Cairn Terrier

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cream, wheaten, red, grey or nearly black
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Pros Cons

  • outgoing and vivacious

  • outstanding playmate for well-behaved children

  • good watchdog

  • wilful

  • tends to be highly vocal

  • may show aggressiveness towards small pets


The Cairn Terrier is one of the oldest of all the Terrier varieties whose history began in Western Scotland, particularly in the Highlands and the Isle of Skye. This happy, daring, affectionate and alert dog was prized for its deftness in hunting various small animals and rodents. Nowadays its delightful character and excellent adaptability earned it numerous fanciers in the role of a family dog.


The pedigree of the Cairn Terrier goes back to diminutive, rough-haired terriers, which could be found in the Scottish highlands since the XVI century. This nimble and tenacious dog was primarily kept by farmers who entrusted it with clearing their barns and homesteads from rats and other rodents. Its supreme talents in tracking and flushing game from its layer also had application in hunting such animals as foxes and badgers. During the XVIII century this dog was known under the name little Sky Terrier or Shorthaired Terrier. According to general opinion of experts it was produced by crossing the now-extinct White Terrier and Black and Tan Terrier.

Until 1873 all varieties of terriers in Scotland were all classified under a common name: the Scotch Terrier. At that point they were parted into two categories: Sky Terriers and Dandie Dinmont Terriers. The dog that subsequently became the Cairn Terrier was attributed to the Sky Terrier group, together with breeds that are nowadays referred as the Scottish Terrier and the West Highland White Terrier. All three dogs differed from each other essentially by colour.

This mischievous small terrier that by the time were being nicknamed the short-coated Skye, could be predominantly seen on farms until the beginning of the XX century when it eventually entered the show ring. The breed received its present name in 1912. It was called for the manner it would penetrate into «cairns» and harass the badger or fox until the hunter would come to finish it off. «Cairns» designated rock lairs where these animals usually hid as well as the heaps of stones that were used as landmarks or memorials in this part of Scotland.

It’s worth noting that the specimens of the Cairn Terrier and the West Highland White Terrier were repeatedly crossed in USA until 1913 when the American Kennel Club (AKC) formally accepted the Cairn and banned this practise. Today’s dogs mostly enjoy life of family pets although they definitely remain true to their heritage of a proficient vermin exterminator.


The Cairn Terrier has all necessary personality traits to become an excellent companion animal. It retains its puppy-like playfulness and buoyancy until very venerable age. Despite its miniature size it can’t be reckoned a classical lap dog, as it loves nothing more that explore its surroundings. It’s prone to feel itself highly stressed when separated from its masters and craves for their love and attention. This dog is commonly on good terms with familiar children with whom it can willingly play for hours and hours. However it’s notable for intolerance to maltreatment of any kind so make sure to explain your kids how to handle dogs properly.

In general, the Cairn Terrier is moderately friendly with strangers although it stays a little bit reserved and wary in their presence. This breed is usually very serious about its duty of protecting its territory and special people from any possible threat. This keen-nosed dog will sense the approach of an unwelcomed guest in good time and will warn its masters with its loud voice. Such vigilance makes it not only a fabulous watcher but also a permanent barker. This breed shouldn’t be trusted with guarding tasks because it lacks both ferociousness and power.

The Cairn Terrier is comparatively good with other dogs, especially familiar ones. Nonetheless, cruel confrontations are perfectly possible between canines of the same sex so it’s recommended to always keep this dog safely leashed on a walk. Prey drive is still well developed in this breed so it’s rather difficult to keep it alongside with such creatures as hamsters or rats. It also takes belligerent attitude to stray cats and other street animals. In most cases though this dog will tolerate those cats with which it has been reared since very young age.

Health Problems

The most common problems for the breed include:

· rapid weight gain;

· eye problems;

· renal dysplasia;

· skin infections (allergic reaction to flea bites);

· legg-calve-perthes disease (LCPD);

· portosystemic vascular anomalies (PSVA);

· microvascular dysplasia (MVD);

· canine hip dysplasia.


The Cairn Terrier can be properly groomed with average investment of time and efforts. Its shaggy coat should be carefully brushed only once a week in order to look neat and healthy. Systematic coat care will also make shedding of this dog almost unnoticeable.

The breed requires manual stripping a few times a year since trimming this dog’s hair with ordinary scissors even once may spoil its unique texture. Flea allergy is a usual health concern for Cairn Terrier, so it’s essential to check the dog for the presence of these parasites on a regular basis. The rest is a routine maintenance that includes monthly nails trimming and weekly teeth brushing.


The Cairn Terrier is a clever yet somewhat self-willed dog whose training is a task of an average difficulty. Obedience training assumes paramount importance for this breed considering its propensity to excessive barking. The dog will learn fast and readily if its success is rewarded with praise and generous treats.

On the other hand, physical enforcement will never bring desirable results in the work with this breed and will only provoke it to more wilful behaviour. It’s also recommended to apply firm but still gentle training techniques, which should be based on short and amusing lessons. Timely and extensive socialisation will make out of the Cairn Terrier a perfect pet for any family.


The Cairn Terrier is a relatively unpretentious breed as long as it concerns its physical activity. A long and vigorous daily walk will provide this dog with sufficient outlet for its superfluous energy although it will be exited at the regular opportunity to frisk and run off-leash in a well-fenced yard.

As a working breed, the Cairn Terrier absolutely loves goal-oriented games and activities. In case of foul weather it also will be quite content with playing ball with its masters at home. Digging, chewing, unstoppable barking and other nasty behavioural deviations are always found in all dogs that lack physical stimulation or attention from their masters.