Cairn Terrier

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Life span

15 Years


8 Kg


Terrier Dogs

Cairn Terrier Overview

The Cairn Terrier is a small breed, weighing 8 kilos at a maximum. It is a courageous, energetic, and intelligent little breed and is one of the oldest terrier breeds of Scottish origins. It is in fact recognised as one of Scotland’s oldest working dogs that exist today. It has an abundant shaggy, weather-resistant coat that comes in cream, red or wheaten, brindle, light gray, or black. Its general appearance is that of an agile and alert working breed. It is often described as fearless with a lively disposition. It has a small head in proportion to the body, a definite stop, powerful muzzle with a black nose and medium-sized, dark hazel eyes. The erect ears are small and pointed, well set on the top of the head. The front legs are larger than the back legs and are slightly turned out. All feet are cushioned by thick and strong pads. It has a short tail, well covered with hair and carried brightly. The Cairn Terrier’s appearance did not change remarkably throughout the centuries and the average size remains much the same at approximately between 28 and 31 cms.  

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Cairn Terrier Characteristics

Size InformationIntelligence
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Size InformationExercise Needs
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Size InformationDogs Health
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Size InformationChild Friendly
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Size InformationApartment
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Size InformationShedding
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Size InformationGrooming Needs
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Size InformationBarking
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Size InformationAlone
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Size InformationTrainability
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Size InformationEnergy Levels
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Size InformationDog friendly
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History & Origin

The Cairn Terrier has its roots traced back in the Highlands of Scotland and the Isle of Skye, from indigenous working terriers bred during the 16th century. It was one of the highly-prized breeds that King James I even sent some of these dogs to the King of France as gifts. The Cairn Terrier was originally used to hunt foxes, rats, and rabbits. During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Cairn’s role shifted to a working sporting dog were badgers and otters where some of its game prey. The original Cairns differ substantially in sizes, shapes, and colour, depending on the area or terrain where they worked on and the type of game they were used against. These differences gradually began to resolve as new breeds emerged from the Cairn, including the Skye Terrier, Scottish Terrier, and the West Highland White Terrier. The Cairns, however, became relatively isolated mainly in the estates of Argyllshire and the Isle of Skye. The Cairn gained recognition in 1910 when the Kennel Club officially registered the breed as the “Cairn Terrier”, named after a small outcrop of stones common in the Scottish Highlands.

Cairn Terrier Temperament

Lively, intelligent and loyal – these three summarizes a perfect Cairn Terrier temperament. This happy little dog is a loyal family companion and will gladly join each member in all outdoor activities. As a member of the Terrier breed, the Cairn can have a stubborn streak and may become bossy at times, so early consistent training is important to let the dog learn to become a follower. It will tolerate sitting on the owner’s lap - for a few moments, and then it will start wriggling impatiently to be released. This intelligent dog is always curious which makes it easy to learn new things but also highly sensitive which will not tolerate harsh training or punishments.

Cairn Terrier Training

This intelligent pet is relatively easy to train, especially if trained from a very young age. Obedience training is one particular aspect to focus on particularly if the Cairn is to be used as a hunting dog. This will train the dog to focus on the handler as the leader, which will also benefit the owner if the Cairn is to be kept as a pet. A Cairn that is not trained to become a follower can have a tendency to take control of everything which results in certain unruly behaviour including excessive barking and being overly protective.


The weather-resistant coat of the Cairn Terrier moults very little but it is recommended that it should always be hand stripped, except the hair between the foot pads and toes which should be trimmed with scissors. Trimming the coat with scissors or razor is not recommended as it will ruin the dog’s rugged appearance after one grooming. Hand stripping is done by gently pulling loose dead hair to allow the growth of new hairs which help protect the dog from the weather. The growth of new hair also help keeps the skin dry even in damp weather, which prevents the onset of skin allergies. Grooming twice a month is highly recommended.


The Cairn Terrier is generally a healthy breed which can live between 12 to 17 years. However, like other dog breeds, there are several identified health issues that affect the breed, including cataracts, corneal dystrophy, craniomandibular osteopathy, entropion, hip dysplasia, hypothyroidism, Krabbe disease, Legg-Calvé-Perthes syndrome, luxating patella, ocular melanosis, portosystemic shunt, progressive retinal atrophy, soft tissue sarcoma, and Von Willebrand disease.

Cairn Terrier Exercise Needs

This small breed is an excellent dog to have in any household setting. It is very active indoors and can live in an apartment or condominium setting. Daily short walk around the block or in the park is enough to satisfy the Cairn’s exercise requirement. If kept off the leash, a well-fenced yard is an ideal place for the breed to run and play which will take care of a lot of its exercise requirements.

Children and other pets

The Cairn Terrier will do best with older children who know how to handle a dog properly. It is a great breed to have as a family companion and will happily join each member in outdoor activities. This charming little dog was bred to go after vermin so it has a very strong hunting instinct and will go after anything it deems as prey. However, it will typically do good with other animals, even small ones if raised with them from a very young age.