Scottish Terrier (Scottie): Dog Breed Characteristics & Care

History, Care Tips, and Helpful Information for Pet Owners

black Scottish terrier standing among plants

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The Scottish terrier is a small terrier dog breed from Scotland that sports a medium-length wiry coat with its trademark beard and longer hair around the legs and lower body. The coat typically comes in black but can be seen in wheaten and brindle patterns as well. Scotties have a sturdy build and short legs, which serve them well as vermin exterminators. They tend to be spunky, confident, and somewhat independent dogs, though they are quite loyal to their favorite humans.

Breed Overview

Group: Terrier

Height: 10 inches

Weight: 18 to 21 pounds (female), 19 to 22 pounds (male)

Coat: Medium-length, wiry double coat

Coat Color: Black, brindle, red brindle, wheaten, black brindle, or silver brindle

Life Span: 12 to 14 years

Temperament: Alert, affectionate, fearless

Hypoallergenic: Yes

Origin: Scotland

Characteristics of the Scottish Terrier

Scottish terriers tend to have an alert and spirited temperament. They are watchful with strangers and other perceived threats, but generally they are loving with their family. High intelligence also helps to shape this breed’s personality, making it sometimes stubborn and strong-willed when it comes to training.

Affection Level High
Friendliness Medium
Kid-Friendly Medium
Pet-Friendly Medium
Exercise Needs Medium
Playfulness Medium
Energy Level Medium
Trainability Medium
Intelligence High
Tendency to Bark High
Amount of Shedding Low

History of the Scottish Terrier

Terriers have been a part of the Scottish Highlands for centuries, working as hunters and farm dogs. These dogs ranged in appearance and were sometimes collectively referred to as Skye terriers after the Scottish Isle of Skye where many lived. The Scottish terrier’s exact origin is unclear, but it’s said to be the oldest of these Highland terriers. 

Breeders worked to standardize the different types of terriers from Scotland during the late 1800s. From this we got not only the Scottie but also the Skye terrier, West Highland white terrier, and cairn terrier

Scotties first arrived in the United States in 1883, and the American Kennel Club first recognized the breed in 1885. Its popularity peaked in the ‘30s and ‘40s. Several public figures, including President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Bette Davis, and Humphrey Bogart, have owned Scotties. And the breed has the honor of being turned into a Monopoly playing piece.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt driving in his convertible with his Scottish terrier Fala
President Franklin D. Roosevelt with his Scottish terrier Fala

George Skadding / The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

Scottish Terrier Care

Scotties need a moderate amount of daily exercise, as well as sufficient mental stimulation. They also require more than just basic grooming and consistent training and socialization.


Despite the breed’s small stature, Scotties should still get at least an hour of exercise per day. A morning and evening walk plus playtime in between can help to burn their energy. And puzzle toys, along with dog sports, can help to challenge them mentally as well.

These dogs also love to run and chase toys (though they don’t always retrieve), so it’s ideal to have a securely fenced yard where they can move freely. But avoid letting them off leash outside in unfenced areas. Their high prey drive can cause them to quickly take off after small animals and other perceived prey.

Furthermore, the Scottish terrier is not a capable swimmer and can easily drown. Its short legs and disproportionate size of its head make the dog unbalanced and ill-equipped for aquatic activities. So closely watch your Scottie around pools, ponds, lakes, or other bodies of water.


A Scottie’s coat doesn’t shed much, but it does grow continuously and require specialized care. You’ll need to invest in a professional groomer or learn the skills to care for your Scottie’s coat at home. The ideal way to groom a Scottie is to have its coat hand-stripped at least once a month. The other option is to clip the coat roughly every six to eight weeks. The downside to this is clipping can change the coat’s proper harsh texture as the softer undercoat takes over.

In between grooming sessions, brush the coat at least weekly to remove any tangles and dirt. Give your dog a bath every month or so, depending on how dirty it gets. Check its nails every month as well to see whether they need a trim. Look in its ears at least weekly for wax buildup and irritation. Brush its teeth ideally every day.


Scotties are smart, but they’re not always willing to learn. It’s ideal to start training and socialization from a young age to prevent bad habits from forming. Keep training sessions short and switch up what you work on, so your dog doesn’t get bored. 

Always use positive reinforcement, such as treats and praise. Scotties are known to understand the tone of a person’s voice, recognizing the difference between a positive and negative reaction. Plus, it’s very important to be consistent and firm in your commands. Scotties tend to push what they can get away with, so if you ask them to do something make sure they follow through. 

Aim to expose your Scottie from a young age to different people and other dogs. This can help to reduce their territorial and vigilant nature around strangers. However, even a well-socialized Scottie might not get along with smaller household pets, including cats, due to the breed’s high prey drive. And some remain standoffish with other dogs.

Scottish terrier puppy lying in grass
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side view of a wheaten Scottish terrier outside
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Up-close portrait of Scottish terrier
Kimi Hochadel / iStock / Getty Images

Common Health Problems

Scottish terriers are prone to some hereditary health issues, including:

Diet and Nutrition

Always provide fresh water for your Scottish terrier. Feed a high-quality, nutritionally balanced canine diet. It’s typical to feed two measured meals per day to ensure that your dog is getting the proper amount. Always discuss both the amount of food and type of diet with your vet to make sure you’re meeting your dog’s individual needs. Moreover, be mindful of treats and other extra food to prevent overfeeding.

Where to Adopt or Buy a Scottish Terrier

Scottish terriers are a moderately popular dog breed. So it’s possible to find one at local animal shelters and breed-specific rescue groups, though it might require a waiting period. See whether you can get your name on a breed wait list at your local shelter. If you’re looking for a puppy from a reputable breeder, expect to pay on average $800 to $2,000.

For further information to help you find a Scottish terrier, check out:

Scottish Terrier Overview

  • Loving with family

  • Only needs moderate exercise

  • Doesn't shed much

  • Can be stubborn about training

  • High prey drive

  • Needs more than basic grooming

More Dog Breeds and Further Research

Do your research carefully to determine whether the Scottie is the right breed for you. Talk to breed owners, rescue groups, veterinary professionals, and reputable breeders. Try to spend some time around Scotties, too, if possible.

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

There’s a whole world of potential dog breeds out there—with a little research, you can find the right one to bring home!

  • Are Scottish terriers good family dogs?

    Well-trained and socialized Scottish terriers can be good for households with respectful older children. However, they're often too feisty and territorial to be gentle and patient enough with young children.

  • Are Scottish terriers aggressive?

    Scottish terriers with proper training and socialization are typically not aggressive. But they can become territorial, especially around other dogs. And they are fearless enough to defend themselves as they see fit.

  • Are Scottish terriers good apartment dogs?

    Thanks to their small size, Scottish terriers can do well in an apartment as long as they get out for enough exercise every day. Just be aware that their watchdog tendencies might cause them to bark at unfamiliar people they see around the apartment, which could disturb neighbors.

Article Sources
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  1. Scottish Terrier. American Kennel Club.

  2. Scottish Terrier Puppies and Dogs. Adopt a Pet.