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Scottish Terriers – Judge the Coat, Not the Colors

scottish terrier black coat


More is often made about color, less so regarding the coat itself. As more judges from other Groups begin to judge our breed, it bears reminding that the coat itself is of greater importance and emphasis. The present Scottish Terrier standard scale of points adopted in 1993 has removed color and has the highest weight as “coat.” It is important to remember:


What color is a Scottish Terrier?

For the novice and the unfamiliar, the color black might be an answer. Longtime breeders and knowledgeable Terrier judges are well aware that the breed has a coat of many colors, textures, and shades. It is critical to the understanding of the Scottish Terrier that the coat, not the color, is of greater importance.

Historically, the Scot has always been a multi-colored breed. In the early 1880s, Captain Mackie visited the Highlands to view and record information about Scottish Terriers. It was, and is still, a purposeful breed and each regional gamekeeper selected and bred dogs for their gameness and ability to rid the area of vermin.

Mackie recorded dogs of many colors:
  • Red
  • Brindle
  • Fawn
  • Grizzly
  • Black
  • Sandy

The reports described Scottish Terrier’s coats “as hard as any would want” and specifically “rough-coated.” By the year 1880, a committee was formed to describe the breed characteristics, and the only mention of color was “white marking objectionable.” Reports were made that red brindle with a black mask was highly desirable.

The first English Standard (1887) was more detailed and identified the variety of Scottish Terrier as, “Steel or iron grey, black brindle, brown brindle, grey brindle, black, sandy and wheaten. White markings are objectionable and can be allowed only on the chest and that to a slight extent only.”

The American Standard (1947-1993) continued to recognize coat color as “steel or iron grey, brindle or grizzled, black, sandy or wheaten.”

In 1993, the color was changed, dropping the grizzle and changing to Black, Wheaten or Brindle of any color. The colors were presumably listed alphabetically. A suggestion would be an additional line be added stating that “no color is preferred.”

However, it is critical that the original colors identified in the earlier standard not be penalized in any way, and that colors, though rarer today, still may and do occur and are acceptable. While grizzle is very common, most within the breed refer to it as a brindle, and is most certainly included.

Personally, being in the breed as an owner, breeder, exhibitor, and judge for more than 45 years, I revel in the colors that may be seen in the Scottish Terrier and which are glorious in their variety.

scottish terrier coat
Black Coat

There are many combinations that can and do occur. The Scottish Terrier can be solid or brindled, darker or lighter, black, sandy, red, rich reddish wheaten or paler. It can have a dark mask visible on the brindles. (The solid black may also have a mask, though it is indistinguishable on the dog.)

Brindles may appear in varying depths of color and shades (red, silver, etc.) Wheaten can appear in any variation from cream through deeper red. As the coat is worked, and the dog ages, shadings may change. Shading on the wheaten is very common as the length and age of the stripped coat and undercoat may influence the color. Even a black dog is not just black, but occurs in many tones. Often a few white hairs may be found on the body coat of a black dog, with no penalty.

Some owners will pluck these, whereas others will leave them as evidence for the discerning judge that the dog was not artificially colored. White is still allowable to a slight extent (size of a quarter) on the chest. On the chin, you may find lighter hairs, which breeders refer to as a milk beard. Upon closer examination of these, one will find that the white is often a dilute grizzle. Infrequently, black and tan markings have been known to occur in the breed. Solid reds and sandies are rare.

I have encountered some individuals who have expressed preferences on color. This should have no bearing on the overall selection of a good Scottish Terrier. Our breed has no disqualifications, nor any penalty for color.

One should be aware of a few additional color specifics. The nose of the Scottish Terrier is black. A wheaten with dark rims and shading around the eye may appear to have larger eyes. Masking on brindles may or may not occur. Those without masks and/or with lighter shading on the skull and cheek may appear to have a courser head than in fact. The lighter shaded dogs may appear larger.

scottish terrier coat


Which color is preferred?

No color is preferred over another! An examination of the suggested scale of points clearly conveys the percentage valuing of color in the Scottish Terrier as ZERO.

Conversely, the coat itself is a salient feature of the breed. Terrier folk are extremely particular and proud of proper coats. 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 or terrain in which he works. This coat is meticulously conditioned and presented. Owners and handlers spend many months and hours plucking the coat to perfection.

Judges should seek the soft, dense undercoat and rub the topcoat between their fingers to determine its hard, wiry, weather-resistant texture, essential for the dog’s original purpose. Judges should spend the time and take proper care in evaluation of coat. It must be double. Never rake against the direction of growth; it is insulting to the dog and the individual who spent time and effort to prepare. Look for, value, and reward the Scot that carries the double coat that insulates his sturdy body. Determining the hard, wiry, weather-resistant texture of the coat is essential for the dog’s original purpose. Now, reward the coat—not the color!

The Scottish Terrier has one of the most instantaneously recognizable silhouettes. It may be easier to see the outline on a solid dog, thinking perhaps it is preferable; not so. Judges should be able to see the outline regardless of color. Breeders and judges both should select the best Scottish Terrier. Color alone is far too simple. We all need to choose the best dog of ANY color. –Kathi Brown


The Show Coat

“It is seldom a good dog can be a bad color.”

–A.G. Cowley-Albourne Kennels


By Kathi Brown & Marianne Melucci

The standard states that the coat should be timed and blended into the furnishings to give a distinct Scottish Terrier outline. The following is excerpted from the Scottish Terrier Club of America‘s award winning “Guide to Grooming The Scottish Terrier.” Judges not familiar with broken coated Terriers should avail themselves of an opportunity to examine the coat first-hand. It would be extremely helpful for those judges as well as owners to personally engage in hand-stripping at least a portion of the jacket.

–Kathi Brown

A top-quality Scottie show coat is the result of good genetics, proper grooming, and diligent overall care and conditioning of the dog.

Our standard states that the Scottish Terrier should have a broken coat. It is a hard, wiry outer coat with a soft, dense under coat. The coat should be trimmed and blended into the furnishings to give a distinct Scottish Terrier outline. The dog should be presented with sufficient coat so that the texture and density may be determined. The longer coat on the beard, legs, and lower body may be slightly softer than the body coat, but should not be or appear fluffy.

The importance of a proper coat cannot be overstressed. Both the harsh, wiry jacket and dense undercoat are essentials of Scottish Terrier breed type as they contribute to the protection of the dog at work, as well as during harsh weather conditions. The Scottie is a double-coated Terrier with a soft, dense undercoat that is difficult to part sufficiently to see the skin. The dog must be shown in a long enough coat to determine texture. The coat should not be clipped down or blown-out, but should present a generally broken-haired look over the body. The jacket should lie close and tight around a muscular body. Furnishings should appear longer and feel softer, but not so long as to drag on the ground. You should always be able to see daylight under the dog.

scottish terrier coat

There are excellent coats in all acceptable colors. There are also, at the other extreme, poor coat qualities in all colors. The better the quality of the coat, the easier it is to work and maintain.

Determining what your ideal coat length should be varies on the type of dog you have. Large dogs can carry a shorter coat, whereas smaller dogs might look better carrying a longer coat. Building a coat, or letting it get thicker, gives the smaller dog the impression of more body and size. On the other hand, too much coat on a small dog can create a “fur ball” look—something you should avoid.

Planning is an important aspect to consider first when grooming and conditioning your show coat.

Before you start, ask yourself these questions:
  • When is the dog to be in “top condition” for showing?
  • What kind of coat quality is going to be worked?
  • Is it an adult coat or puppy coat?
  • Will the coat be “rolled?”
  • What is the condition of the furnishings?
  • What kind of time schedule is going to be available?

With the adult, is the end result of stripping to be a predetermined specialty show, a particular show circuit, or general maintenance? Whichever your goal, stripping too soon or too late will destroy the entire purpose. Make the time to select the date or range of dates in which the dog is to be in top show coat. Obviously, counting back from that selected time will allow an adequate growing period. The fact that coat growing rates vary should also be considered.

There are few, if any, shortcuts to good grooming techniques. If used, shortcuts may provide an adequate result for the moment, but they do not hold up over a long period of time and should only be used as a last resort. Always remember, stripping will bring in color and quality whereas clippering or scissoring will eventually take it away. A top-quality coat in excellent condition can only be kept in that manner by the use of proper grooming methods and dedication to the grooming and conditioning process. Good planning and follow-through are essential.


Scottish Terriers: Judge the Coat, Not the Colors – Showsight Magazine December 2020 Issue


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