Cairn Terrier Dog History, Health And Care

Introduction Of Cairn Terrier Dog

The Cairn Terrier today is a modern attempt to preserve the old-time working terrier of the Isle of Skye, where they were used to flush rodents, otters, foxes, badgers and other vermin from rocks, cliffs and ledges on the wild shores of their misty isle. Other names have been Scotch Terrier, Highland Terrier, Tod-hunter, Skye Otter Terrier and Short-haired Skye Terrier. Modern-day Cairn Terriers remain true to their heritage: they are short-legged, hardy, versatile, active and game. Much like the character “Toto” in The Wizard of Oz, Cairn Terriers are adventurous, alert, playful, loving and wonderful companions for adults and children. This cheerful breed is highly intelligent, and most Cairn Terriers have a stubborn streak. Their fearless tenacity can lead them into trouble if their owners are irresponsible. They also love to chase and dig and are great swimmers.

Mature males should stand 10 inches at the withers, while females should be 9½ inches in height. There is one, and only one, correct weight for the Cairn Terrier: 14 pounds for males and 13 pounds for females, measured at 2 years of age. Cairns have a shaggy, harsh, weather-resistant double coat that typically benefits from professional grooming. The terrier coat requires hand stripping, because cutting or shearing the coat can damage its natural weather-protective characteristics. Cairns should also be brushed on a regular basis to remove dirt and dander. Their coat may be any color except white.

Cairn Terrier Dog Breed Quick Facts

Affection Level4/5
Apartment Friendly5/5
Barking Tendencies4/5
Cat Friendly2/5
Child Friendly2/5
Dog Friendly3/5
Exercise Need2/5
Grooming Needs3/5
Health Issues2/5

Cairn Terrier – Appearance & Grooming


The best known Cairn Terrier of all time is “Toto” from the movie The Wizard of Oz. Cairns are small, sturdy little terriers with shaggy coats which give them a “scruffy”look that comes in shades of red, brindle, black, sand or gray; and dark points at the ears, eyes and muzzle are desirable. They are small dogs with broad heads that are shorter and wider than all other terrier breeds and they sport bushy topknots. Cairns have small, erect, pointed ears and short tails which sit high on the body and should be carried gaily.

Size and Weight

The ideal weight for female Cairn Terriers is 13 pounds and for males, 14. Females should stand about 9.5 inches at the withers whereas males stand slightly taller at 10 inches. Balanced proportions are more important than actual height and weight for a show Cairn.

Coat and Color

The double coat of the Cairn is wiry on the outside and soft and plush underneath, giving them their distinctive scruffy appearance. Cairns come in many colors including red, brindle, black, sand and gray. It is difficult to tell what color an adult Cairn will be, as the coat can change color several times as the dog matures from pupphyood.

Grooming Needs

Cairn Terriers should be brushed once per week to remove loose and dead hair. They only need to be bathed every few months, or as-needed, because over-bathing can cause the coarse coat to become soft, which is undesirable in the show ring. Cairns do require some trimming to stay tidy, which for show dogs should be done with a stripping knife, whereas family dogs can be clipped with clippers. This only needs to occur two or three times per year.

It is important to maintain the dental health of the Cairn Terrier, and weekly brushing of the teeth can help keep gum disease, tarter, and bad breath at bay. Use only a veterinarian-approved solution to clean the ears, and trim the Cairn’s nails on a monthly basis if he does not wear down his nails naturally.

Cairn Terrier – History and Health


The Cairn Terrier descends from dogs that go back to seventeenth century in Scotland. They derive from a very old line of working terriers from the Isle of Skye that were bred for courage and for the bolting of otter, foxes and other vermin from rocks, cliffs and ledges on the wild shores of Scotland. These dogs were bred to work and to withstand harsh climates with boundless energy while they hunted and dug for assorted types of prey. Scotland’s terriers were grouped together as Scotch Terriers until 1873, when they were separated into the Dandie Dinmont Terriers and the Skye Terriers. While these dogs descended from the same stock on the islands and highlands of western Scotland, they ultimately developed into separate breeds. The dogs known today as the Scottish Terrier, the West Highland White Terrier and the Cairn Terrier all came from the same stock and were initially distinguished only by color. In 1881, a breed club for Hard-Haired Scotch Terriers was formed, and a breed standard was approved the following year. White markings were faulted, although an all-white dog was prized.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, fanciers of the Scottish Terrier type started to breed along separate lines. At Crufts in 1907, separate classifications were approved for white Scotch Terriers and those of any other color. The studbooks were opened to the West Highland White Terrier as a distinct breed in 1908. After some confusing classifications of “Short-Haired Skyes” and “Skye Terriers,” breed fanciers agreed on the name “Cairn Terrier of Skye” for the short-haired Scottish-type terrier in or around 1909. The first Cairn breed club reportedly was founded in 1910. The breed’s name later was shortened to “Cairn Terrier,” and it was first recognized at dog shows in Britain in 1912. The term “cairn” refers to the piles of stones found on the moors of the Scottish highlands, within which rodents and other vermin often hid. These cairns were used as boundary markers and gravesite memorials.

The American Kennel Club recognized the Cairn Terrier in 1913, as a member of the Terrier Group. In both Britain and America, Cairn Terriers and West Highland White Terriers were cross-bred for a time. In 1917, the Cairn Terrier Club of America was admitted to membership in the AKC. That same year, the AKC banned any Cairn from registration if was a product of mixed breeding. The Cairn Terrier standard in England permitted white dogs until 1923, when it too was changed. One of the most influential and important Cairn Terriers of all time was whelped in England in 1933. Eng. Ch. Splinters of Twobees would go on to indelibly mark the breed and set the type we know today. Splinters can be found in the pedigrees of most of the top winning and producing Cairns of modern time.

Not only is this one of the oldest terrier breeds, but the Cairn Terrier is also one of the most well known of all small shaggy terriers, thanks to the character “Toto” in the famous Wizard of Oz movie. The Cairn Terrier has remained remarkably true to its origins, despite nearly a century of participation in pure-pedigreed dog shows. It has become neither beautified nor exaggerated in appearance and is very close to its ancestral type.


This is a long-lived breed with an average life expectancy of 13 to 14 years. Breed health concerns may include atopy, allergies, cataracts, congenital polycystic liver disease, craniomandibular osteopathy, cryptorchidism, globoid cell leukodystrophy, hypothyroidism, Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, microvascular portal dysplasia, ocular melanosis, patellar luxation, portosystemic shunt, progressive retinal atrophy, refractory corneal ulceration and von Willebrand disease.

Cairn Terrier – Temperament & Personality


Everyone remembers Toto from the movie The Wizard of Oz. Spunky, curious, fearless, and loyal, little Toto went everywhere with Dorothy and helped her stop the Wicked Witch of the West and even exposed the Wizard as simply a man behind a curtain. Most Cairn Terriers are exactly like Toto – loyal to their family, curious and brave. They are excellent companions for families of all shapes and sizes and can even be useful vermin exterminators on farms.

Though they are good family dogs, small children and Cairn Terriers are not a good mix. This breed doesn’t have a lot of patience and has been known to bite. Children who are too young to know when to leave a dog alone do not mix well with this breed.

Activity Requirements

Cairns don’t need a lot of vigorous exercise and can happily dwell in an apartment or condominium. One daily walk and the occasional chance to get out and run in a yard or park will cover their exercise requirement . Cairns should always be kept on a leash or in a fenced in yard, as they will take off after small animals and will not respond to calls to return home.


Like nearly all terrier breeds, the Cairn can be stubborn and willful. Training requires consistency, patience, and lots of treats. Discipline is wasted on the Cairn as they will just stop listening to you all together. They must be trained early on to understand who is in charge of the house, and that the leaders mean what they say. If a Cairn Terrier sees even one opportunity to bend the rules, they’ll take it and run with it.

Behavioral Traits

Barking is the biggest complaint owners have of the Cairn. Like other terriers, Cairns bark at every noise or approaching car, bike, cat, dog, mailman or falling leaf, and usually won’t stop until they are good and ready. Their bark is shrill, and can annoy nearby neighbors.

Cairns can be aggressive. People don’t normally think of small breeds as aggressive, but Cairns are not patient creatures. If teased or annoyed, they will snarl, snap or bite. They are highly possessive of food and toys, and are not likely to be intimidated by larger dogs.

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *