The “Untrainable” Scottie

Like most of the Highland Terriers, the Scottie (originally called the Aberdeen Terrier) was originally bred to assist small game hunters and farmers in Scotland to flush game, especially badgers. From its size to its tenacity, virtually everything about the breed was geared towards one singular idea: Hunting. As Bishop John Lesley wrote in his book,  History of Scotland from 1436 to 1561 (and the first known mention of the breed), “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.”  
Most of those traits survive to this day.  Scotties have a good tracking sense, and keen eyesight shaded by those famous eyebrows. This ability to detect even distant movement that no one else sees (read: their owners) gives cause to take chase almost immediately.
Scottish Terriers have been described as difficult to train, but we feel this is unfair. This was a breed developed to work independently of its owner, and without needing instructions. As one Scottie owner once told us, a Scottie isn’t going to stop to read the instructions on how to build a tricycle. The Scottie is just going to build the dang tricycle. This isn’t un-trainability or disobedience, it’s a temperament suited to work on its own because that’s how it was “built.” 
Image: Scottish Terrier by David Stooke
Find and support his work here: http://www.davidstooke.co.uk/portraiture-dogs.html

40 thoughts on “The “Untrainable” Scottie”

  1. I have shared my home with five Scotties and the article is 100% accurate, though it fails to add that they are loyal and highly entertaining.

  2. Ha! They ARE trainable! I am proud to have trained a Scottie dog in Scent Detection and AKC Trick! Working towards some Rally and Agility too while we move forward towards Excellent titles! She can recognize and find 4 scents now.

    But they’re right – she does work independently from me – she is strong willed, she is a terrier and I LOVE IT! She is tenacious and her size is so much bigger than her stature!

    • We’d love to learn more about your girl, Amy, and see some pictures? Was she also a conformation dog, or strictly a “hard working girl?”

  3. My two Scotties have thought they had wings & could fly. My current wheaten even climbs trees given 1/2 a chance. Both were not keen on crows or else had a game going with them.

  4. Reading this makes me miss my Scottie even more! He’s been gone for several months now.

    • We’re so sorry for your loss, Scott. He had a wonderful face…

    • So sorry for your loss – we seem to lose the good ones way too early.

  5. This article and the comments following make my heart sing! I love the breed and have been owned by 3 now McDougal (who earned his wings over the bridge) Macee and Winnie ♥️🐾 they are in my heart and opinion the best dogs ever – Laura/AZ

  6. After living with Scotties since 1985, I’ve become accustomed to their independent nature. Recently we agreed to “re-home” the in-laws dog, and I am struck by how needy the thing is. Asking around, apparently he isn’t so needy as the Scots are independent. Of course the Scots need a lot of walking and brain work and they do love to dig, but they don’t seem to need me to hold their hand (rather, paw) while they do it. God Bless the Scots. I hope to never spend a day without one.

    • A wonderfully helpful comment, Sharon, for anyone thinking about getting their first Scottie. They’re amazing little dogs, we just love them!

  7. We were “owned” by a female Scottie for 11 years. We loved our Annie, and yes, she was independent! If I came to bed after hours she would growl at me (very protective of my wife) until I had established that I would not disturb my wife. She was the most protective dog ever. We have had 3 West Highland Terriers and 3 Cairns and have adapted to the “Cock O’ the North” attitude of these terriers.

    • To paraphrase one of our favorite – and most respected – dog show judges, Annie Rogers Clark, terriers are born with four times more original sin than other dogs. The terriers are a marvelous group of dogs that never fail to amuse and delight us.

  8. They are trainable; you just have to get them to buy in and pay them well. My older Scottie has a MACH and beat traditional obedience dogs for placements on her way to earning her RE.
    My young Scottie has gotten scores in the high 90s and placements in Rally, and is doing well in agility class. I have to say, his favorite sports so far are Earthdog, barn hunt and coursing. He lives to hunt!

    • Lynne, we are in awe. A MACH on a Scottie? You have the touch, we think!

  9. We managed to train Ollie and he’s such a good boy! Of course he’s kept his independent, mischievous nature, but he’s a very well behaved, happy, fun little dog!

    • Mara, Ollie is a sweetie! Thanks for sharing his picture!

  10. If you can’t laugh at the independence of a Scottie, you’ve lost! I have had the privilege of living with 5 Scotties through the last 25 years and currently have Gus who will soon be 10 and a rescue (with papers even!!! Couple going through a divorce gave him up at 10 months 😳😢) then my little Lily Colleen age 15 months and actually a great Niece of her Brother Gus! With Gus’s papers, I tracked the breeder down and decided last year to add more Scottie joy to our family. My Husband has numerous health issues and these little Scottie lads and lasses add so much fun and focus off of medical problems. We love them dearly ❤️

    • Connie, you have a marvelous breed, but it takes owners who “get” them, and clearly, you and your husband do. Thank you for sharing Gus and Lily Colleen’s story with us, and when you have nothing else to do, share their picture with us?

  11. We live on a farm in eastern Kentucky that has many acres of woods and fields for our Scottie’s to do what they love to do and that is run , Hunt & dig . We have a large barn which is their favorite sniffing grounds for mice and a occasional snake . They are ferocious to frogs that even think about taking residence up at the pool but most of all they are simply the best dogs around . Thank you for this article ! Scottish Terriers of Eastern Kentucky

    • Thank YOU, Loretta, for sharing your Scotties’ story with us. Your place in Kentucky sounds like dog heaven, and the picture of your dogs proves they are a happy bunch!

  12. My Scotty will be 7yrs old in July and Murphy is an amazing dog. I see the independence the article talks about in him. He is not a “in your face” type of dog but he is so lovable. He loves to snuggle with anyone. He trains soo easily and just really wants to please it’s owners. He is our first and I can’t see getting a different breed of dog after having Murphy. See, I had other breeds in my life time and nothing is better than a Scottish Terrier.

    • Fran, he’s wonderful! We love hearing comments like you, especially when we read something like, “can’t imagine having another breed” because it suggests a good match between dog and owner. Thank you for sharing Murphy’s photo!

  13. Scotties can definitely be trained with positive reinforcement…..”what’s in it for me?” is their rally cry. I have sent a photo of my girl, Bacall, who holds a Rally Novice title. The only reason we haven’t continued is that the rules have changed and they added a lot of new things I haven’t had the time to practice. She loves it and does great!

    • Terrific picture, Rose, and a wonderful comment, thanks for sharing your experience with Becall!

  14. Our Kyla is wonderful. She will be 13 on February 14th. She is playful and a great companion. She does choose when she wants to be a lap dog. She often lays close to my chair.
    She is very independent. She wants to take the lead when we go for a walk but does heel when commanded. She has been good with the grandsons.

  15. I don’t know where untrainable comes from! My scottie is going to be 5 this year. He just earned his Silver Grand Champion title and is also working on his Masters Title in Agility. There are a lot of Scotties doing Agility out there with higher titles than mine and obedience too.

  16. Indeed Scotties are trainable! My girl Laci, earned 7 WCRL Master Rally titles and was trained to the Utility level in AKC. She was a delight to train…….smart as can be but definitely had attitude. I lost her suddenly this past July to liver cancer, just broke my heart. We did not have the opportunity to earn the Utility title. It’s all about the training. You must be consistent, clear about what you are asking or Scotties, being such a creative breed, will show you their way. I love the breed!

  17. I had a Scottie who got her CGC and qualified as certified therapy dog before her 1st birthday. We visited nursing homes, the hospitals chemo center, and worked with the county hospice program for over 10 years.

  18. The terriers are trainable! I have a Skye (not a Scottie, but certainly a relative), who is a therapy dog, has his CGCA, and is in Excellent Standard and Masters JWW in agility; we’re hoping to go to the Invitational in Dec. *fingers crossed* He also does lure coursing with his CAA title and is one run shy of his BCAT, and he’s only 3! You just have to earn it with a Terrier, but once you have that bond, they’ll do anything for you, and they’re not the least bit afraid to try literally anything you ask of them! Wouldn’t trade my Terrier for anything! <3 This is Kirby, Quiraing Be Near Me OA AXJ NF ACT1 CAA CGCA ATT TKN

  19. I’ve lived with Scotties for close to 50 years now and can’t imagine living without one (or more!). They aren’t the breed for everyone. They aren’t “yes men” so most people think they aren’t trainable (false).

    An announcer at Westminster once said: “you have to be self confident enough to live with a dog who knows they are smarter than you are” and that just about sums it up. Wonderful companions who let you know when they disagree with you.

    The Scottie is not for anyone who want to participate in water sports with it. More Scotties die from drowning than any other. They are fearless and won’t realize that their dwarf legs make their center of gravity about 6 inches above their backs… and life jackets make them roll and capsize.

    I’ve found that the males are usually more empathetic and affectionate than the females. All are loyal to the core. They will guard your family with their lives, have tea parties with your children and watch over your infants so no one disturbs them during nap time. My elderly father’s Scottie Riki won’t leave his side and senses when his Alzheimer’s makes him vulnerable.

  20. My Abbey is a fully trained Assistance dog. She is and has to be very obedient as she goes in and out of hospital with me. She also comes fundraising with me and can be seen on my website. She is the best companion a veteran can have, reacting to my flashbacks and nightmares. Her assistance is invaluable. Thank you.

  21. Our Scottie is just ten months old, and already he knows how to wrap us around his heart. We absolutely adore this little guy! He’s the second one we’ve had so we’re familiar with their quirky traits. We’ve trained him to ring a hanging bell to let us know that he wants to go outside, and to come running when we whistle for him. He’s a smart dog with a great personality. Love him!!

  22. Although I know a number of Scottie owners I actually have JRTish dogs which have a similar antecedence.

    With respect to the comment about tricycle building while, imo, it is true to a large extent it doesn’t mean that they are untrainable, rather the person who gave them the tricycle training kit was training them by setting up an environment that learning could take place and then by letting them work through the process.

    It isn’t that we can’t train them, it’s just that we have to take different and innovative approaches which take advantage of what they have been bred to do.

    • Exactly, Agandl! Innovative approaches, patience, and a sense of humor are key, we believe, to training these marvelous little dogs!

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