Breed Cairn Terrier

BreedsAbout the Breed: Cairn Terrier

Dorothy’s adorable sidekick in the Wizard of Oz, Cairn Terriers are happy, busy, curious and alert little dogs who love to dig.


Cairns are one of the most versatile of the small terrier breeds—equally content with a nap in your lap as they are ready for a rough game of play on the lawn. Independent-minded, loyal, and cheerful, they do best with lots of close family contact. Because they are very smart, obedience training is necessary.

Like many other small, rough-coated terriers, Cairns were originally bred to track and eradicate rats and other vermin. Their history goes back to at least the 1600s, where they were common in the Western Highlands, most notably on the Isle of Skye.

Best with:

  • Socially and physically active owners, including families.
  • People who have a securely fenced property of moderate size;
  • People who appreciate independence and free thinking in a dog;
  • People who can devote adequate time to proper socialization and training.

Not for:

  • Homes with no fence;
  • People who will not/can not properly train and socialize the dog;
  • Households or farms with other small pets (cats, bunnies, guinea pigs, mice that a Border Terrier would try to chase), or smaller livestock (chickens and/or ducks) that are allowed to roam free;
  • People who prefer keeping an immaculate back yard (Cairn Terriers are known for digging).


Friendly and outgoing, small and sturdy, intelligent and easy to train, great family dogs, low maintenance grooming, excellent walking/hiking/running partners.


Loves to dig (secure, deep fence required); loves to chase (typically not safe with small animals / cats).



Roughly 10 inches at the shoulder, and weighing between 13 and 15 pounds.


Black, grey, silver, red, wheaten, or cream.

Energy Level:

Moderate to high; loves to play rough and enjoys exercise.

Life expectancy:

13-15 years.


Cairn Terriers thrive on human companionship and do well around children.

Other animals:

Cairn Terriers are inclined to chase cats, and should not be in homes with other small animals such as birds, hamsters or mice.


Cairn Terriers do well in task-oriented activities, and agility training. They are extremely trainable, and capable of learning tricks quickly and competently.


Cairn Terriers don’t shed much, however they can benefit from weekly brushings. Their harsh, wiry, dense coat naturally repels dirt.


Cairn Terriers have few health complications. Some puppies may suffer from “lion jaw” (craniomandibular osteopathy; a non-cancerous thickening of the bones of the jaw or leg) that will usually resolve by the time the dog is fully grown.