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The Cairn Terrier - one of the Scottish dog breeds

Many dog breeds originated in Scotland, a mountainous and rocky country with lots of open spaces.  Due to necessity and the terrain, Scottish dog breeds include a few terriers, used to control the vermin population.  Scotland also produced three few shepherd breeds, a retriever, a setter, and a sight hound used for hunting.  Although all the breeds here are still viable, some are rarely seen in the United States, which is a shame.  Read through these interesting breeds and see if one is right for you.



The Cairn Terrier is one of the oldest of the Scottish dog breeds, originating on the Isle of Skye in the far northwest.  The word “cairn” denotes an outcropping of rocks, as these dogs’ original purpose was to hunt otter.  One of my personal favorites, this breed was included with all the other terrier breeds until 1912.  Then, they were split from the other four breeds into their own group and first appeared in the United States in 1913.

Small dark cairn terrier on snow


Cairn Terriers (I speak from personal experience here) are feisty, independent, and occasional loud-mouths.  Barking at anything and everything is their favorite pastime.  Despite their enthusiasm for being noisy, they do make great family pets.  You couldn’t ask for a more loving, loyal companion.  Intelligent, they can be a bit stubborn, but they learn well with a positive based approach. Be careful of scolding them too often – they have long memories and can be sensitive.


Cairns are generally healthy little dogs whose average life expectancy is about 15 years.  Like all purebred dogs, they are prone to a few hereditary conditions.  The most common of these are: cataracts, diabetes, hypothyroidism, and knee problems.


Cairns are the 69th most popular dogs in the United States, as of spring of 2018.  This is a real shame, since the small size and happy disposition of these little dogs make them wonderful companions.


The most famous Cairn Terrier was a dog named Terry.  She played Toto in the Wizard of Oz, which is why you’ll often hear Cairns referred to as “Toto dogs”.  The Duke and Duchess of Windsor (Wallis Simpson and the formed King Edward VIII) owned a number of Cairns.


As with any breed, first check Petfinder.  If you don’t find a Cairn Terrier there, check out the breed-specific rescues below:

Cairn Rescue USA

Col. Potter Cairn Rescue Network

Both of these rescues work with Cairn Terriers nationwide and will also adopt nationwide.




Also first bred in the highlands and Skye Island, this breed was originally part of the Skye Terrier group.  There are mentions of these breeds as early as the mid-1400s. Separated into its own breed around 1930, the Scottish Terrier was soon the 3rd most popular dog in the United States.  Although the black Scottish Terrier is the most iconic, they also come in brindle and white varieties.


Scotties are known for their independent bent. Stubborn, and often suspicious of strangers, they must be socialized well to prevent them from becoming overprotective. They’re not particularly high-energy, although, bred to hunt small pretty, a Scottie will happily chase squirrels and other small critters with enthusiasm.

They may not be the best choice for families with small children, as they’re not tolerant of being pestered. Scottish Terriers will often form a strong bond with one person, and only tolerate all others in the household.   They’re also fantastic watchdogs and protective of the home and family.

White Scottish Terrier


Scotties tend to be long-lived, averaging a life expectancy of about 12 years.  They are prone to the following genetic health issues:



Knee problems

Bladder Cancer


From their position of 3rd in the mid-1930s, the Scottish Terrier is now 58th in popularity.  As modern life has gotten busier, many families have less time for training their canine companions.  And Scotties need thorough and consistent training.


Scottish Terriers have been owned by Presidents and by royalty.  Fala was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s dog and lived in the White House during his tenure.  Barney was owned by George W. Bush, and was something of a video star, being the lead in many government film productions during his time in the White House.  Rudyard Kipling, Jackie Onassis, and Queen Victoria also owned Scotties.  And let’s not forget the Monopoly token.  The game was invented during the Scotties reign as one of the United States most popular dog breeds, and this was memorialized by the favorite token.


Because these dogs are still popular in the US, there are several organizations dedicated to rescuing and rehoming unwanted dogs.  Below are just a few of them:

Tennessee Scottish Terrier Rescue Network

Rocky Mountain Scottie Rescue

Scottie Kingdom Rescue, Inc.




Another Scottish dog whose history has no written records. Prehistoric paintings have been discovered which show large dogs chasing deer and other prey, but there is no certainty that these were deerhound or the predecessors of the breed.  Bred to run down deer with fantastic speed, the Deerhound’s usefulness declined with the invention of modern firearms.


Deerhounds are a wonderful mix of active adventurer and lazy couch potato.  Young deerhounds need an enclosed, safe area to run and develop their muscles.  But they cannot be let off leash in an unfenced area.  They’re sight hounds, and will take off after anything that captures their attention.

Scottish Deerhound - the largest of the Scottish Dog Breeds

If you have other dogs, the Scottish Deerhound will enjoy their company.  Unless they’re small, in which case their prey drive may be activated.  To avoid disaster, only consider getting a Deerhound if your existing dogs are large and sturdy.  Cats are probably a no-go.

They’re not guard dogs, and usually not even watchdogs.  Unless you consider them watching a stranger enter your home with a barely raised head from their nap as being a watchdog.  Not overly affectionate, the Deerhound is happiest curling up in his spot on the carpet with occasional pets and praise.  Although they need a large yard to run, especially when young, the size of your home doesn’t matter.  Inside they’re calm and placid.


As with all large dogs (Deerhounds weigh as much as 110 pounds), their life expectancy is relatively short, with 9 being a good age.  They’re susceptible to bloat, which can rapidly turn fatal; and sometimes cardiac problems.


In the United States, they are 168th out of 190 in popularity, perhaps due to their need to have a large, secure outside area.


Cleod was a Deerhound who played the role of Padfoot in two Harry Potter movies. Sir Walter Scott was also a fan of the breed.


Since the Deerhound is a fairly rare breed in this country, there are no dedicated rescues for them.  The Scottish Deerhound Club of America does occasionally help with rescue and placement, and various hound rescues throughout the country provide adoption services.



As the name suggests, the Border Collie was first bred in the area between England and Scotland.  Its primary purpose was to herd sheep – a purpose he serves to this day. All purebred Border Collies trace their ancestry through one dog – Old Hemp – born in 1893.  This dog is a working breed, plain and simple.

Black and White Border Collie in a field


Border Collies are often surrendered to shelters because they are a special breed, with special needs.  A Border needs to have a job, needs training, and will wither without attention and time.  Border Collies often become destructive in the home.  This is due to boredom, not malice.  If one of these dogs is given a job, such as sheep herding, or specialized workouts, such as agility training, they are happy, healthy animals with lots of love to give.

Please be sure, before you bring one of these beauties into your home, that you have the time, the patience, and the stamina to deal with their high intelligence. They need love, but they also need something to occupy their minds.


Border Collies are generally a healthy breed but there are a few genetic conditions that can affect them.  Chief among them is hip dysplasia, followed by cataracts, glaucoma, and an oddball condition known as Border Collie Collapse.  This latter condition is not fatal, and seems to be brought about by overstimulation.  Treatment consists of merely avoiding the activity which brings it on.


The Border Collie is currently the 38th most popular breed in the United States.  However, it is also one of the most surrendered due to their special needs. Being a Border Collie owner is a challenge, and should be undertaken only after plenty of research.


Three of the most famous Borders were known for recognizing an impressive number of words. Rico, Betsy, and Changer could distinguish 200, 300, and 1,022 words respectively.  They are probably the most intelligent of dog breeds.

Rex and Fly were the two Border Collie stars of the movie Babe, and there have been notable border collies recognized for saving humans during war time.


Because these dogs require a lot from their owners, there are usually many available for adoption.  Some places to start your search:

Border Collie Save and Rescue

Mid-Atlantic Border Collie Rescue

Western Border Collie Rescue




This breed comes from the borders of Scotland and is named for a character from one of Sir Walter Scott’s novels.  They were often used to hunt otter.  Now, they’re often seen highly groomed, and beautifully behaved, in the show ring.

A Dandie getting ready to be shown


Despite the fact that this is a rare breed in the United States, Dandie Dinmonts make wonderful family pets.  Although a bit stubborn, like most of the terriers, Dandies attach securely to their families.  Child-friendly, they also do well with other pets. They’re good watchdogs and will protect their family despite their small size.

Dandie Dinmonts need regular exercise to prevent obesity, and should not be let off-leash in open areas due to their prey drive.  Chasing that squirrel may get them hopelessly lost. Still, because of their small size, exercise does not need to be prolonged.


Living about 12 years, the Dandie Dinmont does not have an extraordinary amount of genetic issues.  They can suffer from back problems, and may exhibit signs of hypothyroidism as they age.


The Dandie is the 182nd most popular breed in the U.S. out of 190.  This is a shame, since their small size, their adaptability to children and other pets, and their willingness to please, make them wonderful pets.


Since they are so rare, there are no famous members of the breed.  However, some famous people have owned Dandies including Queen Victoria, Agatha Christie, and Sir Alec Guiness.


As you can imagine with such a rare breed, there are rarely any of these terriers up for adoption.  However, you can check with the following resources, just in case:

Dandie Dinmont Terrier Rescue League

ACT for Dandies




Gordon Setters were first established by the Duke of Gordon in the late 1700s.  Deriving from Spaniels, Setters were bred to hunt gamebirds.  They’re bred to run, and need plenty of exercise throughout their live to keep them happy and healthy.


Gordons make wonderful house pets – loyal, friendly, and great watchdogs.  However, they also need tons of exercise, a good amount of attention, and regular, thorough grooming. They retain puppy-like behavior for the first two to three years of life.

Gordon Setter in water


Gordon Setters are generally pretty healthy, with a life expectancy of about 11 years.  They can suffer from bloat, and cataracts, but, on the whole, are genetically sound.


Unfortunately, this breed’s popularity has fallen to 104th out of 190 breeds.  This is perhaps due to its size (about 70 pounds on average), or due to the fact that it’s relatively rare outside of Scotland.


Although I could not find any famous Gordon Setters, both Ed McMahon and Diane Sawyer were famous owners of the breed.


The Gordon Setter Club of America




The Skye Terrier has been documented since the 1600s.  Developed on the Isle of Skye, it is one of the few long-coated terriers, and became a favorite of Queen Victoria.


Loyal and loving towards their human families, these terriers need to be socialized early.  Otherwise, they become suspicious of strangers, both of the human and canine variety.  Although they do well with canine family members, they are not good candidates for dog parks.  They’re great watchdogs.  If you’re looking to own a Skye Terrier, be aware that they need regular grooming to stay healthy.


Relatively rare in the United States, the Skye Terrier ranks 172nd in popularity out of 190 recognized breeds.  Although they require regular grooming, their exercise needs are relatively minimal, and they’re the perfect size for a family pet.


Greyfriars Bobby was a Skye Terrier who guarded his owner’s grave in Edinburg, Scotland for 14 years until the day he died. Buried close to his master’s grave, there is now a statue across from the churchyard commemorating his loyalty.


Skye Terrier Club of America




General lore has it that the ancestors of the Bearded Collie were brought to Scotland in 1514 by a Polish merchant trading sheep.  This dog was the Polish Lowland Sheep Dog.  Impressed by their herding ability, a Scottish farmer traded sheep for several of these dogs, and bred them to local dogs, thereby creating the breed.

Two Bearded Collies - the scruffiest of the Scottish Dog Breeds


Bearded Collies are high-energy, loving dogs who tend to bore easily.  Training must be inventive, and rapidly changing to keep their interest.  Friendly dogs, they do well with children and other pets.  Also, with strangers, which makes them not the best dog to get for a watchdog.

Because of all that hair, they need regular grooming – as often as twice a week when young, and at least once a week as adults.  They’re somewhat messy, dragging in leaves and other outdoor surprises due to their long hair. They’re very social creatures and do not do well if left alone for long periods.  If you’re planning to get a Bearded, and you work full-time, you’ll need doggy day care, or another dog to keep them entertained.

Although they do well with children, they are a herding breed.  This means that they instinctively nip at heels.  They’re also total goofballs and will jump on anyone in their immediate vicinity.  Training will be necessary to keep this behavior in check.


Bearded Collies are generally a healthy breed and live on average about 12 years. The breed can be prone to Addison’s Disease, hip dysplasia, and cataracts.


The Bearded Collie, perhaps because of its high grooming needs, ranks 127th out of 190 in breed popularity.


Coal, a bearded collie, appeared in the movie The Shaggy Dog in 2006.  If you see a large, shaggy dog used in advertising or media, you’re likely looking at a Bearded Collie.


Because Bearded Collies are so loved by their families, find one to rescue is difficult.  Rescues often come because owners have died or are no longer able to care for them. If you have your heart set on the breed, check here:

Bearded Collie Club of America/Rescues




A close relative of the Cairn Terrier, West Highland Terriers (or Westies as they are affectionately called) may have originated from Spanish dogs found after the wreck of a Spanish Ship off the coast of Scotland. Interbred with the already existing group known collectively as Skye Terriers, the Westie breed was born. White terriers were considered to be inferior to darker-colored ones, so it took a while for the popularity of Westies to grow.


West Highland Terriers are terriers.  They don’t have a lot of tolerance for small children and can be toy and food aggressive without the proper training. Her exercise needs are moderate – she’ll do best with a long walk or two per day.

Don’t think of getting a Westie if you have small, caged animals (rabbits, guinea pigs, etc.).  Bred to hunt rodents, she won’t tolerate them.  She will, however, be a loyal, loving dog with her family – including older kids.  Dogs raised in the home with her, or already existing in the household, will do well with the proper introduction.


On the smaller side, Westies have an average lifespan of 13 to 14 years.   As a breed, they can be prone to hernias, skin conditions, and, less commonly, hip dysplasia.


Because these are sturdy little dogs (13 to 22 pounds) who do well in suburban homes, as well as apartments, they are 42nd in popularity.  They’re friendly little fellows who enjoy a city stroll as much as a country walk.


The breed is a mascot, and appears in TV commercials for, the Cesar brand of dog food.  The 2018 film Game Night has a West Highland Terrier as one of the stars.


Because they are much more popular in the US than some of the other Scottish dog breeds, there are several organizations throughout the country that specialize in rescue.  Among them are:

Maryland Westie Rescue

Sunshine State Westie Rescue

Oklahoma Westie Rescue

There are too many organizations to make a complete list here – just Google West Highland Terrier Rescue and see what pops up.




Originating in the Shetland Islands between Scotland and Norway in the North Sea, Shelties are thought to be a mix between the collies already known in Scotland and a Spitz-like dog from Norway.  The Shetland Sheepdog was recognized as its own distinctive breed around 1909.


Be prepared for a dog which will take up many of your thoughts and much of your time. Shelties are highly intelligent herding dogs, and they bore easily.  With boredom often comes destructive behavior.  If you get a Sheltie, you must give it a job, or you’ll have one unhappy pup.  The Shetland sheepdog is one of the brightest dogs, ranking 6th out of 138 breeds tested. His research found that an average Sheltie could understand a new command in fewer than five repetitions and would obey a command the first time it was given 95% of the time or better.

If you don’t have animals to herd, then agility training, or committing to playing daily games with them is essential. Shelties get along with children, and other dogs.  But they are a herding breed.  This means that, without correction, they’ll nip at heels to get even the human members of the family going in the right direction.  They’re barkers, so, if you live in a suburban or urban environment, you’ll have to train them early to curtail this habit.


Shelties can suffer from the following genetic disorders:

Hip Dysplasia


Skin Disorders


The Sheltie is the 24th most popular breed in the country.  People who love this breed do so unreservedly.  I suspect they’re not higher on the list due to their need to have something to do.




Coming from Scotland in the mid-19th century, the Golden Retriever was bred to retrieve downed game birds for their owners. A combination of water spaniels and retrievers, the Golden could fetch game birds from both water and land. Recognized by the American Kennel Club in 1925, the breed has become very popular in the United States.


Goldens are generally tolerant, friendly, loyal companions who do well with both children and other animals. Because they usually love everyone, they are not a good choice for a watchdog.  However, if you’re looking for an all-around loving family member, the Golden may be a perfect choice.

Goldens are easy to train, due to both their intelligence and their willingness to please.  Rated fourth among all breed for intelligence, they learn quickly and thoroughly.

Golden Retriever on dirt

They need regular exercise (although nothing extraordinary), grooming, and training to avoid excessive jumping.  In return, you’ll get a cheerful companion who loves nothing more than pleasing you.


Golden Retrievers live to an average of 11 years.  Unfortunately, for such a gentle breed, they are prone to a number of severe genetic conditions.  Among these are:

Cancer – about 50% will develop some form of cancer in their lifetimes

Hip Dysplasia – about 20%

Skin Conditions





The Golden Retriever is the 3rd most popular breed in the United States. It is surpassed by only the Labrador Retriever (number one), and the German Shepherd (number two).  It is interesting to note that all three of the most popular breeds are large – Goldens range between 55 and 75 pounds.


To me, the most famous Golden Retriever is the one in Homeward Bound – Shadow.  They have also starred in Air Bud; Snow Buddies; and A Dog’s Purpose.


Because they are so popular in this country, there are plenty of Golden Retriever rescues where you can find your perfect pet.  Among these are:

Delaware Valley Golden Retriever Rescue

Neuse River Golden Retriever Rescue

Companion Golden Retriever Rescue

These are all the breeds which originated in Scotland – all from necessity.  There are herding breeds, terriers, and working dogs.  If one of these breeds has intrigued you, please look for available dogs to adopt.  They’re usually in shelters or rescues through no fault of their own, and they’ll be so grateful.


This is an ongoing series featuring dog breeds from around the world.  To learn about Irish Dog Breeds, click here.  Mexican Dog Breeds are featured here.  And there’s a post about Japanese dog breeds at this location.


Border Collie Image by Katrin B. from Pixabay

Cairn Terrier Image by D_Theodora from Pixabay

Gordon Setter Image by ChristianeMm from Pixabay

Sheltie Image by JacLou DL from Pixabay

Bearded Collie Photo by John Cameron on Unsplash

Photo of Golden Retriever by olivia hutcherson on Unsplash

Shetland Sheepdog Image by Debbie Miller from Pixabay

Picture of Dandie Dinmont Terrier by Petful.com on Foter.com / CC BY

Photo of Scottish Deerhound by adamnsinger on Foter.com / CC BY-ND