Cairn Terrier


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The cairn terrier is a lively, active and friendly pet that loves to play and be treated with affection. This breed became popular thanks to the movie ‘The Wizard of Oz’ where a cairn terrier plays Toto, the protagonist’s dog.

Height: 11-12.2 inches
Weight: 13.22- 16.5 Pounds
Fur: Average length
Life expectancy: 14-17 years
Activity Level: High
Country of origin: Scotland
Orientative Price: 800-1200 $

Physical Appearance

  • Weight: The Cairn Terrier typically weighs between 13-16.5 lbs.
  • Height: Their height ranges between 11-12.2 inches at the withers.
  • Coat: Their coat is dense and rough, of medium length, resistant to water and weather. It does not shed, and minimal hair loss occurs.
  • Colors: Common colors include light gray, nearly black dark gray, red, cream, and light brown or yellow. They often have dark spots on their ears and/or muzzle.
  • General Build: They are a small, sturdy, and compact dog with strong limbs and a short, furry tail that doesn’t form fringes and is never bent over the back. They have dark eyes and nose, small, erect, and pointed ears.


The Cairn Terrier is an active, tenacious, and confident dog, always alert. They are cheerful, playful, and eager to please their owners.

Ranking 35th in Stanley Coren’s intelligence list, they are both energetic and sensitive, requiring early socialization and patient training, as they can be a bit stubborn.

They enjoy daily walks, whether in the city or the countryside, and playing with toys.


Guard Dog: They are excellent watchdogs, always alert and will bark to signal any anomalies in the environment or the presence of strangers.

Barker: Cairn Terriers can be quite vocal, especially if left alone for extended periods.

Training and Obedience: This breed is easy to train due to their boldness and intelligence, though they can be somewhat stubborn at times.

Early socialization is key to preventing aggressive behavior, and basic obedience training is recommended. Use positive reinforcement by rewarding and praising positive behaviors. Be consistent, firm, and respectful, as they are sensitive and affected by their owners’ moods. Keep training sessions short to maintain their interest and attention. To housetrain them, establish a routine from a young age.

Life Expectancy: Cairn Terriers are known to be long-lived, typically living between 14 and 17 years.

Cairn Terriers with Children: When properly socialized from a young age, Cairn Terriers can coexist with children and make excellent pets due to their playful and active nature. Children should be taught to treat animals with respect.

Cairn Terriers with Other Pets: Successful cohabitation with other pets depends on early socialization. When pets are raised together from a young age, they are more likely to adapt and coexist without issues. However, male individuals may sometimes display aggression toward other males, even with socialization.

Adaptation to Solitude: If left alone for extended periods, Cairn Terriers may develop undesirable behaviors like constant barking or destructive tendencies. Keep in mind that they have a strong need for companionship and affection. Before leaving them alone, acclimate them gradually and ensure they’ve had a walk. It’s often helpful to leave them with a toy for entertainment.


Daily Walks and Activity: Like all animals,

Cairn Terriers need daily physical and mental exercise. One or two vigorous walks a day are essential for their well-being. If you have a garden, be aware that this breed tends to dig due to their history of hunting in burrows.

Cairn Terriers can adapt well to apartment living as long as they have opportunities for daily activity. If you have a garden, ensure it’s securely fenced to prevent escapes, as they have a tendency to chase small animals.

Coat Care: The Cairn Terrier’s coat is resistant to water and weather, so it should not be shaved or trimmed; doing so would destroy the properties of their coat.

It’s recommended to brush their coat once or twice a week to prevent matting. Removing dead hair at the root is done manually through a technique called “stripping,” which involves pulling out the dead hair to allow new hair to grow.

You can take your Cairn Terrier to a professional groomer for this. Baths should only be given when the dog is genuinely dirty, and always use a specific dog shampoo.

Pros and Cons

Advantages of Cairn Terrier:

  • They are intelligent, affectionate, and loving companions.
  • They have a relatively long lifespan, often reaching almost 17 years.

Disadvantages of Cairn Terrier:

  • They can be barkers.
  • They do not handle solitude well.
  • They can be somewhat stubborn.
  • They require daily physical exercise and mental stimulation through games and trick training, which may be a challenge for individuals with a sedentary lifestyle. If you have a busy schedule and cannot dedicate the time they need, a more independent breed may be a better fit. It’s essential to choose a breed that suits your lifestyle.

If you lead a sedentary lifestyle and you are looking for a quiet dog, perhaps you should look for another, calmer breed, such as the Shih tzu. If you spend a lot of time away from home and do not have time to dedicate to your pet, a more independent dog will be more convenient. It is important that the breed you choose has needs that adapt to your lifestyle.


While Cairn Terriers are generally healthy, strong, and long-lived, some common health concerns include:

  • Portosystemic Shunt (Intrahepatic portosystemic transyugular).
  • Microvascular Dysplasia.

Regular vet visits will help detect any health issues. Ensure that your Cairn Terrier is up to date with vaccinations and undergoes quarterly deworming using medications available from your veterinarian.

History and Origin

Initially known as the Skye Terrier due to their origin on Skye Islands, in Scotland, they were later referred to as Cairn Terriers, a nod to the rocky mounds found in those lands, known as Cairns.

These dogs were used for hunting small animals like foxes, badgers, and otters, as well as for eradicating rats, mice, and weasels from farms and stables.

Initially, there was no distinction between Skye and Cairn Terriers until the Kennel Club opened their pedigree in 1912.

The FCI (Federación Cinológica Internacional) recognized the breed in April 1963 and published its latest official standard in June 1987, categorizing it in Group 3: Terriers, Section 2: Small Terriers.