Breed Type: Terrier
Country of Origin: Scotland
Popular Names: Highland Terrier, Scotch Terrier, Skye Otter Terrier, Tod-hunter, Short-haired Skye Terrier
Height: (At the withers) Males 25 – 33 cm, Females 23 – 30 cm
Weight: Males 6.5 – 8 kg, Females 5 – 7.5 kg
Best suited as: Pet or show dog with an active owner or family
Lifespan: 12-15 years
The Cairn Terrier is one of Scotland’s oldest working terrier breeds, and gets its name from the piles of stones seen on the Scottish Highland moors. Rodents often make their home in the cairns, and these little dogs were used to hunt and kill vermin.
These are sturdy, compact little dogs with upright, high-set triangular ears, short broad heads, and foxy faces. They have deep-set dark brown or hazel eyes set off by bushy eyebrows. They have a topknot and longer fur on their ears. Their short legs end in front feet that are slightly larger than their back feet. They carry their short tail high and it is usually wagging. They walk with a spring in their step and always seem like they’re in motion.
They have a medium-length, harsh, wiry outer coat that may be straight or slightly wavy. The undercoat is soft and fine, and keeps them warm in cold weather. The inner coat is slightly lighter than or the same colour as the outer coat. They have longer hair around the head, on the legs, and around the neck. They may be any colour except for white – they most commonly come in brindle, grey, red, black, and sand. Some may have darker fur on the muzzle, tip of the tail, legs, and ears.
These dogs are descendants of an old line of working terriers from Scotland, dating back to before the 17th century. They were used as ratters, hunting and killing the vermin on farms and homesteads. Until 1873, all terriers in Scotland were grouped together – as Scotch Terriers – when they were separated into Skye Terriers and Dandie Dinmont Terriers. Eventually, the West Highland White Terrier, Cairn Terrier, and Scottish Terrier developed from that stock. These three breeds were distinguished only by their coat colour. In 1881 the Hard-Haired Scotch Terriers breed club formed and developed a breed standard the next year. All-white dogs were prized.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, breed fanciers began to develop different lines. In 1907, different classifications for white Scottish Terriers and dogs of other colours were approved. In 1909, dogs with short hair that didn’t fall into the West Highland White Terrier classification were called “Cairn Terriers of Skye,” which was eventually shortened to “Cairn Terrier.”
Until 1923, Cairn Terriers could be white, but at that point the breed standard changed to disqualify them. One of the most famous Cairn Terriers of all time is Terry, the brindle dog that played “Toto” in The Wizard of Oz. Other famous Cairns include the one on I Love Lucy, George Lopez, and Neighbours.
These dogs are spunky, intelligent, loyal, adventurous, tough, and strong. They were bred to hunt vermin and so have digging instincts and may show aggression towards other chasing animals, or other animals with which they were not raised. They will chase and hunt anything that moves, so cats and other small pets are not safe around this breed.
They love people and will cheerfully greet most people – although they will bravely defend their territory and their people if they feel threatened. They need a lot of human contact and do not do well kept isolated from their people. They will tolerate respectful children, but do not put up with being mistreated. They will snap or bite if annoyed or teased. They tend to be food and toy aggressive.
They can learn pretty much any trick, but it does take time and patience. They need firm, consistent training that is never harsh, and it needs to begin when they are puppies. Due to their prey drive, they must never be off-leash in an unfenced area-they will chase away after blowing leaves, squirrels, neighbourhood cats, wild animals, and even children on bicycles. They bark a lot and will warn you when company is coming, but their barking can get out of control if boundaries are not set. They have a shrill bark which can annoy your neighbours if you live in close quarters so make sure to start with stop barking training early.
Care and Grooming
Many people with dog allergies find they can tolerate being around a Cairn Terrier; however, everyone is different so you should spend some time with a particular dog before you bring it home as a companion to make sure you won’t react. Cairns need to be brushed or combed once a week to loosen and remove dead hair. Over-bathing can make the coat too soft for the show ring, and can affect its weatherproof ability. Bathe only as necessary, or once every few months. They need to be stripped one to three times a year, either with a tool or by hand. Their coats should never be trimmed.
They need their teeth brushed and their ears cleaned once a week. Check the ears for wax buildup, debris, and signs of infection. Use a gentle cleanser approved by your vet. Once a month, check your dog’s toenails for length and clip if necessary – some dogs wear them down outside and rarely need clipping. Unlike some terriers, this breed does not need a huge amount of exercise and do quite well in apartments. One walk per day and a weekly run in a dog park or fence-in yard is sufficient to fulfill their exercise needs. They enjoy Earthdog trials, flyball, conformation shows, agility, and obedience competitions.
These little dogs live to 13 or 14 years. Typical health problems that affect this breed are von Willebrand’s disease, allergies, congenital polycystic liver disease, craniomandibular osteopathy, cataracts, hypothyroidism, microvascular portal dysplasia, globoid cell leukodystrophy (Krabbe disease), refractory corneal ulceration, porosytemic shunt, patellar luxation, Legg-Calve Perthes disease, and entropion. Some of these are the result of injuries, toxins, advanced age, or infections, while others are hereditary.
Suitability As A Pet
They make good pets for light- to moderately-active people who love to spend time with a dog. They may not be the best companion for people with very small children since there is a risk of biting. They do not do well in homes with cats or other small pets. A Cairn Terrier’s owner must be dedicated to proper training sessions on an ongoing basis.
Cairn Terrier Organisations in Australia
No club information listed
Cairn Terrier Organisations in the UK
Cairn Terrier Association
Cairn Terrier Organisations in the US
The Cairn Terrier Club
Cairn Terrier Club of Victoria – Puppies and Breeders
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