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Cairn Terrier Dog Breed Information

General Information:

Height: 9-11 in
Weight: 13-14 lbs
Life Span: 12-15 yrs
Coloring: Any solid color except white; red, black, gray, brindle
Area of Origin: Scotland
Similar Breeds: West Highland White Terrier, Scottish Terrier, Skye Terrier

History and Origin:

Until 1873, all of Scotland’s small terriers were considered to be “Scotch Terriers.” Classification then produced the Skye Terrier and the Dandie Dinmont Terrier; the Cairn, along with the Scottish and West Highland White, was considered to be a Skye Terrier. The only difference between these dogs was coat color, and it wasn’’t until the end of the nineteenth century that further distinction was made. After the Scottish (black coats) and West Highland White (white coats) enthusiasts began breeding separately from the other types, minor physical qualities began to emerge that distinguished one breed from the others. Originally called the “Short-Haired Skye” (the Skye terrier having soft, long hair versus the shorter, coarse hair of the Cairn), its name soon changed to “Cairn Terrier of Skye,” and then simply “Cairn,” referring to its habit of tunneling through the rock structures in search of vermin. Inter-breeding with the other Scotch Terriers (most commonly the West Highland White) continued to be a common, unregulated practice until 1917, when the American Kennel Club (and consequently, the United Kingdom Kennel Club) refused to register any dog whose parents were not both registered Cairns.

Personality and Temperament:

Curious, strong-willed, and intelligent, the Cairn Terrier is prone to developing “Small Dog Syndrome” if its owner does not display proper leadership. It is independent and lovable, the Cairn gets along well with children and other dogs, but may engage in predator-prey activity with cats and other small animals. The Cairn is fearless, courageous, and loves to dig.  It may bark and suffer from separation anxiety if it is not raised with strong, consistent leadership from its owner. It is an extremely social dog, and should not be left alone for too long. The Cairn Terrier may prove to be a handful for nervous or new dog owners; previous experience with terriers is recommended before welcoming a Cairn into the family.

Exercise & Training:

As a terrier, the Cairn has what can be perceived as an endless supply of energy. As such, it requires extensive exercise to keep it healthy. A long daily walk with regular activities such as agility or terrier trials will allow the dog to be a relaxed, friendly member of the family. It is an intelligent breed that is highly trainable, however it has been noted that the Cairn, much like its Scottish, West Highland, and Skye cousins, “come when they are ready, and not before.” Gentle, but firm and consistent, training from a young age will help the dog to mature into a happy, well-adjusted companion.


The Cairn Terrier’s rugged, double coat requires a decent amount of attention. It should be brushed almost every day, but avoid bathing if possible as it can cause skin problems. If its coat is neglected, it can become matted and dull. As with other terriers, its coat needs to be “pulled” about two times a year in order to eliminate dead fur and promote skin health.

Similar Breeds:

The Cairn Terrier is most closely related to the West Highland White Terrier; a distinction between the two breeds didn’t officially occur until the early twentieth century. Both the Cairn and the West Highland White are directly related to the Scottish and the Skye Terrier, as the coat color was the only differentiating quality among these dogs until the final years of the nineteenth century.

Interesting Facts about the Cairn Terrier:

1. The dog “Toto,” from The Wizard of Oz, is depicted as a Cairn Terrier.

2. While “Toto” is depicted as being a cuddly lapdog, the average Cairn is not. It is a working dog, and while it will happily lay at its owner’s feet, it wants to be constantly stimulated, both physically and mentally.

3. Actress Liza Minelli owned a Cairn Terrier named “Lily”.

4.  Cairn Terriers are no stranger to the big screen!  In addition to “The Wizard of Oz”, Cairns have appeared alongside Frank Sinatra and Rita Heyworth in 1957’s “Pal Joey”, with Bette Midler and Sarah Jessica Parker in 1993’s “Hocus Pocus”, and with Nicholas Cage in 2007’s “National Treasure 2”, and in over 60 other movies!

Organizations dedicated to the Cairn Terrier:

Cairn Terrier Club of America
Cairn Rescue USA
Col. Potter Cairn Rescue Network
Cairn Rescue League

Breeds Similar to Cairn Terrier Dogs:

Breed Information Cairn Terrier

{ 1 comment… add one }
  • fred
    November 16, 2016, 1:05 am

    I Like to buy Blond color Crain Terrier

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