While a dog show may look like a beauty pageant, it’s not: Your scottie is not being compared to other dogs in his class; he’s being measured by how closely he conforms to the standard of our breed. Why? Because form follows function, and because the closer your scottie’s appearance is to the breed standard, the better his ability will be to produce the next generation of champions.

The handler’s job is to present the dog to its best advantage. Although easy to learn the basics, it does require time to learn how to show a dog well. In addition, since the Scottish Terrier is a groomed dog, one needs to acquire the skill to produce a well-groomed dog.

A typical ring appearance consists of:

  • stacking the dog: to show the overall appearance and silhouette of the dog to the to the judge
  • walking the dog around the ring: to show the side view of the dog’s gait, displaying the drive, reach, and form
  • tabling the dog: stacking the dog on the table for the judge to go over the dog; touching the dog to feel the structure of the dog; examining its bite and coat texture
  • a second gaiting of the dog to examine the gait from the front and rear
  • sparring
  • re-examination of the dog on the table or re-gaiting the dog
  • final walk around

Judging the Scottish Terrier

In the AKC conformation ring, the judge is the arbitrator of which dog is the best on any given day. The judge spends about 2 minutes with each dog to come to a decision about the dog. Judging the Scottish Terrier is a complex task, but the process the judges use is fairly standard consisting of:

  • With the dogs stacked, view the overall outline of the dog and how it is stacked.
  • With walking around the ring together, get a feel for the stride and pace of the dogs
  • From the table, a thorough, hands-on review of each dog.
    • Again, check the outline. The table removes issues with the grass hiding things.
    • Examine the head, the planes, the bite, the eyes, cheeks, ear set.
    • Test the fill of the chest and depth of the keel, straightness of the leg placement.
    • Run your hands down the front legs examining elbows and foot placement.
  • Moving to the side, check:
    • where the neck joins the back.
    • the angle of the shoulder and upper arm.
    • feel the coat.
    • size of the chest.
    • lie of the topline.
    • position of the tail.
    • the placement of the rear shelf.
  • From the back:
    • feel the tail.
    • run your hands down the outside of the legs – checking the knees.
    • Test the rear legs for strength and motion.
  • Gaiting the dog:
    • look for the drive of the rear legs and reach of the front legs. Although a dwarf, the Scottie really does have both of these.
    • look at the front and the slight roll as the front legs reach around the chest.
    • look at the rear –driving the dog forward, no roll, two pads coming up from directly underneath.
  • Sparring: bringing two or three dogs together at a time; have the handlers spar the dogs.
    • look for the natural stacking that the dogs should do
    • look for their assertive nature
    • look where their tails go. A gay tail in this situation is not a bad thing.
    • look for the number of dogs that they engage. If there are two other dogs, a dog may switch its attention back and forth. Some dogs even spar with the other dogs in the ring.
  • Do not be too concerned if the puppies or litter mates or housemates do not spar. They are used to each other and have worked out their differences.
  • To be a responsible breeder and owner of a purebred Scottish Terrier, it is your responsibility to be your own judge. Judging your dog or latest litter or a prospective sire or dam are critical for determining your future in the breed. Learn to evaluate your dogs against the conformation breed standard.

What to do at the Show

Judging from outside the ring is really a practiced art. Although you cannot put your hands on the dog, you have for the most part a very similar view of the dogs as does the judge. You should be able to order the dogs into what you feel is the correct order. It is actually good to sit and watch the judge. You will get to know what the judge is looking for and at.

When at small shows, you often have a hard time following even the best of judges. Any judge has particular features that he or she is looking for in a Scottie. Often, they look for defects that plagued their breeding lines or at issues that they found hard to correct. Or features like size or substance that they require to put up a dog. The judge needs to pick from what is put in front of him/her. With low numbers, the judge may “settle” on a particular dog rather than pick the dog he/she wants. Looking at the placement of any class may look like a mixture of types and styles. And it often is. Each class may present a new list of lessor evils to pick from.

When at a large show, there is the range and numbers of dogs to allow the judge to pick what he/she wants. You should be attentive to the first couple of classes. Look for consistency in what is being selected. A good judge will continue to pick with that same criteria through the day. If you have made the correct choice, you should be able to match the judge at least in which dogs should be 1-4 but maybe not the order.


Show grooming is an acquired skill that takes time to learn and perfect. Most breeders that are just starting their show career will link up with another breeder that can show them the basic techniques for stripping a dog several weeks before an important show, then rolling the coat for several weeks into a series of shows.

The STCA’s award winning printed Guide to Grooming the Scottish Terrier is available for purchase in the STCA’s online Shop in addition to the Video Guide, the companion piece to the Grooming Manual, designed for the beginner to the experienced groomer. Grooming takes practice, and you can’t learn it by just reading a book.

One other option is to look to your local regional club and see if they have a Show Grooming Seminar scheduled for anytime soon. It may even be necessary to travel to another club that is hosting a seminar. These are wonderful experiences where you will get to meet other groomers and discuss the various skills and techniques involved.

Show Handling

Show handling is something that most newcomers can learn in a reasonable period of time. Unlike show grooming, handling is something that you can learn, and maybe even win a couple of shows along the way.

A good place to begin is with your local regional club, or even a local all-breed club that hosts a weekly handling class. These are handled like a mini show; except the teacher usually plays the role of judge as well. By filling in as the judge, the instructor can see things as a judge would and offer direct feedback on your techniques. One or two classes and you will be ready to take a dog into the ring for the first time. Remember that this is one of the few sports where non-professional contestants can compete directly against the professionals. You may not win, but at least you can compete in the ring with them.

Sometimes newcomers choose to hire a handler to exhibit their dogs. Although some breeders will do this as well, most professional handlers are just that. They focus all of their attention on getting dogs ready for the show ring and then exhibiting the dog for you (as your agent in the ring) to the class judge. Their job is to know how to do this in the most efficient manner possible.

By hiring a professional handler, you will get someone that can take care of all of the grooming, show entry, transportation, and presentation needs for you. You don’t have to do anything, except maybe show up and watch from ringside. The advantage is that your dog may be seen at shows held all around the country. The disadvantage is that you may not be able to travel and see your dog yourself, except at a few local shows.

Doing everything yourself, including finishing your own champion from the “Bred-By” class is certainly a major accomplishment. But watching the process from the sidelines is usually going to be a lot less stressful. No matter which way you begin, you will most likely end up doing it both ways eventually. The important thing is to always be doing something that you feel is FUN.

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Sparring is a technique seen most commonly in the Terrier ring whereby judges observe dogs’ reactions to other dogs. The most common form is where a judge will call two dogs to the center of the ring, or away from the other dogs in the lineup, and have them face each other, with handlers keeping control of the dogs. This is done to see which dog will act more dominant. Depending on all other qualities that the judge has observed in each dog, this sparring behavior can help the judge make the final decision on placing those two dogs.

Done properly, with properly trained dogs, a pair of terriers sparring is a lovely sight indeed. Both dogs will march proudly towards each other, muscles taut, heads held high, eyes flashing at one another, clearly stating to each other that they are the top dog, they are the best of the best. Toplines will straighten and level, necks will arch, ears will nearly touch in the middle of the top skull. At this point in time the two dogs are showing themselves to their best advantage, trying to display beyond doubt that they are the superior specimen, and most worthy to pass on their genes to the next generation. It is up to the judge to properly read and balance this aspect of terrier temperament and make the human show placement that encourages breeders to follow through and make sure those genes get passed on!

There are different levels of competition. The American Kennel Club (AKC) is the parent organization to the STCA. The AKC awards various awards in conformation including AKC championship and grand championship.

In addition, there is competition called specializing. The finished champions compete over the course of a year to defeat the most dogs. This often involves lots of dog shows, lots of travelling for the dogs and handlers.

Conformation competition is run by many organizations other than AKC.

Conformation competition is available in many countries around the world. Each country has different rules on what determines whether a dog has reached the championship level. Many owners and their dogs compete and complete championships titles on their dogs in other countries.

In addition, the STCA has a series of competitions based on dogs winning various classes, number of Best of Breed, etc. These tallies are presented at the annual STCA dinner and represent the overall performance of the members’ dogs over the course of the year.

The dog community also tracks the number of breed wins and number of Scotties defeated, group placements, Best-in-Show(BIS), and number of all dogs defeated during a calendar year. This leads to top 25 placements for Scottie dogs and bitches, overall Scotties, all terriers, and all breed competition. This is tracked in various dog magazines such as Showsight.

Working with a litter is like a mini class ring. You need to examine them individually and as a group. The individual judging is generally restricted to a tabling of the dog — looking at the basic features. The group interaction often centers on how they react to one and another. Take away the mother and any other dogs. An assertive dog will generally like working on its own. It might explore while the others are sitting together. After a while bring back the mother and see how they interact. If the mother is being playful, your good puppies will attempt to follow her lead. If she gets rough, they should respond in kind — stacking themselves, squaring up to the mother, even barking at her. Be aware that as the puppies develop, they go through stages where they are growing disproportionately. Sometimes, they are too tall or too long, when last week they looked great. You just have to wait out the changes to see how they come back together.