Menu toggle icon.
Menu toggle icon.

Cairn Terrier Dog Breed

About the Cairn Terrier

The Cairn Terrier is originally from Scotland, dating from the 17th century when it was closely linked with other types of terriers. The breed was first known as the Shorthaired or Prick-Eared Skye Terrier. Then, in the 19th century, it was named the Cairn for its capacity to root out vermin sheltering in rock piles (cairns). This breed is independent, intelligent, loyal, and friendly; however, they don’t enjoy being left alone at home for too long since they like to regularly express their affection for their family.

AKC Group

AKC Group

Terrier Group

Dog Breed Height


9.5 – 10 Inches

Dog Breed Weight


13-14 Pounds

Dog Breed Lifespan


13-15 Years


Country of Origin Scotland
Bred For Rooting Small Prey from Rock Piles, Companionship
Known For Courage, Intelligence, Tenacity, Independency, Friendliness
Popularity Moderate
Activities Working on Farms, Digging, Exploring, Therapy Dog, Conformation Shows, Dog Sports

History of the Cairn Terrier

The Cairn Terrier originates from the Isle of Skye and is recognized as one of Scotland’s earliest recognized working dogs. One of the smallest of the go-to-ground terriers, the Cairn was developed to dig into cairns and flush out smaller creatures. In its native land, a “cairn” is a mound of stones used as a boundary or grave marker where rodents liked to live. The local dogs would also hunt in packs to pursue foxes, otters, and other predators. The Cairn’s independence, courage, toughness, and awareness served it well when digging and when it was confronted by sharp-toothed quarry.

Cairns were known from the 1600s, but initially, this breed was categorized as a form of “Skye Terrier“ alongside the ancestors of the Scottish and West Highland White Terriers. A Highland sportsman by the name of Captain Martin MacLeod used his dogs to hunt otters. Later enthusiasts included a gamekeeper named Mr. John Macdonald who carried on Macleod’s Drynock strain as the 20th century approached. All of his dogs descended from the Cairn’s earliest progenitors.

In 1912, The Royal Kennel Club of the United Kingdom gave the Cairn Terrier a separate breed designation. In 1912, the first year of recognition, 134 Cairn Terriers were registered, and shortly afterwards, the breed was given Championship status.

While most Cairn Terriers are no longer used for their original purpose, they remain independent and feisty small dogs that enjoy hunting, digging, and playing with their people. Thankfully, the range and availability of canine sports has grown rapidly in recent years, and there’s a dog sport that’s ideal for every Cairn.

General Appearance

Height & Weight

The height of the adult male Cairn Terrier is 10 inches at the withers; mature females typically measure 9.5 inches tall.

In terms of weight, a healthy male typically weighs 14 pounds, while the female generally weighs 13 pounds.

Body Proportion & Substance

The Cairn Terrier is a small, short-legged breed with a well-proportioned build overall. Its general appearance is easily recognizable and has not changed much over time. The breed’s body is compact and of medium length, with a level back. This dog has sloping shoulders, deep and well-sprung ribs, strong muscular thighs, and a good bend of stifle, characteristics that support its working role as a hunter of vermin in tight spaces. Consequently, the Cairn is noted for its strong but not heavy body when compared with similar terrier breeds.

Coat Texture, Colors & Markings

Texture: The coat of the Cairn Terrier is weather-resistant, consisting of a wiry, harsh, and profuse outer coat that is free from coarseness, and soft, short, and close undercoat. The hair on the head may be somewhat softer than the body coat, but still harsh enough to offer protection from brairs.

Cairn Terrier Colors

Standard Color
Brindle ee
Cream ee
Gray ee
Gray Brindle ee
Red ee
Red Brindle ee
Silver ee
Wheaten ee
Cream Brindle ee
Black ee
Black Brindle ee
Red Wheaten ee
Silver Brindle ee
Wheaten Brindle ee
Silver Wheaten ee

A Note About Color: The Cairn Terrier’s coat can be any color except white, solid black, or black and tan. Dark points on the ears and muzzle are very typical, as is brindling on any acceptable color.

Cairn Terrier Markings

Standard Marking
Black Point ee
Black Mask ee
Black Markings ee


  • Skull: The Cairn Terrier’s head is medium-sized and is in balance with the body. It is broad in proportion to its length, and there’s a slight indentation with a definite stop between the eyes.
  • Expression: The expression is friendly and full of life, reflecting the breed’s playful yet alert nature. The look keen and connotes great intelligence.
  • Eyes: The Cairn’s eyes are medium in size, set wide apart, and a dark hazel color. They are deeply set under a shaggy brow.
  • Ears: The ears of the Cairn Terrier are set on the corners of the skull, not too close together and not too far apart. . They are small, pointed, carried erect, and not heavily coated.
  • Muzzle: The breed’s muzzle is short yet full. It is neither too long nor too heavy, and strong enough to support teeth that are surprisingly large for the size of the dog.
  • Nose: The nose of Cairn is proportional with the muzzle and is always black in color.
  • Bite: The Cairn Terrier has strong teeth in a level or a scissors bite, where the upper incisors closely overlap the lower incisors. A full complement of teeth is greatly desired.

Close up head photo of a Cairn Terrier looking in the distance.


The tail of a Cairn Terrier is moderate in length, straight, thick, and strong. It is set on at the level of the back and is wider at the base than at the tip. The tail is furnished with dense hair and is carried between the 12 and 2 o’clock position. It should never curl over the back when the dog is moving.

The Cairn Terrier – What to Consider?

The Cairn Terrier, with its friendliness, playfulness, and loyalty, is a great choice among single dog people and families. However, as with any breed and mixed breed, the breed’s high level of energy and its hunting instincts come with responsibilities that should be considered before acquiring a Cairn.

Family Life

Affectionate With Family

How affectionate a breed is likely to be with family members, or other people he knows well. Some breeds can be aloof with everyone but their owner, while other breeds treat everyone they know like their best friend.
Independent Lovey-Dovey

Good With Other Dogs

How generally friendly a breed is towards other dogs. Dogs should always be supervised for interactions and introductions with other dogs, but some breeds are innately more likely to get along with other dogs, both at home and in public.
Not Recommended Good With Other Dogs

Good With Young Children

A breed’s level of tolerance and patience with childrens’ behavior, and overall family-friendly nature. Dogs should always be supervised around young children, or children of any age who have little exposure to dogs.
Not Recommended Good With Children


Shedding Level

How much fur and hair you can expect the breed to leave behind. Breeds with high shedding will need to be brushed more frequently, are more likely to trigger certain types of allergies, and are more likely to require more consistent vacuuming and lint-rolling.
No Shedding Hair Everywhere

Coat Grooming Frequency

How frequently a breed requires bathing, brushing, trimming, or other kinds of coat maintenance. Consider how much time, patience, and budget you have for this type of care when looking at the grooming effort needed. All breeds require regular nail trimming.
Monthly Daily

Drooling Level

How drool-prone a breed tends to be. If you’re a neat freak, dogs that can leave ropes of slobber on your arm or big wet spots on your clothes may not be the right choice for you.
Less Likely to Drool Always Have a Towel

Coat Type


Coat Length


Social Attributes


Trainability Level

How easy it will be to train your dog, and how willing your dog will be to learn new things. Some breeds just want to make their owner proud, while others prefer to do what they want, when they want to, wherever they want!.
Self-Willed Eager to Please

Barking Level

How often this breed vocalizes, whether its with barks or howls. While some breeds will bark at every passer-by or bird in the window, others will only bark in particular situations. Some barkless breeds can still be vocal, using other sounds to express themselves.
Only To Alert Very Vocal

Energy Level

The amount of exercise and mental stimulation a breed needs. High energy breeds are ready to go and eager for their next adventure. They will spend their time running, jumping, and playing throughout the day. Low energy breeds are like couch potatoes – they are happy to simply lay around and snooze.
Couch Potato High Energy

Mental Stimulation Needs

How much mental stimulation a breed needs to stay happy and healthy. Purpose-bred dogs can have jobs that require decision-making, problem-solving, concentration, or other qualities, and without the brain exercise they need, they will create their own projects to keep their minds busy — and they probably wont be the kind of projects you would like..
Happy to Lounge Needs a Job or Activity

Cairn Terrier Health

The Cairn Terrier is typically a healthy animal, but like all dogs, some individuals may be prone to genetic health issues due to indiscriminate breeding practices. This is why it’s always best to contact a preservation breeder who is a member of a Cairn Terrier club for information about obtaining a new puppy or adult dog.

Lifespan: The average lifespan of the Cairn Terrier is 13 to 15 years, but with proper care, a balanced diet, and regular check-ups, many can thrive even beyond these years.

Potential Health Risks

Although generally a healthy breed, some Cairn Terriers may be prone to certain health conditions, including:

  • Craniomandibular Osteopathy: This condition affects the skull of a growing puppy, with irregular bone growth and swollen jaws and glands. The first symptoms usually appear between four and eight months old. The cause is unknown but is believed to be hereditary. Pain relievers and anti-inflammatories can help the puppy with this painful condition. The irregular bone growth typically stops by itself when the Cairn is one year old.
  • Cryptorchidism: The failure of one or both testicles to descend into the scrotum is known as cryptorchidism. By the time the puppy is two to six months old, the testicles should have descended. If a testicle is left behind, it is usually inoperable and can develop twisting or tumors if not removed. Treatment is surgical neutering and is overwhelmingly successful.
  • Globoid Cell Leukodystrophy: This is a degenerative disease of the white matter of the brain and spinal cord. Affected dogs usually die early if not treated, but there is a test that can identify carriers of the disease.
  • Hypothyroidism: This is a condition of the thyroid gland. Alopecia (hair loss), obesity, lethargy, hyperpigmentation, pyoderma, and other skin diseases are thought to be caused by this disease. Hypothyroidism is typically treated with medication and a healthy diet.
  • Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease: This condition involves the hip joint. With it, the blood supply to the head of the femur (large rear leg bone) is decreased, so the head of the femur begins to disintegrate. Limping and atrophy of the leg muscle are the first symptoms, usually occurring between four and six months of age. This condition can be treated with surgery.
  • Patellar Luxation: The patella is also known as the kneecap, and luxation is defined as the dislocation of an anatomical part. Patellar Luxation occurs when the knee joint moves in and out of the position, causing pain. This can be crippling, yet many dogs with this condition can lead normal lives.
  • Ocular Melanosis/Secondary Glaucoma: Also known as pigmentary glaucoma, this is a painful condition that appears between seven and twelve years of age in Cairns. The condition usually affects both eyes. If diagnosed in time, it can be treated with medication.
  • Portosystemic Liver Shunt: This is a birth defect in which blood arteries allow blood to bypass the liver. As a result, the blood is not properly cleansed by the liver. Surgery is almost always the best option.

Cairn Terrier Personality

The Cairn Terrier is a real terrier; independent, alert, and intelligent. However, the Cairn is also wonderfully friendly and outgoing. Temperament, it should be noted, can be affected by several factors such as heredity, training, and socialization.

Early socialization is always key. Exposure to different people, sights, sounds, and experiences while young is important for the Cairn. This breed is happy and cheerful, and typically enjoys meeting new people. Of course, these dogs are devoted to family and like to be a part of their owners’ lives. Playing with kids can be their favorite activity at home. It’s important to note that Cairns are very sensitive and don’t like being left alone for too long.

Cairns are curious dogs and are quick to learn. Due to their independence and stubbornness, however, they must know who is in charge. Otherwise, they will take control of things themselves. Early training and socialization tend to help with this sometimes challenging situation.

Because of the Cairn’s high energy level, the top of the list of activities that can be expected are digging, barking, and chasing. When outdoors, these dogs will chase any small animal if given the chance. For example, cats, rabbits, and even small dogs can be considered their quarry. Because of this, they should always be walked on a leash in public places and given a free-run only in a securely fenced yard. Cairns are typically good watchdogs and will always announce visitors.

Overall, the Cairn Terrier is a family dog and a wonderful companion. The breed needs to be in the house or wherever its family goes. It is a great choice for people who want an independent, playful, and alert companion that desires (demands) to be by their side.

Cairn Terrier Feeding & Nutrition

The Cairn Terrier should thrive on a high-quality food, whether purchased commercially or cooked at home with a veterinarian’s guidance. The daily amount of food that is recommended is one-half to one cup, divided into two meals.

The Cairn’s diet should be tailored to the age of the dog (puppy, adult, or senior), and its size, build, metabolism, and activity level. Highly active dogs will need more food than those that are less active.

High-quality food provides more nourishment, so less will be needed. The food should be measured and split into two meals per day rather than one. Also, it’s important never to leave food out all day and avoid feeding prepackaged food for people; however, if needed, it is safe to supplement with natural foods such as carrots, peppers, blueberries, broccoli, and cauliflower.

In case of a lack of nutrients in the dog’s food, the best supplements to give a Cairn are multivitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and fish oil.

To check if a Cairn is overweight, both the eye test and the hands-on test should be given. When looking down on the dog, a waist should be apparent. By placing hands on the back and thumbs along the spine, it should be possible to feel, but not see, the ribs. If this is not the case, the dog needs less food and more exercise. Before making any changes to a Cairn’s diet, it’s essential to always check with a veterinarian first.

Cairn Terrier Training

The Cairn Terrier is a breed known for its lively and tenacious nature. This zest for life, combined with an innate intelligence, makes this dog both a joy to own and a challenge to train.

For those wondering about the Cairn’s ease of training, these dogs can be quite independent. They have a strong-willed nature, often making them appear rather stubborn. This doesn’t mean they’re untrainable, however. It just requires a consistent and patient approach. Positive reinforcement methods, using treats or praise, typically work best with this breed. Cairns often respond well to rewards, and this can be a great incentive for them to learn.

When it comes to vocalizations, Cairns are known to be quite expressive. They might not always bark without a reason, but they’re certainly not silent dogs. Their barking could be in response to unfamiliar sounds or strangers, thus making them decent watchdogs. It’s essential to teach them the “quiet” command early on to manage any unnecessary barking.

In terms of intelligence, this breed is undoubtedly smart. The Cairn’s intelligence, combined with a curious nature, can sometimes lead this dog into mischief if not directed appropriately. Training sessions should be regularly provided, but kept short and engaging to hold the student’s attention.

Lastly, the Cairn Terrier’s predation instinct is something to consider. Given the breed’s history as a hunter of small vermin, these dogs have a relatively high prey drive. While this might not pose a problem for most people, those with smaller pets like hamsters or birds should be cautious.

Cairn Terrier Exercise

A big dog in a small package, that’s what the Cairn Terrier is. This is a tireless and high-energy dog that approaches life with zest. The Cairn is intelligent and quick to learn, so this vigor is not just about running around. Many of these dogs enjoy companion and performance events, and most like to dig. So, Barn Hunt may be a great activity for expending excess energy while having a good time.

Exercise Expectations

Energy Level High
Exercise Requirements 1 Hour/Day (Minimum), Daily Walks, Vigorous Running, Regular Exercise, Playing with Another Dog, Mental Stimulation

The exercise needs of Cairn puppies are different from those of adults, since their bodies are developing and not yet fully mature. Play should be supervised and regular periods of rest need to be scheduled. Older Cairns, despite their graying muzzles and stiffened joints, should still be active enough to maintain muscling and mobility.

Daily walks are essential to release the Cairn’s energy reserves. These excursions must be up to one hour a day in length, and two walks a day are best, if possible. Without this exercise, this dog can develop behavior issues such as barking, digging, and even going on an unscheduled exploration.

The three main types of exercise for this breed would be daily walks, high-intensity playtime, and mental stimulation. Cairns should be provided with the right kind of toy as a great way to burn energy and stimulate their active minds.

Cairn Terrier Grooming

The Cairn Terrier is double-coated, which helps the breed through different climate changes. The coat is profuse and weather-resistant and protective, although it does shed throughout the year. Regular grooming is required to keep the coat in fine condition.

Grooming Expectations

Coat Type Double, Wiry
Grooming Requirements Weekly Brushing, Occasional Bathing, Intermittent Hand-Stripping, Routine Ear Cleaning, Periodic Nail Trimming, Regular Tooth Brushing

Weekly brushing and combing should be done to check the hair and skin, and hand-stripping is necessary to maintain the coat’s proper texture.

Because of the Cairn Terrier’s water-resistant coat, bathing is recommended only once every few months. If bathed more often, there’s a chance of damaging the hair and their natural protective oils. When bathing, it’s important to always choose a shampoo for a “hard“ coat.

Trimming should be done by a professional groomer and includes some trimming of hair around the Cairn’s eyes for both aesthetic and health reasons. Also, it’s important to make sure the dog’s feet are trimmed, since this is an active breed that is always ready for adventure.

Lastly, the Cairn Terrier’s nails should be trimmed regularly, because overgrown nails are uncomfortable for the dog and can even cause pain. Trimmed nails are essential and allow the dog to move freely without discomfort.

Living With a Cairn Terrier

Energetic, curious, independent, and healthy is everything a Cairn Terrier is. The nature of this breed is one of adaptability, whether the dog is living in an apartment or a countryside home. The Cairn can happily thrive in just about any living environment.

If a person’s lifestyle necessitates frequent travel or a relocation, the Cairn will be highly adaptable to the change and will eagerly welcome the new surroundings. The breed’s adaptability makes it ideal for families that value flexibility in their lives.

Because of the Cairn’s double, weather-resistant coat, this breed adapts well to living in a variety of climates. The soft and furry undercoat keeps the dog cool in the summer heat and warm in the winter or when it’s raining. The breed’s undercoat does an amazing job at keeping these dogs dry.

Although small in size, the Cairn Terrier is big in terms of energy. The level of energy is typically high, and this requires regular walks and exercise to expend that accumulated energy. Mental stimulation is also important for Cairns to prevent them from developing behavior problems and even becoming aggressive out of frustration and boredom.

When contemplating a Cairn as a family companion or introducing it to other animals, compatibility must be considered. While these dogs can be fantastic with children and other pets when properly socialized, understanding the breed’s prey drive and energy levels is key for managing relationships effectively.

Cairn Terrier Puppies

Cairn Terrier puppies are playful and full of energy from an early stage of life. Their curiosity, combined with their instinct for digging and playing, can make them a bit harder to keep calm; however, if trained and socialized early on, they can be great company for just about anyone.

Caring for a Cairn Terrier Puppy

Before bringing home a Cairn Terrier puppy, it’s best to make sure a safe and nurturing environment is provided. Since this breed is very active from a young age, constant supervision is required to prevent any harm. Providing the puppy with toys will help with its teething as well as its play needs.

During the puppy’s growth stages, nutrition is critical. It’s best to feed a young Cairn a high-quality puppy food to ensure it gets all the nutrients needed for healthy growth. Setting a regular feeding schedule is also a good idea and will assist with housebreaking.

Regular veterinary check-ups are crucial in the first year of life. Vaccinations, deworming, and basic health checks should be performed to provide the puppy with a healthy start in life.

Training a Cairn Terrier puppy at an early stage will encourage it to grow into a well-behaved adult. Important aspects of puppy care include basic training and socialization. Socialization will instill confidence and can even reduce the chances of fearfulness or aggression later in life.

Cairn Terrier Activities & Dog Sports

The Cairn Terrier is a pretty versatile dog and is known for its intelligence, fearlessness, and adaptability. Although first bred for work on the farm to dig vermin from rock piles, over the years it has been involved in a variety of activities and dog sports, showcasing the breed’s many skills.

  • Agility: At Agility Trials, dogs navigate through a pre-set obstacle course within a specified time limit. Tunnels, weave poles, jumps, teeters, and an A-frame are common features on courses comprised of 14-20 obstacles. If properly introduced to the equipment, most Cairns love Agility and participate with great enthusiasm.
  • Barn Hunt: This activity is based on the Cairn’s instinct and ability to find vermin. Courses are built above ground using hay bales to create tunnels. Rats are safely placed in aerated tubes and hidden throughout the course for the dogs to find. Barn Hunt also tests the owner’s ability to “read“ the dog when they have found the hidden rat.
  • Dock Diving: Dock Diving is a sport in which dogs compete by jumping into a pool of water from a raised platform known as a dock. Dogs can be scored based on distance (the distance between the dock and where they land in the water), speed (how quickly they recover a toy at the pool’s end), or height (how high they can jump to fetch a toy dangling above the water).
  • Earthdog: An Earthdog Trial puts the terrier’s working ability and instincts to the test. Earthdog involves tunnels which the dogs must navigate while scenting a rat (the quarry). The dog must track the smell to the quarry and then “work” it. Depending on the sanctioning organization, “working” can refer to any active behavior such as barking, scratching, looking, pawing, or digging. The quarry is always guarded by wooden bars that are positioned across the end of the tunnel. The hunting encounter is carefully controlled, and neither the dog nor the quarry are threatened by the activity.
  • Fast CAT: This is a timed 100-yard dash for puppies at least 12 months old. In Fast CAT, dogs chase a plastic “bunny“ lure while its speed is measured.
  • Rally Obedience: Rally-O or Rally is a team sport in which a handler guides their dog around a course, similar to Agility. The distinction is that the course consists of many signals that imply obedience-like skills that a team must complete before proceeding to the next sign. The team strives to complete all of the signs in a certain order in the shortest amount of time. The skills on the placards include sit, down, stay, and heal.
  • Scent Work: In Scent Work, dogs are trained to detect certain “target odors” in a variety of search scenarios. The dogs are trained to operate as professional detecting canines, using their keen sense of smell to locate specific odors or “prey.”
  • Therapy Dog: Cairn Terriers can make excellent Therapy Dogs. In this work, dog and handler teams work together to achieve certification for visiting schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and other similar facilities and events. It is recommended that dogs complete some basic obedience training as well as the Canine Good Citizen test to make sure they enjoy this type of social work.

Breed Classification & Standards

The Cairn Terrier is recognized by the world’s leading registries and kennel organizations, which categorize the breed into a specific Group based on its unique characteristics. This breed is recognized worldwide under the following Group designations.

International Organizations

Organization Group Classification
AKC (American Kennel Club) Terrier
UKC (United Kennel Club) Terrier
CKC (Canadian Kennel Club) Terriers
ANKC (Australian National Kennel Council) Terriers
RKC (The Royal Kennel Club) Terrier
FCI (Fédération Cynologique Internationale) Group 4 – Terriers; Section 2 – Small-Sized Terriers

The ideal Cairn Terrier is described by a Breed Standard that is approved by each of the world’s leading registries and kennel organizations. The Breed Standards for this breed may be found in the following links.

Breed Standards

Organization Breed Standard
American Kennel Club AKC Cairn Terrier Breed Standard
United Kennel Club UKC Cairn Terrier Breed Standard
Canadian Kennel Club CKC Cairn Terrier Breed Standard
Australian National Kennel Council ANKC Cairn Terrier Breed Standard
The Royal Kennel Club RKC Cairn Terrier Breed Standard
Fédération Cynologique Internationale FCI Cairn Terrier Breed Standard

Cairn Terrier Clubs

Cairn Terrier clubs are indispensable in preserving the breed’s written Standard, promoting responsible breeding practices, and fostering a community for enthusiasts and breeders alike. These organizations often serve as hubs for education, organized events, and advocacy for the Cairn Terrier as a unique breed.

The Cairn Terrier Club of America (CTCA) is a dog club dedicated to supporting and promoting quality in the purebred breeding of Cairn Terriers. The organization strongly urges members and mentor-breeders to embrace the Breed Standard as specified by the CTCA and recognized by the American Kennel Club as the only requirement of excellence by which Cairn Terriers will be judged.

The Cairn Terrier Club of Canada (CTCC) stands as the premier organization in Canada for Cairn Terrier enthusiasts. The club was formed by a small group of Cairn fanciers in 1952.

The United Kingdom operates a few clubs, including The Cairn Terrier Club which is the oldest club for Cairns in the world, and the Southern Cairn Terrier Club, which is approved by The Royal Kennel Club.

Joining or engaging with these and similar clubs provides Cairn Terrier enthusiasts with a wealth of knowledge and opportunities to connect with others who share the same passion for this affable breed.

Cairn Terrier Rescue Groups

Sadly, not every Cairn Terrier puppy is placed in a loving forever home. When acquired without sufficient research and knowledge, some dogs can end up in adoption or foster situations.

In the United States, Cairn Rescue USA is one of the dedicated rescue organizations for the breed. This group is dedicated to rescuing, rehabilitating, and finding new homes for Cairns in need. In addition, the Cairn Terrier Club of America contains a detailed list of hard-working regional rescues.

Canadian Cairn Terrier Rescue is the leading rescue organization in Canada. This group of volunteers operates under the broader umbrella of the Cairn Terrier Club of Canada and has found homes for hundreds of Cairns looking for a new lease on life.

In the United Kingdom, the most popular rescue group for the breed is the Cairn Terrier Relief Fund. This organization was established in 1969 and provides care for abandoned or neglected Cairns as well as those whose owners can no longer take care of them for any reason.

Cairn Terrier Facts

  • Famous Cairn Terrier: In 1939, a Cairn Terrier named “Terry” was cast as the character Toto in MGM’s production of The Wizard of Oz.
  • Name: The breed is literally named after a pile of rocks. The word “cairn” refers to a stack of stones that is formed either naturally or by human hand. These formations are great breeding grounds for mice, rats, and other small vermin, and the dogs were created to go into the pile to flush them out.
  • Feet: The Cairn Terrier’s front paws are well-padded and larger than their rear paws, giving the dogs an advantage while digging for destructive and determined rodents.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How long does a Cairn Terrier live?

The Cairn Terrier has a typical lifespan of around 13 to 15 years, though some can live even longer with proper care. It’s important to note that a balanced diet, regular exercise, and consistent veterinary care are essential factors for ensuring a long and healthy life.

Do Cairn Terriers shed?

Cairn Terriers are considered to be a low to moderate shedding breed. While they do shed, their shedding is not excessive. Regular grooming and brushing can help to manage the hair loss, and pet Cairns particularly benefit from regular visits to professional groomers.

How big does a Cairn Terrier get?

The Cairn Terrier is a small breed, standing around 9.5 to 10 inches tall at the shoulders. It’s worth noting that the size of the individual dog can vary, so it’s important to acquire one from a reputable breeder known for producing dogs that conform to the Breed Standard.

How fast can a Cairn Terrier run?

Cairn Terriers are generally quite agile and can run at speeds of around 15 to 20 miles per hour, depending on the individual fitness and energy level of the dog. While the breed has moderate activity needs, it’s notable that the Cairn has a natural inclination to dig, often displaying this behavior while exploring its surrounding environment.

How much does a Cairn Terrier weigh?

Cairn Terriers typically weigh between 13 and 14 pounds. While there’s a general weight range, the size and weight of an individual Cairn can vary. So, when looking to acquire one, it’s best to consult with breeders who are known for producing dogs that fit within the desired specifications.

Is the Cairn Terrier a good family dog?

Yes, the Cairn Terrier is known for its affectionate and lively nature, making these dogs excellent family companions. They generally get along well with children and other pets when socialized from a young age. The breed’s versatility is well-suited for people in all stages of life, from young families to active adults and the elderly.

Is the Cairn Terrier hypoallergenic?

The Cairn Terrier is not considered hypoallergenic. While no dog is completely hypoallergenic, some breeds are less likely to trigger allergies in sensitive individuals due to their low-shedding (or absent) coats. Cairns do shed to some extent, which can potentially cause allergies in people who are prone to them. Regular grooming and cleaning can help with controlling any allergens.

When is a Cairn Terrier full-grown?

A Cairn Terrier typically reaches its full-grown size and physical maturity at around 12 to 18 months of age. By this time, most will have achieved their adult height and weight. To encourage optimum health during the later years, it’s essential to feed the Cairn a high-quality diet and provide regular opportunities to exercise.

Are Cairn Terriers loyal to one person?

Cairn Terriers are known for their loyalty and often form strong bonds with their human companions. While they can be sociable and friendly towards the entire family, it’s not uncommon for them to display a particular attachment to one specific person. This loyalty, paired with the breed’s alert and protective nature, typically makes these dogs an excellent choice for a canine companion.

Can a Cairn Terrier be left alone?

Like most dogs, the Cairn Terrier prefers the company of their human family members and may experience separation anxiety if left alone for extended periods. If the dog becomes bored or anxious, it might engage in a few destructive behaviors. If a Cairn needs to be left alone regularly, it’s essential to provide it with toys and puzzles, or consider getting another companion to help mitigate the loneliness.

Do Cairn Terriers bark a lot?

Cairn Terriers can be quite vocal. Their natural instinct as terriers is to alert their owners of any perceived threats, which can include unfamiliar noises or strangers approaching the house or yard. Proper training and socialization from a young age can help to manage and reduce excessive barking.

Are Cairn Terriers high or low maintenance?

In terms of grooming, Cairn Terriers are a moderate maintenance breed. Their wiry coat requires occasional brushing and infrequent baths to maintain its natural state, and periodic stripping of the dead hairs is necessary to keep a dog looking like the champions that compete at dog shows. However, in terms of energy and mental stimulation, they are moderately high maintenance. These active little terriers benefit from regular exercise and activities that will challenge their intelligent and curious minds.


Dan Sayers

Dan Sayers

Dan Sayers is the Editor-in-Chief of SHOWSIGHT digital and print publications. He received a B.S. from Drexel University where he studied interior architectural design. His professional career has allowed him to develop his planning, problem-solving, and project management skills, which were employed in the office, educational, and financial sectors. While working as a project manager, he earned a Graphic Design Certificate from the University of the Arts and began creating ads for many of America’s top-winning show dogs. Through this work, Dan became Editor-in-Chief of the nation’s first online-only dog show publication. His current role expands on this experience and broadly extends to cover the sport of dogs in Companion and Performance events as well as all aspects of Conformation.

Dan is a long-time member of the Irish Water Spaniel Club of America and is the organization’s current AKC Delegate and Archivist/Historian, as well as a club-approved Breed Mentor. From 2000-2010, he was the club’s AKC Gazette Columnist. He breeds Irish Water Spaniels under the Quiet Storm prefix and has judged the IWSCA National Specialty Sweepstakes twice. Dan is a member of the Morris and Essex Kennel Club as well as the Dog Writers Association of America, which recognized his illustrations in the award-winning canine compendium, the Encyclopedia of K-9 Terminology.

Find a Breeder or Rescue

The best way to ensure a long and happy relationship with a purebred dog is to purchase one from a responsible breeder. Not sure where to begin?

Contact the National Parent Club’s Breeder Referral Program, which is listed on the AKC Breeder Referral Contacts page.

Find a Cairn Terrier Puppy
Find a Breeder or Rescue