Cairn Terrier


History & Origin

The Cairn Terrier is an incredibly old dog breed originating from the Scottish Highlands. They are descendent from the original, indigenous working dogs of the area. Their original purpose was pest control. Shepherds, crofters, and hunters used them to get rid of foxes, rabbits, and rats. When hunting gained in popularity, the terriers hunted badgers and otters.

The advent of the 1800’s saw differentiations developing in the Cairn Terrier breed. These were the Skye Terrier, Scottish Terrier, and West Highland White Terrier. The original Cairn Terrier was almost forgotten, except in the remote parts of Scotland where they had originated.

The pioneers of the Cairn Terriers of today  are two ladies. They were Mrs. Alastair Campbell and Mrs. Mary Hawke. Because of their persistence, The Kennel Club recognized the breed in 1910.

The efforts of another two women, Mrs. Henry Price and Mrs. Byron Rodgers, saw the breed gain recognition in the United States. The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the Cairn Terrier breed in 1913.

The name of the breed has an interesting twist to it. They are named after the many cairns dotting the Scottish countryside. A cairn is a mound of stones piled on graves. They supplied many a hiding place for the vermin these dogs hunted. The smallness of certain of these dogs at the time allowed them to easily maneuver between these stones, thus their name, Cairn Terriers.

at a









  • BUSY
  • BOLD




Your new Cairn Terrier puppy will never grow to be big. Do not tell him that, though. This little breed is tough and sturdy with an attitude!

A Cairn Terrier is friendly, alert, and independent. He is also extremely stubborn. This means he needs to know who the boss is right from the start. Therefore, a new owner will need to take charge immediately. If not, the dog will rule the home.

Although he is independent, he has a soft little heart. His sensitive nature does not take well to scolding or harsh treatment of any sort. So temper firmness with kindness and love when dealing with your new puppy.

Your Cairn Terrier puppy’s intelligence and willingness to learn, means he learns new tricks and commands easily. There is almost nothing he cannot learn.

Fiercely loyal, Cairn Terriers adapt to almost any situation. They are wonderful with children and make great family pets. These pups do not get along with smaller children, however. They do not take well to teasing.

Your puppy is a member of an extremely active breed of dog. He needs exercise and a lot of it. He will always be up to playing games such as fetch, but boredom can result in a dug up garden. Although small, those paws are large and strong for his size! These are by no means quiet lapdogs and are a bad choice for the elderly or infirm. They are not for those who have a more sedentary lifestyle.

Cairn Terriers do not do particularly well with other dogs, nor do they like small pets. They see cats and other smaller animals as their natural prey. They do best in one-pet households with them being the center of attention. What else would you expect?

cairn terrier


nutrition and feeding


Your frisky companion is long-lived and could be by your side for up to fifteen years.


Cairn Terriers are not fussy eaters. They have a tendency to put on weight, however. Free feeding where food is always readily available is a bad idea. It encourages over-eating and thus obesity. Obesity has its own set of health problems such as diabetes and heart problems.

If feeding your Cairn Terrier commercial dog food, keep a few things in mind. The majority of commercial dog food has additives and fillers. They do nothing for your dog’s nutritional needs. Most of what is in there only fill your puppy’s tummy without any nutritional benefits.

In addition, what is good for a large breed of dog does not suit a smaller breed like the Cairn Terrier. Dried, commercial dog food has to be age and breed specific. In other words, puppy food for a small dog breed does not work for a larger breed of puppies or an adult Cairn Terrier, for example. You should only choose a commercial brand that is of a high quality. These are usually more expensive, but well worth your dog’s health and the money you save in veterinarian fees.

A raw food diet for dogs closely resembles what they would eat in their natural state. Wolves, for example, first eat the guts of their prey, followed by the intestines and muscle meat. Dogs are descended from wolves, and their gut works exactly the same way.

Protein, in a raw food diet, is derived from red meat, poultry, and fish. Vegetables are part of the deal. Sweet potato and carrots are great, as well as brown rice for puppies. It helps with their digestion.

The advantages of a raw food diet include among other better oral hygiene, a leaner body mass, an improved coat and skin, better digestion and a stronger immune system.


When you bring your new puppy home feed him what he had at the breeders at first. If you want to introduce him to a new diet, do so gradually. Changing his diet immediately will result in a sick puppy with an upset tummy. You do not want to clean up that mess!

Your new puppy needs three to four meals a day. By the time he reaches the ripe old age of six months, he should be down to two meals a day. Feeding according to a set schedule allows for easier house training and prevents possible obesity later in life. It also makes potty training easier.

Always ensure there is a bowl of clear, fresh water at hand. Active puppies can easily get dehydrated.

coat and grooming


Size and Coat

Male Cairn Terriers are slightly larger than the females. They stand between 25cm and 33 cm and weigh anything between six and eight kilograms. Females stand between 23cm and 30cm and weigh about the same as the males. Height is measured from the withers to the floor.

The Cairn Terrier has a stocky, solid build with a deep chest, short legs, and solid hindquarters. Their double coat is shaggy and weather resistant. The outer coat has a harsh texture while the undercoat is soft. It comes in just about every color except white. These include different shades of gray, brindle, black(ish), sand, brindle, and red.


Your Cairn Terrier needs a weekly grooming session. Their coats knot and mat easily. Regular brushing and combing get rid of the problem.

The grooming session need not take long, but should include a number of things. This breed does not need regular bathing. Bathing too often strips the coat of oil, resulting in a dry coat and possible skin irritations. Regular spraying with moisturizer, however, keeps it in good shape. Make sure to brush it through well.

Regular brush should include coat stripping. This is where loose undercoat hair is removed. Leaving it causes matting. Hot spots may develop in warmer weather.

Use damp cotton wool balls to clean your puppy’s ear. A discharge or discoloration means a trip to the veterinarian is in order. It is a sign of a possible ear infection.

Nails should be short. Most active dogs do not need regular nail clipping. Their nails tend to file down naturally. Many pet owners are wary of clipping their dog’s nails. A quick visit to the doggy parlor or veterinarian gets the job done quickly without costing too much. Long nails in a dog tear easily, causing a lot of pain.



Exercise, Energy, and Activities

Your puppy belongs to a very active breed. They love nothing more than running around chasing something. Playing fetch is a great pastime. Physical activity keeps the Cairn Terrier healthy. His willingness to engage in play with older children makes him an ideal family pet.

A fenced yard is best for your Cairn Terrier puppy. His paws are large and strong for his size, and while still small, digging is one of his favorite activities. A few long walks a day do wonders to curb his energy.

An intelligent, agile, athletic dog, your puppy will, as he grows older, excel in activities such as agility, earth dog trials, and fly ball.

Training and Sleep/Rest

Training begins the moment your puppy comes home. Proper socialization with all family members comes first, followed by socialization with other people and dogs. Socialization is very important with Cairn Terriers because they tend to become aggressive towards other animals if not exposed to them from an early age. The same applies to strangers.

Of course, potty training is high on the list too. Housetraining your puppy is going to take time, patience and consistency. Strangely, the smaller the breed of dog, the longer they take to housetrain. It could take a few months.

Never, under any circumstances, scold or punish your new family addition for making a mistake. Rather praise him for each time he gets a right. There is nothing like positive reinforcement to make a dog want to please its owner.

Puppies can control their bladder for about one hour for every month of its age. If you keep this in mind, you will prevent spills in the home.

One of the reasons four meals a day is recommended is because a puppy needs to ‘go’ about fifteen minutes after a meal. He also needs taking out first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Additionally, potty times during the day at 35 minutes to one-hour intervals are ideal. The length between potty times lengthens as the dog gets older. At first, though, regular intervals are best. Rather be safe than sorry!



Health Issues

There are a few health problems associated with the Cairn Terrier breed. It is, therefore, important that you purchase your puppy from a reputable breeder. He is able to answer all your questions about the breed as well as tell you the medical history of both your puppy’s parents. Backyard breeders are out for a profit. They do not have the breed’s best interests at heart.

Probably the most common health problem in all terrier breeds is allergies. Allergies are the main cause of itchy skin. It often leads to bacterial skin infections.

Other issues with the breed include:

Ocular melanosis: It is an eye disease found only in Cairn Terriers. The onset is between the ages of eight and twelve years. It is commonly known as pigmentary glaucoma.

Cataracts: If your Cairn Terrier develops cataracts before the age of two years, blindness usually follows.

Luxating patella: This is a dislocation of the kneecap and common in smaller dogs. It is sometimes due to injury, especially while a puppy. It is treatable.

Legg-Calve-Perthes disease: Legg-Calve-Perthes disease is where the femoral head starts degenerating. Possible indicators of the disease are trouble walking, favoring a specific leg, holding a leg up, and trouble with getting up. Treatment is by means of surgery.

Globoid cell leukodystrophy (GCL): It is a genetic disease affecting the neurological functioning of your dog. It usually affects dogs that are three to eighteen months old. It normally results in death.

Pulmonary fibrosis: The condition usually manifests when your dog is about nine years old. It affects the lungs. They become inflamed and scarred. The dog finds it progressively difficult to breathe properly. The outcome is usually not a positive one.

To Sum Up

Your little Cairn Terrier puppy is never going to lose its playful spark. Although very adaptable, he is better suited for homes with an enclosed yard in which he can run and play off his excess energy.

Exceedingly loyal, he makes a great little watchdog. His excitable nature makes him a bad pet for the elderly while an excellent one for a family with children. His digging tendencies and barking when bored might drive you up the wall. Be prepared for it!

He is no lapdog but a big dog in a little body. Never forget it!

watch a video of the


Previous articleAiredale Terrier
Next articleChesapeake Bay Retriever