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Cairn Terriers

Picture of 2 Cairn Terriers

Cairn Terriers


The dog now called Cairn terrier was originally known as the "Short-haired Skye Terrier". The rock piles of the highlands were called "cairns" and the dogs would ferret out the rats and other vermin that sheltered there.

In common with the rat terrier they were prized for their powerful jaw and their working abilities. From a large variety of terrier type dogs, four distinct breeds slowly emerged in Scotland: the Cairn, Skye, West Highland White and Scottish terrier. The Scottish terrier and the West Highland White evolved from the Scottish terriers before the Cairns terriers were names as a separate breed. They shared the crofter's simple life and would bolt the fox, otter and the weasel, and as a result of their tenacity do it successfully as they are much smaller than otter.


They have a strong body clad in a weatherproof coat; it had to be as even the casual visitor to the Scottish highlands is aware the weather can be keen! If you are not sure how Cairn terriers look like, one of the most famous portrayals of a Cairn terrier was as Toto, Judy Garland's feisty little dog that refused to be intimidated by the lion or the tin man, in the film the Wizard of Oz. It is a hardy dog, said to have the expression of a fox. Cairn terriers come in a huge variety of colors, in fact every color but white. However it is virtually impossible to predict what its adult color is likely to be as the coat changes color for many years before establishing the final adult coloring.


Cairn Terriers are confidant, alert and ready to tackle anything, displaying a high level of independence but also friendly. Men feel confident having them as their dogs, despite the limited stature of the Cairn terrier. Because they love play all of their lives they endear themselves to children and tend not to have the "snappy" attitude of other small terriers. It is important to recognize that the Cairn terrier , is not only a dog but also a terrier when they are not treated correctly they will become a tyrant and rule your life.

Every dog has its own distinctive personality, but it is true to say that no two Cairn terriers are ever the same. As a rule they need consistent discipline because if you give these tough little dogs an inch they will take a mile. However although they need to know who is boss they are very sensitive to humans and they do not need to over or harshly correct them, as they are quick to learn and sense what you want.

They need to have mental stimulation and in general react well to children, but like all terriers they can be destructive when they are bored. Because of their breeding they love to dig and the shape of their feet makes them very good at, they should never be left any near your prize flowerbed. As hunters they do have a tendency to chase small rabbits and squirrels if they are in the country.


The Cairn terrier has a shaggy natural look that is actually quite a lot of work to maintain.

They shed a minimum amount of hair if they are brushed several times a week. They need brushing because they have two coats, the hard tough outer coat and an undercoat of fine hair that resembles fur. There naturally wooly shaggy appearance looks very matted and bedraggled without regular brushing. Also their coats benefit from a bath once a month and brush their coat dry from wet. Their coat grows into their eyes and ears and needs a regular trim to avoid the Cairn terrier from being completely blind. Their nails need to be clipped very regularly.


They love exercise but can exercise themselves with a ball and a yard.


Don't overindulge this dog, it is too independent. Cairn Terriers need basic training and a matter of fact approach, which well suits their temperament. To a degree it does need to be watched as a puppy as its nature can get it into all sorts of trouble. When training a Cairn terrier, life is not always predictable and they can offer a lot of humor. It will not be uncommon to be doubled over with laughter. Cairn Terriers are not the easiest dogs to train because whilst they are quick to learn, their idea of what you want may not even remotely coincide with yours. They respond to patience and a firm hand and those that don't get it will be very unruly indeed.

Special traits of the Cairn Terrier

The Cairn terrier is often allergic to fleabites and it is therefore imperative they are kept from getting bitten. Also bear in mind that if you wish to show a Cairn terrier , they may show potential as young Cairn puppies , but you cannot guarantee they will have the correct qualities, and these will not be evident until the cairn puppy is between six months and a year old. Sometimes a breeder may have a puppy "reserved" as a show dog, and they do not have the potential. What it means in effect is that the breeder has puppies that are far older than normal for any dog; in fact most reputable breeders do not like to part with a Cairn terrier until they are three months old. It means that these dogs will already be housetrained and often they will have been socialized which will take a lot of the work out of training the puppy.

Many dogs do not like cats but as far as many of the Cairn terrier is concerned cats are vermin to be eradicated. Then can be difficult to keep in apartments, as they are often very vocal little fellows. Never ever leave a Cairn terrier alone and untethered they nearly always attack other dogs to preserve their territory and because of their size they often lose; like all terriers they are height challenged when it comes to fights and will take on anything.

Ideal weight: 13-14 pounds / 5,5-6,5 kg
Average height: 9-10 inch / 23-25 cm
Life expectancy: 12-15 years


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