Cairn Terrier

Cairn Terrier

Group: Terrier Group

Origin: Great Britain

Height: Approximately 28-31 cms (11-12 inches) at withers, but in proportion to weight.
Note: The AKC Standard indicates height for males is 10 inches and females 9½ inches.

Weight: Ideal weight is 6-7.5 kgs (14-16 lbs).
Note: The AKC Standard indicates weight for males at 14 lbs and females 13 lbs.

Cairn Terrier
Ch. Uniquecottage Gold Skye (Charlie)
Photo courtesy: Chriscairn Kennel

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Breed Profile

The Cairn is a happy, outgoing, independent, sturdy little dog who thrives on human companionship. He is very active, inquisitvie and energetic. Confident and fearless, he has been described as a “big dog trapped in a small dog’s body.” Extremely protective of his home and family, the Cairn makes an excellent watch dog who will always alert his family to approaching strangers.

The Cairn was originally bred to hunt fox, badger, otter and other vermin. He is a hardy little dog with a typical terrier temperament. Very intelligent, trainable and long-lived, the Cairn generally remains playful and active well into his senior years. He enjoys all types of dog sports, including agility and flyball.

The typical Cairn Terrier is somewhat independent yet very people-oriented and many seem to have an affinity for children. As a breed that was bred to hunt, the Cairn will give chase to all types of game (squirrels, cats, rabbits, other dogs, etc.) and inherently loves to dig. Therefore, a securely fenced yard and supervision around gardens are a must as is proper training from a young age.

In physical appearance, the Cairn is not as low to the ground as the Sealyham Terrier or the Scottish Terrier. The male Cairn should weigh 14 pounds and the female 13 pounds and should always appear in proportion to these weights. The breed still has very large teeth, large feet with thick pads and strong nails, and strong and muscular shoulders. The Cairn comes in several colours and the coat colour of the adult dog can differ substantially from the puppy coat. Changes in colour can continue for years with most brindles eventually becoming very dark and some wheatens and reds darkening also while others remain light.

A Brief History of the Cairn Terrier

Until 1873, Terriers originating from Scotland were grouped together as Scotch Terriers. At this time, they were separated into two groups: the Dandie Dinmont Terriers and Skye Terriers. The Scottish Terrier, West Highland White Terrier and the Cairn Terrier were grouped within the Skye Terriers classification. All three of these breeds were developed from the same stock which originated in the islands and highlands of western Scotland and quite often were found in the same litter, distinguished only by colour. By 1881 a club for Hard-Haired Scotch Terriers was formed and the first standard was approved in 1882. Toward the end of the 19th century and early in the 20th century, breed fanciers started to breed separate lines. By 1908, the stud books were opened to the West Highland White Terrier and in 1909 classes were offered at the show at Inverness for “Short-Haired Skyes.” This name, however, was found to be confusing and was eventually changed to “Cairn Terrier of Skye” and then shortened to simply the Cairn Terrier.

References and Additional Information:


Health Issues

The Cairn Terrier breed is generally very healthy and has an average life expectancy of 13-15 years, remaining active and playful well into his teen years. However, like all breeds, they are susceptible to certain health issues of a genetic nature. If you are considering the adoption of a Cairn Terrier puppy, or any breed, it is very important to be selective in choosing a responsible and reputable breeder. Ensure that the prospective puppy’s parents have all health clearances. Breeding of any dog should not be done until after they have been proven to be free of evidence of significant hereditary diseases. (For more information on selecting a breeder, see the articles on the General Information page.)

Recommended Health Screening:

For the Cairn Terrier, the CHICNote 1 database includes health screenings for:

  • Patellar Luxation
  • Eye Examination by a board Ophthalmologist
  • Congenital Cardiac Database
  • Globoid Cell Leukodystrophy (GCL)

Additional Health Resources:


Grooming Information

The Cairn Terrier’s coat requires regular and thorough brushing. (Shedding is minimal if brushed and combed weekly.) Hair around the feet and between the pads should be kept trimmed. Of note: Many Cairns are allergic to flea bites; therefore it is important to ensure that your Cairn is free of fleas.

  • Grooming Your Cairn
  • Grooming — This section of the Canada’s Guide to Dogs website includes tips, articles and information covering all aspects of dog grooming along with a listing of Groomers from across Canada.


Training Resources

The Cairn Terrier is an intelligent and curious little dog who is very quick to learn. It is important from the beginning to let your Cairn know who is in charge; however, harsh punishment is never needed for this sensitive breed. Training should be done using firm, consistent and positive reinforcement methods. Training sessions should always be fun and challenging to avoid boredom.

  • Training — For training information, see this growing section of the Canada’s Guide to Dogs website for tips, articles, as well as listings of training centres across Canada.


Additional Information

  • Clubs, Sports & Activities — For information on the many sports and activities you can get involved in with your dog.
  • Working Dogs — The Working Dogs section of the Canada’s Guide to Dogs website provides information and listings of organizations that are involved in various dog jobs, such as Guide Dogs, Therapy Dogs, Police Dogs, Protection Dogs, and much more.

Discussion Groups/Forums:

*NOTE 1: CHIC – The Canine Health Information Center “is a database of consolidated health screening results from multiple sources. Co-sponsored by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) and the American Kennel Club (AKC) Canine Health Foundation, CHIC works with parent clubs to identify health screening protocols appropriate for individual breeds. Dogs tested in accordance with the parent club established requirements, that have their results registered and made available in the public domain are issued CHIC numbers.” To learn more, visit:

*NOTE 2: The Fédération Cynologique International (FCI) is the World Canine Organization, which includes 91 members and contract partners (one member per country) that each issue their own pedigrees and train their own judges. The FCI recognizes 344 breeds, with each being the “property” of a specific country. The “owner” countries write the standards of these breeds in co-operation with the Standards and Scientific Commissions of the FCI, and the translation and updating are carried out by the FCI. The FCI is not a breed registry nor does it issue pedigrees.

Breed Listing

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