New Zealand
A Little History & Overview of the Cairn Terrier

This website created and maintained by Kelbryn Dezign. © 2012


Cairn Terriers originated on the Isle of Skye in the Scottish Highlands as a vermin killing dog. They excelled at removing rats and other rodents, as well as badgers and even foxes from the stone cairns commonly found on Scottish farms - thus their name, Cairn Terriers. (Terra is Latin for earth, and all of the Terrier breeds are dogs that can 'go to earth' to chase their prey, either in a den or tunnel, or by digging them out.) These dogs were bred for their working ability and practicality. Gradually, separate strains of this terrier became the Scottish, the West Highland White and the Skye Terriers, with the original Terrier defined as the Cairn. The Cairn is closest to its original ancestors and still excels in flushing out vermin.
Today, the Cairn is more of a companion animal. Like all terriers, they are agile, alert, frisky, independent bundles of energy. They are long lived dogs, with few health problems, and many live well into their late teens.
They are quite sturdy and train well, especially if you use food as a motivator! Their double coat does not shed, and consists of a harsh weatherproof outer coat and a soft undercoat which is groomed with a steel pin brush, and regularly stripped out by hand, with a stripping knife or a Coat King Tool." 
The most famous example of a Cairn is Dorothy's dog "Toto" from the famous movie, "The Wizard of Oz".

General Information

The Breed Standard for Cairn Terriers in all countries (apart from the USA and Canada) states that the dog should be 11 to 12 inches tall at the shoulder. They have a harsh coat which is fairly weatherproof, large teeth for their size, front feet that are slightly larger than their back feet and strong nails. Their larger front feet are allowed to be slightly turned out, as this assists in their digging pursuits. They should always have dark brown eyes and a black nose and nails. Their tails are not docked, but bred naturally at a length about equal to the top of their ears, when the tail is held erect. Ears should be prick, tail carried at the 12 or 1 o'clock position when they are moving, with a good reach of neck and easy, smooth gait.
Reproduced from Emeraldcity Cairns (Ginnette Loft) with permission
Cairn Coats

Cairns have a waterproof, harsh coat, and do not shed. They come in a variety of colours, including cream, wheaten, red, silver, charcoal and any of these colours with brindling. (Brindle means black hairs interspersed with the other coat colour) A Cairn can be any colour but solid black, white, or black & tan as these colours are not permitted in the Cairn Terrier breed standard. The adult dog's colour cannot be reliably predicted based on the puppy coat, as Cairns often change colour. Quite often, especially if the dog has any brindling in their coat, the adult coat can become darker as the dog ages. 

Cairn Personalities

Cairn Terriers are "people" dogs. They thrive indoors, with the family, and soak up attention. They love children, activity and playing, however it is always advised to supervise children when they are with dogs. Cairns often like all people, rather than bonding to one individual or family. If you leave your cairn with friends or a boarding kennel while on holidays, they will not fret and they may not even look back! They will be pleased to see you when you return, but will have been happy in the meantime. This ability makes Cairns pretty near ideal candidates for adoption, even as adults. Rescue Cairns, re-homed adults or retired show dogs quickly become accustomed to a new home and family, as long as they receive adequate attention.

Digging, Talking, Chewing & Exercise

Cairns are well known for their digging ability. Not all Cairns dig, however if your Cairn does, it is a good idea to train them to use a separate area of the yard, without prized shrubs or flowers for their digging pursuits. Or, use a child's plastic pool (clam shell etc) as a sand pit, and train your Cairn to use this only. These methods can be used if your Cairn enjoys their little dig, or you can train them not to dig at all, and often they are less interested in digging once out of puppyhood.
Cairn Terriers can be quite verbal. This does not mean that they are problem barkers, but they will "talk", and "aroooooo" to communicate. It is a very easy thing to train your Cairn to "speak", and to "ask" for a treat. A Cairn can bark due to loneliness, boredom, being confined, at passing dogs, cats, birds or people. However, Cairns are rarely constant barkers, and can be trained not to bark at most stimuli.
Because Cairns thrive on attention, they are not suitable for people with "no time for a dog." If left alone 12 hours a day, they will certainly find a way to let you know how unhappy they are. And, like all terriers, they can be chewers. Make sure that you leave plenty of chew toys, bones and other distractions if you have to leave your Cairn unattended for long periods of time and lavish plenty of attention on the dog when you return. Keep the long days to a minimum. A Cairn is not an appropriate dog for an outdoor life. Although they have harsh, waterproof coats, it is not enjoyable for them to endure extreme outside temperatures, whether hot or cold. They love company and want to live in the house with their people.
Cairns are curious and will follow any scent, so must be kept on a lead at all times. They need to be kept in a securely fenced yard to prevent them from running loose, as they may run onto the road, and risk being hit by a car. Ensure your fence has no holes and check the base occasionally to ensure your Cairn has not been trying to dig under it! Try to avoid mesh type fencing, as Cairns can be climbers and may disappear over such a fence.
As mentioned above, Cairns can be chewers, diggers and climbers. However, if given plenty of exercise, and appropriate training, these character traits need not become a problem. It is very easy to exercise a Cairn. Unlike many of the working breeds, a Cairn need not be walked for miles each day. A short walk or a game of chasing a tennis ball is sufficient each day. If you want to walk for miles, your dog will be thrilled, but it's not required. However, this really isn't a dog to go long distance running with.

To find out more about Cairn Terriers, try the following books:
·The Cairn Terrier, History, Training, Selection, Care & Breeding, by Christine Carter.
·The New Cairn Terrier, by Betty Marcum.
·All About the Cairn Terrier, by John Gordon.
·The Cairn Terrier, by Beynton and Fisher, et al.
·The Complete Cairn Terrier, by John Marvin.
The Cairn Terrier Standard

The "standard" of the breed is the document that guides all purebred dog breeders. Their aim is to breed a dog which most closely meets the "standard" of that breed, in terms of appearance, temperament and characteristics. Responsible breeders also ensure they breed healthy, well-adjusted dogs with no hereditary physical or mental health problems.
The Cairn Terrier Standard, developed in the UK, is the standard accepted for the breed throughout the world, except the USA which has created its own Cairn Terrier standard.