This section is from the book "The Terriers. A History And Description Of The Modern Dogs Of Great Britain And Ireland", by Rawdon B. Lee. Also available from Amazon: A History and Description of the Modern Dogs of Great Britain and Ireland: The Terriers.
From all I have been told, and from what I have read, I believe that this little dog is the oldest variety of the canine race indigenous to North Britain, although but a comparatively recent introduction across the border and into fashionable society, at any rate under his present name. For generations he had been a popular dog in the Highlands, where, strangely enough, he was always known as the Skye terrier, although he is so different from the long-coated, unsporting-like looking creature with which that name is now associated. Even Hugh Dalziel, in the first edition of his "British Dogs," published so recently as 1881, gives an excellent illustration of the Scotch terrier which he calls a Skye terrier.
Our little friend has, perhaps, been rather unfortunate so far as nomenclature is concerned, for, after being called a Skye terrier, he became known as the Scotch terrier, the Scots terrier, and the Highland terrier; then others dubbed him the Cairn terrier and the Die Hard, whilst another move was made to give him the distinguishing appellation of the Aberdeen terrier. Now he has been thoroughly wound up, and, I suppose to suit those persons of teetotal proclivities who connected the word "Scotch" with the national liquor called whiskey, has developed into the "Scottish" terrier; as such he is known in the Stud Books, and is acknowledged as of that name by the leading Scotch, or Scottish, authorities on the variety. Well, he is a game, smart, perky little terrier, and I do not think that his general excellence and desirability as a companion are likely to suffer from the evolutions his name has undergone. Years ago, before dog shows were invented, any cross bred creature was called a Scotch terrier, especially if he appeared to stand rather higher on the legs than the ordinary terrier; if he were on short legs he was an "otter" terrier.
In an old "Sportsman," a three halfpenny little magazine published in 1833, there is a wood engraving, by no means a bad one, of "The Scotch terrier." This is a big, leggy, cut-eared dog with a docked tail, evidently hard in coat and very game looking; were such a dog to be shown to-day he would be most likely to take a prize in the Irish terrier classes. The letterpress description does not, however, tally with the picture, for after saying that the Scotch terrier is purest in point of breed, it proceeds to state that "the Scotch terrier is generally low in stature, seldom more than 12in. or 14m. in height, with a strong muscular body and stout legs; his ears small and half pricked; his head is rather large in proportion to the size of his body, and his muzzle is considerably pointed. His scent is extremely acute, so that he can trace the footsteps of other animals with certainty; he is generally of a sand colour or black, dogs of this colour being certainly the most hardy and most to be depended upon. When white or pied, it is a sure mark of the impurity of the breed. The hair of this terrier is long, matted, and hard over almost every part of his body. His bite is extremely keen." This is not a bad description of a Scottish terrier of the present day, excepting that the matted coat is not required, that the semi-erect ears are not fashionable, and that a white specimen of pure blood crops up occasionally.
However, the same writer goes on to state that "there are three distinct varieties of the Scotch terrier, viz., the one above described; another about the same size as the former, but with hair much longer and more flowing, which gives the legs the appearance of being very short. This is the prevailing breed of the western isles of Scotland." This, of course, will answer for a description of our ordinary Skye terrier. Then of the third variety, which may be taken to be the ordinary or mongrel variety, the writer in the "Sportsman" says this "is much larger than the former two, being generally from 15 to 18in. in height, with the hair very hard and wiry, and much shorter than that of the others. It is from this breed that the best bull terriers have been produced".
Whoever wrote the above I do not know, but Thomson Gray, in his "Dogs of Scotland," makes a similar quotation, which he says is from "Brown's Field Book," also published in 1833. However, I take the description to be interesting.
What to me appears to be the strangest part of all, is that even the Highland sportsmen of that time, and a little later, called their native terrier the Skye terrier. St. John in his "Highland Sports" (1846) alluded to some of his terriers as Skyes, when they were undoubtedly our "die-hards." The long silky-coated dogs of the western isles would have been no use to a sportsman such as he, and although game enough in their way, they, the Skyes, did not possess the activity nor the power to tackle the wild cat, the marten, and other vermin found in the wilds of Sutherlandshire, where Charles St. John lived. Moreover, he also calls them "Highland terriers".
He says, "Why do Highland terriers so often run on three legs - particularly when bent on mischief? Is it to keep one in reserve in case of emergencies? I never had a Highland terrier who did not hop along constantly on three legs, keeping one of them up as if to rest it.
"The Skye terrier has a great deal of quiet intelligence, learning to watch his master's looks and understand his meaning in a wonderful manner. . . . This dog shows great impetuosity in attacking vermin of all kinds, though often his courage is accompanied by a kind of shyness and reserve; but when once roused by being bit or scratched in its attacks on vermin, the Skye terrier fights to the last, and shows a great deal of cunning and generalship as well as courage. Unless well entered when young they are apt to be noisy, and yelp and bark more than fight. The terriers I have had of this kind show some curious habits, unlike most other dogs. I have observed that when young they frequently make a kind of seat under a bush or hedge, where they will sit for hours together crouched like a wild animal. Unlike other dogs, too, they will eat (though not driven by hunger) almost anything that is given them, such as raw eggs, the bones and meat of wild ducks or wood pigeons and other birds that every other kind of dog, however hungry, rejects with disgust. In fact, in many respects their habits resemble those of wild animals. They always are excellent swimmers, taking the water quietly and fearlessly when very young".