- Height: 9-13 inches
- Weight: 13-18 lb
- Lifespan: 12-15 years
- Group: AKC Terrier
- Best Suited For: Families with children, active singles and seniors, apartments, houses with/without yards
- Temperament: Clever, stubborn, scrappy, bold
- Comparable Breeds: Norfolk Terrier, Norwich Terrier
Cairn Terrier Basics
You were probably introduced to the Cairn Terrier through The Wizard of Oz – yep, Toto was a Cairn Terrier. Vivacious and active, the Cairn Terrier is a hardy, spirited large dog that lives in a little dog’s body. You’ll soon find that this intelligent dog never misses anything going on around it and its short tail never seems to stop wagging.
Eager to please and surprisingly sensitive, the Cairn Terrier makes an excellent house pet as its great with children and enjoy playing with other dogs. A few of its favorite pastimes include hunting, exploring, digging, and chasing small things. Read on to learn more about this wonderful breed.
Vivacious and active, the Cairn Terrier is a hardy, spirited large dog that lives in a little dog’s body.
In the 1500s, the Cairn Terrier hunted in the Highlands of Scotland. The name ‘Cairn’ comes from the stones people used to mark graves and Scottish farm borders. Vermin would hide under the stone piles and the Cairn Terrier would hunt these small rodents for the farmers. In its present form, the Cairn Terrier is now a beloved companion dog that excels at agility, watch dogging, competitive obedience, Earthdog trials, hunting, and other competitive sports.
The oldest of the terrier breeds, the Cairn Terrier was initially grouped in the Skye Terrier class with the Scottish and West Highland White Terriers. Starting in the early 1900s, the three breeds were bred separately.
The Cairn Terrier was recognized by the AKC in 1913.
Food / Diet
Cairn Terriers require a small amount of high quality food to maintain a healthy weight, making the breed an inexpensive one to feed. Take care not to overfeed and turn your Cairn Terrier into a stuffed sausage. Choose a natural dry dog food with human grade meat as a base, rather than a grain, and it should have no added synthetic preservatives or flavorings.
Eager to please and surprisingly sensitive, the Cairn Terrier makes an excellent house pet as its great with children and enjoy playing with other dogs.
Cairn Terriers are known to be stubborn and self-willed, so train and socialize the dog at a young age. Use training methods that are positive, challenging and full, as Cairn Terriers respond well to this type of training.
Cairn Terriers don’t respond well to repetitive training methods. This breed needs changes in routine and limited repetitions to avoid becoming bored and non-compliant. To ensure that you are seen as the leader of the household, take your dog to obedience or puppy class – both are great ways for your dog to learn basic training and master commands mastered, as well as to integrate socialization.
Possessiveness is an issue that you’ll need to deal with, as Cairn Terriers will tend to snap and protect its food and toys. Early on, teach your dog to relinquish food, bones and toys – this will prevent negative behaviors down the road. Cairns can turn out to be barkers, so be sure to teach your dog to stop barking on command.
Male Cairn Terriers weigh 14 to 18 pounds, while females weigh 13 to 17 pounds.
Temperament / Behavior
Just a few characteristics of the Cairn Terrier are loyal, spirited, lovable, merry small dog that is friendly but also independent. Your dog might believe it’s a big dog and get into some sticky situation when it tries to bite off more than it can chew. Bold and fearless, Cairns are playful, curious, wonderful with children, and easily trained.
After your dog has been properly socialized, it will get along with other dogs and pets. Cairns like to run off for the hunt, and will dig up a storm.
An excellent watchdog, the Cairn Terrier makes a poor guard dog, as it wants to befriend most strangers. Even though it’s independent, this devoted dog is happiest in the house with his family, playing games, following them around, or snuggling.
Don’t leave your Cairn Terrier alone for too long, as it will lonely, bored, unhappy, and develop destructive habits. Keep your Cairn physically and mentally challenged and stimulated to avoid annoying behaviors. Always on the lookout love and attention, Cairn Terriers like to perform tricks, so use this fact to keep them occupied. Cairn Terriers love spending time outside and going on walks to enjoy new smells, sights, sounds, and places.
Common Health Problems
For the most part, Cairn Terriers are a sound, healthy dog breed but may suffer from certain health conditions. These include weight gain and obesity from overfeeding, skin problems (fleas and skin allergies can lead to excessive scratching, licking, and skin rashes), Patellar Luxation (the knee joint or kneecap slips in and out of place causing pain) and glaucoma and hereditary eye diseases.
Cairn Terriers have a life expectancy of 12 to 15 years.
Cairn Terriers do well in city, country or suburban settings as long as it can partake in sufficient exercise. Even though the Cairn is active indoors, it will still want to get outside. A fenced yard is ideal for the dog to play with family members, run, fetch, and get exercise. Daily walks or runs are also encouraged.
Just a few characteristics of the Cairn Terrier are loyal, spirited, lovable, merry small dog that is friendly but also independent.
The American Kennel Club says this about the breed: “Best known as “Toto” from the Wizard of Oz, the Cairn Terrier is a small, hardy working terrier. Originally bred to aid Scottish farmers in ridding their properties of pests, Cairns today use their tenacity to excel in obedience, agility, terrier and tracking trials.”
Cairn Terriers sport a shaggy looking double coat – its outer coat is wiry and its undercoat is soft. Its straight, medium length coat comes in several colors including grey, sand, black, brindle, and red.
You’ll need to give your Cairn Terrier a thorough brushing and combing every few days using a pin brush or stiff bristle brush. You must brush both the outer and inner coat to prevent matting, which increases the chance of sores, rashes, and infections.
This little puppy is a cute bundle of joy. Teach your children to play gentle, and be sure to introduce your Cairn Terrier to other dogs and animals as soon as possible.
Photo credit: Eric Isselee/Shutterstock