Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day

It wasn't Susan Boyle, the Queen or Rod Stewart's metallic suit. The real star of the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games on Wednesday was the Scottie dog. A total of 41 Scottish Highland terriers were brought in to introduce each of the 71 participating nations in the athletes' parade (some of them had to work a double shift). Social media promptly went wild for the tartan coat-sporting creatures, with many claiming them to be the highlight of Celtic Park.

"I felt very proud; didn't they look lovely?" says a delighted Til Tovey, secretary of the Scottish Terrier Club. "In the Forties and Fifties, they used to be on every street corner, but we don't see that many of them now, so it was a lovely platform for the breed."

Archie Clegg was one of the Scottie dogs who participated, responsible for leading on both the Bangladesh and Trinidad and Tobago teams. To win his starring role in the show, three-and-a-half-year-old Archie had to travel from Ringwood, Hampshire, to Glasgow in May to audition. He then had to attend four rehearsals over the last week before he was ready to take to the floor. So how well behaved were the dogs?

"Terriers are renowned for being terriers," says a laughing Jim Clegg, Archie's owner, and a trustee for the Scottish Terrier Emergency Care Scheme. "But basically 90 per cent of the time they all got on with each other. You learnt quickly which dogs you needed to steer clear of, so it all went smoothly in the end. Archie's a massive show-off so he was enjoying himself."

Paws for thought: A Scottish terrier struts its stuff for Malta at a ceremony Paws for thought: A Scottish terrier struts its stuff for Malta at a ceremony (AP)
Scotties are one of five breeds of terriers that originated in Scotland, but it wasn't until the late 19th century that one of the breeds began to be identified as a Scottish Highland terrier. They have been documented as far back as the 15th century, however, when they were working dogs used to hunt vermin in fields and farms.

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These days, most of us only ever come into contact with a Scottie dog during a game of Monopoly. Introduced in the Fifties, the piece recently came top of a poll to find the nation's favourite player token (spare a thought for the iron, whose unpopularity in same poll saw it promptly retired and replaced by a cat).

But there was a time when Scotties were the "it" dog to be seen with; the Chihuahuas or Labradoodles of their day, if you will. In the first half of the century, they could be seen accompanying glamorous Hollywood stars such as Humphrey Bogart, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford to film sets.

The statue of Roosevelt and his Scottie Fala The statue of Roosevelt and his Scottie Fala (Getty Images)
They also make quite the Presidential sidekick, with Scotties running around the White House lawn during the office times of Eisenhower, Reagan, and George W Bush. Franklin D. Roosevelt so adored his Scottie, Fala, that a statue of the terrier sits beside one of the former President at his memorial in Washington, the only pet to be honoured in such a way.

So, what is it that makes Scottish Highland terriers such an appealing pet?

"They're very loyal and they're very bold," says Tovey, who owns two terriers. "They won't start a fight, but if anything sets on them they're not cowards. They're stubborn as well and have a mind of their own. You can be at the top of the garden and call them in and they'll turn around and look at you as if to say, 'when I'm ready'. They're very independent." And for any viewers of the ceremony who were confused by the different canine colourways, Tovet explains that while "there are different colours. A lot of people think they're only black, but they also come in wheaten and brindle".

Not since Jock in Lady and the Tramp has a Scottie appeared on the big screen. But with the world reminded of their charm this week, perhaps the Scottie will become top dog once again.

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