Energetic and playful, you can always rely on the Cairn Terrier to live life to the full. Whilst making a loving and loyal family pet, this tenacious little dog’s intelligence, stubbornness and independence prevent it from ever being confused for a mild-mannered lapdog – here is a breed that knows its own mind and isn’t afraid to voice it. Retaining a high prey drive and strong hunting instincts, the Cairn Terrier can be prone to chasing, digging and barking, but such behaviours can often be curbed with the right level of exercise and by providing plenty of mental stimulation to prevent boredom from setting in.
Height: 9-10 inches (23-25 cm)
Weight: 13-16 lbs (5.9-7.3 kg)
Average Litter Size: Up to 10 puppies
Life Expectancy: Up to 15 years
Good with Children: Yes
Kennel Club Classification: Terrier
A Cairn Terrier can be any colour, including black, grey, brindle, red and cream, except white. A Cairn Terrier’s coat will frequently change colour over time, typically darkening with age.
Cairn Terriers have harsh, weather-resistant outer coats with soft undercoats that are moderately easy to maintain. Although they do not shed a great deal, it is still important to brush your Cairn Terrier every few days – being gentle with the more delicate undercoat – to prevent the coat from becoming tangled. Some owners like to trim the hair around their Cairn Terrier’s eyes and ears to prevent it from becoming a nuisance to the dog; however, if you choose to do this, be sure to use round-ended scissors for a lower risk of injuring your Cairn Terrier in the process.
Whilst the Cairn Terrier is generally considered quite a healthy breed, there are a number of genetic conditions to which it is prone. The most well-known and destructive of these for the Cairn Terrier is a condition called globoid cell leukodystrophy, which is an enzyme deficiency that can result in nerve cell death. Other potential issues include craniomandibular osteopathy, diabetes and specific allergies, along with certain conditions to which many small breeds are prone, including Legg-Calve-Perthes disease and portosystemic shunts.
Affectionate and animated, the Cairn Terrier very much likes to make the most of life. Smart and stubborn, it will nevertheless submit to an owner that it considers to be more strong-willed than itself. The Cairn Terrier makes a delightful family pet, enjoying the rough and tumble of younger children, as well as any task you can set to provide it with mental challenges.
Smart and eager to please, the Cairn Terrier is generally quite easy to train. It is important to note, however, that this fun-loving breed is far more sensitive than it appears, and that heavy handling is likely to have a negative effect. Positive reinforcement is preferrable – providing your Cairn Terrier with plenty of praise and treats will win its heart and respect far more effectively than harsh words and corrections. Be sure to establish yourself as pack leader, and by being fair and consistent in your approach to training, your Cairn Terrier is guaranteed to progress in leaps and bounds.
Lively and ever eager for adventure, the Cairn Terrier is extremely energetic and does require a considerable amount of exercise – ideally in excess of 40 minutes of walks each day. Unless it is exercised daily in this way, the Cairn Terrier is prone to becoming bored and may resort to digging, barking and other less desirable methods to let off steam. It is important to remember that, for this intelligent little dog, mental engagement is as important as physical to ensure it remains active, occupied and happy, and, particularly given its love of people, the Cairn Terrier should not be left alone for long periods of time.
The Cairn Terrier originated in the Scottish Highlands, particularly in the Isle of Skye, and is thought to be able to trace its origins as far back as the 16th century. Historically, the Cairn Terrier is believed to have been developed through the crossbreeding of white terriers and black and tan terriers; however, this is difficult to confirm given that, up to the mid-19th century, all terriers of Scotland were generically classified as “Scotch Terriers” with no distinction between them. The Cairn Terrier was originally bred for hunting and to keep farmyards free from vermin.
In 1873, the terriers of Scotland were categorised into two different groups: Dandie Dinmont Terriers and Skye Terriers. The breed that is now the Cairn Terrier was one of those falling into the Skye Terrier category, together with similar breeds that are now defined as Scottish Terriers and West Highland White Terriers. At the time, the three breeds were distinguished by colour only, and they were very closely related, with all three sometimes being born in a single litter.
It was not uncommon for Cairn Terriers and West Highland White Terriers to be cross bred. This changed when the latter was recognised by the American Kennel Club in 1913, and the two breeds became distinct and were kept separate for breeding purposes. Cairn Terriers were so named as a reference to the piles of stones (or “cairns”) from which they frequently flushed their prey, including otters, foxes, badgers and other small creatures often considered as vermin.
Cairn Terriers began to appear in show rings from the early 20th century, and they have steadily increased in popularity since that time. As well as its endearing appearance, the Cairn Terrier’s intelligence stands it in good stead for participation in such activities as tracking, agility, competitive obedience and go-to-ground trials, not to mention its significant effectiveness as a reliable watchdog. Overall, though, the Cairn Terrier’s frolicsome nature, love of people and adaptability means that it thrives at the loving centre of any family, whether urban or rural, and it will happily establish itself as the dog of the household.
One of the most famous Cairn Terriers is that which played the role of Toto in the 1939 film “The Wizard of Oz”, winning the hearts of millions of viewers around the globe.