Let's talk Cairn Terriers

A hardy little dog with plenty of energy, the Cairn Terrier comes from the rugged Isle of Skye, off the northwest coast of Scotland. Cairn Terriers get their name from the cairns or mounds of stones that dot the hilltops in this weather-beaten landscape – they were originally bred to catch the vermin and rodents that hid within. Their pointy ears, bright eyes and high tail give them an alert look that matches their intelligent personality. Cairn Terriers still have the liveliness and tenacity that set their forebears apart as working dogs but their friendliness, sociability and willingness to sit on your lap for cuddles mean they also make great pets. 

Official name: Cairn Terrier

Origins: Scotland

Black and white portrait of a sitting Cairn Terrier
 Drooling tendencies

Very low

Warm weather? High
 Shedding level Medium
Suited to apartment living?  Medium
 Energy Level (high, low, medium)* Medium Family Pet?* 
Very high
 Compatibility with other pets High Can stay alone?* Very low

 * We advise against leaving pets alone for long stretches. Companionship can prevent emotional distress and destructive behaviour. Speak to your veterinarian for recommendations.

Every pet is different, even within a breed; this snapshot of this breed specifics should be taken as an indication.
For a happy healthy and well-behaved pet, we recommend educating and socializing your pet as well as covering their basic welfare needs (and their social and behavioral needs.
Pets should never be left unsupervised with a child.
Contact your breeder or veterinarian for further advice.
All domestic pets are sociable and prefer company.  However, they can be taught to cope with solitude from an early age.  Seek the advice of your veterinarian or trainer to help you do this.

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Illustration of a standing Cairn Terrier
28 cm - 31 cm Height
7 kg 500.0 - 7 kg Weight
28 cm - 31 cm Height
7 kg 500.0 - 7 kg Weight

 Baby age  Birth to 2 months
 Puppy age  2 to 10 months
 Adult age 10 months to 8 years
 Mature age  8 to 12 years
 Senior age  From 12 years


Get to know the Cairn Terrier

All you need to know about the breed

The Cairn Terrier comes from the Isle of Skye, off the northwest coast of Scotland. A native of the land of driving rain, the Cairn Terrier embodies the old adage ‘there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing’ – their thick, resistant, double coats mean they’re not afraid of a little bit of that famous Scottish weather. 

The Cairn Terrier was originally bred to hunt out vermin from the stone cairns that dot the windswept landscape of his native land. Their name may hark back to these austere origins, but the modern day Cairn Terrier generally does not object to a less rugged lifestyle – as long as they have plenty of regular exercise, they don’t need a big garden. Their playful, bold and lively nature makes them a great choice for families – once trained, the Cairn Terrier gets on well with children. 

Cairn Terriers are intelligent little dogs and they respond well to reward-based training. Take any treats out of their daily food portion, of course! They can learn an impressive number of tricks and commands with patient and thorough training. That training will be needed to curb Cairn Terriers’ enthusiasm for digging and barking, sometimes even at the same time. 

Although Cairn Terriers should be fine with other dogs and even cats, their drive to chase smaller animals may be trickier to overcome. But if there are no rabbits, guinea pigs or other small pets around Cairn Terriers make a great addition to the family

A blonde and a black Cairn Terrier stood next to each other on a rock


2 facts about Cairn Terriers

1. We’re off to see the wizard...

“Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” 

That’s right, Toto, Judy Garland’s four-legged co-star in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz was a Cairn Terrier. Toto was played by a female Cairn Terrier named Terry. While it was her most famous role, it was not Terry’s only brush with fame: she appeared in a string of other films, including alongside Shirley Temple in Bright Eyes in 1934.

2. You can take the dog out of the dig 

... But you can’t take the dig out of the dog. While it may no longer be their job, Cairn Terriers will do what Cairn Terriers were bred to do – and that is dig. With their strong little front paws and tenacious natures, they will thrive if, alongside chances to run and play, they have access to a digging space. Their owners will thrive if that space is not in the middle of a pristine lawn or lovingly planted rose bushes. 


History of the breed

The Cairn Terrier is one of the oldest terriers, dating back several hundred years, although the breed’s exact origins are lost to the Scottish mists. With their small size and tenacious temperament, Cairn Terriers were bred to hunt rats and other creatures that hid in the cairns (or mounds of stones) that dot the Scottish landscape. 

Presumably, they didn’t get to hide for long, with determined Cairn Terriers on their scent. When compact little Cairn Terriers were first shown at dog shows in the late 19th century, they were grouped with other small terrier breeds from the region known as Scotch terriers. Those were later split, with a new breed classification, Skye terriers, incorporating Cairn Terriers. Skye terriers were again sub-divided, with what we know today as Cairn Terriers failing into the category of hard-haired terriers. Still with us? Those hard-haired terriers were finally divided up again into three breeds that are still popular today: Cairn Terriers, Scottish Terriers and West Highland White Terriers. Cairns finally got their official name and breed designation in the early 20th century. Phew!

Black and white portrait of a standing Cairn Terrier


From head to tail

Physical characteristics of Cairn Terriers

1. Ears

Very large ears, wide at base, tilted slightly forward.

2. Head

Wedge-shaped head, flat forehead, finely outlined cheekbones.

3. Body

Lithe medium-size body, hard and muscular, rounded abdomen.

4. Tail

Whip-like tail, straight, tapering to point.

5. Coat

Coat composed of fine hairs, pronounced wrinkles on face, head, chest.


Things to look out for

From specific breed traits to a general health overview, here are some interesting facts about your Cairn Terrier
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A dog on a mission

It’s no surprise that Cairn Terriers, a working breed, conditioned for hundreds of years to be helpful to their humans, are not keen on being left to their own devices. Cairn Terriers are busy, sociable little dogs and they thrive on having an important mission. Secretly, they probably don’t mind that that mission is now chasing a ball in the garden before a gentle tummy rub, rather than braving horizontal Scottish rain to dig for rats under a pile of stones. It’s still a mission. 

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Hardy heritage

Cairn Terriers are active and robust little dogs with a long lifespan – an average of 13-14 years. But like other pure breeds, Cairn Terriers can still be prone to some health issues such as kidney problems, eye issues or Legg-Calve-Perthes disease, a condition in which the head of the femur spontaneously begins to degenerate, possibly because of disrupted blood flow, in time causing the hip to collapse and leading to arthritis. The condition is most common in small dogs and the first sign of it is a limp.   


Caring for your Cairn Terrier

Grooming, training and exercise tips

Cairn Terriers are lively and alert and, as you would expect from a working dog, need a decent amount of exercise to keep them content and healthy. Times have changed since the breed came into being – they don’t require free run of acres of Scottish highland – but they do need proper walks and they also enjoy playing games. They benefit from the chance to run off the lead too – to avoid any altercations, just make sure they are in an enclosed space and there are no smaller animals around. Cairn Terriers need regular weekly basic grooming. Occasional hand-stripping by a professional groomer (plucking out the dead hairs from the under layer) will keep their thick coats in great condition. Cairn Terriers can have a tendency to bark. However, training should help get that under control. With rewards in hand, training in general should be straightforward – Cairn Terriers are intelligent and eager to please and make a wonderful family pet.

All about Cairn Terriers

Yes! These hairy little bundles might give off a can-do vibe – can’t stop, places to go, people to see – but Cairn Terriers are also affectionate and thrive as part of a human family, cuddles and all. Once trained, they also really enjoy playing with children – supervised of course. 

They shouldn’t be – Cairn Terriers are intelligent and eager to please. They respond well to rewards and should be able to master an impressive range of tricks and commands with patient, positive training. And snacks*.

*Taken from their kibble portion, of course!


1 - Veterinary Centers of America https://vcahospitals.com/ 

2 - Royal Canin Dog Encyclopaedia. Ed 2010 and 2020

3 - Banfield Pet Hospital https://www.banfield.com/

4 - Royal Canin BHN Product Book

5 - American Kennel Club https://www.akc.org/