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Cairns: All-Around Wonder Dogs!

Cairn Terrier in Lure Coursing

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


Cairns: All-Around Wonder Dogs!

I am frequently asked, what do I like about Cairn Terriers? What made me pick a Cairn? My answer is I love everything from their cute fuzzy faces with the sparkly button eyes and their perky little ears to their carrot tails and their precious little feet. They are the best buddies ever and they are always ready for anything you are. Best of all, I love how smart my Cairns are—and when you harness their attitude… you have a winning combination.

Cairns can do anything! They are my sweet buddies who are with me as I read or watch TV, go on long hikes in nature with me, play with me until I (not usually they) tire, learn tricks until I run out of ideas of what to teach them, and do all kinds of performance events—and do all of it well. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly they learn.

There is an incredible brain behind those trusting brown eyes. When they understand your language of how to learn, they just want to learn more and more. And when they know they are doing something really well—and they know you like it—their little eyes sparkle with excitement, their carrot tails stand at attention, and their bodies exude excitement. That is what got me hooked on performance with my Cairns.

Positive reinforcement and clicker training are the perfect communication tools to teach Cairns. Cairns want to be “right”—and when they learn that the clicker means, ‘Yes, that’s right’ and they get treats to boot… the door is open to endless opportunity… everything from limitless numbers of parlor tricks to performance events of all kinds. Cairns love to have a job. And besides—I’d much rather keep them busy learning something I want them to do — then have them learn something that they think is fun and I have to “unteach!”

Positive reinforcement and clicker training are the perfect communication tools to teach Cairns.

Cairns excel at all kinds of performance events—Lure Coursing, Obedience, Rally, Agility, Tracking, and of course, Earthdog and now Barn Hunt. I have heard it said that you can’t ask a terrier to do something too often or they get bored. I agree with that statement—and at the same time, I like to take advantage of it. That is why my guys do tricks and Agility, Rally, Obedience, Tracking, Barn Hunting, Lure Coursing— anything I can fit into the schedule.

So, if you are interested in doing performance with your Cairn, the tips I would offer are:

1. Get the Right Dog

  • A dog with good structure is vital.
  • A dog with drive, yet biddable, willing to please.
  • A dog with good temperament–a dog that is confident enough to be around crowded places and lots of dogs and people without getting “cranky” or stressed.

2. Get the Best Trainer You Can Find

They are worth every penny. Personally, I would rather go to a trainer who has acheived the highest level in the area that I want to train with multiple dogs— and trained others who have been able to achieve those same high levels. They teach me what I need to know about the “handling” and training needed to get the most out of my dogs.

3. Know Your Dog

Know what motivates them and what demotivates them. Take the time to teach them different motivators. Each dog, even among my three Cairns is slightly different. Ella is food motivated to the Nth degree… but I also taught her to play with toys… it helps a lot at keeping attention on me. Bret is my toy boy—he loves his toys and is often seen walking around with a toy in his mouth… he is also Mr. Congeniality… and wants to give his toy to play with anyone who is nearby… I taught him to be more food motivated. The bottom line is to have a relationship with your dog.

4. Train Outside of Class

Put to use what you learn in class so that both you and your dog remember… and make it fun training—not drudgery. We mix in lots of play and treats with our training so that they think it is fun. And we never spend more than 15 minutes at a time doing training.

5. Give Your Dog Time Off

Let them just be a dog… for me that also means that we do not trial every weekend. For me as well as my dogs, we have at least one, often two weekends a month when we do “other things.” When we go back to training/trialing—they are fresh and rarin’ to go.

Let them just be a dog… for me that also means that we do not trial every weekend.

6. Don’t Forget Fitness

I work at keeping my dogs fit to avoid injury. I have gone to multiple seminars to learn about different types of exercises (the “kids” think it is tricks!) for core muscles, front end, back and back end. We go for walks (1-2 miles) per day whenever possible—and do the treadmill when it’s not. They see a chiropractor/animal massage expert monthly. And, of course, they see the vet, get the best food and only eat homemade/human-grade treats.

7. Cross Train

It makes it fun for them to have different things that they can do.