Fearless and intelligent, the Cairn Terrier is both bold and assertive eager to play


Cairn Terrier Spotlight

  • Great with kids and other pets
  • Has a lot of energy
  • Needs walks or exercise every day
  • Good for apartment and condo living
  • Sociable and well-mannered
  • Likes to dig
  • Independent by nature
  • Plays 'Toto' on Wizard of Oz


The Cairn Terrier was bred on the Scottish Isle of Skye with other terriers who are classified within the same family. Prior to the 1900s, the Cairn Terrier was considered to be the same breed as the Scottish Terrier and the West Highland White Terrier.

These dogs were bred to hunt down badgers, otters, and foxes back in the 15th century. Each dog as known for its wonderful agility to include running and jumping. In fact, the Cairn Terrier received its name because it would jump into cairns and bark at badgers and foxes until they came out of their hiding place.

The breed was first recognized by the American Kennel Club in the 1913. The Cairn Terrier hit a popularity boom in the 1930s. According to the AKC, the Cairn Terrier is the 72nd most popular dog breed.

Personality & Temperament

Wonderful, cheerful, and friendly are just some of the words used to describe the Cairn Terrier. You will love the personality that your pup has. This breed is considered to be very sociable and you will find that your dog likes to meet new people no matter where you are.

Your Cairn Terrier is going to be independent and you may find that he or she wanders off on his or her own to explore the world around. You do want to make sure you keep an eye on your pup because he or she is prone to dig and try to escape.

Cairn Terriers are vocal and will make a good watch dog, but not in the aggressive sense. They will alert you to a newcomer to your home, but once the newcomer is inside, your pup will be sociable and friendly. You do not have to worry about aggression with your Cairn Terrier. He or she will get along with other pets and also kids.

As always, your Cairn Terrier does need early socialization to ensure he or she has the best and even temperament.

Appearance & Grooming

The Cairn Terrier is considered to be a small breed and stands 9 to 13 inches in height and weighs between 13 and 18 pounds. This dog is recognized by the AKC in 11 different colors from black to cream to red and more. In addition, it is not uncommon to find colored markings on your dog’s coat as well.

Cairn Terriers have a rough looking double coat that is often wiry on the outside and soft on the underside. This breed does require quite a bit of grooming and care, so it is important to make sure that you have time to dedicate to grooming him or her.

The coat itself is not difficult to groom, but you should brush your pup’s fur a few times per week. You only need to bathe your Cairn Terrier once every three months or as often as your pup is dirty. When you do bathe him or her, make sure that you choose a shampoo that is mild on the skin and coat.

You may need to trim your Cairn’s fur every once in a while, to keep it tame. If you are not comfortable trimming your pup’s coat, you should have a groomer do it for you.

On a final note, you do need to make sure that you clean your Cairn’s ears once per week and trim his or her nails as often as needed to prevent them from growing too long.


The Cairn Terrier is considered to be a healthy breed, but there are some health conditions you need to be alerted to as they can negatively affect your dog.

  • Legg-Calve-Perthe’s Disease - This is a condition that causes the head of the femur bone to begin to degenerate. Once this occurs, the disease can cause bone and joint inflammation. Some of the first signs of this disease include lameness in the affected leg or limping.
  • Cryptorchidism - This condition is marked by the failure of your Cairn Terrier’s testicles to descend from the scrotum. While the condition may not be painful, if the testicle does not descend, it is deemed non-functional and may become cancerous over time. The solution for this condition is neutering.
  • Craniomandibular Osteopathy - This is a condition that affects the skull of your Cairn Terrier puppy. The bones often grow incorrectly, which leads to other problems such as trouble opening and closing the mouth. Some dogs are able to live a normal life without any need for intervention while others will need to have surgery to correct the problem.
  • Hypothyroidism - This is a disorder that occurs with the thyroid gland. When this gland does not function properly, there are signs that will alert you to the condition. Obesity is one of the most common symptoms, but your Cairn Terrier may develop epilepsy, skin problems, or even hair loss. Hypothyroidism is easily treatable and can be managed with medication and a proper diet.
  • Patellar luxation - is a condition where the knee caps slip out of place and become dislocated. If this occurs, you will notice that your pup keeps his or her leg lifted off of the ground or limps as he or she attempts to walk.

Exercise & Care

Caring for your Cairn Terrier is not considered to be difficult by any means. Since this is a small size breed, he or she is a great choice for condos and apartments. You do need to make sure that your dog receives enough exercise throughout the day, so if you have a yard, allow him or her to run around or if you live in an apartment, take your Cairn Terrier on a couple 15 to 20 minute walks per day.

Training your Cairn Terrier should not be a problem, but at times may present some difficulty due to a stubborn streak. If you do notice that your pup is acting stubborn, you should remain consistent with him or her and avoid becoming angry.

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