11 Distinguished Facts About the Scottish Terrier


This adorably gruff-looking canine can be found everywhere from game boards to candy. Learn more about Scotland’s favorite little dog. 


As the name suggests, Scottish terriers come from Scotland—and that’s about all we know. The first known mention of the dog was by Bishop John Lesley in his book History of Scotland from 1436 to 1561. As he describes them, 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.” 


Scotties are a kind of terrier, meaning they were bred to burrow. The name terrier comes from terra (meaning earth) because they “go to ground.” Strong-willed and fierce, the dogs were used to clear out vermin from buildings and drive badgers from their homes. When facing something as fierce as a badger (on its home turf, no less) the dogs needed to be tough and recklessly brave. At one point, an author earnestly speculated that Scotties may have originated from bears instead of dogs.


Despite having a background in extermination, the little dogs have also enjoyed the finer things in life. King James VI of Scotland was a huge fan of the Scottish terrier in the 17th century and helped popularize them in Europe. He even sent six Scotties to France as a gift. Queen Victoria was also a fan of the breed and kept some in her expansive kennel. Her favorite was a Scottie named Laddie. [PDF


Scotties had their first dog show in Birmingham, England in 1860. After that, there were numerous shows that featured similar breeds, including Skye terriers, Yorkies, and Dandie Dinmonts, all claiming to be the real deal. Scottish breeders were annoyed by the mockery of their precious breed and took to print to voice their complaints. They wrote to Live Stock Journal with their arguments about what the standard should be. The arguments continued at such a ferocious pace that the publication finally put a stop to it, issuing a statement: “We see no use in prolonging this discussion unless each correspondent described the dog which he holds to be the true type.” 

Captain Gordon Murray accepted the challenge and wrote up the proper description of the perfect Scottie. It stuck until fancier J.B. Morrison finally drew up an official standard in 1880. In 1882, the Scottish Terrier Club was formed for both England and Scotland. Separate clubs were formed for each after the breed's popularity grew, but the two regions have since developed an amicable relationship. 


When Scotties get too excited, they might experience something known as the Scottie Cramp. This neurological disorder causes the muscles to tense up, making it difficult to walk. Dogs experiencing this cramp exhibit “a goose-stepping gait” and might somersault or fall over. Luckily, these episodes don’t last long and do not appear to be painful for the dogs. 


According to Matt Collins, former vice president of marketing for Hasbro Games, the Scottie has been one of the most beloved game pieces in Monopoly since its introduction in the 1950s. In fact, it received the most votes in a recent competition to determine which pieces would get to stay a part of the set. (Sadly, the iron was voted out.)


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The Scottish terrier and the German shepherd are the only two breeds to make three appearances in the White House. The Roosevelt family was infatuated with the breed and had two: Eleanor Roosevelt had one named Meggie and FDR had one named Fala (short for Murray the Outlaw of Falahill). Roosevelt loved his dog so much that he was scarcely seen without it. You can even see a statue of Fala next to his bronzed owner at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington D.C. 

Eisenhower was also a fan of the smart looking dogs and had three named Telek, Skunkie, and Caacie (though there is some argument about whether any actually lived in the White House). Most recently George W. Bush had two named Barney and Miss Beazley. Barney was something of a movie star and appeared in nine White House-produced films.


Most modern day Scotties can trace their lineage back to one female named Splinter II. She was owned by J. H. Ludlow, founder of the Scottish Terrier Club of England. She’s considered the mother of the breed.


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Besides the wire fox terrier, the Scottish terrier has the most Westminster Dog Show wins of any breed, with a whopping eight awards. The most recent win was in 2010 with a dog named Ch. Roundtown Mercedes Of Maryscot (Sadie for short). 


Families will have no trouble getting affection from their Scotties, but strangers might have to work for it. The dogs are naturally wary of new people and it takes them a while to come around. 


Scotties are born diggers. Terriers were bred to dig and find prey, so it makes sense that they would be compelled to hit the dirt. Even if your Scottie is not a hunter, they might dig for comfort or out of boredom. To keep your rhododendron safe, make sure your dog is mentally stimulated and gets plenty of exercise.

Animal Welfare Groups Are Building a Database of Every Cat in Washington, D.C.

There are a lot of cats in Washington, D.C. They live in parks, backyards, side streets, and people's homes. Exactly how many there are is the question a new conservation project wants to answer. DC Cat Count, a collaboration between Humane Rescue Alliance, the Humane Society, PetSmart Charities, and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, aims to tally every cat in the city—even house pets, The New York Times reports.

Cities tend to support thriving feral cat populations, and that's a problem for animal conservationists. If a feline is born and grows up without human contact, it will never be a suitable house cat. The only options animal control officials have are to euthanize strays or trap and sterilize them, and release them back where they were found. If neither action is taken, it's the smaller animals that belong in the wild who suffer. Cats are invasive predators, and each year they kill billions of birds in the U.S. alone.

Before animal welfare experts and wildlife scientists can tackle this problem, they need to understand how big it is. Over the next three years, DC Cat Count will use various methods to track D.C.'s cats and build a feline database for the city. Sixty outdoor camera traps will capture images of passing cats, relying on infrared technology to sense them most of the time.

Citizens are being asked to help as well. An app is currently being developed that will allow users to snap photos of any cats they see, including their own pets. The team also plans to study the different ways these cats interact with their environments, like how much time pets spend indoors versus outdoors, for example. The initiative has a $1.5 million budget to spend on collecting data.

By the end of the project, the team hopes to have the tools both conservationists and animal welfare groups need to better control the local cat population.

Lisa LaFontaine, president and CEO of the Humane Rescue Alliance, said in a statement, “The reality is that those in the fields of welfare, ecology, conservation, and sheltering have a common long-term goal of fewer free-roaming cats on the landscape. This joint effort will provide scientific management programs to help achieve that goal, locally and nationally."

[h/t The New York Times]

How Does Catnip Work?

If you have a cat, you probably keep a supply of catnip at home. Many cats are irresistibly drawn to the herb, and respond excitedly to its scent, rubbing against it, rolling around on the floor, and otherwise going nuts. There are few things that can get felines quite as riled up as a whiff of catnip—not even the most delicious treats. But why does catnip, as opposed to any other plant, have such a profound effect on our feline friends?

Catnip, or Nepeta cataria, is a member of the mint family. It contains a compound called nepetalactone, which is what causes the characteristic catnip reaction. Contrary to what you might expect, the reaction isn’t pheromone related—even though pheromones are the smelly chemicals we usually associate with a change in behavior. While pheromones bind to a set of specialized receptors in what’s known as a vomeronasal organ, located in the roof of a cat's mouth (which is why they sometimes open their mouths to detect pheromones), nepetalactone binds to olfactory receptors at the olfactory epithelium, or the tissue that lines the mucus membranes inside a cat’s nose and is linked to smell.

Scientists know the basics of the chemical structure of nepetalactone, but how it causes excitement in cats is less clear. “We don’t know the full mechanisms of how the binding of these compounds to the receptors in the nose ultimately changes their behavior,” as Bruce Kornreich, associate director of the Cornell Feline Health Center, tells Mental Floss. Sadly, sticking a bunch of cats in an MRI machine with catnip and analyzing their brain activity isn’t really feasible, either from a practical or a financial standpoint, so it’s hard to determine which parts of a cat’s brain are reacting to the chemical as they frolic and play.

Though it may look like they’re getting high, catnip doesn’t appear to be harmful or addictive to cats. The euphoric period only lasts for a short time before cats become temporarily immune to its charms, meaning that it’s hard for them to overdo it.

“Cats do seem to limit themselves," Michael Topper, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, tells Mental Floss. "Their stimulation lasts for about 10 minutes, then it sort of goes away.” While you may not want to turn your house into a greenhouse for catnip and let your feline friend run loose, it’s a useful way to keep indoor cats—whose environment isn’t always the most thrilling—stimulated and happy. (If you need proof of just how much cats love this herb, we suggest checking out Cats on Catnip, a new book of photography from professional cat photographer Andrew Martilla featuring dozens of images of cats playing around with catnip.)

That said, not all cats respond to catnip. According to Topper, an estimated 70 percent of cats react to catnip, and it appears to have a genetic basis. Topper compares it to the genetic variation that causes some individuals to smell asparagus pee while others don’t. Even if a cat will eventually love the smell of catnip, it doesn’t come out of the womb yearning for a sniff. Young kittens don’t show any behavioral response to it, and may not develop one until several months after birth [PDF].

But some researchers contend that more cats may respond to catnip than we actually realize. In one 2017 study, a group of researchers in Mexico examined how cats might subtly respond to catnip in ways that aren’t always as obvious as rolling around on the floor with their tongue hanging out. It found that 80 percent of cats responded to catnip in a passive way, showing decreased motor activity and sitting in the “sphinx” position, an indicator of a relaxed state.

There are also other plants that have similar effects on cats, some of which may appeal to a wider variety of felines than regular old catnip. In a 2017 study in the journal BMC Veterinary Research, researchers tested feline responses to not just catnip, but several other plants containing compounds similar in structure to nepetalactone, like valerian root, Tatarian honeysuckle, and silver vine. They found that 94 percent of cats responded to at least one of the plants, if not more than one. The majority of the cats that didn’t respond to catnip itself did respond to silver vine, suggesting that plant might be a potential alternative for cats that seem immune to catnip’s charms.

Despite the name, domestic cats aren’t the only species that love catnip. Many other feline species enjoy it, too, including lions and jaguars, though tigers are largely indifferent to it. The scent of the plant also attracts butterflies. (However, no matter what you’ve heard, humans can’t get high off it. When made into a tea, though, it reportedly has mild sedative effects.)

The reason Nepeta cataria releases nepetalactone doesn’t necessarily have to do with giving your cat a buzz. The fact that it gives cats that little charge of euphoria may be purely coincidental. The chemical is an insect repellant that the plant emits as a defense mechanism against pests like aphids. According to the American Chemical Society, nepetalactone attracts wasps and other insect predators that eat aphids, calling in protective reinforcements when the plant is in aphid-related distress. That it brings all the cats to the yard is just a side effect.

Because of this, catnip may have even more uses in the future beyond sending cats into a delighted frenzy. Rutgers University has spent more than a decade breeding a more potent version of catnip, called CR9, which produces more nepetalactone. It’s not just a matter of selling better cat toys; since catnip releases the compound to ward off insects, it’s also a great mosquito repellant, one that scientists hope can one day be adapted for human use. In that case, you might be as excited about catnip as your cat is.

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