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Cairn Terriers in Performance

Cairn Terrier Fiona pops out of the Master Earthdog Tunnel.

This article was originally published in Showsight Magazine, June 2013 issue.


Cairn Terriers in Performance

“You can’t train a Cairn Terrier!” is the cry heard from many breeders, if you listen. I didn’t listen, but I did hear it. And I’ve always been so thankful I had two Cairn Terriers before I ever heard that cry.

Because, you see, I’d already trained those two before receiving that propaganda! So I always knew it wasn’t true. I had my first two Cairns when I still had small children and I “raised” my dogs in the same strict way… something akin to “because I said so” and I brooked no resistance!

That said, the best way to work with a Cairn Terrier is through positive reinforcement and making something FUN. These certainly aren’t Golden Retrievers or Labrador Retrievers, and won’t do anything well just because it would please us so. So it’s both more challenging AND more rewarding. My dog training bible has always been Mother Knows Best by Carol Lea Benjamin, because she teaches us to basically “speak dog” and train your dog like its (canine) mother does. And it’s served me so well with my five (lifetime) Cairn Terriers.

I didn’t begin training with AKC performance in mind; I just needed to be able to live with my Cairns. Most of my dog club friends will tell you I rarely use leads, and keep control with voice, if that’s even needed.

Eventually, I began to enter AKC performance and companion events. My first experience was in Earthdog, with my Trevor. This is a sport designed for Dachshunds and most terriers. My Robbie was being shown in conformation indoors and outdoors, an Earthdog test had been organized, and my fellow club members pushed me to enter. “OK” I sighed, “what do I do?” Stand there, let him go, don’t move after you do until we ask you to pick him up, was the response. I released Trevor, he ran underground into the tunnel, I heard barking, got a “thumbs up” from the judge and then was called over to pick Trevor up. “HE PASSED!” and I yawned and thought, big deal. Why was everyone so excited? It was easy! I dropped Trev into my ex-pen and went indoors to watch Robbie in the conformation ring. When I came back outside there was a big fat green rosette on the ex-pen! “You get ribbons for this??” I was hooked! Trevor quickly went through Junior Earthdog, Senior Earthdog and Master Earthdog with no problems at all. In fact, he was the first Canadian-born Cairn to be an AKC Master Earthdog.

Obviously, all of my Cairns get their CGC titles very young and as soon in life, as I can find a test. That’s always a great first step.

I started my Fiona in Earthdog at the tender age of six months and a day. She was never as keen on the sport as Trevor, and that eventually pushed me to branch out to other sports.

I was in the Cairn Terrier Club of Northern California and to support the club for the annual specialty, I entered Fiona in Novice Obedience, A, with full intentions to complete at least a small series of obedience classes. Life interfered and when the specialty drew near, I hadn’t yet been to one class. I dropped her down to “pre-novice” and went in cold! I had absolutely NO idea what to do, what the choreography needed entailed, not even what collar and lead to use. Don’t ask me how, but Fiona got her little pink “non-regular” ribbon. Now after that embarrassment and also feeling maybe she had an aptitude for this, we started weekly obedience classes in earnest. In just a few months we had her CD (Companion Dog) obedience title. Faster than that came Rally titles and when it was introduced, the BN (Beginner Novice). We are still working on her CDX.

I’ll tell you something I love about obedience with a Cairn Terrier. We often get applause when we come out of the ring, whether or not we’ve qualified. And judges often tell me how cute she is. I think they heard that propaganda! And both the crowd and the judges love to see a happy Cairn working for the pure joy of it, with a handler who obviously adores her.

We also track! When we started, the instructor said, “I only had one Cairn Terrier before, in the 60s”. She didn’t seem any too pleased to have us, now. But in no time flat, she came to enjoy Fiona (stereotype broken?) and told me how proud I should be of her. You don’t need a hound to track, turns out!

We are keen to start Nose Work and Barn Hunting, which I think would be second nature to the Cairn Terrier. These are new AKC sports, and we’re just waiting for tests in our area.

Many Cairns are very successful in coursing as well. Unfortunately, my dogs were pretty “mature” (old!) by the time this title came out. I will wait for the next puppy to try this. I’ve watched many Cairn Terriers zipping along and loving chasing that evil “plastic bunny” they seem to think the lure represents! It’s really a blast to watch!

I think most Cairn Terrier “parents” participate in agility, and for that, I will turn it over to Karen Majka, who has done wonderful things in that sport.