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BaxterBoo Blog
March 5, 2013

Meet the Breed: The Cairn Terrier

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  • Height: 9"- 13”
  • Weight: 13-18 pounds
  • Historical function: Vermin controller
  • Modern function: Companion
  • AKC classification: Terrier

Physical Characteristics:

The Cairn Terrier is a small yet sturdy terrier with a rough, no-fuss appearance. The head is broad and the face has a fox-like appearance. The triangular ears are upright and covered in short hair. The coat colors may be cream, wheaten, sandy, red, various shades of gray, and brindle. The brindle coats may change colors throughout the lifetime of the dog, becoming more silver or black. The coat should be hand stripped twice yearly for best results. Clipping the coat may ruin the weatherproof properties.

History of the Breed:

The Cairn Terrier is one of the oldest terrier breeds. It originated in the Highlands of Scotland and the Isle of Skye. Originally the Scottish Terrier, The Cairn, and the West Highland White Terrier were all considered Skye Terriers but began to be bred separately and are now classified as separate breeds. "Cairn" refers to the rock piles and dens where rodents, foxes and badgers would reside. The brave little terriers would enter the dens and bark and corral the animal until they could be dispatched by the human hunter.  


The Cairn Terrier is not a lapdog despite their size. They are active, inquisitive, intelligent, and can be stubborn. They are brave, loyal and tough. Obedience training is recommended for this breed to ensure the dog knows his place. They have a strong prey instinct, so care must be taken to train them around cats and other small animals. They must have an enclosed yard or be on a leash as they will take off after squirrels, cats, and other dogs. They are big dogs trapped in a small dog's body, so care must be taken to ensure they do not take on a much larger dog and come out on the losing end. The Cairn Terrier requires a number of sturdy chew toys as they are known shredders, but can be taught which items are for chewing and which are not.

  • Best suited for: Adaptable to most living conditions. Small size makes them great for travel and apartment living, provided that the dog is sufficiently exercised.
  • Preferred living conditions: This dog loves to be in the middle of family activities, but may test their owner's patience. Again, obedience training is a must with this breed.

Care and Health:

  • Grooming requirements: The Cairn Terrier is hypoallergenic and sheds minimally when properly hand stripped. This must be done by a professional to ensure the process of removing dead hair does not cause pain to the dog. Removing the dead hair allows for the new hair to grow in properly and keeps the coat weatherproof. Brush gently a few times a week.
  • Exercise needs: Daily long walk. Can do okay without a yard with sufficient exercise.
  • Life expectancy: 12-15 years.
  • Health concerns: May be prone to weight gain and is often allergic to fleas. May be prone to eye, joint and thyroid problems.

Breed Club Links: The Cairn Terrier Club of America Perfect Pairings: Toys with Chew Guard, Puzzle toys.

Have any stories about a Cairn Terrier? Please share!

Photo courtesy of Rune Mathisen.

Ronald on August 4 at 7:13 PM said:

Sophie my Cairn Terrier didn't get the memo about NOT being a Lap Dog. I don't think I'll tell her

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This entry was posted by Mary.

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