Scottish Terrier (Scottie)
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The Scottish terrier is among the oldest, best established, most recognizable breeds in the world. Like their terrier cousins, Scotties are super smart, yet they require a little less exercise than other terriers—making them good apartment dogs. Households with seniors are a good fit, as well as families that have older children. With early socialization, they'll fit in well with other family dogs, but their strong prey drive probably means they won't get along well with cats.
Scottish terriers exhibit an independent streak that served them well in the breed's early days when they were roaming the Highlands tracking down badgers. Today, their smarts, coupled with that need for autonomy, make them trainable but a trifle mulish. Patience and consistency are the keys to getting these smarties to follow your rules.
As one of the oldest dog breeds in existence, Scotties have had a long time to work out the kinks. As such, one of the hallmarks of the breed is the almost assembly-line consistency to their look. Scotties are, almost to the dog, 10 inches high. In fact, this height is so assured, that the breed standard doesn't even list a range for them: Scotties are 10 inches.
Just as consistent is their coloration. The vast majority of Scotties will be black. Brindle Scotties are also somewhat common, with wheaten (a kind of golden yellow/white) being a rare option. Whatever color, Scotties' coats consist of a hard, wiry topcoat layered over a thick, soft undercoat. The breed standard cut keeps the hair long along their snouts and eye lines, giving the Scottish terrier a vaguely human, slightly cantankerous look—which is sometimes not totally out of line with their actual personalities.
For decades, the Scottie was among the five most popular breeds, both in the U.S. and abroad. Today, though their popularity has waned, the American Kennel Club (AKC) still ranks them as the 57th most popular breed. So clearly, these little guys bring a lot to the table.
Like all terriers, Scottish terriers were originally bred to be hunters. But while many dogs their size were created to hunt rats or foxes, Scotties were galavanting over the Highlands in search of badgers.
What does that mean for you? As with most terrier breeds, Scotties are highly intelligent. But they can also be highly independent, bordering on aloof when it comes to training. One of the traits Scottish farmers looked for in a good terrier was a dog that was clever enough to figure things out for himself. This means that, while your Scottie will certainly understand what you're asking of him, getting him to actually follow through will require lots and lots of patience.
Scotties train well in small bursts, says Dennis Riordan, DVM at the Riordan Pet Hospital in Des Moines, Iowa. "[Plan for] 10–15 minutes of doing something," he says. If you're leash training, for example, "You're walking to the end of the driveway and back."
Scotties also respond best to sessions that are varied; doing the same thing over and over is likely to bore them. They are smart enough to quickly pick up voice commands and inflections in tone, and can understand when you're frustrated or upset. Training will require patience and consistent rewarding of good behavior (treats will definitely come in handy).
Scotties are not naturally trusting of strangers, so early socialization is important for getting them used to visitors and other dogs. However, their high prey drive means, as a general rule, cats are likely to be problematic. But if your Scottish terrier is introduced correctly at a young age, he can live well with feline friends.
Consistent with their terrier lineage, Scotties are natural hunters who require a decent amount of exercise to stay trim and healthy. One advantage they have over other dogs in their group, however, is that they don't necessarily rely on running and outdoor activity to burn that energy off. If you've got a length of rope, a Scottie is more than happy to play tug-of-war with you for as long as you can hold out.
One of the upsides of having been bred to be such independent dogs is that Scotties don't have a ton in the way of living requirements. They adapt to apartment living very well, love families and other dogs (if they have been properly socialized as pups), and are more than happy to play in the house or accompany you on walks.
Scotties will do well in family households. But a rambunctious Scottie might not be a great fit for households with toddlers or small children. All interactions between kids and dogs need to be supervised, and make sure your child knows how to properly interact with pets (no tail-pulling!).
"They're headstrong, [independent] dogs," Riordan says. "There are exceptions for sure, but I wouldn't normally recommend them as family dogs."
For homes with yards, fences are a requirement. That tenacious prey drive means he'll not only rid your yard of squirrels and other small animals, but he'll also chase them down the street, if allowed. Scotties also enjoy digging. They'll quickly find a favorite corner of your yard and go to town, and talking them out of doing so will require a level of patience.
Scotties are extremely mild shedders. However, that trademark coat of theirs is going to require a decent amount of care to keep it looking good.
Their coarse, wiry topcoat will need to be brushed two or three times a week to keep it straight and tangle-free. Additionally, their thick, soft undercoat will need to be treated regularly as well, preferably through hand-stripping, in which hair is removed by the roots. If the idea of spending time hand-stripping your dog (or finding and paying a groomer to do it for you) doesn't appeal to you, trimming your Scottie's hair short is another option. Although doing so will make the undercoat show through the topcoat more and give your Scottie a fluffier appearance.
Like all dogs, Scottish terriers need their nails kept tidy and trim, their ears should be checked and cleaned regularly, and they need a regular dental care routine. And, if you Scottie is smelling less than his best, a bath will be necessary.
Once again, this is an area where the Scottish terrier's long breed history works in his favor. Just as their size and appearance has become rock-solid over the years, so has the dog's bill of health.
Scotties are a fantastically healthy breed, as the Scottish Terrier Club of America's short health statement will attest. The most common problems for the breed are von Willebrand's disease (a disorder that can affect clotting), craniomandibular osteopathy (an enlargement of bones in the head), and patellar luxation (loose kneecaps). Another minor concern is an affliction colloquially known as "Scottie cramp," a tendency for some dogs to suffer spasms in their back and hindquarter muscles during periods of high excitement or physical activity.
Riordan also recommends getting your Scottie screened for some basic cancers, as they can be hereditary in the breed. "Bone cancer and lymph-node cancer," he says. "As well as mast-cell tumors—skin cancers—and oral cancer."
When discussing the history of a breed as old as the Scottish terrier, it can be difficult to know exactly where to start. Famous English breeder and author Rawdon B. Lee (1845–1908) once wrote that Scotties were "the oldest variety of the canine race indigenous to Britain."
The first written records of dogs matching a traditional Scottie's description date to the 15th century, as Don Leslie described small, wire-haired terriers in The History of Scotland 1436–1561. The dogs hail from (you guessed it) Scotland, and for a long time there was debate on what was a terrier from Scotland and what was a true "Scottish terrier." The first Scottie breed standard was written in 1880 and helped differentiate the breed from, say, the Skye terrier. And as dog shows became more formalized and breed standards increased in importance, the Scottish terrier's look and temperament became more standardized.
Though the AKC officially recognized the breed in 1885, dog shows were vital for the Scottie's popularity boom, according to the Scottish Terrier Club of America. The Westminster Kennel Club sponsored the first formal dog show in the U.S. in 1877, according to the club, and the event "propelled the Scottie into American homes and changed their lives."
- Arguably the most famous Scottie in history is Fala, owned by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Living in the White House for the last four years of the president's life, Fala would perform tricks for reporters and boost the president's spirits. When she died in 1952, she was buried near Roosevelt in Hyde Park, and she is included as a part of the statue of Roosevelt at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington D.C., making her the only presidential pet so honored.
- The Scottie was forever immortalized in pewter in 1942, when the dog was included as one of the game pieces in Monopoly. It remains the fourth longest-serving token in the box, behind the battleship, top hat, and race car.
- The curmudgeonly Scottie, Jock, was one of the most memorable characters from the 1955 Disney film Lady and the Tramp. The dog was voiced by famed Disney voice actor Bill Thompson.
- In addition to their long-running popularity as pets, Scotties are the second-winningest dog at the Westminster Dog Show, taking home the Best in Show prize eight times, most recently in 2010.