Cairn Terrier

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Cairn Terrier

With a short, wide head and a free-moving, short-legged body, Cairn Terriers were originally bred to fearlessly root out foxes and other small, furred prey. Curious and alert, Cairns like to have their own place to dig and explore. With double coat, harsh and wiry outer and downy beneath, they have the terrier qualities of gameness, independent thinking, and true-blue loyalty, which make they do best with lots of close family contact.

Other Names Cairn
Color Black, Brindle, Cream, Gray, Red, Silver, Wheaten, Red Brindle, Gray Brindle, Cream Brindle, Black Brindle
Height Males: 10-12 inches. Females: 9-11 inches.
Weight Males: 14-17 pounds. Females: 13-16 pounds.
Life Span 13-15 years
Personality Alert, Cheerful, Busy
Exercise Regular Exercise
Popularity #72
Groom Needs Weekly Brushing
Kids Friendly Yes with supervision
Dog Friendly Yes with supervision
Watch Dog
Family Dog
Litter Size 2-10

Cairn Terrier Pictures

Cairn Terrier Video


The Cairn terrier is just one ball of fun – he’s lovable with bag loads of personality, enjoying spending his time around other doggy friends and people. He offers a gentle side that he shows to people and other animals. Often you will find him sitting in a chair staring out and looking like he is contemplating the things of the world! The Cairn has oodles of energy, loving to be outside in the garden exploring and digging. You won’t see a Cairn terrier showing much aggression but as always, any breed of dog needs early training. He stands about 10 inches at the shoulder and weighs about 15 pounds. They are double-coated, being wiry on the outside, and coming in a variety of shades. The most common colors are black, grey, and cream, often with brindle included as well. Cairns don’t shed excessively, and a weekly brush out should be enough to keep their coat in good condition. He needs twice-daily walks and enjoys play and interaction with his family indoors as well. If he isn’t given enough attention, he can become destructive and bark incessantly.

Living with Cairn Terrier

Cairn Terriers are easy to keep clean by weekly brushing and combing. A soft slicker brush handy and comb will make grooming easier to be done. Bathing every three months or so is required, but frequent bathing isn’t recommended because it softens the coarse terrier coat which will detract from a show Cairn’s physical appearance.

Spending time together in grooming sessions from his young age can help your dog gets used to being worked with, which is also an opportunity to develop the bond between you.

The nails should be trimmed once a month to prevent discomfort caused by the over-long nails. A professional trim with clippers two to three times a year is fine. 

Check the ears regularly with a veterinarian-approved cleanser and cotton ball to prevent infection, irritation, or wax build up, which indicate some diseases. 

Brush your Cairn’s teeth at least two or three times a week to remove tartar buildup and the bacteria that lurk inside it, and daily brushing is benefit to prevent gum disease and bad breath.

In general, the Cairn Terriers need to be given a minimum of at least one hour’s exercise every day to keep his high-energy characters both physically and mentally. But too much exercise will increase the pressure on their joints and bones, which can cause a dog a few problems later on in their lives.

Keeping mental stimulation is important to prevent boredom from setting in which could help prevent from becoming destructive around the home and lead to a dog finding their own ways of pleasing themselves. Running and playing are good methods to prevent destructive their behaviors.

Playing outside and walking for a half hour or more per day will help keep him healthy and alert, and help the breed burn excess energy. But time outdoors should be supervised, because the breed has a high prey drive to wander or chase.

Cairn Terriers need a small amount of high-quality food with human grade meat without synthetic preservatives or flavorings as a base, rather than a grain to maintain a healthy weight. But you should not overfeed and turn your Cairn Terrier into a stuffed sausage.

The amount of the food that you give to your dog depends on his activity level, size, age, build, metabolism.

It’s best to feed a mature dog with good quality diet twice a day to meet all his nutritional requirements. But you should care about its calories consumption to avoid obesity, which can lead to all sorts of health issues and shorten a dog’s life by several years.

Clean, fresh water should be available at all times.

Learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. Check with your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s weight or diet.

With an average life expectancy of 13 to 14 years, Cairn Terriers are generally healthy, but they may get into some health conditions, such as hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, legg-calve-perthes disease, eye concerns, diabetes, patellar luxation, cryptorchidism and liver shunt.

Check with your vet, learn about these diseases and know what to do when they occur to ensure the dog a long, healthy life if you’re considering this breed.

Responsible breeders will test their stock for health disorders, including ophthalmologist evaluation, patella evaluation, cardiac exam and GCL DNA Test.

Also, the breeders can communicate with other dedicated breeders regularly, and work together for breed health and preservation of the breed’s unique qualities.

Total Annual Cost: $2889

Cost is estimated for the first year and may vary depending on many factors, such as dog food, health care, leash, collar, licensing, possible fencing, crates, training and obedience classes, dog-walking, grooming, treats, toys, flea, tick, and heart-worm meds, microchips, etc.

With the ability of quick study, the Cairn also has a stubborn streak with the instinct to dig and chase small animals. Regular obedience training from his young age is necessary to help him develop good manners and respect for your authority.

With a fantastic sense of smell for tracking, the ready-to-work Cairn Terrier excels at Earthdog training, and they can learn advanced tricks, and enjoys competing in agility.

Puppies should be properly socialized to develop the amiable, outgoing personality that is characteristic of the breed. Early puppy training classes and socialization can help make sure the dog grows into a well-adjusted, well-mannered companion, but you should be positive, kind, and consistent.

Basic commands, such as “quiet”, should be trained but do keep him leashed in public places. Positive training methods and gentle correction work best for this sensitive breed. And keep training interesting with plenty of praise, which will make the training best experience.


The Cairn terrier is one of the oldest breeds of terriers, originating from the Highlands of Scotland. They were also apparently bred on the Scottish Isle of Skye. 

He was once a hunter, chasing quarry between the cairns in the Scottish highlands. Cairns means “stones” and that’s exactly what this little terrier was at home doing; hunting amongst the cairns. 

Evidence shows that one strain of the Cairn terrier, the “Short-haired Skye Terrier,” was founded by Captain Martin MacLeod of Drynock, Isle of Skye. He maintained a pack of silver-grey Short-haired Skye Terriers for forty years but then immigrated to Canada in 1845. 

It was the persistence of Mrs. Alastair Campbell and Mary Hawke, British pioneers of the Cairn terrier, which led to the Cairn terrier being recognized by The Kennel Club in 1910. In England, the breed was so popular, the British Breeding Club had a motto which said, “The best little pal in the world”. 

Can you remember the movie, the Wizard of Oz, and the little dog called Toto? Well, he made the Cairn terrier a very popular dog to have after that movie.

Two other pioneers, Mrs. Henry F. Price and Mrs. Byron Rodgers were the ones responsible for the Cairn terrier gaining approval in the United States. The first Cairn terrier was imported to the United States in 1913. In 1917 the American Kennel Club granted membership to the Cairn Terrier Club of America.

Helpful Information


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Breed Club Rescue: CTCA’s Rescue Committee

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