11 Facts About the Scottish Terrier

There’s no denying Scottish terriers are cute.
There’s no denying Scottish terriers are cute. / Natalya Rembeza/500px/Getty Images

This adorably gruff-looking canine can be found everywhere from game boards to candy. Learn more about Scotland’s favorite little dog.

1. The Scottish terrier’s origin is a bit of a mystery.

a black and a white scottish terrier
They’re definitely Scottish, though. / Shirlaine Forrest/GettyImages

As the name suggests, Scottish terriers come from Scotland—and that’s about all we know. The first known mention of the dog was by Bishop John Lesley in his book History of Scotland from 1436 to 1561. As he describes them, they are a “dog of low height, which creeping into subterraneous burrows, routs out foxes, badgers, martins, and wild cats from their lurking places and dens.” 

2. Scottish terriers were originally used as ratters. 

a black cat and two black Scottish terriers in Halloween costumes outside the White House
These Scottish terriers had to dress up, but they probably didn’t hunt rats. / Handout/GettyImages

Scotties are a kind of terrier, meaning they were bred to burrow. The name terrier comes from terra (which means earth) because they “go to ground.” Strong-willed and fierce, the dogs were used to clear out vermin from buildings and drive badgers from their homes. When facing something as fierce as a badger (on its home turf, no less) the dogs needed to be tough and recklessly brave. At one point, an author earnestly speculated that Scotties may have originated from bears instead of dogs.

3. Royalty loved Scottish terriers.

James VI of Scotland, James I of England and Ireland.
James VI and I was a fan. / Print Collector/GettyImages

Despite having a background in extermination, the little dogs have also enjoyed the finer things in life. King James VI and I was a huge fan of the Scottish terrier in the 17th century and helped popularize them in Europe. He even sent six Scotties to France as a gift. Queen Victoria was also a fan of the breed and kept some in her expansive kennel. Her favorite was a Scottie named Laddie.

4. There was a heated argument about the breed’s purity. 

A Scottish terrier in the 2010 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
A Scottish terrier in the 2010 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. / Chris Hondros/GettyImages

Scotties had their first dog show in Birmingham, England, in 1860. After that, there were numerous shows that featured similar breeds, including Skye terriers, Yorkies, and Dandie Dinmonts, all claiming to be the real deal. Scottish breeders were annoyed by the mockery of their precious breed and took to print to voice their complaints. They wrote to Live Stock Journal with their arguments about what the standard should be. The arguments continued at such a ferocious pace that the publication finally put a stop to it, issuing a statement: “We see no use in prolonging this discussion unless each correspondent described the dog which he holds to be the true type.” 

Captain Gordon Murray accepted the challenge and wrote up the proper description of the perfect Scottie. It stuck until fancier J.B. Morrison finally drew up an official standard in 1880. In 1882, the Scottish Terrier Club was formed for both England and Scotland. Separate clubs were formed for each after the breed’s popularity grew, but the two regions have since developed an amicable relationship.

5. The dogs get cramps if they’re too excited.

Scottish terrier at the2010 Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show
Fortunately, it’s temporary. / Chris Hondros/GettyImages

When Scotties get too excited, they might experience something known as the Scottie Cramp. This neurological disorder causes the muscles to tense up, making it difficult to walk. Dogs experiencing this cramp exhibit “a goose-stepping gait” and might somersault or fall over. Luckily, these episodes don’t last long and do not appear to be painful for the dogs. 

6. Scottish terriers are a favorite Monopoly piece.

Monopoly pieces on a table
Monopoly players like the Scottie. / Justin Sullivan/GettyImages

According to Matt Collins, former vice president of marketing for Hasbro Games, the Scottie has been one of the most beloved game pieces in Monopoly since its introduction in the 1950s. In fact, it once received the most votes in a competition to determine which pieces would get to stay a part of the set. (Sadly, the iron was voted out.) In 2017, it was deemed the most popular Monopoly piece.

7. Scottish terriers are very presidential. 

Franklin D. Roosevelt relaxing with his Scottish terrier Fala at Hyde Park.
Franklin D. Roosevelt relaxing with his Scottish terrier Fala at Hyde Park. / Historical/GettyImages

The Scottish terrier and the German shepherd are the only two breeds to make three appearances in the White House. The Roosevelt family was infatuated with the breed and had two: Eleanor Roosevelt had one named Meggie and FDR had one named Fala (short for Murray the Outlaw of Falahill). Roosevelt loved his dog so much that he was scarcely seen without it. You can even see a statue of Fala next to his bronzed owner at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington, D.C. 

Eisenhower was also a fan of the smart looking dogs and had three named Telek, Skunkie, and Caacie (though there is some argument about whether any actually lived in the White House). Most recently George W. Bush had two named Barney and Miss Beazley. Barney was something of a movie star and appeared in nine White House-produced films.

8. Most Scottish terriers share a single common ancestor.

two Scottish terriers owned by George W. Bush
These presidential pups (owned by George W. Bush) owe their existence to Splinter II. / Win McNamee/GettyImages

Most modern day Scotties can trace their lineage back to one female named Splinter II. She was owned by J. H. Ludlow, founder of the Scottish Terrier Club of England. She’s considered the mother of the breed.

9. Scottish terriers do well at the Westminster Dog Show.

Besides the wire fox terrier, the Scottish terrier has the most Westminster Dog Show wins of any breed, with a whopping eight awards. The most recent win was in 2010 with a dog named GCH Roundtown Mercedes Of Maryscot (Sadie for short). 

10. It takes Scottish terriers a while to warm up to strangers. 

illustration of Scottish Terrier
Like cats, Scotties can be wary of strangers. / Samantha Vuignier/GettyImages

Families will have no trouble getting affection from their Scotties, but strangers might have to work for it. The dogs are naturally wary of new people and it takes them a while to come around. 

11. Scottish terriers like to dig—a lot.

Scotties are born diggers. Terriers were bred to dig and find prey, so it makes sense that they would be compelled to hit the dirt. Even if your Scottie is not a hunter, they might dig for comfort or out of boredom. To keep your rhododendron safe, make sure your dog is mentally stimulated and gets plenty of exercise.

A version of this story originally ran in 2016; it has been updated for 2022.