Cairn Terrier

Cairn Terrier
Cairn Terrier book

The Cairn Terrier history traces back to the working terriers of Scotland. Breeders used them for hunting, vermin control, and companionship. Dog enthusiasts exhibited wirehaired terriers at Britain’s early dog shows as Scotch Terriers. Gradually, they separated multiple variations into the Scottish West Highland White and the Skye Terrier breed.

two cairn terrier relaxing in the yard

For several years the Cairn Terrier was shown as shorthaired Skye Terriers until recognition as a separate breed in 1912. The AKC recognized the breed the following year. Most Americans were first introduced to the breed by Toto from the Wizard of Oz.

The Cairn is a rugged, no-nonsense working terrier, sturdy, well proportioned, and covered with a hard, weather-resistant coat. It is short-legged and robust but not heavily-built, with a medium-length, level back, and a feathered tail that balances the head. The breed’s head is shorter and broader than that of other terriers, wide-set eyes, shaggy eyebrows, and small, pointed, erect ears produce a keen and foxy expression.

Cairn Terrier Breed Facts

Energy levelWatchdog ability
Exercise requirementsProtection ability
PlayfulnessGrooming requirements
Affection levelCold tolerance
Friendliness toward dogsHeat tolerance
Friendliness toward other petsFriendliness toward strangers
Ease of training

POPULARITY: Somewhat popular
FAMILY: Terrier
DATE OF ORIGIN: Middle ages
TODAY’S FUNCTION: Earthdog trials
WEIGHT: male: 14 pounds; female: 13 pounds
HEIGHT: male: 10 inches; female: 9.5 inches

Year of AKC recognition: 1913

Cairn Terrier Temperament

cairn terrier running and having fun

Cairn Terrier personalities range from gregarious to dignified. However, overall the breed is noted for its gameness and spirit. For instance, Cairns are self-assured, curious dogs and can become bossy or possessive of food and toys if owners fail to maintain house rules.

3 cairn terrier puppies in a basket looking too cute

Breeders created Cairns to work independently. They’re highly admired for their intelligence and problem-solving skills. However, to be happy, a Cairn must be part of the family. Therefore, these dogs should have jobs to do. The breed excels at obedience, agility, earth dog, and tracking competitions. If bored or neglected, a Cairn may resort to digging and barking. These dogs are not suited to living outside.


The low-shedding coat needs thorough brushing and combing once a week. Hand stripping will maintain the coat’s proper texture. Some cairns suffer from flea allergies, so pay special attention to keep them flea-free. A grooming booklet is available from the parent club.

Coat: A harsh, wiry outer layer with a short, soft undercoat

Color: Any color except white

Activity level

Although they’re active and playful, Cairns are versatile and quickly adapt to an urban lifestyle. This dog is a hardy breed with a strong predatory drive; Cairns must be exercised on a lead or in a fenced yard.

Breed Health

  • Major Concerns: None
  • Minor Concerns: portacaval shunt, glaucoma (in association with or without ocular melanosis), CMO
  • Occasionally seen: GCL, patellar luxation, congenital heart defects
  • Suggested tests: GCL, knee, eye, cardiac
  • Life span: 12—14 years

Cairn Terrier Buyer’s Guide

Choose a puppy from a conscientious breeder and trust the breeder to help you choose a puppy that will suit your lifestyle. Many owners say that the only thing better than owning a Cairn is owning two.

Regional clubs: The CTCA lists local clubs on its website under “Membership” and then “Affiliated Clubs.”

Rescue: The CTCA’s website provides rescue contacts under “Find Your Cairn” and then “Rescue.”

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