15 Scottish Dog Breeds

Written by: Jamie
Updated: March 22, 2021

Scotland is home to some pretty iconic dog breeds. Learn about the 15 most famous Scottish dog breeds in our latest guide.

scottish dog breeds in a Scotland event

Compared to the likes of Germany or Spain, Scotland is a relatively small country – and yet, it boasts a surprisingly large number of native dog breeds.

Scottish dog breeds are not only numerous but also incredibly popular – you’ll notice that many of the dogs on this list are international favourites!

1. Golden Retriever

golden retriever sitting on grass

While just about everyone recognises this breed, most people don’t know that Golden Retrievers come from Scotland, where they were first bred in the 1800s as hunting dogs.

Their job was primarily to retrieve (bring back) game from land and water. For this reason, the breed has developed a ‘soft grip’ – Golden Retrievers pick things up gently, rather than clamping down on them.

Golden Retrievers are among the top ten most popular dog breeds in several countries, including the UK, U.S., Australia, and Brazil, among others. Their gentleness, patience, and friendly attitude make them excellent family pets and therapy dogs.

2. Bearded Collie

bearded collie gasping

This medium-sized, long-haired breed has been herding sheep in Scotland for several centuries.

Though the exact origins of Bearded Collies are unknown, the most common explanation is that they descended from the Polish Lowland Sheepdog, which was likely brought to Scotland sometime in the 1500s.

The Bearded Collie is an unspoiled breed. This means that breeders have focused on preserving the good health and original qualities of the breed, rather than on producing as many puppies as possible.

Therefore, Bearded Collies from reputable breeders tend to have few health issues and live long full lives.

3. Scottish Terrier

scottish terrier on rocks

The Scottish Terrier, sometimes called the Aberdeen Terrier or simply Scottie, is likely the oldest of the Highland Terriers, though the exact origins of the breed are unknown.

What we do know for sure is that this breed comes from Scotland – it was developed several centuries ago for rat, fox, and badger hunting.

Rugged, feisty, and territorial, Scotties are definitely terriers through and through. Although they can be stubborn and overly independent, they make for extremely intelligent, loyal companions.

Many political and historical figures have owned Scotties, including Queen Victoria, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Rudyard Kipling.

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4. Border Collie

border collie fetching a stem

Border Collies originate from the region that forms the border between Scotland and England – hence the first part of their name. Meanwhile, the word ‘collie’ probably comes from the Celtic for ‘useful’, which would make perfect sense since collies are extremely adept herding dogs.

As well as having plenty of energy and practical herding skills, Border Collies are highly intelligent.

In fact, in The Intelligence of Dogs, professor Stanley Coren names Border Collies as the most intelligent of all domestic breeds!

While Border Collies continue to herd sheep the world over, they also excel at agility and obedience training.

And of course, they make for excellent pets – particularly for people with active lifestyles.

5. West Highland White Terrier

west highland white terrier on black background

The West Highland Terrier (or Westie) is closely related to the Scottish Terrier: both come from central Scotland, and they were bred for similar purposes.

Originally, Westies were ‘ratters’, or ‘earthdogs’ – dogs that exterminated rats and mice from grain stores and farms.

Something of this rat-hunting ancestry remains in the temperament of the modern Westie. These small terriers are feisty and quick, with a strong prey drive.

However, they’re also highly loyal, cheerful, and intelligent. With no more rats to hunt, they’re popular companion dogs and family pets nowadays.

6. Rough Collie

rough collie on brown grass

The Rough Collie needs little introduction. This Scottish dog breed has won over the hearts of people worldwide thanks to the fictional Rough Collie named Lassie, portrayed in novels and films.

Modern acting career aside, Rough Collies have herding origins.

Coming from the Scottish Highlands, Rough Collies descend from Scottish and Welsh herding dogs, with Russian Wolfhound blood introduced to the breed after the Industrial Revolution.

This last addition gave these collies the trademark long muzzle – it was a deliberate attempt to lend them a more noble appearance.

Nowadays, after a series of alterations to the breed, Rough Collies are more suited to being show dogs than working herders, though they’re still used for farm guarding in some parts of the world.

As pets, they’re incredibly patient and show no aggression whatsoever, which makes them excellent family companions.

7. Smooth Collie

smooth collie standing upright

The Smooth Collie is essentially a short-haired version of the Rough Collie. Since that’s the only marked difference between the two, many breeders and breed standard providers consider them to be simply two varieties of the same breed.

Like their long-haired counterparts, Smooth Collies began to make the transition from herding dogs to pets in the 1800s.

Thanks to attention from Queen Victoria, these Scottish dogs became ‘fashionable’ in royal courts and noble estates.

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8. Shetland Sheepdog

shetland sheepdog running with a tennis ball in its mouth

Although they look like Rough Collies in miniature, Shetland Sheepdogs are not directly descended from them – the two breeds are more like close cousins than direct relations.

As their name indicates, these dogs originate from Shetland – a collection of islands that forms the northernmost point of the UK. When the breed was being developed, Shetland was more or less isolated from the rest of Scotland and the British Isles, so Shetland Sheepdogs remained relatively unknown until the early 1900s.

‘Shelties’ are lively, bright, active sheepdogs with a particular talent for learning new commands.

They still work as herding dogs nowadays, but also compete in obedience and agility – as well as making for wonderful, incredibly loyal pets.

9. Gordon Setter

black and brown gordon setter

Let’s take a break from examining herding dogs and turn our attention to the Gordon Setter.

This large, black (or black and tan) dog is a close cousin to the Irish and English Setters and an excellent hunting companion.

Gordon Setters were first bred in Scotland for bird hunting. Specifically, the dog’s job was to find and point to a concealed pheasant, partridge, or woodcock.

The exact time when the breed appeared is uncertain, but most canine historians trace the Gordon Setter’s heritage to Land Spaniels – a type of dog no longer in existence today.

10. Cairn Terrier

cairn terrier sitting at old staircase

As is the case with many other Scottish dogs, we don’t know the exact history of these small, sprightly terriers.

However, their name hides an important clue as to their original purpose as hunting dogs.

Cairns are stone stacks that form historical landmarks and burial mounds. They’re commonly found in the Scottish Highlands, often in remote areas that used to be game preserves and hunting grounds.

Rats and other rodents tend to use these structures as nests – and it was the job of the Cairn Terrier to dig into the cairns and exterminate vermin.

The popularity of Cairn Terriers as pets and family companions skyrocketed in the 1940s after a Cairn Terrier played the role of Toto in The Wizard of Oz. These affectionate, active, and cheerful dogs are loyal companions and great family pets.

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11. Dandie Dinmont Terrier

dandie dinmont terrier in a garden

Don’t be fooled by the Dandie’s small stature and sweet appearance: these terriers were originally hunting dogs, excelling at badger and otter hunting in the borderlands between England and Scotland.

Their history as badger hunters explains their elongated body shape and disproportionately loud, big bark.

Interestingly, these terriers are the only registered breed to be named after a fictional character.

The Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott included a semi-fictional farmer named Dandie Dinmont in his 1815 novel Guy Mannering.

In the novel, Dinmont kept several small working terriers.

Later on, breeders chose to name this particular terrier variety after Dandie Dinmont in recognition of Scott’s novel and the popularity it brought to the breed.

12. Border Terrier

border terrier on lawn

A close relative to the Dandie Dinmont, the Border Terrier was originally bred to hunt foxes. Border Terriers are strong and agile enough to dig right into a fox den, and small enough to fit inside and force their quarry out into the open.

Rugged, resilient, active, and affectionate, Border Terriers continue to be the perfect companions suitable for both country and city life.

Though their exceptional fox-hunting skills are no longer in demand, Border Terriers now put their digging abilities to great use at Earthdog trials. No other terrier breed has won more awards in this field than the Border Terrier!

13. Skye Terrier

black skye terrier

The Skye Terrier is a rare, small dog breed originating from the Isle of Skye, a mountainous island to the west of mainland Scotland.

It’s difficult to trace this breed’s exact history: for several centuries, a few different types of terriers were collectively called ‘Skye Terriers’. However, their heritage reaches back to at least the 1600s, when they were kept for badger and fox hunting.

Skye Terriers are one of the rarest Scottish breeds. In fact, they’re among the most endangered native UK breeds, with just 53 puppies registered in 2019.

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14. Scottish Deerhound

scottish deerhound on beach

Often measuring more than 30 inches at the shoulder, the Scottish Deerhound is the largest – and likely oldest – of all Scottish dog breeds.

Scottish Deerhounds have been around for so long that we know next to nothing about their precise origins. Some researchers even suggest that these dogs may have lived in the Scottish Highlands before humans settled there.

What we do know is that – as their name implies – Scottish Deerhounds have a long history of hunting deer.

Despite their formidable size and hunting heritage, these dogs are famous for their friendly, gentle, and patient character.

15. Bloodhound

bloodhound dog on leash

Closing the list is the Bloodhound – a breed with a thoroughly enigmatic history. The Bloodhound’s country of origin is variously cited as France, Belgium, the UK generally, or Scotland – though some sources claim that the breed’s true ancestry lies as far as the Mediterranean.

Interestingly, we do know that 14th century Scotland was home to a type of dog called ‘sleuth hound’. Based on historical accounts describing sleuth hounds, most people agree that they were simply Bloodhounds, just known under a different name.

Bloodhounds are famous for their incredible sense of smell and their unparalleled tracking ability. They’re particularly adept at tracking people and animals, even over great distances.

As pets, meanwhile, they’re affectionate and calm, though may be difficult to train due to their innate independence.

Final words

From collies to terriers and even the family-favourite Golden Retriever, there are plenty of fascinating dog breeds that originated in Scotland. And while they differ from each other in size, abilities, and temperaments, they all have two things in common: their Scottish roots and their universal charm!

About the Author

Hi, I'm Jamie! I've always been around dogs and now writing about them is an absolute joy.
Read more about my story here.
Reach me at Jamie@woofbarkgrowl.co.uk or connect with me on LinkedIn below.

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