Scottish Terrier: Breed Profile, Characteristics, and Care Guide

| Updated: August 18, 2023
scottish terrier caught being playful

The Scottish Terrier, or Scottie, is a small, compact, short-legged, sturdily-built terrier of good bone and substance. They have a hard, wiry, weather-resistant coat and a thick-set, cobby body which is hung between short, heavy legs. They have distinctive beards, eyebrows, and furnishings that give them a charming and dignified appearance. They also have bright, piercing eyes, erect ears, and a tail that is carried high.

History of the Scottish Terrier

The Scottish Terrier is one of the oldest breeds of Scotland and the most popular of the Highland terriers. The breed’s origin is obscure, but it is believed that they descended from the ancient Celtic dogs used for hunting vermin in the rugged terrain of the Scottish Highlands. The earliest records of the breed date back to the seventeenth century when they were known as the Aberdeen Terrier after the town where they were most common.

The Scottie was bred for its courage, tenacity, and ability to go to ground after its prey. It was used to hunt badgers, foxes, otters, rats, and other pests that threatened the farmers’ crops and livestock. The Scottie was also a loyal companion and watchdog for the Scottish people who lived in harsh conditions.

The Scottie was not recognized as a distinct breed until the nineteenth century when breeders started to standardize its appearance and temperament. The first show for the breed was held in 1860 in Birmingham, England. The first breed club was formed in 1881 in Scotland. The first standard was written in 1883 by J.B. Morrison, who described the ideal Scottie as “a diehard.”

The Scottie was introduced to America in the late 1800s by immigrants who brought their dogs with them. The breed gained popularity in the early 1900s when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt owned a Scottie named Fala who accompanied him everywhere. The breed also became famous in movies, books, cartoons, and advertisements.

Today, the Scottie is still a popular dog breed around the world. It is ranked 58th among 197 breeds by the American Kennel Club in 2020. It is admired for its distinctive appearance, lively personality, and loyal devotion.

scottish terrier posing for the camera in the backyard

Physical Appearance of the Scottie

The Scottish Terrier is a small dog breed with a sturdy, compact body and short legs. The breed’s average height is 10 inches at the shoulder and the average weight is 18 to 22 pounds. The breed has a long head with a strong muzzle and large teeth. With ears that are small, pointed, and erect. Their eyes are almond-shaped, dark brown or black, and set wide apart, complimented with a black nose.

The Scottie has a double coat that consists of a hard, wiry topcoat and a soft, dense undercoat. The coat can be black, wheaten yellow, or brindle-stripe pattern. The coat needs regular brushing and occasional trimming or clipping to maintain its shape and prevent mats and tangles. The coat also needs to be stripped twice a year to remove dead hair and preserve its texture and color. The beard, eyebrows, and furnishings are longer and softer than the rest of the coat, giving the breed its characteristic expression. The beard should be cleaned daily to remove food particles and dirt.

The tail should be short, thick, and tapered by breed standards. Carried high and erect and never docked. The legs should be short, heavy, and muscular, with large paws, thick pads, and strong nails. Feet are turned out slightly to give stability and balance. Their gait is free, smooth, and powerful. The back is level and firm.

Different Colors

The Scottish Terrier comes in three main colors: black, wheaten, and brindle. Each color has its own charm and appeal, but they all share the same wiry and weather-resistant coat that protects them from harsh climates.


Black is the most common and popular color for the Scottie. It is also the most striking and elegant color that contrasts well with their white furnishings. The black coat can range from jet black to dark gray or silver. Some black Scotties may have a small white patch on their chest or toes, but this is not desirable for show purposes.


The wheaten color is the rarest and most sought-after color for the Scottie. It is also the most variable and unpredictable color that can change with age and seasons. The wheaten coat can range from pale cream to golden yellow or reddish brown. Some wheaten Scotties may have a dark mask or ears, but this is not desirable for show purposes.


The brindle color is the most diverse and interesting color for the Scottie. It is also the most natural and original color that reflects their ancestry. The brindle coat consists of a mixture of black and brown hairs that form stripes or patterns. The brindle coat can vary in intensity, shade, and distribution. There are three types of brindle: black brindle, red brindle, and silver brindle.

No matter their color, Scotties are beautiful dogs with a lot of character and charm. They are proud of their heritage and appearance and expect to be admired and respected by everyone.

scottish terrier on the edge of a river looking out onto the water

Scottish Terrier Temperament and Health


The Scottie has a vivid personality, independent, confident, and loyal. Their dignified, almost-human character earned them the nickname “the Diehard” due to their persistence and courage. They are bold and jaunty yet calmer and more dignified than most terriers. They are not overly demonstrative but affectionate with their family members and devoted to their owners. Many Scotties are one-person dogs and remain reserved with strangers.

They have very high spirits and intelligence. At the same time, being extremely curious and playful but also stubborn and strong-willed. Their hunting instinct makes them chase squirrels, chipmunks, and other small animals. They are territorial and can be scrappy with other dogs. They need early socialization and training to prevent them from becoming too sharp or aggressive. They respond best to praise and food-based rewards, as they are proud, sensitive, and easily insulted. They may retaliate or “go on strike” if treated harshly or teased.


Scotties don’t need a ton of exercise compared to other breeds. They are not built for long-distance jogging, but they enjoy brisk walks and upbeat play. More importantly, they need mental stimulation to prevent boredom and mischief. They can adapt to apartment living as long as they get enough outdoor activity. Unfortunately, they can have some problems in homes with young children or other pets, as they may nip or bite if provoked or annoyed. They are also not recommended for novice owners who may not be able to handle their independent streak.


Scottish Terriers have low-maintenance grooming needs. Their wiry topcoat and soft, dense undercoat need regular brushing to prevent mats and tangles. They need occasional trimming or clipping to keep their distinctive shape. Their beard should be cleaned daily to remove food particles and dirt. Their ears should be checked regularly for infection and their nails should be trimmed monthly. Nothing too out of the ordinary except for the beard cleaning.

Common Health Issues

Scotties have a few health issues that potential owners should be aware of. They are prone to some genetic disorders such as:

  • Von Willebrand disease (a bleeding disorder)
  • Patellar luxation (a knee problem)
  • Craniomandibular osteopathy (a bone disease)
  • Cerebellar abiotrophy (a neurological disorder)
  • Bladder cancer

They may also suffer from some common conditions such as allergies, hypothyroidism, obesity, Scottie cramp (a muscle disorder), and ear infections. Preventive care is worth its weight in gold; take your Scottie to regular vet check-ups and follow a preventive care routine.

Other Terrier Dogs

The Scottish Terrier belongs to the terrier group of dogs that originated in Britain and Ireland as hunting dogs for small game such as rats, foxes, badgers, and otters. Terriers are typically small, feisty, and fearless dogs that have a strong prey drive and an independent streak. They are also loyal, intelligent, and spirited companions that have a lot of personality.

Terriers come in different sizes, shapes, and colors, but they share some common traits, such as:

  • A wiry or smooth coat that sheds little or not at all.
  • A long head with erect ears and a pointed muzzle.
  • A short tail that is often docked or naturally bobbed.
  • A compact body with short legs and large paws.
  • A lively temperament that requires early socialization and training.

Some of the most popular terrier breeds include:

  • Airedale Terrier: The largest of the terriers, the Airedale is known as “the King of Terriers.” It has a black-and-tan coat that needs regular grooming. It is an energetic, courageous, and versatile dog that can excel in various activities such as hunting, agility, obedience, and therapy work.
  • Border Terrier: A small but sturdy terrier that has a wiry coat that comes in various colors such as red, grizzle-and-tan, blue-and-tan, or wheaten. It has an otter-like head with dark eyes and V-shaped ears. It is an affectionate, curious, and playful dog that loves digging, chasing, and exploring.
  • Cairn Terrier: One of the oldest terrier breeds, the Cairn has a shaggy coat that can be any color except white. It has a fox-like face with bright eyes and prick ears. It is an alert, cheerful, and friendly dog that enjoys being part of the family.
  • Jack Russell Terrier: A small but lively terrier that has a smooth or rough coat that can be white with black or tan markings. It has a wedge-shaped head with dark eyes and folded ears. An energetic, adventurous, and mischievous dog needs plenty of exercise and mental stimulation.
  • West Highland White Terrier: A small but sturdy terrier that has a pure white coat that needs regular grooming. It has a round head with dark eyes and pointed ears. It is an outgoing, confident, and loyal dog that loves attention and fun.

Short Legs

One of the most distinctive features of the Scottish Terrier is its short legs. The breed has a low-slung body that is hung between short, heavy legs that are slightly turned out. The legs are strong and muscular, with large paws and thick pads. The short legs may look odd but give them a unique appearance and a functional advantage.

The short legs Scotties have are a result of a genetic mutation that affects the growth plates of the bones. This mutation is called achondroplasia, which means “without cartilage formation.” Cartilage is a flexible tissue that forms the basis of the bones in the growing stage. The cartilage does not form properly in achondroplasia, resulting in shortened and deformed bones. This condition mainly affects the limbs’ long bones, such as the femur, tibia, humerus, and radius.

Their short legs are not a defect or a disability but rather an adaptation that suits their original purpose as hunting dogs. It allows the Scottie to maneuver easily in tight spaces and burrows where their prey hides. They also give them stability and balance on uneven terrain. Their short legs do not affect their speed or agility; they can run and jump with great power and grace.

well groomed scottish terrier with a brilliant beard

The short legs of the Scottie do not pose any major health problems for the breed as long as they are well-proportioned and balanced with the rest of the body. However, some Scotties may have some issues related to their short legs, such as:

  • Patellar luxation: This is a condition where the kneecap slips out of place, causing pain and lameness. It can be caused by trauma or congenital malformation. It can be treated with surgery or medication.
  • Intervertebral disc disease: This is a condition where the discs between the vertebrae degenerate or rupture, causing pressure on the spinal cord and nerve roots. It can cause pain, weakness, paralysis, or bladder and bowel control loss. It can be caused by trauma, aging, or genetics. It can be treated with surgery or medication.
  • Legg-Calve-Perthes disease: This is a condition where the blood supply to the head of the femur is disrupted, causing it to die and collapse. It can cause pain, limping, and arthritis. Unknown factors can cause it. It can be treated with surgery or medication.

Monitor your dogs for any signs of these conditions and consult their vet if they notice any problems. Keeping your dogs at a healthy weight and providing them with regular exercise and proper nutrition helps prevent joint stress and injury.

Where to Buy a Scottish Terrier

If you are interested in buying a Scottish Terrier, you have two main options: buying from a breeder or adopting from a shelter or rescue group. Each option has its pros and cons, and you should consider them carefully before making a decision.

Buying from a Breeder

Buying from a breeder is the most common way to get a purebred Scottish Terrier. You can find reputable breeders through the Scottish Terrier Club of America, the American Kennel Club, or online directories and forums. You can also ask for referrals from other Scottie owners or veterinarians.

Buying from a breeder has some advantages, such as:

  • You can choose the color, gender, and age of your puppy.
  • You can see the parents and the health records of your puppy.
  • You can get a health guarantee and a pedigree certificate for your puppy.
  • You can get advice and support from the breeder throughout your puppy’s life.

However, buying from a breeder also has some disadvantages, such as:

  • You may have to pay a high price for your puppy. The average price of a Scottish Terrier puppy ranges from $650 to $3500, depending on the breeder, the location, the demand, and the quality of the puppy.
  • You may have to wait for a long time for your puppy. Some breeders have waiting lists that can last for months or even years.

Adopting from a Shelter or Rescue Group

Adopting from a shelter or rescue group is another way to get a Scottish Terrier. You can find shelters or rescue groups that specialize in terriers or Scotties through online directories or websites. You can also check your local animal shelters or humane societies for available dogs.


The Scottish Terrier is a small but powerful dog breed that has a lot of history and personality. They are loyal, confident, and dignified companions that have distinctive appearances and temperaments. They are not for everyone, as they require early socialization, training, and grooming to prevent behavioral and health problems. They also need an owner who can handle their independent streak and provide them with enough exercise and mental stimulation. However, for those who appreciate their unique qualities and can meet their needs, the Scottie can be a wonderful best friend and family member.

More Dog Breeds

If you’re interested in learning about similar dog breeds, check out:


How much is a Scottish Terrier?

The cost of a Scottish Terrier depends on whether you buy from a breeder or adopt from a shelter or rescue group. Buying from a breeder has a wide range from $650 to $3500, while adopting can range from $150 to $500.

Are Scottish Terriers hypoallergenic?

Scottish Terriers are not hypoallergenic, as they shed moderately and produce dander. However, they may be suitable for some people with allergies, as their wiry coat does not trap much dirt or dust.

Are Scottish Terriers ears cropped?

Scottish Terriers ears are not cropped, as they are naturally erect and pointed. Cropping their ears would alter their breed standard and their expression.

Can a Corgi and Scottish Terrier get along?

A Corgi and a Scottish Terrier can get along if they are properly socialized and trained from an early age. Both breeds are small, energetic, and intelligent but have strong personalities and hunting instincts. They may compete for attention or resources or chase each other around.

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Kayla Stewart
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