Playful and Inquisitive: Meet the Cairn Terrier

pretty white female cairn terrier
This adorable little Terrier is a great companion. It's an amazing breed that isn't as known as the others. Find out everything about them here!

The Cairn terrier is one heck of an agile little dog. Its playful nature, fun loving attitude make it a great family dog. Cairns have been around since the 1500s. Around the 1700s, the Isle of Skye and other Scottish highlands were home to many small terriers. It received its name in 1912 based on their ability to hunt vermins hiding in cairns. In 1913, they became an official breed in the American Kennel Club. Now that we’ve introduced this very old and very much underappreciated dog breed, let’s dive in! 

Are Cairn Terriers Good Pets? 

This breed is playful and always ready to join the fun. It became popular in 1930, after the appearance of “Toto” in “The Wizard of Oz” as Dorothy’s companion dog. Among the variety’s talents are tracking, watching over the house, hunting, and performing tricks and sports regarding competitive obedience. The Cairn is a cheerfully independent type with an incredibly sharp brain. You’ll want to give him some interesting jobs around the house and make sure he stays as challenged as possible (otherwise, he’s likely to challenge your flower beds to a death match). 

Are They Affectionate?

The Cairn terrier is a convenient size for most modern families, weighing only about 13 or 14 pounds. This tough little dog has a genuine liking for children. It’s magical to watch them with children. We highly recommend this breed if you are looking for a small terrier for your family.

Do they get along well with other pets?

Most get along well with other dogs, but you risk the occasional chase around the house. Rodents are absolutely not advised with this breed to its hunting instinct. 

A unique and rustic beauty 

adorable cairn terrier by the sea

If you want an active, enthusiastic, tough little terrier companion, the Cairn deserves your serious consideration. This breed has never been subjected to uptown clips and beauteous barbering. As a result, the Cairn can look pretty shaggy in comparison, and resembles the working dog he was born and bred to be. Cairns come in almost all colors — anything but white conforms to type. Funny, those are the types of Cairns mostly pictures online…Anyone wanting to add a small, sharp and very affectionate dog to their family unit would do well to consider the long-lived Cairn.

A Cairn terrier pet dog has a lot of energy to spare

jumping black cairn terrier

They can gain a lot from taking brisk walks daily. However, you should know that they do best when they have a fenced-in yard to play in. This way, they get more room when they play. Their high energy also means that they aren’t really suitable for apartment or condo living. If you live in such places, then having a Cairn terrier pet dog is not for you.  

There are a lot of positive things that can be said about a Cairn terrier pet dog’s energy. For one thing, it makes the dog fun to play with. It can play for hours. A Cairn terrier pet dog is naturally inquisitive and is always willing to participate in a new adventure. This means that a Cairn terrier pet dog can be easily taught to do tricks. They learn tricks very fast and thrive in obedience training. 

A Hunter Like no Other

Cairns were named after the cairns or piled stones in the Scottish Highlands they so often set themselves to digging through, looking for rats. The Cairn is a hunting dog that specializes in the fearless pursuit of vermin whether it is on your property…or in a public park. This is not the type of dog you can let loose in the park. 

Do they shed a lot?

The Cairn terrier pet dog was not bred for the beauty of its coat. The coat of a Cairn terrier pet dog is weather resistant and sheds little to no fur. It’s a great indoor pet!

How Often Should You Bathe Your Cairn?

Only when absolutely necessary. This is not a once a week spa type of dog. Excessive bathing will dry out your dog’s fur and skin. This can cause skin irritation and hair breakage. Make sure you choose a gentle shampoo for your dog. And please, remember, you should never use human shampoo on your dog. Those human products are not made with terrier coats in mind. 

Care and Exercise: 

  • Daily brushing is recommended to prevent tangles and mats.
  • You need to hand-strip your dog to remove dead hair regularly
  • Hair around ears and eyes must be trimmed regularly.
  • Do not overfeed them as they gain weight easily
  • They require regular exercise. 
  • Walk these pups on a leash in public because you cannot control their hunting instinct.  

Health Problems

Being the smallest of terrier breeds, however, makes Cairn terrier pet dogs especially vulnerable to various health problems. Care must be taken when feeding it as it can gain weight quite rapidly. A Cairn terrier pet dog is also especially sensitive to fleas. 

This Breed is Known to Have the Following Health Issues: 

  • Atopy: a type of allergy 
  • Cataract, or loss of transparency of one or both lenses of the eyes 
  • Cryptorchidism, wherein testicles do not descend into the scrotum 
  • Glaucoma: a condition that causes an increase pressure within the eye 
  • Patellar luxation, a disorder in the kneecap

10 thoughts on “Playful and Inquisitive: Meet the Cairn Terrier”

  1. We have an 11 year old Cairn who has been the best dog we have ever had. He is very intelligent and has a big vocabulary. We spell many words. He runs free in our yard and would never leave. He does not shed. He sticks very close to my husband. He is loosing his sight. I cant say enough for this breed.

  2. I have two Carin Terror’s, I mean Terriers and I can not imagine life without my two loves who have wreaked havoc on my yard and garden looking for small varmint, what an interesting breed indeed but one too love.

  3. I would LOVE to have a Cairn. She would have most beautiful life with us. Our dog’s dad at age 6 months was just visiting at the home of a mini Schnauzer girl. Eight weeks later, six of the loveliest little surprises popped out. And we’ve been very blessed to have her for 14 years.

  4. we have Mr.Boogieman for about 12 years , he loves to cuddle and chase after small electronic bugs, also over protective , and over reactive,, to the point of chasing off a german sheperd from our neighbords yard, loves to be around loyal as it can be and very intellegent he smiles and makes you know what he needs

  5. The first couple of pics are of Westies; not Cairns. Third pic is a Cairn. Cairns are not ever white (see AKC’s website) but Westies are only white. Had one of each and love them both (Westie is gone but our Cairn is still with us and young at 7). They are cousins for sure but not the same. Pics might have been chosen by an ill informed editor as I am sure the author knows this.

  6. Sadly we lost our amazing little Rocky July 6th. He was tbe greatest fun . We always had to keep him on leash because of gators in lake . He walked couple miles a day loved golf cart rides and everynight he broke out into full play. He almost made his 13 birthday. Our hearts are totally broken we feel lost without him. We live in gated community and he was loved by many
    He was like a Mayor out our community .

    • I lost my amazing Molly, she was very nearly 13. She loved loads of walks everyday. She was unruly and defiant at just the right time to make you laugh and get way with it. She was always happy and full of love and I loved her more.

  7. I have 4 cairns my 3 grown up kids have cairns and my mum has 2. All bred from my original cairn 20 years ago.
    I was looking for a new breed to bring into our busy home and was flicking through a dog breed book in a shop when I came across cairn terrier. It said…..once you have a cairn in your household for a year you will never be without and my mind was made up!! Im now on cairn numbers 4,5 6 and 7 😃. The eldest is 14 then 12 5 and 3 and hopefully a litter on the way. (Been breeding a litter every 2 to 3 years since my first cairn) cairns are the best little all rounder ever…….get yourself one (or 2) and see how perfectly addictive they are.

  8. I have had 4 cairns who have lived a long time and been full of energy but sadly 1 named Andy died on his 17th birthday.
    3 hours later we had a phone call and we were told a cairn needed a home as his owner had died.
    We went to see him and he was obviously sad. We told him what had happened to our cairn and we asked him if he would be our doggy. He nodded as if to say yes.
    He came to our house and we think he understood what had happened.
    He put his troubles aside and looked after us.


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