An Overview of the Skye Terrier

Skye Terriers and other breeds c. 1900

Origin and Introduction
By Donna C. Dale (1990)

Tiptoeing through the "alligators in the pond" (aka Skye Terriers flat from nose to tail on the cool tile floor on a hot day), ears up like antennae, eyes ever watchful of their world, one reflects on the nature of our favorite friend. What quality has made the Skye the special friend of a lucky few over so many years? Is it the steadfast devotion and serious demeanor of some moments contrasted at another time with the exuberant greetings lavished upon our return, even if the absence has been no longer than a trip to the mailbox? This magnificent and beautiful animal, one moment changing into a playful clown, moments later stuns, then entertains us and we are caught in the web.

Dr. Johanne Caius, the court physician to Edward VI, Queen Mary and Elizabeth I and the master of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge University penned these now familiar words in the 16th Century:

"A cur brought out of the barbarous borders fro' the uttermost countryes northward which by reason of length of heare makes show neither of face nor body."

This description is believed to be the first written record of the Skye Terrier.

The Skye was developed as a hunter of otters and fox on the cool and often wet islands of Colonsay and Skye. Their indefatigable endurance and hunting skill coupled with their agility, keen senses, and crisp hard protective coat enabled them to become favored by the clansmen and gamekeepers of the misty isles. Reportedly they were the "aristocrats" of the dogs belonging to the Laird and not kept with the other ordinary hunting dogs in the cottages, but rather in the homes of the Landowners.

When Queen Victoria acquired her first Skye in 1842, the breed received more notice and was immortalized in at least a half dozen of the paintings of Landseer that were commissioned by the Queen.

Well-known breeders in England in the late quarter of the nineteenth century were Mr. Pratt, Rev. Dr. Rosslyn Bruce (from whom Queen Victoria acquired Rona II) and Mrs. Hughes (Wolverley). Among Mrs. Hughes many accomplishments were that she bred Ch. Wolverley Chummie, reported to be the best Skye "before or since."

Whether or not a Skye is owned by royalty makes no difference. One of the Skye's greatest attributes is his devoted attention to his owner(s) whatever their station in life. The most famous Skye to demonstrate this quality of supreme companionship was Greyfrairs Bobby. When his owner, John Grey, died in 1858, the Skye remained loyal to his master, guarding his grave until his own death in 1872 at 16 years of age. So devoted was this determined Skye that all efforts to provide him with another home failed, and he was finally given a permanent license by the Lord Provost of Edinburgh to remain with his owner's grave. His vigil is immortalized by a statue, erected by Baroness Burdett-Coutts, outside the gate of the churchyard at Grayfrairs.

Through the twentieth century the Skye has been protected and enjoyed by the special people who have been fortunate enough to be owned by a Skye Terrier.

Excerpted from The Skye Terrier Handbook published by the Skye Terrier Club of America -1990

The Skye Terrier is distinctive among the terrier breeds in appearance, personality and temperament. The description that follows is intended as a brief but informative introduction to the breed.


The Skye Terrier originated centuries ago on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. Skyes were bred by farmers as working terriers whose function was to destroy fox, badger and otter. Their acute scenting abilities and agile, well muscled bodies enabled them to locate these vermin underground and tear them from their burrows. The Skye's short, sturdy legs were well suited for digging, and the double coat served as protection from injury and bad weather. Originally, the drop eared variety was favored for this work, but later, in the nineteenth century, the prick eared variety became more popular as a pet and show dog, partly as a result of Queen Victoria's fondness for the breed.

Physical Characteristics

The Standard describes the ideal Skye as long in body with a level topline. A typical specimen should stand about ten inches at the withers and should be twice his height in length. The coat is a long, profuse, double-coat (the harsh textured overcoat covers a wooly undercoat) which is parted from the dog's nose to his long, feathered tail. The head, held high on a gently crested neck, is long and strong, with a slight stop. It is moderately wide at the back of the skull, tapering gradually to the muzzle, which is slightly full rather than snipey. The jaws are strong, with the incisor teeth closing even or the the upper teeth slightly overlapping the lower. The dark eyes are closely set, of medium size, and alight with life and intelligence. The eyes are veiled by the softer hair of the head.

The two varieties of the breed, the drop ear and the prick ear, differ only in ear carriage. Both types of ears are well feathered. Prick ears are of medium size, identical in carriage, set high on the skull, and erect at the outer edges. Drop ears are somewhat larger and set lower. They lye flat against the skull and are identical, with no backward fold.

The legs of the forequarters are strong, muscular and as straight as soundness and depth of chest will allow. The forearms curve slightly around the chest, with the elbows close to the sides, neither loose nor tied. The shoulder blades are well laid back and are tightly placed at the withers. Skyes have hare feet pointing forward, with thick pads and strong black nails. His hindquarters are strong, full and well developed. The legs are short, muscular, moderately angulated and straight when viewed from behind. The tail, thrown back in a moderate arc, without twist or curl, should not be raised above the topline except temporarily, when the dog is excited. The breed's colors range from black to platinum, with all shades of gray in between, as well as cream and fawn. All with dark hair on the muzzle, ears, and tail, preferably black.


The Skye Terrier has stamina, strength and courage. He is fearless, good tempered, loyal and sensitive. A Skye is friendly and happy with those people he knows, but he is reserved and cautious with strangers. The Skye is not a breed for everyone; his characteristic temperament must be understood. He is sensitive but not submissive and has a mind of his own. The confidence, respect and love of a Skye must be deserved. He will please only those for whom he has high regard, and he will be selective as to whom he will give his deep affection. The loyalty and devotion of a Skye, however, is unsurpassed by any other breed. He is a delightful companion and alert protector of home and master.

Buying A Puppy

When selecting a puppy it is advisable to buy from a reliable established hobby-breeder; one who raises show stock. Avoid casual breeders, pet shops and commercial breeders. If the buyer is a novice, someone familiar with the breed would be helpful to assist in making a choice. Temperament is a most important qualification. Do not consider a shy puppy; pick one that has a happy, outgoing personality. Equally important is health. Puppies who are thin, ungroomed or potbellied have not received good care. Make sure that the dates of wormings and shots as well as the pedigree and litter registrations are all in order. If the breeder considers the puppy pet quality (not to be shown or bred), AKC registration papers may be withheld with written consent of the buyer or AKC limited registration may be provided.

Buying show or breeding stock under eight months of age can be a gamble. Skyes are very slow in developing, reaching maturity at about three years of age. Correct ear carriage and mouths can be especially difficult to determine before five or six months. Both types of ear carriage may appear in the same litter. Prick ears, if up by six months of age, usually remain so. Overshot or undershot mouths are a serious fault; however, a slightly overshot bite of the puppy teeth might correct itself when the permanent teeth come in. Look for a long body; short, sturdy legs, a tail not carried constantly above the topline; good length of head, neck and muzzle in proportion to the overall dog; dark eyes; and a double coat. Between three and five months there might be an abundance of soft puppy coat, but eventually there should be the beginnings of a straight overcoat growing out which on maturity will cover the undercoat. A coat that is predominately fluffy or curly is a major fault.

A Skye puppy requires love and firm, intelligent training; otherwise he may become difficult to manage as an adult. He must be persuaded to obey, but never by abuse. Regular grooming sessions and nail trimming must be conducted with patience and should be of short duration until the routine has been completely established. House, lead, and ring training should be conducted in the same manner.

A Skye becomes greatly attached to his owner. Adjustment to a new owner and home may be difficult and slow. He will probably take considerably longer to adapt than the members of the more gregarious breed. A Skye usually prefers to make his own advances and may resist being petted, picked up, or groomed by one whom he considers a stranger. Until he has settled and accepted his new environment, it is better to ignore him for the first week, tending only to his immediate needs of food and exercise. A quiet atmosphere and talking to him in a low voice is recommended. Skyes are fine with children if they are raised with them; if an adult Skye is unaccustomed to children, they may create an upsetting experience for the dog. The introduction should not be forced on the part of either. The dog will not tolerate being rushed or carried.

Males in particular resist being manhandled, pushed around or urged to accept situations they fail to understand. If there is an understanding of his temperament, the dog will gradually seek attention, and in time, affection.

What to Expect From a Skye Breeder

The breeder should complete, sign, and place in your hands the puppy's AKC registration application which should be signed and sent to the American Kennel Club so that your Skye may be properly registered. The AKC papers are as much a part of your new Skye as his skin and are not for sale separately. The breeder should also furnish you with a four generation pedigree of your Skye.

The breeder should furnish you with a complete health record on your individual dog. It should show his inoculations for distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis and parvo virus and the manufacturer of the sera used, along with a record of any worming procedures. It is important that the breeder verify in writing that your puppy is healthy. Once he is yours, it is up to you, with the aid of a competent veterinarian, to keep him that way.

The breeder should provide a contract of understanding which protects your Skye and future generations. Samples of recommended contracts are available from the Skye Terrier Club of America.

What Your Skye Puppy Should Expect From You

That you provide a safe, enclosed area for his exercise or plan to exercise him on leash at regular intervals during the day.

That you set the rules of your home for him with kindness and patience. He does not need constant attention but will need your love and understanding.

That he receive regular veterinarian care, a nutritious diet and correct coat care. Your puppy's breeder will be glad to assist you with learning how to groom your Skye.

Copyright The Skye Terrier Club of America 1996

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