Scottish Terriers

The image of the Scottish Terrier long ago reached the status of icon, with legions of collectors combing eBay for decades-old collectibles with his distinctive silhouette. With his bearded face, harsh black coat and upright tail, The Scottish Terrier is one of the most recognizable of all dog breeds. But like a Hollywood star hassled by paparazzi, Scottie temperament is not to be taken lightly. Terrier fans see the bristling, on-his-toes way the Scottie meets the world and sigh, "Ah, yes, true terrier attitude!" The rest of us will probably make sure our ankles aren't anywhere nearby.

Traits, Personality and Behavior

A Scottish Terrier will do best with a single adult or couple, but he isn't the best choice for families with children. The Scottie has strong feelings about how things should be, and loud, unpredictable children don't fit into his master plan. Neither do cats or other small, furry creatures, and it's not unusual for him to feel less than accepting of other dogs, too. The trade-off, of course, is that you'll get all his attention.

The Scottish Terrier is not an easy dog to train, but he does like a challenge, so a canine sport like agility might be a great chance for you to develop your relationship, engage his mind and tire him out, all at the same time. Scottie's are also eligible to compete in AKC Earthdog trials, which might channel his insatiable need to dig and tunnel into an acceptable outlet -- and save your flowerbeds.

He's a fairly high maintenance pet, despite weighing less than 20 pounds. The Scottie's coat needs regular brushing and combing to work out dead hair, and should be clipped or professionally groomed every month or so. (The look of a show Scottie is even harder to get, accomplished through the difficult skill of "hand-stripping" -- pulling out the dead hairs a little at a time.)

All the seeming negatives aside, Scottish Terriers are very devoted to their human families, so don't even think of trying to make him live in the backyard. He'll bark, dig and suffer -- and that won't be good for either one of you.

Health Issues Common to Scottish Terriers

The Scottish Terrier can suffer from a number of genetic health problems. In the hope of controlling the genetic diseases that already affect the breed and prevent any new ones from emerging, the Scottish Terrier Club of America participates in a program operated by the Canine Health Information Center (CHIC).

The CHIC requires that breeders test all their breeding dogs for eye, hip and knee diseases that are prevalent in the breed. All breeders should be able to show you written documentation from the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) that the knees of your puppy's parents are normal and that they are clear of a bleeding disorder known as Von Willebrand's Disease.

The best breeders will also have OFA clearance on their dogs' thyroid glands, and Canine Eye Registration Foundation (CERF) records clearing your puppy's parents of eye problems that sometimes affect the Scottish Terrier including juvenile cataracts, which are rare but do occur in the breed.

Some of the conditions that affect the Scottish Terrier for which there are currently no screening tests include craniomandibular osteopathy, which is an abnormal growth of the jaw and sometimes leg bones that occurs in puppyhood and is very painful, but usually resolves itself by the time the dog is an adult; Legg-Calve-Perthes disease (LCPD), a bone disorder that requires surgery; and bladder cancer, which affects Scottish Terriers at a rate 18 times greater than in mixed-breed dogs.

The most widespread breed-specific problem occurring in the Scottish Terrier is a relatively minor condition known as Scottie cramp. Dogs with this condition react to stress -- even common stress, such as exercise -- with changes in how they move and run. His legs fly out to the side, his back sometimes arches, and the most severely affected dogs may fall.

Scottie cramp is considered a neurological disorder, and it's not painful. Nor is the dog actually experiencing cramps. Some dogs adapt to the condition and start to avoid the stresses that trigger it, and their lives are almost normal. Severely affected dogs may require medication, but this is rare.

Another relatively rare neurological problem that strikes the Scottie is cerebellar abiotrophy (CA), and it has symptoms that are often confused for those of Scottie cramp. However, it's a more serious progressive disease and the dogs are affected all the time, not just when under stress and in motion. This is definitely a genetic problem, but while efforts are underway to develop a screening test for the condition, at present no such test is available.

Scottish Terriers are also at increased risk of a liver defect, present at birth, known as "porto-systemic shunt." Dogs that have this defect require expensive surgery to survive.

Most troubling are statistics suggesting that some genetic temperament problems, including unexplained aggression, occur in Scottish Terriers.

Even though there are no specific genetic tests for these and other conditions that may be all or partly inherited in the Scottish Terrier, your puppy's breeder should be willing -- eager, in fact -- to go over the health and behavior histories of his parents and their close relatives, and discuss how prevalent those particular concerns are in his lines.

Condition Risk Profile Cost to Diagnose and Treat
Portosystemic Shunts Medium $2,000-$6,000
Craniomandibular Osteopathy High $500-$2,000
Pulmonic Stenosis Medium $1,000-$7,000
Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease Medium $1,000-$3,000
Atopic Dermatitis High $100-$1,000

6 Tips to Bring Home a Healthy Scottish Terrier Puppy

Don't ever, ever, ever buy a puppy from a pet store or Internet site that offers many breeds and popular mixes, or that ships with no questions asked. If you buy a puppy from these sources, you'll be more likely to get an unhealthy, unsocialized and difficult to house-train puppy and will be supporting the cruelty of high-volume puppy mills.

Start your search for a good breeder on the website of the Scottish Terrier Club of America, which maintains a referral list for breeders; choose one who has agreed to be bound by the club's Code of Ethics, which prohibits its members from selling puppies to pet stores and requires them to take lifetime responsibility for any puppies they sell if their owners are unable to care for them.

Do not purchase a puppy from a breeder or seller who cannot provide you with written documentation that the parents were cleared of health problems that affect the breed. Having the dogs "vet checked" is not a substitute for genetic health testing, and any breeder who says her lines are free of all these problems, or that they're not a concern, is either lying or knows almost nothing about Scottish Terriers. Look for your puppy elsewhere.

Consider an adult dog from a shelter or a rescue group. Many of the health and behavior problems in Scottish Terriers aren't apparent in puppyhood, but by adopting an older dog, most of them can be ruled out. Since a Scottish Terrier can live to be 12-15 years of age, even an adult dog will be with your family for a long time.

Puppy or adult, take your Scottish Terrier to your veterinarian soon after adoption. Your veterinarian will be able to spot visible problems, and will work with you to set up a preventive regimen that will help you avoid many health issues, and in particular to watch out for the early signs of the neurological and behavior problems that can affect dogs of this breed.

Make sure you have a good contract with the seller, shelter or rescue group that spells out responsibilities on both sides. In states with "puppy lemon laws," be sure you and the person you get the dog from both understand your rights and recourses.

Pet Insurance for Scottish Terriers

Pet insurance for Scottish Terriers costs more than for mixed breed dogs. This is because Scottish Terriers are more likely than mixed breed dogs to make claims for hereditary conditions that are expensive to treat.

Embrace dog insurance offers full coverage for all breed-specific conditions (excluding those that are pre-existing) to which Scottish Terriers are susceptible. The best time to get pet insurance for your Scottish Terrier is when he's a healthy puppy. You can't predict what will happen in the future, and pet insurance is the one thing you can't get when you need it the most.