Cairn Terrier

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Originating from the Scottish Highlands, the Cairn Terrier was once named the Short Haired Skye Terrier, but had to change the name due to opposition from the breeders of Skye Terriers. A famous Cairn Terrier is 'ToTo' of 'The Wizard of Oz' fame.


Once named the Short Haired Skye Terrier and part of the extensive number of terrier type dogs originating from Scotland, the Highlands and Islands, breeders of the Cairn Terrier were forced to change the name of this little dog at the turn of the 20th century due to consternation from breeders of the Skye Terrier.

Renamed 'Cairn', after the man made landmark mounds of rocks and boulders which litter the hilltops and mountains of these harsh northern lands, the Cairn Terrier was bred to hunt vermin, foxes and sometimes badgers which made these cairns their dens. This breed was small enough to burrow into the mounds of rocks and locate their quarry, barking and growling loudly until its owner arrived to dispatch it.

It is generally accepted that this dog was bred by Captain Martin McLeod of Drynock on the Isle of Skye, hence the original name. His short haired, silver coloured dogs were his pride and joy but when he emigrated in the late 1800's. The Drynock strain was kept alive by numerous gamekeepers and aficionados in the area and in 1910 the Cairn Terrier Club and the breed was recognised by the Kennel Club.


Average height to withers: Males and females between 9-13 inches.

Average weight: Males and females between 6-8kg.

The Cairn Terrier has a hardy and weather resistant coat, as do many Scottish Terriers, due to the harsh land and weather conditions it had to deal with as a ratter and controller of vermin. The double coat features a softer and downy undercoat, coupled with the harder outer coat. It can be in any colour apart from white, and usual colour includes brindle, black, all shades of grey, wheaten and red. Notably, the colour of a Cairn Terrier may change through the course of its lifetime.

The active and strong little body of this breed has deep ribs and has good muscle tone all over. It is not a bulky dog, which enables it to move quickly over rough ground. The head features somewhat softer hair than the rest of the body, with sharp brown eyes of hazel or darker, the small ears are always erect and spaced quite widely apart on the head. The tail is carried level to the body and is not heavily feathered, but gives a pleasing and balanced finish to the body.


Cairn Terriers are independent little bundles of energy. They are alert and active with a trademark terrier temperament - independent, bossy and fearless. They are also very intelligent and can be more than a bit cheeky! Many Cairns love to dig and a bored Cairn Terrier will let you know it in this and many other ways. Obedience training is very important with this dog. They are very assertive, but not aggressive and like attention from their family pack. They are protective of their families, and will defend them and their territory with courage and devotion. That said, they are also people-oriented and are friendly towards everyone they meet, once they get to know them. They like children and will tolerate them when they play gently with them. Their prey drive is strong and they will chase small animals given the chance, hence a solid recall is necessary but even so a Cairn may choose to ignore its owner so being kept on a lead may be a good idea in some areas.. They have been known to harass, and sometimes hurt, cats but properly socialised, there is no reason why they cannot live together. They generally do well with other dogs though. As an active breed, they require long walks at least twice a day, and will remain active and playful well into their teen years. Overall, the owner will be rewarded with a companionable, loyal and loving dog.


The Cairn is a tough little dog and does not suffer any particular conditions any more than other dogs. A healthy Cairn can live well into its teens, with some reaching 18 years old easily. Like some other terrier breeds, the Cairn can develop issues with its hind legs, especially patellar luxation where the kneecap floats away from its usual position. Sever cases may require surgery; however seek your vets advice if this occurs.


Do not be fooled by the small exterior - this dog is seriously energetic and needs a couple of good walks and runs per day to keep it happy and healthy. The coat requires grooming once a week to remove any tangles and dead hair.

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