Bushland Terrier

Pippa Elliott
Dr Pippa Elliott (BVMS MRCVS, University of Glasgow)
Photo of adult Bushland Terrier
Larryndog / commons.wikimedia.org

The Bushland Terrier is a hybrid dog: a cross between the Cairn Terrier and the Scottish Terrier. These are small but bold dogs that know their own mind. They are characterful companions with a strong sense of self, which can make them unreliable around children and so are best supervised when together.

Both parent breeds hold several health problems in common. This has implications for the Bushland Terrier, since they could inherit genes from both sides of the family tree, and lose the health advantage often associated with hybrids. These issues include patellar luxation, craniomandibular osteopathy, heart valve disease, and a clotting disorder called Von Willebrand’s disease.

About & History

The Bushland Terrier is a hybrid dog and therefore has a relatively short history. However, their parent breeds are both well-established with stories dating back to the 16th century. Both the Cairn Terrier and Scottish Terrier share a common ancestry root. Go back two or three hundred years and all dogs of these types were simply known as 'Scottish Terriers'. It was only in the 1870s that it was acknowledged distinct lines had appeared, and so the group was subdivided into Dandie Dinmont Terriers and Skye Terriers.

As more time passed, in the early 20th century, the Skye Terrier group was further subdivided into Cairn Terriers (named after the pile of stones or cairns found on rugged Highlands areas), Scottish Terriers, and the West Highland White Terrier.

The Cairn Terrier

The Cairn Terrier descends from working dogs indigenous to the Scottish Highlands. Captain Martin MacLeod is credited with breeding the first Cairn Terriers on the Scottish Isle of Skye. These bold dogs were used to hunt foxes and rabbits, and were valued for their strength and determination.

The Scottish Terrier

The original Scottish Terrier (now extinct) possibly dates back to Roman times and a described by Pliny the Elder. This dog is likely the foundation on which subsequent Scottish Terriers developed. What we recognise as the modern Scottish Terrier goes back to the 15th and 16th century when they were hunters used to flush game from its den. This is reflected by the title ‘terrier’, which comes from a Latin word meaning ‘workers of the earth’.

King James I of England (James VI of Scotland) was especially fond of the breed. He is known to have gifted Scottish Terriers to the French monarch. King James’ enthusiastic patronage of the breed along with their distinctive look and thick black coat, led to them being popular in royal circles at court.


Bushland Terrier Large Photo
Larryndog / commons.wikimedia.org

The Bushland Terrier is a small, sturdy dog, longer in the body than they are tall, with a blockish profile. The skull of the Bushland Terrier has the look of the Scottish Terrier, albeit with more hair.

Their coat is course, thick, and double-layered, as required to protect them from the harsh Scottish climate. The black coat of the Scottish Terrier dominates that of the Cairn Terrier, making black the common colour.

Character & Temperament

The term “terrier” comes with a raft of implications as dogs that were bred to work and hunt. They have a natural prey drive, which can make them poor housemates with other pets, such as cats or rabbits. Terriers are also independent thinkers, which can manifest as stubbornness.

The Bushland Terrier should be well socialised from a young pup. This ameliorates another terrier trait of being prone to aggression when threatened. With proper handling from a young age, this gives them the right social skills to rub along well with people. A Bushland Terrier is unlikely to suffer fools gladly and may well snap if mistreated. This has implications when around children, so supervision is required at all times.


The Bushland Terrier is prone to stubbornness and so reward-based training methods are ideal. Their handler must be patient and consistent handler since this breed is likely to test what they can get away with.


As a hybrid, there are no statistics as to the diseases this breed is prone to developing. One reason some people choose a hybrid is to reduce of inheritable diseases. However, this is not always the case when the parent breeds are closely related and carry similar disease traits. Indeed the Cairn and the Scottish Terrier have a considerable overlap in the heritable conditions. Thus, the Bushland Terrier may also be prone to these problems.

Von Willebrand’s Disease

Von Willebrand’s disease is a lack of a specific clotting factor in the blood. This impairs the dog’s ability to form a stable blood clot. Typically, dogs with Von Willebrand’s disease may bleed heavily after a minor cut or surgery, which can be life threatening.

Dogs with Von Willebrand’s need careful management should they be injured. Veterinary attention to stop the bleeding is advisable. In addition, surgery should be approached with great caution. This can include procedures, such as dental extractions.

There is no long term treatment for Von Willebrand’s, although dogs that need essential surgery can be prepared with injections of DDAVP for four consecutive days ahead of the operation.

Mitral Valve Disease

The mitral valves are located in the left side of the heart and ensure blood flows in one direction through the heart. When the valves become thickened or stiff, they no longer close properly. This allows some blood to leak in the wrong direction, which is heard as a murmur.

Mitral valve disease varies in severity, but may progress over the dog’s lifetime. Mild cases can lead totally normal lives, whilst the severest murmurs lead to heart failure and all that this entails.

A cardiac ultrasound scan is worthwhile, once the murmur reaches a certain intensity. This can guide the clinician as to whether it is appropriate to start a heart medication called Pimobendan. The latter has been show to increase life expectancy if started when heart enlargement is present but before the dog develops clinical signs.

Craniomandibular Osteopathy

This condition is known as 'Westie Jaw', because of a strong linked with the West Highland White Terrier. However, it can develop in many of the closely related terriers, such as the Cairn and Scottish Terriers.

Signs develop in the pup’s first year of mouth, and are related to extreme jaw pain. This is due to an inflammation of the jaw joint, so severe that it causes new bone to be deposited. The pain plus the extra bone make it difficult for the dog to eat, bark, and pick up toys. There is no cure for craniomandibular osteopathy and treatment is aimed at controlling pain.

Patellar Luxation

Patellar luxation, also known quite simply as 'wobbly kneecaps', are common in many small to medium sized dog breeds. The kneecap provides a fulcrum for the thigh muscles to pull on. When the kneecap doesn’t sit snuggly in place, tension when the muscles contract cause it to pop out of place. This physically restricts the movement of the leg, causing the dog to skip a step.

Mild cases of patellar luxation can be managed with pain relief alone. However, the more severe cases require reconstructive surgery in order to keep the dog mobile.

Exercise and Activity Levels

The Bushland Terrier is a tame, inquisitive fellow who likes to be busy. They need a moderate amount of exercise, such as a couple of energetic half-hour walks per day. Their inquisitive nature means that mental exercise is equally important, so a walk to the dog park also allows them to socialise with other dogs and check out their local patch.

Not providing enough exercise will lead to a Bushland Terrier putting on weight and developing bad habits. These include antisocial problems like barking and destructiveness, such as chewing or digging.


Don’t let the course nature of the Bushland Terrier’s coat deceive you. That protective layer still needs plenty of attention to stop debris causing knots to form and matting. The wise owner combes their dog several times a week, and checks the coat after every walk for teasels. A metal comb and a stiff brush as best suited to keeping the coat in good order.

For best effect, consider getting the Bushland Terrier’s coat stripped rather than clipped. This thins the coat out by removing shed hairs, which keeps the coat in optimal condition. Also, their coat has natural waterproofing properties, so avoid excessive bathing as this will strip out those protective oils.

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