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Adopt a Cairn Terrier

Cairn Terrier Dog Breed

Picture: Yann Arthus-Bertrand/Corbis



Area of origin:


Original function:

killing vermin

Average size of male:

Ht: 10, Wt: 14

Average size of female:

Ht: 9.5, Wt: 13

Other names:


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    Friendliness towards dogs

  • Friendliness towards other pets

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    Friendliness towards strangers

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    Ease of training

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    Watchdog ability

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    Protection ability

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    Cold tolerance

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    Heat tolerance

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Cairn Terrier Dog Temperament

The cairn is the essence of terrier; plucky, spirited, bold, inquisitive, hardy, clever, stubborn and scrappy. He is responsive to the wishes of his people, however, and tries to please; in fact, he is surprisingly sensitive. This breed is a good house pet as long as he is given daily physical and mental exercise in a safe area. He enjoys playing with children and is tough enough to withstand some roughhousing. He can chase small animals, he loves to sniff, explore and hunt. He digs; some bark.

Cairn Terrier Dog Care

Despite his 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. He does best indoors. His wire coat needs combing once weekly, plus stripping of dead hair at least twice yearly.

Cairn Terrier Dog Health

Major concerns: none
Minor concerns: globoid cell leukodystrophy
Occasionally seen: vWD, Legg-Perthes, patellar luxation
Suggested tests: none
Life span: 12-15 years

Interested in the history of the Cairn Terrier dog breed?

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 his 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."

Copyright © 1998, 2005 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc. based on

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