrand's disease (vWD), skin problems and flea allergies, epilepsy, and some jawbone disorders. He is also prone to Scottie cramp, a minor condition that may cause difficulty in walking. VWD is an inherited bleeding disorder; breeding stock should be tested before mating and puppy buyers should ask the breeder if vWD scores on the parents of a litter are available.

Cerebellar abiotrophy, a rare, slow-to-progress neurological disease that causes loss of coordination, has also been found in the breed.

The Scottie coat needs attention to maintain its texture. The dog should be combed a couple of times a week and trimmed occasionally. As with all hard-coated terriers, the Scottie's dead hairs must be plucked out in a process known as stripping. Unless the pet owner has the time to learn proper stripping technique and can spare the hours necessary to do the job, the Scottie will need professional grooming once or twice each year to stay firm and wiry. The coat can be trimmed with electric clippers, but it will grow in soft and dull.

Temperament and training

Like all terriers, the Scottie has a mind of his own. Unlike his cousins, he is reserved, quite particular in his choice of people, and steadfastly loyal. He tolerates rowdy children and many adults quite well; he is wary of strangers and is likely to become a one-man or one-woman companion, sensitive to the moods of his chosen master. He barks a lot, and he loves to dig; no fence will hold him if he's anxious to burrow his way out.

The Scottie's scrappy attitude makes him difficult to train. The new Scottie owner should immediately find an obedience school, for this bundle of energy with an attitude can dominate a household with great skill if he is not taught that the master is the boss. The training must be firm and gentle to avoid breaking his spirit, for nothing so insults a Scottie as severe treatment.

Those looking for a Scottie puppy should avoid pet stores and breeders who do not test for von Willibrands Disease or who are unaware of the genetic jaw problems inherent in the breed. For more information about the breed, visit the website of the Scottish Terrier Club of America at

[More on finding a dog]

Norma Bennett Woolf

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