Cairn Terrier

cairn terrier

Short-legged and strongly built, Cairn Terriers have a foxy expression, hard coats and small, pointy ears. Whilst not heavily built, they are well muscled, workman-like little dogs, with hard, profuse outer coats and short, soft, close undercoats. Cairns come in cream, wheaten, red, grey or nearly black with brindling in all colours. Adult Cairns measure 28-31cm and weigh about 6-7.5kg.

cairn terrier
  • Category size: Small
  • Grooming requirements: Once a week
cairn terrier
  • Shedding: Moderate
  • Allergies: No
  • Noise: Not too noisy
  • Dog Group Kennel Club: Terrier
cairn terrier
  • Alone: 1 to 3 hours
  • Other pets: Medium
  • Stability as a guard: Medium


Cairns are natives of the western islands of Scotland and, in particular, the Isle of Skye, and have been known since the 1500s. The breed was named after the rocks (cairns), which were erected to mark a boundary or grave. These rocks became the favourite hiding place for foxes and other pests, and the small but fearless Cairn Terrier dog breed was designed to rout out the vermin. From a large variety of terrier-type dogs, four distinct breeds slowly emerged: the Cairn, Skye, West Highland White and Scottish.


This is a cheerful, alert, lively and extrovert breed that can be trained to happily live with children. They will also get on with other dogs, although some will stand their ground. They must, however, be taught at an early age to accept cats and other household pets, as they will give chase once older. These can be independent and stubborn dogs; therefore, gentle, consistent training is essential.


As with many breeds, the Cairn Terrier can suffer from various hereditary eye disorders, and hip and elbow dysplasia (joint conditions that can be painful and lead to mobility problems). Eye testing and hip scoring of dogs prior to breeding is therefore important. Like many small breeds they can also suffer from kneecaps that may temporarily slip out of place (luxating patellas) and another type of hip disorder.


This breed is bursting with energy and must be given time to run and play – at least an hour daily. However, the hunting instinct is so strong, they will take off after prey, so exercise them off-lead only in safe areas and ensure you train a reliable recall. Their terrier nature implores them to dig – be it in the fields or in your favourite rose garden - so having their own area to dig will help!


Small dogs have a fast metabolism, meaning they burn energy at a high rate, although their small stomachs mean that they must eat little and often. Small-breed foods are specifically designed with appropriate levels of key nutrients and smaller kibble sizes to suit smaller mouths. This also encourages chewing and improves digestion.


The Cairn Terrier's weatherproof, double coat should be brushed and combed once a week. During moulting, which usually occurs twice a year, the coat should be hand stripped to remove the dead hair.

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Is this the right dog breed for you?

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What to Consider next


It is incredibly fulfilling to adopt a dog from an animal shelter or rescue organization. It often means offering them a second chance in life. There are many dogs waiting for a loving family, a forever home. Reputable centers will be very careful about matching the right people with the right dogs. Staff learns all they can about the dogs they take in, and will spend time getting to know you, your family and your lifestyle, before they match you with any of their dogs. They’ll also be happy to give you advice and answer any questions you might have before and after the adoption.

Finding a good breeder

If your heart is set on a pedigree puppy, then your best bet is to find a reputable breeder. Contact The Kennel Club or a breed-club secretary who may have a list of litters available, or should be able to put you in contact with breeders in your area. Try to choose a breeder who is part of the Kennel Club’s assured breeder scheme.Visit dog shows to meet breeders in person and inquire about availability of pups of your chosen breed.

Welcoming your dog home

Whether you’re bringing home a tiny puppy or rehoming an adult dog, this is a hugely exciting time for everyone. While you’re waiting for the big day you might need to distract yourself, so luckily there are a few things you need to sort out before you welcome your new arrival. Click here for more information