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Home > Dogs > Dog Breeds > Cairn Terrier Dog Breed: Info, Pictures, Care & Temperament

Cairn Terrier Dog Breed: Info, Pictures, Care & Temperament

cairn terrier in grass flowers

Few breeds have the star power that the Cairn Terrier has. Decades after the 1939 version of “The Wizard of Oz,” people still associate any Cairn Terrier with the spunky Toto. The dog is an excellent representation of the breed. Many of his qualities are what you can expect when owning a Cairn Terrier. They are fiercely loyal with a touch of willfulness thrown in for good measure.

Breed Overview


9.5 – 10 inches


10 – 14 pounds


13 – 15 years


Any color except white

Suitable for:

Active families or individuals looking for a low-shedding dog


Curious, loyal, independent, friendly

The breed has a long history that goes back to the 1500s in Scotland. Back then, people called them the Short-Haired Skye Terrier, grouping them with similar breeds, such as the Skye and West Highland White Terriers. Like the others, the Cairn was a hunting dog. They got their name from catching the rodents that often were found in cairns, or the grave markers that people built hundreds of years ago.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) recognized the breed in 1913, along with the Norwegian Elkhound. The United Kennel Club waited until 1959. Today, they rank 73rd among the 195 AKC-recognized breeds. One thing that we can say for sure about getting a Cairn Terrier is that you’ll never have a dull moment again with this spitfire in your life.

High-energy dogs will need a lot of mental and physical stimulation to stay happy and healthy, while low-energy dogs require minimal physical activity. It’s important when choosing a dog to make sure their energy levels match your lifestyle or vice versa.
Easy-to-train dogs are more skilled at learning prompts and actions quickly with minimal training. Dogs that are harder to train will require a bit more patience and practice.
Some dog breeds are prone to certain genetic health problems, and some more than others. This doesn’t mean that every dog will have these issues, but they have an increased risk, so it’s important to understand and prepare for any additional needs they may require.
Some breeds, due to their size or their breeds potential genetic health issues, have shorter lifespans than others. Proper exercise, nutrition, and hygiene also play an important role in the lifespan of your pet.
Some dog breeds are more social than others, both towards humans and other dogs. More social dogs have a tendency to run up to strangers for pets and scratches, while less social dogs shy away and are more cautious, even potentially aggressive. No matter the breed, it’s important to socialize your dog and expose them to lots of different situations.

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Cairn Terrier Puppies

cairn terrier puppy
Image Credit: fralla, Pixabay

Researching a breed is essential no matter which one you’re considering. The small size and hardiness of the Cairn Terrier put them at the head of the class, just for these traits. The pup has enough energy to keep up with the kids, making them an excellent choice for a family pet. While the breed is independent, they also love companionship and won’t tolerate being alone for long stretches.

However, the Cairn Terrier adapts to city life like a champ. They’re also a good pup for first-time pet owners. Their intelligence and eagerness to please will make training easier. On the downside, this breed tends to howl or bark more than others, which isn’t unexpected for a terrier. Neither is their higher prey drive, which comes with the territory with a hunting dog.

Temperament & Intelligence of the Cairn Terrier

cairn terrier dog
Image Credit: doctarpa, Pixabay

Being a hunting dog encourages a pup to develop problem-solving skills and keen alertness. The Cairn Terrier has an abundance of both! This pooch is also curious, which helps them locate prey. The breed is quite intelligent but will need gentle guidance to prevent them from picking up bad habits. That also means this pup requires interactive play to keep them happy.

The overall disposition of the Cairn Terrier is friendly. They are a small but muscular dog that carries themselves well. This pup likes to have a job, which is one reason that the breed shows well in earthdog events. Their playful personality makes them a natural in the field. The Cairn Terrier is a loyal pet that will also make an excellent watchdog.

Are These Dogs Good for Families? 👪

An active family can provide an ideal home for a Cairn Terrier. A household with children is even better. This dog is hardy and can handle roughhousing. However, they’re also independent enough to hold their own if need be. We recommend supervised play with the younger kids because of their nippiness as a puppy.

Does This Breed Get Along With Other Pets?

Early socialization is imperative with any pet. However, it’s vital when dealing with a Cairn Terrier. You’ll have better success with introducing them to other dogs if you start them early. Their prey drive may cause your pup to chase the family cat. Of course, small animals, particularly rodents, are not a good fit with this breed.


Things to Know When Owning a Cairn Terrier

cairn terrier looking up
Image Credit: dendoktoor, Pixabay

Now that you understand the Cairn Terrier’s personality, it’s time to move on to the daily care and maintenance. These things will determine your pet’s quality of life and make them a welcome addition to the household.

Food & Diet Requirements 🦴

The Cairn Terrier has a moderate tendency to gain weight and become obese. Therefore, paying close attention to your pet’s diet and body condition is critical. You should feed your puppy a commercial diet appropriate for their age and breed size. Pet foods are not created equal. The nutritional needs of young dogs vary from adults. Also, smaller breeds mature more rapidly than larger ones.

We recommend offering your Cairn Terrier three to four small meals a day as a puppy. It takes a great deal of energy for them to grow, making adequate nutrients vital for their good health. Once your pup reaches 6 months of age, you can cut back to two times a day. You should avoid free-feeding your pet. That can increase the risk of obesity. It also makes it more difficult to gauge their appetite.

Exercise 🐕

Cairn Terriers have abundant energy, making daily exercise a must-have for your pet. If you’ve socialized your pup, you can take them to a doggie park to provide both mental and physical stimulation. The intelligence of this breed makes using interactive toys an excellent choice. Of course, this pooch is always ready for a game of fetch.

Training 🎾

Cairn Terriers are quick learners that will pick up tricks and commands quite easily. Treats are welcome too. We suggest that you start training when your pet is a puppy, to help them develop appropriate canine manners. Positive reinforcement is the best way to approach this task. This breed isn’t overly sensitive, but unpleasant experiences as a puppy can leave lifelong impressions.

cairn terrier playing with a ball
Image Credit: Jumpstory

Grooming ✂️

Grooming Cairn Terriers isn’t difficult. Their coat is weather-resistant, with only occasional shedding. Regular brushing is essential to avoid mats. We also suggest checking their ears weekly and plucking any excess hair to prevent infections. Handling their paws occasionally is a smart way to make toenail clipping easier too.

Health and Conditions 🏥

The Cairn Terrier is a relatively healthy breed. Their history as a hunter on the farmer has made this pup a hardy animal. Nevertheless, routine vet care is vital. There are a few conditions that occur more frequently in these dogs that require close monitoring. We suggest discussing your pet’s risk factors with your veterinarian.

Minor Conditions
Serious Conditions

Male vs Female

You’ll enjoy a delightful pet no matter if you opt for a male or female. The two sexes are relatively close in size, making that consideration a non-issue. We suggest discussing the question of whether to spay or neuter your pup with your veterinarian. Recent evidence suggests that there are pros or cons to either choice.

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Top 3 Little-Known Facts About the Cairn Terrier

1. One Cairn Terrier Defined the Breed As We Know It Today.

Eng. Ch. Splinters of Twobees, born in 1933, set the standard for the breed as an eight-time champion dog and stud to many prestigious bloodlines.

2. Cairn Terriers Are Well-Equipped to Handle Adverse Weather Conditions.

Cairn Terriers are hardy dogs, which is a good thing given their historic role hunters along shorelines. Some of the pests that they controlled included sea otters, which can weigh two to four times more than these pups.

3. The Most Famous Cairn Terrier Isn’t What You Think He Is.

Toto from the “Wizard of Oz” is undoubtedly the most famous of Cairn Terriers. However, while the film portrayed the pooch as a male, the dog actor was a female named Terry.


Final Thoughts

The Cairn Terrier will undoubtedly find their way into your heart with their cute face and lovable personality. Their playfulness and friendliness are infectious, making it hard not to fall in love with this pup. Of course, their intelligence and loyalty seal the deal if you’re looking for an active dog that will make an excellent family pet. They’ll make a wonderful companion cuddling with you on the couch or jogging on the trail.

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Featured Image Credit: everydoghasastory, Shutterstock

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