Skye Terrier

Gemma Gaitskell
Dr Gemma Gaitskell (BVetMed MSc MRCVS, Royal Veterinary College, London)
Photo of adult Skye Terrier

The Skye Terrier is an ancient breed of Scottish Terrier. The breed was originally used for hunting and ‘going to ground’ but today is generally kept as a companion. It is classed as a vulnerable native breed in the UK and is in danger of extinction. The breed is small and has an easily recognisable physical appearance with distinctive ears, short legs and a long body.

Despite its size, the Skye Terrier still requires a reasonable amount of walking. It is described as being a ‘one man’ dog and can have a stubborn terrier streak to its character. This said, it is extremely loyal and brave. The breed is not ideal for families with young children as it can be a little sharp and is intelligent and quick to learn but can be stubborn and independent when it comes to training. The Skye Terrier has a reasonably long coat that needs frequent brushing to keep it in good condition.

About & History

The Skye Terrier is one of the oldest Scottish breeds of terrier and is considered a vulnerable native breed by the UK Kennel Club. It is classed as one of the most endangered breeds in the UK. It is a small breed that originates from the largest island of the Inner Hebrides, the Isle of Skye. The earliest records of the Skye Terrier trace its roots back to the 14th century, although there are various stories as to the possible origins of the breed.

It is thought that the most likely story is that the Vikings who settled in the area with dogs, probably the Swedish Vallhund, played a part in the development of the early ancestors of the breed. After this, various different breeds were described as the Skye Terrier. The breed rose to popularity under Queen Victoria’s rule and this resulted in the breed becoming better defined. The Skye Terrier was originally used for ‘going to ground’ when hunting rabbits, foxes, badgers and other small animals and for controlling vermin and was renowned for its fearless character. Today, the breed is mostly kept as a companion but due to the low numbers of the breed great efforts are being made to promote it and revive its popularity.


Skye Terrier Large Photo

The Skye Terrier has a hard textured coat and the UK Kennel Club accepts the following coat colours for registration:

  • Black
  • Cream
  • Cream Black Points
  • Dark Grey
  • Fawn
  • Grey
  • Light Grey
  • Silver
  • Silver Black Points

The Skye Terrier is short legged and long backed. It should be 25 to 26 cm tall at the withers and have an overall length from the nose to the tail of 105 cm. Female dogs are often smaller but should possess the same overall proportions. The breed has a relatively long neck and wide shoulders with a deep chest and strong muscly front legs. The Skye Terrier has a long body that is low to the ground with a level back. The back legs are short and straight but at the same time strong and well-developed.

The breed has a distinctive long head, which appears powerful for its size. The skull should narrow towards the muzzle, which is well-formed with strong jaws forming a scissor bite. The eyes should be extremely expressive, medium-sized and set reasonably close together. The Skye Terrier can either have pricked or folded (dropped) ears – both of which are acceptable in the breed standard.

The Skye Terrier should move perfectly straight with a seemingly effortless gait which is driven forward by its back legs. Despite its low stature the breed’s movement should appear free and fluid.

Character & Temperament

The Skye Terrier has a brave, dignified and extremely loyal and devoted character. It does have a stubborn terrier streak, however, and is commonly described as being a ‘one-man’ dog, which is often suspicious of strangers, although not aggressive. The breed is better supervised around children, especially when they are young and should be well-socialised from puppyhood.

The Skye Terrier is an independent little dog that does not usually suffer from separation anxiety, although they enjoy company very much. The Skye Terrier is not used as a guard dog due to its size but its loyal character and brave nature mean that it will guard its household and bark to warn of danger.


Photo of Skye Terrier puppy

The Skye Terrier is an intelligent breed but it can have a stubborn terrier streak so needs to be kept amused with plenty of variation in its training. It is important that house rules are established from the start and maintained consistently to avoid this little dog becoming too big for his boots.

The breed enjoys playing and this can be used as a means of reward during training. Although the Skye Terrier is quick to learn recall, it may not always be the most responsive if it finds something else to chase which interests it more. The breed is normally quick to pick up on house training if it has a consistent routine and plenty of garden space and walking.


The Skye Terrier commonly lives to 12 or more years and the Kennel Club does not recommend that breeders participate in any health schemes. That said, the breed can still be affected by some health problems, which include:

Puppy Limp

This condition is caused when the growth plates in the bones close prematurely and become inflamed, resulting in pain and discomfort. It is usually caused by too much exercise and jumping up and down off furniture in the early months of life. In most cases puppies grow out of the condition as they become older.

Intervertebral Disc Disease (IDD)

The Skye Terrier’s physique of having shorter legs and a longer back means there is likely a chance of having back problems at some stage. The breed is said to be ‘chondrodysplastic’, meaning the discs in the spine deteriorate faster than in other non-chondrodysplastic breeds. This degeneration happens over time and can eventually result in extreme discomfort and paralysis, requiring surgery in the majority of cases.

Unfortunately, not all dogs are able to recuperate and surgery is not always effective. It is essential that dogs are not allowed to become overweight and activities, such as walking up the stairs or jumping off the sofa, are avoided to reduce the risk of IDD occurring.


Hepatitis occurs when the liver becomes inflamed and this affects its ability to perform its normal functions. This results in digestive clinical signs, such as vomiting, diarrhea and a reduced appetite, as well as jaundice. Research is currently underway to develop a DNA test to detect affected dogs.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The Skye Terrier is a small breed of dog but it still needs around an hour of walking a day and plenty of mental stimulation due to its working roots. Although the breed enjoys life in a rural environment it adapts well to city living if it is given enough walking to provide it with the exercise it needs. Keeping the Skye Terrier well amused is an important part of ensuring that its terrier stubbornness and strong character does not become problematic.


The Skye Terrier has a double coat, with a wooly insulating undercoat and hard outer coat, which although long should be straight and flat. It sheds its coat seasonally and does not need any specialist grooming, however, it requires brushing at least once a week at home in order to keep its coat in good condition. Puppies should be gradually introduced to brushing from a young age so they become used to it and consider it a pleasurable experience.

Famous Skye Terriers

The Skye Terrier was once a very popular breed but today is little known, however, some famous examples include:

  • The dog who was said to be present under Mary Queen of Scots’ skirt at her execution was a Skye Terrier
  • Greyfriars Bobby, the Skye Terrier in the statue in Edinburgh on the corner of Candlemaker Row and George IV Bridge, is said to have guarded the grave of his owner for 14 years


The low numbers of Skye Terrier mean there are few popular cross breeds but a couple of examples include:

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