Cairn Terrier Dog Breed Information – All You Need to Know

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Cairn Terrier Dog Breed Information – All You Need To KnowSmall, independent, and brave, the Cairn Terrier hails from Scotland and was bred to hunt critters and small mammals among farmland and barns.  The name “cairn” comes from the same name for piles of rocks that were used for boundaries or graves. The dogs were able to dig into the “cairns” and get the rodents out.

It was not until the 1880s that people started to really define the different types of terriers out there. The Cairn Terriers’ origin has been narrowed down to the Isle of Skye in the Highlands of Scotland and is a cross between multiple terriers that are now extinct.

Cairn Terrier Appearance

The Cairn Terrier is a small, wiry looking dog. They have a short, wide head with pointy, upright ears and round, bright eyes. They are typically no taller than 10 inches tall and 15 inches long. They have a short, upright tail and short legs. Males and females generally are the same size weighting about 13 lbs. Cairn Terriers have a double coat which means there are two layers to it; the top coat is harsh, a little longer in length, and wiry, while the bottom layer is soft and downy. The top coat is usually 2-3 inches long, depending on grooming.

The Cairn Terrier comes in numerous colors including black, red, brindle, sand, and silver. They can also change colors over time, often becoming darker as the age. When you get a puppy, you could end up with a different colored dog when it is older. The most famous Cairn Terrier was Toto, the black dog, in The Wizard of Oz.


Like most terriers, the Cairn Terrier is energetic, inquisitive, and a bit stubborn. They are loud for their size and will try to be in charge, so early training and socialization is needed. Cairns should adapt to training quickly and can easily learn new tricks with some positive reinforcement. Their hunting instincts will kick in when outside though, so you must use a leash to keep them from chasing, digging, and barking at squirrels, rabbits, and other small animals.

Due to their natural tendency to hunt, Cairn Terriers should not be home with cats or other small animals such as lizards, hamsters, or guinea pigs. The situation could end up deadly. They should be fine with other dogs if properly socialized, but sometimes may have a feisty attitude.

Cairn Terriers are high energy and very active. They normally do great with children and are affectionate towards people. Cairns are happy dogs. However, they are not your typical lap-dog; they love to rough house and play indoors. While they do enjoy being outdoors, Cairns should not be left outdoors or alone in the home for long periods of time. They can become destructive, digging and chewing to alleviate boredom or loneliness.

They may also start barking excessively. Cairn Terriers are always on the go, smelling around and being curious. They have a take charge attitude and will willingly go explore paces with you. Cairn Terriers are built for scrambling on rocks, so they love to go on hikes and adventures. They would be great travel companions.

Caring for Cairn Terrier Tips

Now we’ll go into how to properly care for a Cairn Terrier.


Cairn Terriers should do well on a high quality, dog food diet. Since they are small dogs, giving them dog food that is smaller in kibble size will help them be able to eat more comfortably and digest better. Due to their small size, they do not need to be fed a lot. A ¼ cup two times a day should suffice. Do not free-feed your Cairn, as they can easily become overweight. Cairn Terriers are also prone to food allergies such as soy, corn, and wheat. If you suspect that, please consult your vet. You should always provide your dog with fresh water.


Cairn Terriers need regular exercise that includes multiple daily walks. Anytime your Cairn is outside, make sure you have a proper collar on him or her and walk with a leash, as they are prone to chasing after squirrels and other small animals. Cairn Terriers also enjoy plenty of playtime. Try these interactive toys or even some puzzles to keep your pup on his or her toes! Since Cairn Terriers are intelligent dogs, they should pick up quickly on more complicated toys and can be a good distraction if you have to be gone a little longer than usual.


Cairn Terriers are agreeable and friendly dogs. Due to their smart and dominate personalities, they may be somewhat difficult to train, as they will test your patience from time to time. They also have strong natural instincts to chase prey and dig, so early obedience training is recommended. Cairn Terriers will need to be taught to control their vocals, as they like to bark a lot, and need to be socialized with other animals. Cairn Terriers are very intelligent, and if you give them time, they can learn many new skills, from sitting pretty to a game of hide and seek.


Cairn Terriers are normally healthy dogs but are prone to some health conditions. They can suffer from an enzyme deficiency called Globoid Cell Leukodystrophy or Krabbe’s disease. It can cause nerve cell death as well as death of the animal at a young age. Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease is also common in many small dog breeds. This disease effects the blood flow in the hip joints and legs, causing limping in four to six month old puppies. Along with surgery to correct such problems, offering your dog joint supplements will help aid them in easing the pain and returning to a normal life.

In addition to supplements, all dogs should get monthly heart worm and flea protection. Another common issue in small dogs are kneecap dislocations, called Patellar Luxations. Cairn Terrier puppies can also have issues with their skull bones while developing in which they become enlarged. Known as Craniomandibular Osteopathy, this problem effects young puppies. Symptoms may including drooling, a swollen jaw, and a fever. Pain relievers will help and the irregular bone growth should regress when the puppy becomes around one year old, but your puppy should be brought to a vet to ensure there is no permanent jaw damage.

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