Cairn Terrier Guide

Terrier Dog Breeds

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This is a working terrier, and it should be hardy, game and active. It is short-legged, and longer than it is tall, but not as low to the ground as the Sealyham or Scottish terriers. Its build enables it to fit into close quarters in pursuit of its quarry. Its head is shorter and wider than any other terrier, giving it good jaw strength. Its weather-resistant coat consists of a soft, close undercoat and a profuse, harsh outer coat. Furnishing around the face adds to its somewhat foxy expression.

The cairn is the essence of terrier; plucky, spirited, bold, inquisitive, hardy, clever, stubborn and scrappy. It is responsive to its owner's wishes, however, and tries to please; in fact, it is surprisingly sensitive. This breed can be a good house pet as long as it is given daily physical and mental exercise in a safe area. It enjoys playing with children and is tough enough to withstand some roughhousing. It can be aggressive with other dogs and chases small animals; it loves to sniff, explore and hunt. It digs; some bark.


FAMILY terrier



ORIGINAL FUNCTION killing vermin

TODAY'S FUNCTION earthdog trials

AVERAGE SIZE OF MALE Height: 10 Weight: 14

AVERAGE SIZE OF FEMALE Height: 9.5 Weight: 13


Energy level High energy

Exercise needs Medium

Playfullness Moderately playful

Affection level Moderately affectionate

Friendliness toward other dogs Friendly

Friendliness toward other pets Shy

Friendliness toward strangers Shy

Ease of training Easy to train

Watchdog ability High

Protection ability Not very protective

Grooming needs Moderate maintenance

Cold tolerance Medium tolerance

Heat tolerance Medium tolerance

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Despite its small size, the cairn needs outdoor exercise every day, either a moderate walk on leash, a fun game in the yard or an excursion in a safe area. It can live outdoors in temperate climates, but it does better sleeping indoors. Its wire coat needs combing once weekly, plus stripping of dead hair at least twice yearly.
• Major concerns: none
• Minor concerns: globoid cell leukodystrophy
• Occasionally seen: vWD, Legg-Perthes, patellar luxation
• Suggested tests: none
• Life span: 12-15 years
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One of a family of short-legged terriers developed on Scotland's Isle of Skye, the cairn terrier probably still resembles the ancestral form to a greater degree than others descended from the same stock. These dogs seem to have existed since the 15th century and were used to hunt fox, badger and otter. The dogs were adept at bolting otters from the cairns (piles of stone that served as landmarks or memorials). The dogs came in a variety of colors, ranging from white to gray to red, and were all considered Scotch terriers when they began to enter the show ring. In 1873, they were divided into Dandie Dinmont and Skye terriers, with the cairn in the latter group. This group was later again divided into Skye and hard-haired terriers in 1881, and the hard-haired terriers eventually separated into Scotch, West Highland white and the breed eventually known as the cairn. At one time, the cairn was called the shorthaired Skye, then the cairn terrier or Skye and finally, around 1912, the cairn terrier. Some of the most influential early cairns were all white, but white, as well as crossing to West Highland whites, was banned by the 1920s. The breed became quite popular in England, and fairly popular in America, gaining its greatest fame as the dog playing Toto in the Wizard of Oz. As one of the more natural and less sculpted terriers, the breed is highly regarded by those who appreciate a working terrier. Perhaps the motto of the British breed club sums it up best: "The best little pal in the world."
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