Cairn Terrier

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Is the Cairn Terrier right for you?

Species group:

The basics:
A Cairn Terrier played the part of Toto in the classic movie, The Wizard of Oz, and perhaps Toto's role sums up the Cairn's personality as well as anything else-- spunky, spirited, alert, and ready for fun. These short-legged dogs don't seem to know their own size. They're curious and ready to investigate, and they'll announce strangers-- traits that served them well when they were developed as a hunting breed in the Scottish islands.

Scotland's terriers were known simply as Scottish Terriers until 1873 when they were split into the Dandie Dinmont Terrier and the Skye Terrier. In 1909, some dog fanciers called this breed the Short-haired Skye Terrier, but this name was not accepted, and it was eventually changed to Cairn Terriers, a reference to the cairn stone piles where small mammals tried to hide from these hunting dogs.

Like all terriers, Cairns require responsible owners who will teach them who is in charge, but they are intelligent and they do respond to good training. Don't expect to toss them alone in a backyard to be a watchdog. They like to be involved with the whole family.

Appearance / health:
The Cairn Terrier is an active, working, hardy small terrier. They are strong though not heavily built. The overall shaggy appearance is similar to a fox. The skull is broad compared to the length with plenty of hair on top of the head. The strong muzzle is neither too long nor heavy. The nose is black. The eyes are set wide apart with a sunken expression, generally hazel or dark hazel in color. The ears are small, pointed, and erect. The tail is well covered with hair but is not feathered. The body is well muscled and strong.

The Cairn Terrier sheds little if groomed regularly. However, their coats require regular daily brushing to remove any dead hair and prevent a matted look. Bathing is done on a monthly basis. It is necessary for owners to check for fleas regularly. Brushing the teeth may be useful in preventing dog breath and dental problems.

Cairns require moderate levels of exercise to stay happy. Dogs can accompany their owners on short walks or a brief jog. Swimming is a good alternative for some dogs.

Cairns are prone to obesity. Hence, their diet must be monitored. Eye problems and allergies may occur in few Cairn Terriers. Luxating patella, a condition in which the kneecap slips out of its groove, is fairly common in Cairns and other small dogs.

Behavior / temperament:
Cairn Terriers are noisy, mischievous, spirited creatures that love being busy either barking, chasing animals, digging up the garden, nipping at people's feet, chewing objects, and lunging at people and animals. Their hunting instincts are strong and they are capable of killing smaller animals. Other dogs may arouse suspicion in them and they may not hesitate to lunge at them. They are courageous and loyal, making good watchdogs if trained correctly.

They have a high learning rate owing to their intelligence and curiosity. Boring, mundane training routines are bound to fail with them. They need to be motivated and kept engaged. Early socialization and obedience classes are extremely important with this breed. However, owners may find that Cairns frequently forget or purposely disobey their masters if they are determined to do something.

Some Cairn Terriers seem to bark for no reason, which possibly indicates boredom. Along with good training, owners need to keep them busy.


lovable rascals, active person, Cuddling, intelligent, social dogs, charismatic companion


extra destructive, irrational mood swings, snapping, Small Dog Syndrome, warts, tumors, terror terrier


curious hunters, double coat, love water, securely fenced yard, Fly Ball classes

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