By Macy Gen Veterinary AssistantMacy Gen Last updated: 27th October 2022

Cairn Terrier


Macy Gen Veterinary Assistant Macy Gen
Last updated: 27th October 2022

The Cairn terrier is a working terrier breed native to the Scottish Highlands. Its name is in sync with the work it was developed for, searching and hunting their quarry like fox and other small furred preys from the cairns or stone piles. They would dig right into the cairns and fearlessly pull out their prey from within. Their rugged, alert, courageous, and independent nature helped them perform their task with ease.

Their appearance is small and exceedingly cute, with a short and wide head, a well-muscled body, medium-sized brown eyes bearing an intelligent expression, small pointed ears, short legs, and a high set tail. 

A perfect lap dog, they have been praised for their amicable demeanor. A particular British breed club has deemed it the world’s best little pal.

Cairn Terrier Pictures

Quick Information

Other NamesShort-haired Skye terrier
CoatHard, weather resistant double coat; harsh outer coat; soft, furry, short undercoat
ColorBlack, brindle, cream, gray brindle, red, Red brindle, red wheaten, silver, wheaten, cream brindle, black brindle, silver brindle, wheaten brindle, silver wheaten
Breed  TypePurebred
Lifespan13-15 years
Height9-10 inches
Weight13-15 pounds
Litter Size2-5 puppies
PersonalityActive, fearless, hardy, gay, assertive, intelligent
Good with ChildrenYes
Barking TendencyHigh  
Climate CompatibilityHigh; does well in all climate conditions
Apartment CompatibilityGood; if given the right dose of activity
Do they shedModerately low
Are they HypoallergenicYes
Average Cost$1200-$5000
Competitive Registration Qualification/ InformationFCI, KC, AKC

Cairn Terrier Puppies Video

History and Origin

The Cairn terrier has a long history originating about 200 years ago in the Isle of Skye and Scottish Highland areas. Details about the exact history behind their origination remain unknown as the Cairn Terrier, and other terrier breeds in Scotland were clubbed as Scotch terriers. The differentiation and separate classification of these dogs occurred not until the latter half of the 19th century upon the initiatives undertaken by the breed fanciers.

In fact, in 1873, the Scotch terriers were divided into two distinct classes, the Skye terrier and the Dandie Dinmont terrier. The Cairn terrier, the Scottish terrier, and West Highland White terrier belonged to the Skye terrier class, with the three breeds finally separated in the late 1800s.

During the 20th century, the breeds grouped as Scotch terriers eventually were bred separately. The Cairns became popular in the dog show circuits in Britain, gaining the Kennel Club of UK’s recognition in 1912, besides being awarded the Championship status in the same year. Its popularity eventually spread to the United States, with the first dogs imported here in 1913. They even attained the American Kennel Club’s recognition in the same year.

After that, several clubs and associations developed worldwide to promote and improve this breed. In Ireland, the Cairn Terrier Association developed in 1928, while in the United States of America, the Cairn Terrier Club was formed in the mid-1900s, granted membership by the AKC in 1917.

Norwich Terrier vs. Cairn Terrier

Points of DifferencesCairn Terrier Norwich Terrier
SizeSmall, 10 inches height and 15 pounds weightSmaller, 10 inches in height, and 12 pounds in weight
AppearanceLacks the fox-like appearance and has longer legs than the Norwich, alongside a high set carrot-shaped tail mostly undocked, and a shaggy facial hair        Has a fox-like face, shorter legs, and a short stubby tail, held erect, that could even be docked, and a short, smooth facial hair


Irrespective of their working dog lineage, the Cairn terrier fits into the bill of a perfect lap dog because of its affectionate, friendly, and cheerful nature.

They love bonding with their family and do fabulously well with children, not minding the boisterous behavior some kids display.

Yet, supervision is needed when young children interact with this high-energy dog who loves running and chasing around.

If you have a Cairn at home, keeping cats and smaller pets is a no-no as that could trigger their chasing instinct, compelling them to get after your feline or other furry friends.

Their increased barking tendencies because of their hunting lineage might make them a little unpopular among your neighbors. Yet this trait raises them to the stature of excellent watchdogs, alerting you the moment a stranger arrives at your doorstep.



These active breeds have moderate exercise needs, sufficing with one 30-minute or two 15-minute walks a day. Besides this, ample playtime in your yard or garden or even indoors would help them channelize their energy positively. Don’t miss the leash while taking them out, and remember to fence your garden, else they could end up digging or running after any small pet they spot. They are eligible to participate in events like obedience, agility, and herding.


These minimal shedders are a low-maintenance breed. However, brushing and combing them weekly using a soft slicker brush would help keep their coat in good shape. Hand stripping twice or thrice a year would remove the dead hair and help retain the water-resistant properties of the coat. You could seek a professional groomer’s help in this regard to ensure the process is conducted safely without hurting your Cairn much.

Other grooming needs include brushing teeth twice or thrice a week to resist bacterial growth and tartar buildup.

Keeping their eyes, ears, and skin folds clean is essential since these dogs are prone to skin allergies and might develop itchy rashes on their belly, feet, ears, and skin folds.

Health Problems

They have a decent lifespan, with some living up to 17 years if maintained well and given a proper diet. Some of the common health problems they might suffer from include hip dysplasia, cataracts, corneal dystrophy, hypothyroidism, lens luxation, luxating patella, progressive retinal atrophy, skin allergies, and krabbe disease.

In collaboration with the Cairn Terrier Club of America, the Institute for Genetic Disease Control in Animals has taken the initiative of maintaining a registry for this breed with the hope of lessening the instances of hereditary diseases in them.


Though intelligent, and quick learners, these dogs have their independent side, making it more of a bane than a boon for their owners when it comes to training. Hence, they need firm, and tactful handling, along with positive reinforcements for a hassle free and successful training.

Obedience: This is what they need since their puppy days, to keep their strong-willed attitude under check since the beginning. Teaching them commands like ‘stop’, and ‘no’ would help instill discipline and even keep their excessive barking tendencies under check.

Socialization: Acquainting them with different experiences and various kinds of people right from the start would help these dogs distinguish the good from the bad. They would gradually know who a friend and foe is in this manner and not react aggressively to seeing every stranger. Neither would they show over-friendliness towards someone they have seen for the first time. 

Leash: Keeping their chasing instinct in mind, leash train them as early as possible.


They do well with high-quality dog food. Brands like Nutro Ultra, Taste of the Wild, Purina, and Royal Canine are well suited for them. Upon consulting the veterinarian, you could even opt for a homemade diet with a combination of meat and vegetables.

Interesting Facts

  • Terry a female Cairn performed in several movies, the most significant one being The Wizard of Oz, featuring as Toto, a male dog. 

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