Her name was Sassie.

She belonged to the family of a childhood friend and was not especially well-liked by her neighbors. Though small, she was mighty and ruled her piece of this world with absolute authority. She had a big mouth and an even bigger bark. Everyone who met her had trouble deciding which was worse.

Sassie was a Scottish Terrier.

The tough little brindle bitch I knew as a kid knew how to make an impression. She was a holy terror to all but her family, and even to them she was a high-spirited handful.

The breed’s stubborn attitude and distinctive profile are legendary. Typical of short-legged Terriers, the Scottie is small but strong and always on the alert. Originally bred as a farm dog used to kill vermin, the breed remains a game hunter in the home with a penchant for finding trouble.

The Scottie, as the breed is affectionately known, has been a familiar household pet since first introduced to America in the 1890s. The short-legged Scotsman became a popular 20th-century icon and the favorite companion to several U.S. presidents.

Known at one time as the Aberdeen Terrier, the Scottie was originally grouped together with the Dandie Dinmont, West Highland White, Cairn and Skye Terriers – as Skye Terriers. Some fanciers believe the breed is the most ancient of the Highland Terriers, while others see it as a development of the original.

In his book, “The Scottish Terrier,” published in 1913 by the Illustrated Kennel News Co. Ltd. of London, Holland Buckley wrote, “If I were asked to name the greatest certainty in the breeding of Show stock of high class, I would at once select Scottish Terrier breeding, as being far, very far, in front of all other breeds of Terriers.” Mr. Buckley explains his reasoning when he writes, “For one thing, there is not the rage to use winning dogs simply because they are winners, herein the valuable asset of level-headedness, the birthright of most Scotchmen, has worked splendidly for the breed.”

The first Scottish Terriers were shown at Birmingham, England, in 1860, where a class was offered for them specifically. Other shows had classes for the breed, but the dogs exhibited were Skye Terriers, Dandie Dinmonts and Yorkshire Terriers.

When the Kennel Club of Great Britain eventually prohibited interbreeding of the various Terriers, the type we know today emerged completely. The first standard for the Scottish Terrier was drawn up around 1880 and, in 1882 the first club for the breed was organized.

In 1885 the AKC registered its first Scottish Terrier. John Naylor, a fancier who exhibited the breed extensively, is credited with introducing Scotties to the U.S. His imported dog Whinstone is considered the father of the breed in this country.

The Scottish Terrier Club of America was established in 1900, and the breed has remained a popular favorite for more than a century. In 2011 the Scottish Terrier ranked 54th out of 173 AKC-recognized breeds.

The Scottish Terrier’s “varminty” expression is enhanced by its trademark brows. Photo by Dan Sayers.

A Familiar Profile

The Scottish Terrier possesses a distinctive silhouette, easily recognized by even the casual fancier. According to the General Appearance section of the AKC breed standard, it is a “small, compact, short-legged” dog. Scotties are described as possessing a cobby body that is “sturdily-built” with “good bone and substance.”

Well-balanced and without exaggeration, the breed’s height at the withers should be about 10 inches, with length of back approximately 11 inches measured from withers to set-on of tail.

The familiar profile of the Scottish Terrier is enhanced by erect ears, a heavy brow and a trademark beard at one end, and a tail that is thick at the base and carried erectly at the other. When furnished with the correct hard, wiry and weather-resistant coat, the unmistakable impression is as bold, confident and dignified as the character of the dog itself.

A Varminty Expression

The Scottish Terrier’s very special expression – once introduced – is not easily forgotten. It is described by the standard as being “keen, piercing, varminty.”

A “slight but definite stop” allows the Scottie’s eyes to be set in under heavy brows. The eyes are described as being set wide apart. They are almond-shaped, slightly oblique, with a color that is “dark brown or nearly black, the darker the better.” Eyes that protrude and light-colored eyes are faults that no heavy brow can conceal.

The “small, bright and piercing” qualities of the Scottish Terrier’s eyes help to create an expression that is full of mischief and deadly serious all at once.

A Broken Coat

The black, brindle or wheaten-colored coat of the Scottish Terrier is described by the standard as “broken.” The double coat consists of a dense undercoat, and outer hairs that are straight and harsh.

To create the breed’s signature look, the coat of the Scottish Terrier is hand-stripped. Maintaining correct texture is important, and sufficient length should remain over the body. Furnishings of the legs, lower body and beard are longer, with a texture that, while harsh, may feel somewhat softer than the body coat. According to the Coat section of the standard, however, furnishings “should not be or appear fluffy.”

White hairs sprinkled throughout the coats of black and brindle dogs are normal and not to be penalized. The standard allows for slight amounts of white on the chin and chest, but penalizes coats that are soft or curly.

An Alert Spirit

The Scottish Terrier was originally bred for the serious work of ridding farms of varmints such as rats, badgers and foxes. The job required a dog that could work on its own, with little or no direction. As a result, the Scottie of today remains a game little hunter, territorial by nature, with a tireless work ethic.

The breed standard describes temperament as “alert and spirited, but also stable and steady-going.” The Scottie exudes “ruggedness and power,” tempered by a “determined and thoughtful” nature.

With head and tail up, the breed conveys a controlled fire when presented in the conformation show ring. Shy, timid dogs are to be faulted and, as directed by the standard, any dog failing to display “real terrier character” in the ring should be withheld from receiving championship points.

A good Scottish Terrier knows how to make a first impression, just as Sassie did so many years ago.