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Scottish Terrier – This Lovely Fire

Scottish terrier on a leash with his owner.


Scottish Terrier – This Lovely Fire

I had been living for some time with the Scottish Terrier when I first read “The Lovely Fire” by Evelyn Kirk. Being familiar with the breed, I was instantly moved by what I have long considered a love letter to the breed. Over the past decades, I have reread it many times. The essay is timeless! Yes, the “lovely fire,” “the indomitable spirit,” and the “commanding presence” of the Scottish Terrier come through, but close reading yields so much in addition. The function and structure of our breed is clearly defined as well.

The current article shares Mrs. Kirk’s original essay with permission of her daughter, Laura K. Zimmerman. The insert is an image of the original publication with drawings by Marquette Kirmse. We have reprinted it in bold and throughout have added additional discussion of the breed essentials. These inserts include verbiage from the 1993 AKC Standard of the breed as well as previous articles, publications, and STCA judges’ education materials written by Kathi Brown and Darle Heck. The illustrations are by Darle Heck, many of which are in the STCA Illustrated Guide to the Scottish Terrier. We hope that our comments and illustrations help others to envision the structure, function, and essence of the breed so greatly loved.


Mrs. Kirk’s original essay

The Lovely Fire

“What makes the Scottish Terrier different, what sets him apart from all the other animals in the whole world? I believe its’s his pride in being a Scot.

His commanding presence, his unflinching gaze, and his deep rooted conviction that he is his own man; these are the attributes of the adult Scottish Terrier of a proper type. Once witnessed, this attitude is hard to forget. Seldom seen, it is a thrilling experience.

I don’t want to mislead you: the dog must have all the other features which label him a Scottie, even to the untrained eye. The inexperienced spectator can pick the right dog almost every time because the dog is so pleasing to behold.

This is when good balance comes in. The dog must not look as if he is going to tip over on his nose. In outline, he must have that beautiful line down his arched neck, over his well-knit withers, and onto his rather short back to his handful of tail. It’s a pleasure to run your hands over such a dog; it should be a continuous flow, not interrupted at the withers by too-straight shoulders or a roach over loin.”

Scottish Terriers should enter the ring with confidence, owning the ground they stand upon. Each dog exudes the belief that he is the best. Stand back and assess each dog, seeking how all parts are in balance on the specific dog. Your eye should seek a small, compact, muscular dog of good bone and substance. The head should be long in proportion to his size. Visually check for the arch and smooth flow of neck into shoulder and a level topline. Note that the neck is moderately short. This is confirmed upon examination. The tail should resemble an inverted carrot and be set on high and carried vertically or with a slight curve forward.



Scottish terrier’s body anatomy


“There should be enough of him extending behind his tail to balance his forepiece. Well-muscled thighs fill your hands and you think to yourself, “Good Hams.” You’d like to give that broad bottom a pat, but you feel the impropriety of such a gesture. The feet are firmly planted and the upright hocks unyielding to pressure.”

The chest of the Scot is broad, deep, and well-let down. It should not be flat or concave. On the other end of the dog, the muscular rear is apparent. The rump extends beyond the tail—the tail of the Scottish Terrier should not be the end of the dog! Judges should check behind the tail for the point of ischium and the described broad muscular hindquarters with a well-bent stifle allowing for the breed to spring from rock to rock as well as to pull the vermin out of its den. The length from hock to heel is short and perpendicular to the ground.

“His brisket is deep, deep and well padded with flesh to protect the point of ribs when he is hard at work. It is on this pad that his body rests, freeing his forelegs to dig. A round rib cage is a detriment to a typical Scottish Terrier. The rib cage extends well back so that his last rib is definitely beyond the halfway point on his body.”

The Breed Standard states, “the brisket should nicely fill an average man’s slightly-cupped hand.” This is a clear expectation for any judge examining the breed. At the front of the dog, place your cupped open hand on the chest, feeling for the required forechest and prosternum, then drop your fingers straight down between the legs to ascertain the relative straightness and width of
the forelegs.

The Standard provides additional specification: “The lowest point of the brisket should be such that an average man’s fist would fit under it with little or no overhead clearance.” Judges should feel for the chest, which is described as “broad, very deep and well let down between the forelegs.” It is a heart-shaped (not slab-sided or barrel-shaped) chest in cross section, tapering to a point and dropping down BELOW the elbow. To properly examine a dog according to the Standard, the judge should measure width and depth by actually placing his fist under the dog. You may prefer to do this measure from the side, just behind the front leg at the deepest rib. If you are tall enough to do so from the front, go back to the lowest point under the brisket while making sure that you do not place your face in the face of the dog.

Continue along the ribs, which should be well back into a short, strong loin and deep in flanks.

“The forelegs do not come down straight from the point of shoulder on the typical Scottish Terrier. They extend down from his elbow, which is at the end of his upper arm. This upper arm, often overlooked, is an essential part of his front assembly. The proper length of upper arm allows the dog’s forelegs to be set well back at his sides, displaying his broad chest and providing the room needed for his deep brisket between those legs. His proper lay-back of shoulder blade will give him the reach needed to offset the thrust of his powerful hindquarters.”

From the side, the Scottish Terrier’s front legs should fall directly below his withers. The proper front is critical to the balance, function, and movement of this short-legged, cobby dog. The shoulders are well laid back and moderately well knit. It is important to check for an upper arm approximately the same length as the shoulder blade, bringing the elbow next to the body below the widest point of the rib and well back on the dog. With his coat and furnishings, it may be well hidden; however, careful examination and observation of the dog standing and in motion will reveal the
proper front.

“The beauty of his head can be enhanced by proper grooming. Whiskers combed forward, the head is a rectangle. Lean at the sides of the skull, it diminishes very little to the muzzle. It is filled in under the eyes and in the molar area of the upper jaw.”

The Scottish Terrier head is heavily weighted in the Standard. While it is only one component of the totality of the dog, it is often one of the first parts viewed, after assessing the balance and outline (cobby). The ability of our breed to “look down his nose at you” both figuratively and structurally conveys the attitude and totality of his indomitable spirit. This does not occur if the underlying structure is not correct. Thus, I will speak of each of the components as well as clarifying some possible misconceptions.



Scottish Terrier heads are not narrow. Rather, they are of medium width, giving the impression of narrowness due to the cleanness of skull and length of head in proportion to the overall length and size of the dog. Averages do not work here, as each specimen may vary in size. A bitch head might be more refined than a dog head, both are equally correct. A common misconception is that our “Diehard” head is narrow. This is incorrect and certainly could create a commonality with other breeds within our Group, and more importantly, affect the necessary balance and strength that the Scot needs to accomplish his purpose as a go-to-ground badger hunter.

“His large black nose twitches with interest as you approach and he allows you to examine his wide, scissors bite. His head is heavy in your hands and you can hardly encircle his muzzle with your fingers. His deep-set eyes have a dark expression of composure and something else, not definable.”



This large, black nose is a clue to the strength of muzzle and large, effective teeth. Strength of muzzle is critical as the Scot works to dispatch badger in its den. The Standard is again clear: “A correct Scottish Terrier muzzle should fill an average man’s hand.” Always approach from the front of the dog, and reach out and cup the head underneath the muzzle at the same time, determining its strength and for a punishing, strong underjaw. Never grab the muzzle from the top nor pull on the beard.

It has been stated that if all the terriers were lined up behind a fence and all you could see were the heads, you should be able to determine which breed is which from the head alone. Given that statement, it is the unique characteristics of the Scottish Terrier head that conveys the impression as described in the Standard as having a “very special keen, piercing, ‘varminty,’ expression” that typifies his bold confident nature. Only the Scot, of all terriers, indicates the expression as varminty.

“Varminty” is a term that I have heard people struggle to define in books and seminars over many years. In my studies of the breed, I’ve come to see it as the result of the correct structure of the head, combined with correct eye shape and placement. Varminty is not just a term defining the eyes. It’s a term that defines the entire expression. In fact, the entire head structure and all of its parts contribute to being varminty. Some of these parts include the color, shape, fill under the eye, correct stop, and planes of the head. The breed has the ability to look down its nose at you, both figuratively and structurally, conveying the attitude and totality of his described indomitable spirit.

Varminty is not just a term defining the eyes. It’s a term that defines the entire expression.

“Overall, there stretches a tight jacket of various textures. Softest of all is on his small ears. The rest of his hair is hard with his back coat being of great coarseness. As you test his coat in a scratching motion, your fingertips come in contact with an undercoat of incredible thick down.”

The importance of coat cannot be overstressed. The harsh, wiry topcoat and dense insulating undercoat are essentials of the Scottish Terrier. Without the coat, the Scot could not be functional for the weather nor terrain in which he works. This coat is meticulously conditioned and presented. Owners and handlers spend many months plucking the coat to perfection. Judges should seek the soft, dense undercoat and rub the topcoat between their fingers. The Scottish Terrier comes in many shades and colors… all should have the described double coat and texture.


Scottish terrier’s coat pattern


“As the dog is placed on the floor to exhibit that gait which is peculiarly his own, he invariably shakes. He must get comfortable again, after being lifted onto and off the table and after you have touched him and disarranged his hair. He gives you a quick disdainful glance as he moves off about his business.

You wonder, as you watch him gait and pose and stalk past his competitors, how could so much dog be packed inside that small package? Where did he get that indomitable spirit, from whom did he acquire that unshakable faith in himself?



Without this temperament, the ‘lovely fire,’ the dog is just another dog. The ‘cutey-pies’ that wag, and kiss, and wiggle their way into your heart, make friends for the breed and we thank God for them, but the dog that makes your spine tingle, that makes a lump come in your throat who stands alone in his undeniable glory, is the typical Scottish Terrier.”

The Standard has no disqualifications. It does, however, issue a clear specification on true temperament: “No judge should put to Winners or Best of Breed any Scottish Terrier not showing real terrier character in the ring.” The dog should be alert, stable, and steady-going. The dog has a “heads up, tails up” attitude as conveyed in his “Lovely Fire.”


Mrs. Evelyn D. Kirk

About the Author of “the Lovely Fire”

Mrs. Evelyn D. Kirk passed away on May 30, 2016 at the age of 90. Mrs. Kirk was born November 28, 1925, in Toledo, Ohio, attended George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and was married to Dr. T. Allen Kirk, Jr. in 1947. Mrs. Kirk and her family moved back to Roanoke, Virginia, in 1956, then to Roanoke County in 1957.

Having been enamored of the Scottish Terrier, the Kirks established their nationally acclaimed kennel, Balachan, and bred some of the finest Scotties in the country. Mrs. Kirk exhibited most of the dogs herself, garnering a fine reputation. She began her judging career in 1975, covering the entire Terrier Group. This activity took her all over the country, and to Scotland and Ireland.

Mrs. Kirk, along with her husband, Tom; son, Allen; and daughter, Laura, joined the Roanoke Kennel Club in 1957 and served in all capacities, including, but not limited to, President, Vice-President, Secretary, AKC Delegate, and served on the Board of Directors. She was also the club historian for a number of years.

With Mrs. Kirk’s passing, the dog show world lost a true inspiration and an encyclopedia of knowledge.

We love you. We miss you. You will never be forgotten.