AKC Dog Breeds: Cairn Terrier

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Terrier Group
Height: 9-13 inches   Weight: 13-18  pounds  Color: white, brindle, black, tan, sand, red or gray

Best known as "Toto" from the Wizard of Oz, the Cairn Terrier is a small, hardy working terrier. The Cairn Terrier was originally used as a ratting dog, hunting throughout farmlands in the areas around the Isle of Skye in Scotland in the 1500's. There are many terrier breeds that came out of this area, but the modern Cairn Terrier is considered to be the closest in appearance and personality to the actual ancestors of these terrier breeds. The Cairn Terrier received its name though its ability to push itself through the rocks that formed the cairns or stone fences after rodents and vermin that were problematic in the area. They were experts at driving the larger rodents or animals such as otters and badgers out of the cairns as well as hunting and killing the smaller animals. Although independent and prized for its ability to hunt, the Cairn Terrier was also valued as a watchdog and companion

General Appearance

This breed is the smallest of the Terriers. They were originally bred in the Scottish Highlands for their working ability, not their appearance. The Cairn Terrier is built sturdy and strong, but not built heavily. The Cairn Terrier is double coated with a coarse outer coat and soft, short furry undercoat. Their coat has a shaggy appearance that does not require trimming and is weather resistant. They shed little to no hair. The Cairn Terrier has a fox-like expression.  The coat comes in red, brindle, blackish, sand and various shades of gray. Any color except white is acceptable, though dark points (ears, eyes and muzzle) are preferred. Adult coat color is hard to predict from the puppy coat as the color often continues to change for several years. The Cairn Terrier has a compact body, about 14 inches from the forechest to back of the hindquarters. It is short with good bone structure. The head is broad with bushy topknot and eyebrows and black nose. It has a powerful but not heavy muzzle, a scissors bite and a wide, robust skull. The dark hazel eyes are deep set. The ears are small, pointy and erect. The short hairy tail is carried gaily.

A hardy, intelligent, and alert little dog, the Cairn Terrier is a delightful pet and companion. This is a bold and inquisitive dog, but has a very gentle disposition. The Cairn Terrier is energetic and playful and loves to get involved in activity and fun. His tendency to bark and raise the alarm makes him an effective watchdog. These dogs have plenty of spirit and get-up-and-go, and are keen, enthusiastic, eager, and intelligent. The Cairn Terrier can also have a very assertive and stubborn nature, and may be best suited to a dog owner with some level of experience in dog ownership. The Cairn Terrier gets along well with children, especially those that are older and considerate, and will enjoy playing and joining in with family activities. He will usually get along well with other pets too, although they can be a little bossy. With other males of the same breed they can tend to be a little aggressive. With strangers the reaction can depend upon the personality of the individual Cairn Terrier, and some will be reserved whereas others will be friendly. The Cairn Terrier loves to dig, so if your garden is your pride and joy be prepared for some shocks.


The Cairn Terrier should be groomed very other day with a stiff bristle brush or a pin brush, grooming both the outer hair and the softer, dense inner coat. He is a low shedder, but this can increase on a seasonal basis. In addition to regular grooming, the hair around the ears and eyes should be regularly trimmed to avoid irritation. The teeth should regularly be checked for tartar build up and regular brushing with a finger sleeve or dog-toothbrush and special dog toothpaste is recommended. At least twice a year the Cairn Terrier should have all the long and dead hairs removed from his or her coat. This is done through a process called stripping.

Health Problems and Life Expectancy
The Cairn Terrier has a life expectancy of around 13-16 years. A number of health problems are linked to this breed, and some of these include cataracts, glaucoma, Legg-Perthes, luxating patella, blood disorders, kidney disorders, PRA, CMO, seizures, allergies, and thyroid problems.

Activity Level

The Cairn Terrier is purely high energy. They benefit from daily brisk walks, but are more suited for a fenced yard with room to run. This breed is not suited for apartment or condo living. They require supervision when they are outside as their natural instinct to hunt and dig can lead them into danger. The Cairn Terrier has excellent ball playing talents and would happily do so for hours.


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Cairn Terrier profile on dog encyclopedia
Cairn Terrier on dog encyclopedia