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Breed information

Group: Terrier
Life span: 12-15 years
Height male: 25-33 cm/ 10-13 inches
Height female: 23-30 cm/ 9-12 inches
Weight male: 6-8 kg/ 14-18 pounds
Weight female: 6-8 kg/ 14-18 pounds
Character: Active, Assertive, Courageous, Fearless, Gay, Hardy, Intelligent


Cairns originated in the Highlands of Scotland and the Isle of Skye, initially grouped in the "Skye Terrier" class alongside the Scottish and West Highland White terriers. In the early 1900s, the three breeds began to be bred separately. The Kennel Club of the United Kingdom gave the Cairn Terrier a separate register in 1912; the first year of recognition, 134 were registered and it was in that year that the breed was also given Championship status.


That of an active, game, hardy, small working terrier of the short-legged class; very free in its movements, strongly but not heavily built, standing well forward on its forelegs, deep in the ribs, well coupled with strong hindquarters and presenting a well-proportioned build with a medium length of back, having a hard, weather-resisting coat; head shorter and wider than any other terrier and well furnished with hair giving a general foxy expression.


Breeders, owners, and veterinarians have identified several health problems that are significant for Cairns. Some of these diseases are hereditary, while others occur as a result of nonspecific factors (i.e. infections, toxins, injuries, or advanced age). Currently, the Cairn Terrier Club of America, along with the Institute for Genetic Disease Control in Animals, maintains an open registry for Cairn terriers in hopes of reducing the occurrence of hereditary diseases within the breed. Breeders voluntarily submit their dogs' test results for research purposes, as well as for use by individuals who seek to make sound breeding decisions.

Some of the more common hereditary health problems found in the Cairn are:

  • Bronchoesophageal fistula
  • Cataracts
  • Corneal dystrophy
  • Craniomandibular osteopathy (lion jaw)
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Entropion
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Krabbe disease (globoid cell leukodystrophy)
  • Legg-Calvé-Perthes syndrome
  • Lens luxation
  • Luxating patella
  • Ocular melanosis
  • Portosystemic shunt
  • Progressive retinal atrophy
  • Soft tissue sarcoma
  • Von Willebrand disease


Everyone remembers Toto from the movie The Wizard of Oz. Spunky, curious, fearless, and loyal, little Toto went everywhere with Dorothy and helped her stop the Wicked Witch of the West and even exposed the Wizard as simply a man behind a curtain. Most Cairn Terriers are exactly like Toto – loyal to their family, curious and brave. They are excellent companions for families of all shapes and sizes and can even be useful vermin exterminators on farms. Though they are good family dogs, small children and Cairn Terriers are not a good mix. This breed doesn't have a lot of patience and has been known to bite. Children who are too young to know when to leave a dog alone do not mix well with this breed.

Activity Requirements

Cairns don't need a lot of vigorous exercise and can happily dwell in an apartment or condominium. One daily walk and the occasional chance to get out and run in a yard or park will cover their exercise requirement . Cairns should always be kept on a leash or in a fenced in yard, as they will take off after small animals and will not respond to calls to return home.


Like nearly all terrier breeds, the Cairn can be stubborn and willful. Training requires consistency, patience, and lots of treats. Discipline is wasted on the Cairn as they will just stop listening to you all together. They must be trained early on to understand who is in charge of the house, and that the leaders mean what they say. If a Cairn Terrier sees even one opportunity to bend the rules, they'll take it and run with it.

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Behavioral Traits

Barking is the biggest complaint owners have of the Cairn. Like other terriers, Cairns bark at every noise or approaching car, bike, cat, dog, mailman or falling leaf, and usually won't stop until they are good and ready. Their bark is shrill, and can annoy nearby neighbors. Cairns can be aggressive. People don't normally think of small breeds as aggressive, but Cairns are not patient creatures. If teased or annoyed, they will snarl, snap or bite. They are highly possessive of food and toys, and are not likely to be intimidated by larger dogs.


Cairn Terriers should be brushed once per week to remove loose and dead hair. They only need to be bathed every few months, or as-needed, because over-bathing can cause the coarse coat to become soft, which is undesirable in the show ring. Cairns do require some trimming to stay tidy, which for show dogs should be done with a stripping knife, whereas family dogs can be clipped with clippers. This only needs to occur two or three times per year. It is important to maintain the dental health of the Cairn Terrier, and weekly brushing of the teeth can help keep gum disease, tarter, and bad breath at bay. Use only a veterinarian-approved solution to clean the ears, and trim the Cairn's nails on a monthly basis if he does not wear down his nails naturally.

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