All colors are acceptable with the exception of white. Brindle, black, tan, sand, red and gray are often found in the same litter.
10-13 inches (25-33 cm)
14-18 pounds (6-8 kg)
9-12 inches (23-30 cm)
13-17 pounds (6-8 kg)
Indoor with regular exercise.
The Cairn Terrier is a small athletic looking dog that has a mischievous and intelligent look. Often their face is described as being almost fox-like in appearance with sharp pointed ears that are set relatively high on the head. The ears are always carried erect and the bushy topknot and longer hairs on the ears give a softened outline to the head. The muzzle is strong looking but not square and is somewhat pointed in appearance. The face has a definite stop between the deep set brown or hazel eyes that are framed by bushy eyebrows. The eyes of a Cairn Terrier seem to sparkle with intelligence and good humor and they are very interested in watching everything around them.
The body is relatively short and very compact. The dogs are sturdy looking without being heavy or stocky in appearance. The Cairn Terrier has different sized feet, with the front feet slightly larger than the back feet. The legs are short and very straight with longer, harsh fringe and feathering over the legs for added protection in moving through dense vegetation and brambles.
The short tail is always carried high and is usually wagging and in motion, especially when these active little dogs are one hunt or are out on a walk. They have a very springy gait and move fluidly despite their smaller size. Since they were originally a ratting breed, they have the coarse, outer coat that provides both protection and water resistance and the softer, insulating under coat keeps them warm even in cold weather. The coat is slightly wavy to straight but is never curly. The breed can be found in many different colors including gray, black, red, sand and brindle but cannot be white. White patches on the chest or feet are considered faults, but darker hair on the ears, legs, muzzle and tip of the tail is acceptable.
The Cairn Terriers coat consists of a wiry, coarse outer coat that covers a very fine, downy under coat. The outer coat may be any color except white and the inner coat will be the same color or slightly lighter in color than the outer coat. The coat is medium in length and is very straight, with very slightly longer hair on the furnishings on the legs and around the neck acceptable. A soft or curly coat is considered a fault in this breed.
White spots on the chest or feet are considered a fault but darker points are acceptable in all colors.
The Cairn Terrier was originally used as a ratting dog, hunting throughout farmlands in the areas around the Isle of Skye in Scotland in the 1500's. There are many terrier breeds that came out of this area, but the modern Cairn Terrier is considered to be the closest in appearance and personality to the actual ancestors of these terrier breeds. The Cairn Terrier received its name though its ability to push itself through the rocks that formed the cairns or stone fences after rodents and vermin that were problematic in the area. They were experts at driving the larger rodents or animals such as otters and badgers out of the cairns as well as hunting and killing the smaller animals. Although independent and prized for its ability to hunt, the Cairn Terrier was also valued as a watchdog and companion.
The breed became increasingly popular through the 1900's as more people in large cities looked for active and energetic smaller dogs for city living conditions. The Cairn Terrier today is primarily used as a companion dog although they are also used in earthdog trials, in obedience and agility competitions as well as for watchdogs.
For families and people that want a dog that is energetic, happy, intelligent and a very loyal pet and protector the Cairn Terrier is a perfect match. They are outgoing in their personalities and often don't seem to realize that they are a small dog. A natural watchdog, the Cairn Terrier can be stranger, dog and pet aggressive if not properly socialized. The Cairn Terrier will often attack much large dogs in their role as protectors, so care must be taken to keep them safe and away from larger breeds that could easily cause the smaller dog injury. With proper socialization they can be excellent companion dogs for both other breeds of dogs as well as non-canine pets. A natural hunter, Cairn Terriers will chase and need to be kept within a fence or on a leash to prevent them from running off on a hunt.
Cairn Terriers are good family dogs although they can be snappish and somewhat possessive of their food and toys. In a family with children the Cairn Terrier will always be involved in the children's games and play and loves to run and romp. Their boundless energy makes them a terrific pet for active families. Chasing balls and playing fetch is a favorite pastime of many Cairn Terriers.
Cairn Terriers are a people breed of dog and need to have contact with their owners and family on a regular basis. They do not do well if left alone for long periods of time or kept in a kennel. Bored or lonely Cairn Terriers can quickly develop destructive or problematic habits such as constant barking or problem digging. Consistent, positive training and challenges keep this breed stimulated both mentally and physically. Cairn Terriers quickly learn new skills and tricks and love to work for praise and attention. Cairn Terriers do need affection and attention and love to find a comfortable spot on the couch or, even better yet, on a lap and spend time with the family. They make an excellent housedog and will be very active. They do love to be outside and run and play, so a yard is recommended but with regular walks it is not absolutely required. Without the right amount of exercise the Cairn Terrier can become somewhat difficult to work with and may become less compliant and more headstrong.
Despite the natural good humor and rather independent attitude of the Cairn Terrier they are a breed that does not respond well to punishment. They are surprisingly sensitive to reprimands and changes in the owner's voice, so care needs to be taken to avoid speaking in harsh tones or raising your voice with this breed. Although not prone to being timid they can become more aloof and independent if they are mistreated, teased or not attended to in a positive fashion.
Generally the Cairn Terrier is a very healthy breed. Some of the common Health Problems that are seen are a tendency to gain weight leading to obesity and flea Allergies that result in skin rashes, excessive licking and scratching. There is also a problem in some Cairn Terriers with Cataracts that cause vision problems as the dog matures. There are also some genetic conditions including a bleeding disorder known as von Willebrands Disease and Legg Calve Perthes, a degenerative condition of the hips. Occasionally the Cairn Terrier can also suffer from patellar luxation or slipping of the kneecap that can usually be treated non-surgically.
Grooming the Cairn Terrier is relatively easy and simple and does not require a professional groomer but it does need to be done on a consistent, regular basis. The Cairn Terrier should be groomed every other day with a stiff bristle brush or a pin brush, grooming both the outer hair and the softer, dense inner coat. The soft fine hair of the inner coat is prone to matting that in turn will increase the likelihood of skin problems and rashes as well as sores and infections.
In addition to regular grooming, the hair around the ears and eyes should be regularly trimmed to avoid irritation. To safely trim the hair around the eyes always use blunt ended scissors and have someone help you by holding the dog's head very still. Place your fingers between the scissors and the dog's eyes to avoid any possibility of injury from a sudden movement. Keep the inside of the ears free from hair by using your fingers to pluck out any long hair. The teeth should regularly be checked for tartar build up and regular brushing with a finger sleeve or dog-toothbrush and special dog toothpaste is recommended.
At least twice a year the Cairn Terrier should have all the long and dead hairs removed from his or her coat. This is done through a process called stripping. Stripping can be done by hand by simply pulling out the long or dead hairs with the direction of hair growth. This is always back and down when you are stripping the body of the dog.
The coarse, rough outer hair of the Cairn Terrier dog contains natural oils that keep the coat waterproof and provides protection. Avoid over-bathing the breed as this will strip the natural oils from the coat. There are special shampoos and conditioners available for dogs that will protect their coats. Never use human hair products on dogs as the pH is different and can really dry and damage the dog's hair.
The Cairn Terrier is a very adaptable dog to living in small spaces. They do need regular exercise if a yard is not available as they are prone to putting on weight if not provided with opportunities to run and play. Daily walks are recommended for the breed, however they also love to play in the yard with family or chase a ball or stick. The Cairn Terrier is a good jogging companion provided the level of exercise is increased gradually. Due to the patellar luxation that can occur in the breed jumping is not recommended. If the Cairn Terrier is kept with other dogs he or she will self-exercise and play with the dog companions.
Training a terrier breed requires both consistency and creativity and the Cairn Terrier certainly requires both. Since they are somewhat independent and stubborn they need to be challenged in training as well as rewarded with lots of positives and praise. They do not do well in highly repetitive training methods and need changes in routine and limited repetitions to avoid becoming bored and non-compliant. In is important to have the Cairn understand that you are the boss and often an obedience class or puppy class is a great idea to get the basic training and commands mastered as well as integrate socialization.
The breed is very sensitive to correct and simply ignoring bad behavior and withdrawing attention for a few minutes is usually all the correction the dog will need. They are extremely quick to pick up on new tricks and commands, and often seem to understand what the owner wants them to do. They will also learn what brings them attention, and will quickly learn tricks like ringing a bell for water or bringing the leash to encourage owners to go for a walk. They are excellent candidates for both obedience and agility classes and seem to love to perform for audiences of any size.
One aspect of training that must be addressed is possessiveness. Terrier breeds, Cairns as well, will tend to snap and protect their food and toys. Teaching the dogs as puppies to relinquish food dishes, bones and toys is critical to prevent negative behaviors from forming as the dog gets older. They can also be problematic barkers to teaching them to stop barking on command is a very important part of a Cairn Terriers early training. A Cairn Terrier left to his or her own devices will find something to do to entertain themselves. They are powerful diggers and love to spend time digging in soft dirt, often to the dismay of a gardener. Cairn's can be taught to dig in selected areas rather than all through the yard, which is a great option to prevent unexpected landscaping changes.
Socialization is also key aspect of training, especially at an early age. With proper socialization chasing and aggressive behavior can be minimized however it is often not completely eliminated. If you plan to have other pets including dogs in the house start the socialization when the Cairn is a puppy.