Cairn Terrier


1. Key Breed Facts
2. Breed Characteristics
3. Looking for a Cairn Terrier ?
4. Introduction
5. History
6. Appearance
7. Temperament
8. Intelligence / Trainability
9. Children and Other Pets
10. Health
11. Caring for a Cairn Terrier
12. Grooming
13. Exercise
14. Feeding
15. Average Cost to keep/care for a Cairn Terrier

Key Breed Facts

Popularity #88 out of 238 Dog Breeds.

The Cairn Terrier breed is also commonly known by the names Cairn.
12 - 17 years
Pedigree Breed ?
Yes - KC Recognised in the Terrier Group
Males 23 - 33 cm
Females 23 - 33 cm at the withers
Males 4.5 - 6.8 kg
Females 4.5 - 6.8 kg
Average Price (More Info)
£550 for KC Registered
£452 for Non KC Registered

Breed Characteristics

Looking for a Cairn Terrier ?

If you are looking to buy or adopt a Cairn Terrier, you can view our :

Cairn Terrier for sale section
Cairn Terrier for adoption section
Cairn Terrier for stud section.


Cairn Terriers boast a Scottish ancestry and are known for being lively, game little characters with a very distinct shaggy albeit not scruffy coat. At one time they were highly prized for their hunting skills, but today these charming dogs are popular both as family pets and companions thanks to their mischievous looks and their devotion to their owners. Cairn Terriers thrive on being around people and are highly adaptable dogs by nature fitting in comfortably to most lifestyles with the greatest of ease. There is nothing these little dogs like more than to be part of a family and to be involved in everything that goes on in a household.  A famous Cairn Terrier is 'ToTo' of 'The Wizard of Oz' fame, in the 1939 movie, 'ToTo' was played by a brindle Cairn Terrier girl.


Originally bred to hunt vermin, foxes and rodents, the Cairn Terrier has always been highly prized for their willingness to please. The actual origin of the breed remains unknown, but it's thought they are descendants of native working terriers that were used both in the Scottish Highlands and Islands. There are some references to Cairn Terriers that date back to the 16th century when the King of France was sent some "Earth Dogges" by King James I and then later James VI sent some over to the continent too.

Scottish shepherds, crofters and hunters would use these terriers to control vermin, hunt rabbits and foxes, but by the 18th and 19th centuries, they were used to hunt badgers and otters because they were considered vermin at the time. These terriers were prized for their courage and "gameness" and they fact they had the ability to ignore any pain when tackling their prey. At the time, these terriers varied greatly in colour, size and shape from region to region because they were specifically bred to work on different and often challenging terrains and to hunt different types of prey.

Other terriers that were around at the time which included the Scottish, Skye and West Highland White, were the most recognised breeds during the nineteenth century, while the little Cairn remained pretty much unknown other than in the areas of Scotland where they were most commonly bred to hunt. By the 20th century, enthusiasts and breeders pushed for the Kennel Club to recognise the Cairn Terrier as a breed in its own right, but at the time nobody could agree on what to call these dogs. Sometimes they were called "short-coated Skyes" or they were often referred to as "Prick-eared Skyes".

It was not until 1910 that the Kennel Club accepted the breed and they were given their name, Cairn Terrier. That same year, the official Cairn Club was established with just 54 members. Today, the Cairn Terrier is known the world over with more than twenty breed clubs worldwide and enthusiasts who do their best to maintain the same breed standard that was so highly prized by the early enthusiasts in times long past.


Height at the withers: Males 23 - 33 cm, Females 23 - 33 cm

Average weight: Males 4.5 - 6.8 kg, Females 4.5 - 6.8 kg

Cairn Terriers are small, sturdy and well-muscled little dogs that boast very unique looks with their shaggy coats and lovely expressive heads. They have quite a small, broad head which are is nicely in proportion with the rest of their body and which boasts a well-defined stop and powerful muzzle. Their heads are well furnished and these little dogs boast a black, shiny nose that adds to their overall charming appeal.

Their eyes are set wide apart on their heads and are darkish hazel in colour. Cairn Terriers have shaggy eyebrows which is another physical trait that makes these dogs so endearing. Ears are small and pointed with dogs carrying them upright. These terriers have strong jaws with a regular scissor bite where their upper teeth neatly overlap their lower ones.

Cairn Terriers have strong necks and well boned shoulders. Front legs are straight and covered with coarse hair. Their body is compact with well sprung ribs and dogs have a nice level back and supple well-muscled loins. Hindquarters are well developed with dogs boasting muscular thighs. Back feet are slightly smaller than their front ones but both front and back have thick, strong pads. Cairn Terriers have short, well-furnished tails which they carry gaily, but never holding them over their backs.

When it comes to their coat, the Cairn Terrier boasts a very weather-resistant double coat with the outer coat being rough, but never coarse. Their undercoat is softer, short and it lies close to a dog's body. A Cairn Terrier is allowed to have a slight wave in their coat which is permissible. These little terriers come in a variety of colours which includes the following:

  • Cream
  • Wheaten
  • Red
  • Grey
  • Nearly black

Dogs are allowed to have a little brindle in their coats and they often have darker points on their muzzles and ears which is also acceptable as a breed standard.


The Cairn Terrier is known to be a very "game" little dog that boasts a happy, yet fearless disposition. They rarely show any aggression and they are very confident characters. Like many of their terrier cousins, they are intelligent dogs which makes them easy to train when handled correctly. However, they are extremely quick off the mark which means they are masters when it comes to getting into a bit mischief without an owner ever catching then in the act, a trait these terriers are renowned for.

With this said, a Cairn Terrier's training and education needs to start early and it's a good idea to enrol them into obedience classes as soon as they have had all their vaccinations. These little dogs love taking part in all sorts of canine sporting activities and excel at many of them. The thing to bear in mind is that it is never a good idea to get a young Cairn Terrier jumping up because they could end up damaging their backs, their joints and ligaments when they do and this could make life very uncomfortable later on in their adult life.

They are a great choice for first time owners, but only if they have enough time to spend with their dogs. Cairn Terriers thrive on being around people and do not do well when left to their own devices for long periods of time. They would not be a good choice for people who spend most the day out of the house leaving their pets alone in the home. This could lead to a Cairn Terrier developing some behavioural issues which includes them suffering from separation anxiety. It may well lead to a Cairn being destructive around the home and they may even injure themselves.

With this said, the Cairn Terrier is a brilliant choice for people who work from home and families who spend all of their free time in the great outdoors with their canine companion in tow. These little terriers also like to be able to roam around a garden, bearing in mind that like a lot of other terriers, the fencing has to be extremely secure because these little dogs are highly skilled at finding any weaknesses in a fence and will escape if they find they can.

Intelligence / Trainability

Although intelligent little dogs, the Cairn Terrier can be stubborn at times thanks to their quite independent natures. Their training needs to start as early as possible and they need to be handled with a firm, yet gentle hand from a young age so they learn all the ground rules. Once a puppy has been fully vaccinated, it's a good idea to enrol them into an obedience class which would pay dividends later on with the added bonus being that Cairn Terriers really enjoy taking part in these classes.

Children and Other Pets

The Cairn Terrier is a great choice as a family pet because they seem to have an affinity with children and love nothing more than to be around them. However, whenever children and dogs get together it’s best for it to happen when there is an adult around just in case things get too boisterous and out of hand.

Generally, they are good around other pets, but being terriers they should not be left alone with small pets and this includes cats. With this said, it pays for Cairn Terriers to be introduced to any pets and other animals they will be sharing a home with from an early age and care should be taken whenever they meet any other small animals and pets.

For further advice please read our article on Keeping Children Safe around Dogs.


The average life expectancy of a Cairn Terrier is between 12 and 17 years when properly cared for and fed an appropriate good quality diet to suit their ages.

Cairn Terriers are known to be pretty healthy and robust little dogs, but like so many other pure breeds, they are prone to suffer from certain hereditary health issues which are worth knowing about if you are hoping to share your home with one of these energetic little terriers. The health issues that seem to most affect the breed include the following:

Caring for a Cairn Terrier

As with any other breed, Cairn Terriers need to be groomed on a regular basis to make sure their coats and skin are kept in top condition. They also need to be given regular daily exercise to ensure they remain fit and healthy. On top of this, they need to be fed good quality food that meets all their nutritional needs throughout their lives.


Cairn Terriers need to be given a quick brush over every day to keep their coats tangle-free and this is especially true during the winter when they get a little muddier. Their coat is quite harsh although not too coarse, so it pays to take them along to a professional groomer to have it hand stripped at least 2 to 3 times a year. Like other breeds, the Cairn Terrier tends to shed more during the Spring and then again in the Autumn which is when more frequent brushing would be necessary to keep on top of things.

It's also a good idea to check a Cairn’s ears on a regular basis to ensure no dirt or debris has got lodged in them which could lead to an infection taking hold. This type of infection can be notoriously hard to treat once it flares up.


Cairn Terriers are quite high-energy characters and they like to be kept busy both physically and mentally. Ideally, they need to be given at minimum of one hour's exercise every day and if a house boasts a very secure garden, these terriers like nothing more than to spend time outside letting off steam as often as possible during the day.

It's important to keep these terriers mentally stimulated as a way of preventing boredom from setting in which could lead to a dog finding their own ways of amusing themselves. This is often manifested in some unwanted behaviours which includes digging and being destructive around the home.


If you get a Cairn Terrier puppy from a breeder, they would give you a feeding schedule and it's important to stick to the same routine, feeding the same puppy food to avoid any tummy upsets. You can change a puppy's diet, but this needs to be done very gradually always making sure they don't develop any digestive upsets and if they do, it's best to put them back on their original diet and to discuss things with the vet before attempting to change it again.

Older dogs are not known to be fussy or finicky eaters, but this does not mean you can feed them a lower quality diet. It's best to feed a mature Cairn Terrier twice a day, once in the morning and then again in the evening, making sure it's good quality food that meets all their nutritional requirements. It's also important that dogs be given the right amount of exercise so they burn off any excess calories or they might gain too much weight which can lead to all sorts of health issues. Obesity can shorten a dog's life by several years so it's important to keep an eye on their waistline from the word go.

Average Cost to keep/care for a Cairn Terrier

If you are looking to buy a Cairn Terrier, you would need to pay anything from £400 to over £500 for a well-bred pedigree puppy. The cost of insuring a male 3-year-old Cairn Terrier in northern England would be £17.74 a month for basic cover but for a lifetime policy, this would set you back £40.40 a month (quote as of March 2016). When insurance companies calculate a pet's premium, they factor in several things which includes where you live in the UK and a dog's age and whether or not they have been neutered or spayed.

When it comes to food costs, you need to buy the best quality food whether wet or dry, to feed your dog throughout their lives making sure it suits the different stages of their lives. This would set you back between £35 - £50 a month. On top of all of this, you would need to factor in veterinary costs if you want to share your home with a Cairn Terrier and this includes their initial vaccinations, their annual boosters, the cost of neutering or spaying your dog when the time is right and their yearly health checks, all of which quickly adds up to over a £1000 a year.

As a rough guide, the average cost to keep and care for a Cairn Terrier would be between £65 to £100 a month depending on the level of insurance cover you opt to buy for your dog, but this does not include the initial cost of buying a pedigree Cairn Terrier puppy.

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