The Cairn Terrier is one of the oldest of the terrier breeds, originating in the Scottish Highlands and recognized as one of Scotland’s earliest working dogs. The breed is commonly used for hunting and burrowing prey among the cairns.
Although the breed had existed long before, the name Cairn Terrier was a compromise suggestion after the breed was originally brought to official shows in the United Kingdom in 1909 under the name Short-haired Skye terriers. This name was not acceptable to The Kennel Club due to opposition from Skye Terrier breeders, and the name Cairn Terrier was suggested as an alternative. They are usually left-pawed, which has been shown in dogs to correlate to superior performance in tasks related to scent. Cairn Terriers are ratters.
Cairn 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 breed was given the name cairn, because the breed’s function was to chase quarry from the cairns in the Scottish highlands.
The Cairn Terrier has a harsh weather-resistant outer coat that can be pink, blue, wheaten, red, sandy, gray, or brindled in any of these colours. Pure black, black and tan, and white are not permitted by many kennel clubs. While registration of white Cairns was once permitted, after 1917 the American Kennel Club required them to be registered as West Highland White Terriers. A notable characteristic of Cairns is that brindled Cairns frequently change colour throughout their lifetime. It is not uncommon for a brindled Cairn to become progressively more black or silver as it ages. The Cairn is double-coated, with a soft, dense undercoat and a harsh outer coat. A well-groomed Cairn has a rough-and-ready appearance, free of artifice or exaggeration. The cairn terrier was registered into the American kennel club in 1903.
Cairn Terriers shed very little but should always be hand stripped. Using scissors or shears can ruin the dog’s rugged outer coat after one grooming. Hand stripping involves pulling the old dead hair out by the roots.
The Cairn Terrier will exist happily in an apartment if it is sufficiently exercised. Cairn Terriers are very active indoors and will suffice even without a yard.
Cairn Terriers should have a fenced-in yard, or be kept on a leash. Cairns are particularly stubborn; ethical breeders will strongly suggest obedience school or some other type of training to direct Cairn Terrier’s focus on the owner as the one in command. If allowed to take control of the household, behavior problems may develop that can only be resolved by hiring a professional dog trainer. Many breeders will only sell puppies to dedicated dog owners who agree to basic obedience school.
Daily walks will help keep a Cairn Terrier happy and healthy. Fenced-in yards are strongly recommended for safety and well being.
Cairns are active dogs, and thus will need a daily walk. Play will take care of a lot of their exercise needs; however, as with all breeds, play will not fulfill their primal instinct to walk. Dogs who do not get to go on daily walks are more likely to display behavior problems. They will also enjoy a good romp in a safe open area off leash, such as a large fenced in yard.
These dogs are generally healthy and live on average about 12 to 17 years. Yet 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 non-specific factors (i.e. infections, toxins, injuries, or advanced age).