Cairn Terrier

Cairn Terriers are cute, scruffy looking small size dogs with loads of energy and personality. Best known as the little dog in The Wizard of Oz, Cairns love being part of the family and being busy and active.
Recommended forFamilies
Breed ClassificationTerrier
Other namesThe Cairn
Lifespan12-14 years
TemperamentLoyal, friendly, independent
IntelligenceAbove average
Tendency to barkAbove average
Maintenance LevelLow to medium
Health RiskThis breed is in the lower risk category for developing health issues, hence it is one of the most affordable breeds to insure.

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Cairn terrier playing on the grass

Breed history of Cairn Terriers

One of the oldest Terrier breeds, the Cairn Terrier is a descendent of the working dogs of the Scottish Highlands and Islands. These dogs were used from the sixteenth century to root out small, furry prey such as rabbits, foxes and rats, and later for for badger and otter hunting. Working in packs, on foot, their fierce hunting instinct enabled them carry on regardless of injury.

The Cairn-type terrier has been around from at least the 1600’s in the Western Highlands, most notably on the Isle of Skye, birthplace of their kinsman the Skye Terrier.

By the turn of the 20th century, British fanciers had categorised the various Scotch terriers and began breeding Cairn, Scottish, Skye, and West Highland White terriers as distinct pure breeds. The Cairn was only granted the name “Cairn Terrier” in 1910, for purposes of the show ring, having previously been referred to as the “Short-Haired” or “Prick Eared” Skye Terrier. The name reflects the breed’s ability to claw its way through piles of rocks (“cairns“) to get to the vermin hiding in these places.

The breed gained notoriety in 1939, when a Cairn named Terry was chosen to play Toto alongside Judy Garland in MGM’s production of “The Wizard of Oz.”

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Physical description of Cairn Terriers

The Cairn Terrier is a small, shaggy dog with a tail that points up,  pricked ears, and eyes that shine with intelligence and alertness. The Cairn has a short, wide head and a free-moving, short-legged, but strong body – small enough for a lap-top snuggle and sturdy enough for a good romp on the lawn.

The Cairn has a scruffy looking double coat which is wiry on the outside with a soft, downy undercoat.  It comes in a variety of colours including red, brindle, cream, wheaten, grey, silver and almost black. In fact, they can be any colour except black, White or Black & Tan.

Weight range6 to 8 kg
Height range27 to 31 cm
ColoursRed, silver, cream, brindle, grey and sand
Coat lengthMedium

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Cairn Terrier personality and temperament

The Cairn Terrier can best be described as a very affectionate and loving partner in crime that comes with a mind of its own.  The Cairn is a great family dog who seems to thrive on the energy of busy family life and fits in well with whatever is going on.  They can be a bit wary of strangers and may be inclined to bark but are also excellent watchdogs.

The Cairn terrier has a huge personality and is definitely a bundle of energy. This breed is the perfect companion dog that can adjust to family living or a single household if given a lot of attention and time with their humans. They  work well for apartment living but they do need plenty of exercise to stop them from becoming bored and destructive.

Cairn Terriers are very confident dogs and it can easily become “my way or no way” with this breed. Their combination of curiosity and confidence can mean that they are sometimes more interested in pleasing themselves than their owner.

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Cairn Terriers with kids and other pets

Cairns seem to have a natural affinity with children and despite their small size, are tough enough to enjoy the rough and tumble which is so much part of play. However, young children should always be supervised as the Cairn can nip if annoyed.

Cairns are a very adaptable breed. Having been bred to work with other dogs, they do not look for trouble but will fight to defend their territory and family. It is a good idea to socialise the Cairn Terrier with other dogs while young.

Running Cairn Terrier Puppy

Cairn Terrier training and exercise

The active Cairn Terrier loves to be busy and that means a daily walk and exercise. This little dog enjoys a good run, so trips to an off leash park are highly recommended. Regular exercise will ensure that the dog doesn’t become bored and destructive.

The Cairn Terrier is an intelligent dog but also has a mind of its own. This means they can be a bit stubborn and tricky to train; while Cairns are intelligent  and fast learners, they will pick up good habits as well as the not so good ones. They may always have the instinct to dig and chase small animals, so new owners should be prepared for these behaviours.

Training should commence early and continue regularly to make sure the dog doesn’t become a nuisance in your house and the neighbourhood. This breed is not recommended for novice dog owners, and they require lots of training throughout their lifetime. However, with a consistent and loving upbringing, as well as a clear understanding of who is in charge, the Cairn can become a well-behaved companion.

Energy levelHigh
Exercise requirementsModerate

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Cairn terrier playing on the grass

Cairn Terrier feeding and nutrition

Cairn Terriers require a good quality, complete, balanced dog food that is suited to their age, size and activity level in order to keep them happy and healthy. Take care not to overfeed them as they tend to eat whatever you give them and may become overweight.

If you have any concerns about your dog’s diet or weight, please consult your vet, who will be able to tell you how much your Cairn Terrier should be eating.


Cairn Terrier care and grooming

Cairn Terriers are generally easy to maintain – while theirs coat looks pretty scruffy it does not shed very much, and loose hair can be removed with a good brushing.

Twice weekly brushing and combing with a stiff bristle brush is recommended, as well as periodic hand-stripping of the top coat to maintain the its texture.

Health issues for Cairn Terriers

  • Cataracts can occur in Cairn Terriers, causing them to develop poor vision and a cloudy appearance in the eyes.  They usually occur in older dogs and may be removed surgically if necessary.
  • Progressive retinal atrophy refers to a family of eye diseases which gradually result in the deterioration of the retina, causing first night blindness then full blindness. There is no cure, but most dogs adapt very easily to the vision loss, provided their environment does not change too much.
  • Cryptorchidism is an illness which one or both of the testicles do not descend into the scrotum. This can be fixed through surgical removal of the retained testicle.
  • Diabetes occurs when the body cannot regulate blood levels. Affected dogs do not lose their appetite, but will often lose weight, urinate a lot and get thirsty often. It is treated with a special diet and insulin.
  • Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases related to optic nerve damage, causing black spots in the eye and causing vision to decrease over time. It can be difficult to determine whether a Cairn Terrier has glaucoma until the later stages where the condition is more severe,because symptoms are not easily visible or noticeable for the owner.
  • Patella Luxation is caused by a deformity or trauma that results in frequent dislocation of the patella in the knee, locking the leg. It causes pain and can be crippling, but many affected dogs can lead relatively normal lives.

Not all conditions are covered by Pet Insurance. For details of Bow Wow Meow Pet Insurance cover, refer to the Product Disclosure Statement.

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Cairn Terrier facts!

  • The Cairn Terrier is the little dog that starred in The Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland.
  • Maybe it has something to do with her mother being Judy Garland, but Liza Minelli owned a red coated Cairn Terrier named Lily.
  • Cairn Terriers love to dig so it’s best not to leave them in the back yard with freshly planted flowers.

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