Although the Scottish Terrier has been present in the Scottish Highlands in one form or another for hundreds of years, the modern version breed is the result of standardized breeding efforts conducted by English and Scottish breeders at the end of the 19th Century. The Scottish Terrier was initially developed as a working farm dog by Scottish farmers to eradicate vermin and hunt small animals, but is now known as an elegant yet feisty companion. The Scottish Terrier is famed for its connections to the American Presidency, and is one of the few purebred dogs to have been owned by at least three presidents. The Scottish Terrier is commonly called the Scottie by its fanciers, but is also known as the Scotch Terrier, Aberdeen Terrier, Aberdeenie, and the Little Diehard.
The Scottish Terrier was not standardized until the end of the 19th Century, but this breed is generally regarded as being considerably older. Terriers are some of Scotland’s oldest dogs, and are thought to have been present in the country for thousands of years. The English word Terrier comes from the Latin word, “Terrarius,” and the French word, “Terre,” both of which mean, “Earth,” or “Ground.” Terrier roughly means, “One who goes to ground.” The word described the traditional hunting style of the Terriers of England and Scotland, whereby the short-legged and ferocious Terrier would pursue a fox, badger, or other small mammal down its burrow and then bring it back to the surface, either dead or alive. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the oldest surviving written usage of the word Terrier dates back to 1440, implying that these dogs were already present at that time. Most experts believe that these dogs are far older, and have been found throughout the British Isles for thousands of years.
Descriptions of Terrier-like dogs from the British Isles date back to the earliest writings of the region. In the 1st Century A.D., the Roman legions invaded the regions of Great Britain, eventually coming to control what is now England and Wales, but not Scotland. The Romans were known to be some of the Ancient World’s finest dog breeders, but even they were greatly impressed by the quality and abilities of British dogs. Dogs quickly became one of Britain’s primary exports, and were one of the island’s most valued commodities for the entire Roman occupation. The most valued and famous of these dogs was the Pugnaces Britanniae, a massive Celtic war dog now thought to be the ancient version of either the English Mastiff or the Irish Wolfhound. Equally prized, however, were small and tenacious hunting dogs thought to the ancestors of Terriers and Springer Spaniels. Most scholars have taken these exports to mean that Terriers were well-established in England and Scotland by the Time of Christ, and possibly much earlier. The ancient age of Terriers seems to have been confirmed with archaeological evidence. The Romans found that they were unable to subdue the fierce Pictish and Gaelic tribes living in what is now Scotland, and constructed Hadrian’s Wall to serve as a border. Archaeological digs from just south of the wall dating from the 1st Century include two distinct types of dog. One was a medium-sized coursing dog similar to a modern Whippet or Greyhound. The other was a long-bodied and low-legged dog similar to a modern Dachshund or Skye Terrier. These finds indicate that not only were Terrier-type dogs present in Scotland two thousand years ago, but that they were already being used for their traditional purpose. It is assumed that the Whippet-like dog located prey and pursued it until it fled down its burrow. The Terrier-like dog would then have been sent down the burrow to bring the animal back where it could be killed or collected. Due to the extreme age and virtual complete lack of evidence, it is impossible to say how the first Terriers were developed. All that is known is that Terriers were almost certainly bred entirely in the British Isles from local dogs, although it is thought that the Terriers may have some relationship to the Irish Wolfhound and/or the Canis Segusius, a wire-coated hunting dog owned by the Pre-Roman Gauls of modern day France and Belgium.
However, and whenever the Terriers were first developed, they were the loyal and valued companions of Scottish farmers for many centuries. These dogs served vital roles in rural Scottish life. Their primary task was to eradicate vermin such as rats, mice, and rabbits that spread disease and ate crops, helping prevent epidemics and starvation (occasionally providing a meal for the stewpot) in the process. Terriers were also used to hunt down and kill species such as foxes, badgers, otters, and minks. These other animals either posed a threat to farmers by killing their domestic animals or were highly valued for their coats or sport. The tenacious and versatile terriers were pitted against virtually every mammal species present in Scotland which was smaller than a deer at one point or another.
Until very recently, resources were very scarce in Scotland, and mere survival was often a struggle. Scottish farmers could not afford to keep dogs that were not able to perform a job, and perform it well. Over many centuries, they developed Terriers that were highly skilled at their designated tasks. Any dogs that were inferior were euthanized, usually by drowning. It became a common practice to test a young Terrier’s suitability by sealing it in a barrel with a badger or otter, both of which are renowned for their belligerence and ferocity. When locked up with an equally ferocious and belligerent Terrier, a fight to the death was the inevitable result. If the Terrier killed its opponent, it was considered worthy of being kept. If the wild animal was the victor, the ineffectual Terrier was no longer a problem anyways. This may seem cruel to modern eyes, but was a necessity in an era when keeping a dog (even one as small as a Terrier) put a serious strain on a family’s ability to survive even with all of the work a Terrier could perform. Natural selection also eliminated many dogs, and any Terrier not able to survive in the harsh and often bitterly cold climate and terrain of Scotland would have perished. Centuries of human and natural selection resulted in a dog that was hardy, tenacious, courageous, and incredibly aggressive.
The Scottish farmers bred their Terriers almost entirely for working ability. Appearance only mattered to the extent that it impacted a dog’s suitability for its working purpose, for example the weather-resistance of a particular coat type. A number of distinct varieties of Terrier were developed, but these were regularly interbred with each other and were closer to being landraces than true breeds. The Terriers of the Scottish Highlands were regarded as being some of the most distinctive and tenacious. These Terriers came in many varieties, but two of the most famous were the soft-coated Skye Terrier and the Aberdeen Terrier. The true Skye Terrier, named for its ancestral homeland on the Isle of Skye, had been bred in the isolation of the Inner Hebrides and possessed an elongated body and a long, silky coat.
The Aberdeen Terrier, so-named because it was very popular in and around the city of Aberdeen, possessed a less exaggerated but still long body, as well as a shorter, rough coat that was most frequently black or brown. The Skye Terrier and the Aberdeen Terrier were collectively known as the Scotch Terrier, a term that also included the ancestors of the Cairn Terrier, Dandie Dinmont Terrier, and West Highland White Terrier. Because the Skye Terrier was the first variety to come to prominence, all of these dogs were at one time referred to as Skye Terriers. For many centuries, Terriers were almost exclusively kept by farmers because the smaller quarry pursued by these dogs was considered beneath the nobility to exterminate. However, once the larger game species such as wolves, red deer, and wild boar became rare or extinct, Terriers became increasingly popular with the Scottish upper classes.
British dog breeding practices changed dramatically beginning in the late 1700’s. In those years, breeders of English Foxhounds began to keep studbooks of their dogs and form clubs in the attempt to breed the highest quality and purest blooded animals possible. This led to the foundation of dog shows and the first kennel clubs. Dog shows started becoming immensely popular in England and Scotland during the middle of the 19th Century, and breeders across the British Isles initiated organized breeding programs in an attempt to standardize and pedigree the many British dog breeds. Various types of Terriers from Scotland made a multitude of appearances at the earliest dog shows, but their classification was a bit confused.
Centuries of cross-breeding meant that type was not fixed on these early Terriers, and many individual dogs were registered multiple times as different breeds. For example, the same dogs were often exhibited as a Skye Terrier, Cairn Terrier, or Aberdeen Terrier. Eventually, it was decided that the Terriers of Scotland should be standardized and cross-breeding and multiple registration should come to an end. The Dandie Dinmont Terrier was the first breed to be separated, followed by the Skye Terrier, and finally the Cairn and Scottish Terriers. There was much confusion surrounding the terms Aberdeen Terrier, Scottish Terrier, and Cairn Terrier, and all three were used interchangeably to describe the dogs that would one day become the modern Scottish Terrier, Cairn Terrier, and West Highland White Terrier (The Skye Terrier was also used interchangeably as well, but this name usually referred to the silky-coated ancestors of the modern Skye Terrier breed.) As the Aberdeen Terrier became increasingly popular in England and in the show ring, the name Scottish Terrier became synonymous with that dog. The Scottish Terrier was standardized slightly before the Cairn Terrier, and was bred primarily for the show ring rather than as a working dog at an earlier time. The West Highland White Terrier was developed somewhat later by selectively breeding and crossing the pure white Scottish and Cairn Terriers which would appear occasionally in litters of brown, black, and bridle dogs, and many of the earliest West Highland White Terriers were also registered as Scottish or Cairn Terriers.
The Scottish Terrier was popularized in England largely due to the work of Captain W.W. Mackie. Mackie was a major Terrier enthusiast who made several trips to the Scottish Highlands, and ended up importing around 60 Scottish Terriers to southern England. Mackie owned and exhibited two of the most influential Scottish Terriers in history, the male Dundee and the female Glengogo. It was largely due to Mackie’s influence that the Scottish Terrier was transformed from a variable working dog into a standardized show and companion animal. By 1880, the first standard devoted exclusively to the Scottish Terrier was written, and the Scottish Terrier Club of England, founded by J.H. Ludlow, became the first breed club in 1883. Ludlow was highly influential in the development of the modern Scottish Terrier and many of the most successful early show Scottish Terriers belonged to him. Bonaccord, along with his son Rambler, Grandson Allister, and a female named Splinter II, were all owned by Ludlow, and essentially every Scottish Terrier alive today is descended from at least one of these four dogs.
The ancestors of the Scottish Terrier were originally brought to America during the colonial period, where they served the same roles as they had in Scotland, vermin eradication and hunting. These early American Terriers would later play roles in the development of the Rat Terrier and many types of Feist, small squirrel hunting dogs common in the American South. However, purebred Scottish Terriers did not arrive in the United States until the 1880’s. These dogs were initially imported by wealthy Northeasterners who intended to exhibit them in dog shows. The refined and dignified appearance of the Scottish Terrier made it an instant favorite in America, especially in the show ring. The Scottish Terrier was one of the first breeds to be recognized by the recently formed American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1885.
In 1900, the Scottish Terrier Club of America (STCA) was founded to promote and protect the breeding of Scottish Terriers and the Scottish Terrier quickly rose to prominence in the United States as it became associated with the rich and famous. Largely due to its looks, the Scottish Terrier became a symbol of refinement and social status and became one of the most highly desirable dogs in America. Many of the wealthiest and most powerful Americans owned Scottish Terriers. Images of Scottish Terriers were seen everywhere from movies to magazine covers, and the breed was used to advertise virtually every imaginable product. The early popularity of Scottish Terriers is quite surprising given the temperament of most early breed members. Only recently descended from pure working Terriers, many early Scottish were very harsh tempered and had a reputation for biting. The popularity of the Scottish Terrier peaked in the 1930’s and throughout much of that decade, the Scottish Terrier was the third most popular breed in terms of AKC registrations. The Scottish Terrier was also granted full recognition with the United Kennel Club (UKC) in 1934.
During the 1930’s and 1940’s, two British kennels dominated Scottish Terrier breeding on both sides of the Atlantic and highly influenced the modern breed. Albourne Kennel, owned by Mr. A.G. Crowley, who also bred horses for the British Armed services and therefore had enough food to feed his dogs even in times of strictest rations and Heather Kennel, owned by Robert Chapman Jr. and his family. The Chapman’s rented to a large number of tenants, and most of them agreed to raise a Scottish Terrier or two as part of their tenant’s agreement. Dogs from the Albourne and Heather Kennels were regarded as being of the highest quality and greatly influenced most modern day lineages. As the 1930’s wore on, it became increasingly obvious that World War II was inevitable. In order to protect their dogs, many prominent Scottish Terrier breeders sent their best dogs to America, greatly increasing the quality of American Scottish Terrier breeding as a result.
The popularity of the Scottish Terrier was greatly enhanced by Fala, one of the most famous dogs in history. Fala was born on April 7, 1940 and was given as an early Christmas present to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt by Mrs. Augustus G. Kellogg of Westport, Connecticut. Before Roosevelt received the dog, originally named Big Boy, it was obedience trained by his cousin Margaret Suckley. The president renamed the dog Murray the Outlaw of Falahill, after a famous Scottish ancestor. Fala, as he was affectionately known, became Roosevelt’s much beloved companion and was constantly in his presence. Fala was so constantly with his master that he made regular appearances on film and radio, eventually becoming a major part of the president’s image. Additionally, Fala was present during some of history’s most important meetings and discussions. During the war, Fala’s name was used as a password by American G.I.s to prevent German espionage. Perhaps most famously, Fala was the subject of a light-hearted speech (known thereafter as the "Fala Speach") given on September 23, 1944 by Roosevelt defending himself from Republican charges that a destroyer had been sent to retrieve the dog after he had been left behind in the Aleutian Islands:
"These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. [laughter] Well, of course, I don't resent attacks, and my family don't resent attacks — but Fala does resent them. [laughter] You know, Fala is Scotch, and being a Scottie, as soon as he learned that the Republican fiction writers in Congress and out had concocted a story that I'd left him behind on an Aleutian island and had sent a destroyer back to find him — at a cost to the taxpayers of two or three, or eight or 20 million dollars — his Scotch soul was furious. [laughter] He has not been the same dog since. [laughter] I am accustomed to hearing malicious falsehoods about myself — such as that old, worm-eaten chestnut that I have represented myself as indispensable. But I think I have a right to resent, to object, to libelous statements about my dog! [laughter]"
After Roosevelt’s death, Fala spent the rest of his long life with the President’s wife Eleanor, eventually passing away on April 5, 1952, two days shy of his 12th birthday. Fala was buried next to the Roosevelts, a very rare honor. In 1997, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C. Right next to a statue of President Roosevelt is a statue of Fala, the only presidential pet to be so honored. The association of the Scottish Terrier with the American presidency did not end with Fala. Just a few years after Roosevelt’s death, President Dwight D. Eisenhower also owned a Scottish Terrier although he did not bring one to the White House. Decades later, President George W. Bush, whose policies could not have been more different than Roosevelt’s, also owned two Scottish Terriers while in office, Barney and Miss Beasley. Many other famous figures have owned these dogs as well, including Queen Victoria, Rudyard Kipling, Eva Braun, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Ed Whitefield, and Tatum O’Neill.
Since the 1940’s, the popularity of the Scottish Terrier has declined considerably in the United States, but there have been periods where its popularity has peaked once again. It is interesting that the breed has declined in popularity as breeders have worked to soften the breed’s temperament and make it more suitable for life as a companion animal. The breed’s appearance continues to subtly evolve as breeding preferences changes throughout the decades. Even when this breed has not been as popular in American homes, it remains one of the fiercest competitors in the American show ring, and a Scottish Terrier has won Best-In-Show at Westminster 9 times, more than any breed other than the Fox Terrier. Although less popular, the Scottish Terrier has a sizable and dedicated following in the United States, and its future in that country is very secure. In 2010, the Scottish Terrier ranked 52nd out of 167 total breeds in terms of AKC registrations. Although once a ferocious and merciless killer of small animals, the modern Scottish Terrier is essentially never used for that purpose and is considerably softer tempered. The breed is now almost exclusively a companion animal and show dog, tasks at which this breed is well-suited provided it has the right owner.
Thanks to its distinctive appearance and famous history, the Scottish Terrier is perhaps the most recognizable of any Terrier breed to most Americans. The Scottish Terrier is unique in that it seems to combine the hardiness of a working Terrier with the refinement of a champion show dog, and the two words most frequently used to describe the breed are, “Varminty,” and, “Dignified.” The Scottish Terrier is quite small, but not exactly tiny. The average Scottish Terrier stands between 9 and 11 inches in height, with 10 being considered ideal. The ratio of length to height has been a long standing debate among Scottish Terrier fanciers with some preferring longer dogs and others preferring less exaggerated ones. Currently the ideal dog is considered to be roughly 10% longer from chest to rear as it is tall from floor to shoulder, or a ration of 11 to 10. For their height, breed members tend to be relatively weighty and the average Scottish Terrier weighs between 17 and 24 pounds, with males weighing approximately one pound more on average.
The Scottish Terrier is sturdily built and thickly boned, but is more thick than bulky. In particular, the chest is deep and wide. Much of a Scottish Terrier’s reduced height is the result of its very short legs, although they deepness of the chest does tend to make the legs look shorter than they actually are. This illusion affects the front legs more than the hind legs, which often appear substantially longer. The tail of the Scottish Terrier is approximately 7 inches in length and should not be docked. When in motion the tail stands straight up, but never curls over the back. Quite thick at the base, the tail tapers dramatically to a sharp point.
The head of a Scottish Terrier sits at the end of a surprisingly long neck. The head is relatively large for the size of the dog, especially in terms of length. The muzzle is also quite long, at least as long as, and sometimes longer than, the skull. Both the head and muzzle should be flat, giving the distinct impression of two parallel lines. Because of the breed’s coat, the head and muzzle often look indistinct from each other, with only a small space for the eyes dividing them. The muzzle of the Scottish Terrier was bred for power and is so wide that it should entirely fill a man’s hand. This great width continues to the end of the muzzle, which hardly tapers at all. No matter what color a Scottish Terrier’s coat, the nose should be black. The nose is very large for the size of the dog, so large that it makes the upper jaw look significantly longer than the lower. The relatively small eyes are set quite wide apart. As they also are often partially obscured by long eyebrows, this breed’s eyes tend to much less noticeable than those of many other breeds. The ears of the Scottish Terrier are quite small, especially in terms of length. They stand straight up and end in a sharp point, but do so naturally and should never be cropped. The overall expression of most Scottish Terriers is an unusual combination of dignity, intelligence, and pride with an underlying a tinge of ferocity, determination, and wildness.
The coat of a Scottish Terrier is very important, but not as important as the breed’s body and facial characteristics. To protect itself from the frigid winters of Northern Scotland and the claws and fangs of its prey, the Scottish Terrier developed a protective double-coat. This breed has a soft, dense undercoat and at very harsh and coarse outer coat. The hair on the tail is usually shorter than on the rest of the body, but should be just as harsh while the hair on the ears should be both shorter and softer. The hair on the face forms massively long eyebrows, which often stick out far from the face itself and partially obscure the eyes. The hair on the muzzle is very long and forms a thick beard, a feature that is often accentuated by grooming. Some owners either let their Scottish Terriers hair grow longer and unkempt or shave their entire bodies into a short puppy cut. However, most of these dogs are kept in something that is close to the proper show coat, which the AKC describes as, “The coat should be trimmed and blended into the furnishings to give a distinct Scottish Terrier outline.
The dog should be presented with sufficient coat so that the texture and density may be determined. The longer coat on the beard, legs and lower body may be slightly softer than the body coat but should not be or appear fluffy.” The Scottish Terrier is almost always thought to be a solidly black dog, and a sizable majority of breed members are solid black. However, Scottish Terriers are also commonly brindle and less commonly wheaten, which are perfectly acceptable in the show ring. All colors of Scottish Terrier may have a few white or silver hairs on their coats, which is also acceptable, as are very, very small white patches on the chest and beard. Some Scottish Terriers have large white patches, and a sizable number of these dogs are born pure white. These dogs are being actively bred by some fanciers and are identical to other Scottish Terriers in all other respects, but they are not allowed in the show ring.
The Scottish Terrier is one of the most “Terrier-like” of all Terriers in terms of temperament. In fact, the Terrier temperament is considered one of this breed’s hallmarks, and breeders have worked hard to maintain the breed’s fire and tenacity while making it somewhat more suitable for life as a companion dog. The average Scottie is a dignified city gentleman with the heart of untamed barbarian. Although generally very even tempered, the breed is capable of great courage and ferocity when the situation demands. Scottish Terriers generally seem to believe that they are the world’s greatest being, and this breed is often described as, “The most prideful of all dogs.”
Scottish Terriers are often extremely loyal and devoted to their master. This breed forms intense bonds, and most Scotties absolutely live to be in the company of their owner. However, few of these dogs would ever openly display their affection, and Scotties do not tend to be very emotive. The depth of their bond can be so strong that it precludes forming ones with others, and many breed members become one person dogs. When raised in multiple person households, most Scotties form close bonds with all family members, but almost always have a favorite. Even with those it loves the most, Scottish Terriers usually hate not being in control, and this is a very dominant breed that is ill-suited to life with novice dog owners.
Most Scottish Terriers are not fond of strangers. When properly socialized, most will become tolerant of strangers, although most will never be friendly. With the proper training, this breed can become one of the most gentlemanly and refined of all dogs. Without the proper socialization, this breed can become very human aggressive, and many become downright nasty. Incredibly alert and quite territorial, the Scottish Terrier makes an excellent watch dog. Scottish Terriers seem to have no comprehension of how small they are, and most make surprisingly effective guard dogs. These dogs will challenge virtually any intruder, and are unafraid to use shockingly powerful bites to drive them off. Most Scottish Terriers are very slow to make friends, and some live with a new spouse or roommate for years without ever fully accepting them.
It is generally recommended that Scottish Terriers not be placed in homes with young children, usually those under eight or ten years of age, and some breeders and rescue groups refuse to place these dogs in those situations. This breed demands the respect that it feels it deserves, and most children do not understand how to provide it. Scottish Terriers do not like having their personal space invaded without a prior invitation, they do not like to be manhandled, they do not like to share their food or toys, and they are completely intolerant of rough play. This breed tends to snap first and never ask questions later, a tendency which can be greatly reduced by training but not eliminated. This does not mean that all breed members are bad with children, and many of these dogs are quite sweet with them. It does mean that families with young children should seriously consider other breeds and Scotties which are not accustomed to children should be very carefully supervised around them, or possibly sequestered in another part of the house.
Scottish Terriers frequently have severe problems with other animals. This breed tends to be very dog aggressive, and many are game for a bloody scrap at the slightest perception of provocation. Training and socialization can greatly reduce these issues, but they are not always particularly effective. Scottish Terriers suffer from high levels of a number of different forms of dog aggression: dominance, territorial, same-sex, possessiveness, and predatory. Most Scottish Terriers are fine with dogs that they have known from puppyhood, but problems can develop. Ideally, Scottish Terriers should be kept in a one dog household or with a single member of the opposite sex.
Most Scottish Terriers can be acclimated to household cats, but some never can. Bred as a ruthless hunter of vermin, most Scottish Terriers will pursue and kill anything smaller than themselves (and sometimes the same size or larger). Scotties left alone in a yard for lengths of time will almost surely bring back “presents” of dead animals, and leaving the average breed member alone with a gerbil or guinea pig is basically giving that animal a death sentence.
Few breeds of dog pose the training difficulties of a Scottish Terrier. This breed is very intelligent and a remarkably fast learner. It is possible to train a Scottie to do a number of incredibly advanced tricks, although it takes a masterful trainer. However, most Scottish Terriers have less than no desire to do anyone else’s bidding, and this breed is often stubborn, obstinate, and deliberately willful. When a Scottish Terrier decides that it is not going to do something, it is not going to do it, and almost no amount of correction or reward will convince it otherwise. This breed does much better with rewards-based training methods (especially those that involve food) than correction-based methods, as the dog completely ignores correction and often retaliates if it feels the correction is too severe. Perhaps the greatest difficulty in training a Scottish Terrier involves its dominance. This breed will absolutely not obey someone whom it does not feel is in charge, and it takes a great deal to make a Scottish Terrier think that someone is in charge. Owners must maintain a constant position of dominance with this breed. As is the case with all dogs, Scottish Terriers are trainable, but it will take a great more effort, time, and patience, than with most other breeds, and the end results may be somewhat disappointing.
Well-suited to life in the city, suburbs, or country, the Scottish Terrier has only marginal exercise requirements. This is a breed that will be satisfied with a long daily walk and preferably some play time and the occasional opportunity to run around in a safely enclosed area. A dedicated family with average (or below average) activity levels will probably be able to meet this dog’s exercise needs without too much of a problem. As is the case with all dogs, it is important that the exercise needs of a Scottish Terrier be met to prevent the development of behavioral issues such as destructiveness, excessive barking, over-excitability, and aggression. Although Scottish Terriers do not require a great deal of activity, they are willing to accept more and can be a good fit for a slightly more active family (as long as they are not required to run for very long distances).
As is the case with most rough-coated Terriers, the Scottish Terrier has sizable grooming requirements. This breed should have its hair carefully and thoroughly brushed several times a week, and keeping a Scottish Terrier in show coat can require several hours of maintenance every week. This breed also needs relatively frequent baths, which many Scotties do not appreciate. The Scottish Terrier needs to have its coat regularly trimmed, and occasionally stripped. This can be done at home, but the vast majority of Scottie owners choose to have their dogs professionally groomed every two to four months. Scottish Terriers do shed and are not considered a hypoallergenic breed. However, this breed does tend to shed very little, and its shedding will almost never cause serious issues.
Scottish Terriers are known to suffer from a number of health problems. This breed suffers from high rates of a number of conditions common to other dogs, such as cancer, as well as suffering from several conditions which are largely limited to Scotties and related breeds, such as Scottie cramp and craniomandibular osteopathy. The Scottish Terrier usually lives to the age of 11 or 12, on the shorter side of average for a breed of this size. However, many of these dogs suffer from years of discomfort before they pass. The STCA is currently working with veterinarians to develop treatments and screening tests for many of these conditions to help reduce their frequency.
By far the most common problem experienced by Scottish Terriers is known as Scottie cramp. Scottie cramp is not noticeable when the dog is at rest or when it is casually walking. However, when the dog gets excited by something such as hunting, food, or a breeding situation, its gait begins to change. The front legs often move out to the sides, known as winging. The back sometimes arches, and the rear legs begin to move awkwardly. If the dog’s stress level continues to grow sometimes it will start walking in a very unusual, almost goose-step-like, manner. This condition is not fatal, and remains very poorly understood. Most dogs never require treatment, although a few relatively inexpensive treatments have been found to have some effect. The condition is present from birth, but does not worsen with age.
Because skeletal and visual problems have been known to occur in this breed, it is highly advisable for owners to have their pets tested by both the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF). The OFA and CERF perform genetic and other tests to identify potential health defects before they show up. This is especially valuable in the detection of conditions that do not show up until the dog has reached an advanced age, making it especially important for anyone considering breeding their dog to have them tested to prevent the spread of potential genetic conditions to its offspring. It is highly advisable to request that breeders show any OFA and CERF documentation that they have on a puppy or its parents, which essentially all reputable breeders will have.
A full list of health problems that the Scottish Terrier is considered to be especially vulnerable to would have to include: