Cairn Terrier

Breed History

Cairn Terrier

Cairn Terrier is a small toy sized dog with a moderate build. Ears straight up, resembling a Terrier, with a docked tail is the normal appearance from this breed.

Their name Cairn is because they could hunt in a set of Cairn stones and still find small prey due to their tiny size. That’s where they got their name from in addition to being apart of the Terrier family.

Scotland is the place this Terrier comes from in the Isle of Skye. Many of the dogs that are closely align with this dog have multiple names that come from this area, but this dog doesn’t.

Working on the farmland as a ratter and hunter of small animals. They are one of the oldest dogs on record their size to perform this type of work.

Late 19th century they became their own breed separate from other Skye Terriers. Before they would all be in the same group and there is substantial crossbreeding in the earlier years of these dogs.

In the 20th century White, Cairn, Skye, and Scottish were all different breeds when before they were in the same breed. Cairn is one of the oldest out of the group of Terriers.

Close ties with the Skye Terrier who come from the in the same region as well as the other breeds that come from this area.


In 1913, that was the year they got their recognition from the American Kennel Club in the United States. Documentation shows that they were here much earlier as an import from Europe.

Top 70 in popularity in America and that shows they are one of the most popular dogs in the country. Many people who own farms don’t need the terriers for the same reasons due to commercial farmers and rat killing products.

All major Kennel Club around the world will have them in the same category as a Terrier. No one has put them in any other place to date.

Here are the major Kennel Club and their breed standards for the Cairn Terrier.


Male Height: 10 inches

Female Height: 9 inches

Male Weight: 14 pounds

Female Weight: 13 pounds

Boy and girl dogs are around the same size and it is hard to tell the difference.

Litter Size

3 to 4 puppies are the normal litter size. Some of the litters may require a c-section but most mothers have a natural birth. Dogs that require a c-section happen when the puppy’s heads are too big for the mother to push out.


  • Black
  • Cream
  • Gray
  • Red
  • Silver
  • Wheaten
  • Brindle – black, cream, gray, and red

Any of these colors but white is acceptable with black on the ears, muzzle, and tip of tail are highly desirable.


$1,000-$1,500 is average price you can expect to pay for a Cairn Terrier puppy. These dogs are not the most expensive and are not the highest in demand. Paying those prices and getting papers on the dog will give you a high-quality puppy for a cheaper price.

Dogs without papers will be much cheaper and you should expect to pa a few hundred for a puppy. Quality is an issue and more crossbreeding can happen than you think.

Knowing the breed standards and the acceptable colors and marking can help you determine if all puppies and both parents are within the strict guidelines. If any of them are outside of the parameters than you shouldn’t pay for the puppy if you are looking for something that is full blood.


  1. Brushing
  2. Combing
  3. Bathing
  4. Ears
  5. Nails
  6. Professional Help

Brushing should happen at least once per week on average. Going longer can start to affect the dogs coat and most owners wouldn’t want that to happen.

Combing is another activity that should happen at least once per week. Doing this at the same time as brushing will help you take care of all these grooming activities at once on the same day.

Bathing should be done in one or two ways. When the dog is dirty or smelly most people will then choose to bathe the dog. The other way is to do it on a schedule and let a time period establish the next bath.

Ears can get an infection and with some small adjustments you can avoid costly vet bills. Important to remember to clean them once a week because the bill is avoidable.

Nails need to be trim and the best way to do that is with exercise. Methods other than that includes buying nail clippers or hiring some help.

Professional help for this breed is a recommendation for owners who lack experience in the grooming field.  

Life Span

12-14 years is the average lifespan for this breed. That’s a long time to own a dog and should be taken into account. Adopting this type of dog will be an option as an older adult age because they live for so long.

Health Issues

Cardiac – heart issues are a cause for concern with this breed. Irregular heartbeat is a common occurrence. Their Kennel Club’s Official Health Statement thinks a cardiac test will be something every owner should take seriously.

Patella Luxation – smaller dogs like Terriers have issues with their kneecaps. Getting an x-ray for the knees will help with determining if the knees are partially or completely suffering from a dislocation. Favoring or limping should result in taking them to the vet immediately. Otherwise, taking them around 24 months will give you the best options.

DNA Test – Genetically there are genetic issues that a dog will suffer from. Getting a DNA test from a licensed professional will keep the diseases, they are known to carry from past generations, from getting late treatment.

Breed Group

Cairn Terrier is a proud member of the Terrier Group. These small dogs are known to be fast enough with enough prey drive to hunt down rodents. Many small cracks and areas are difficult for bigger dogs to reach that the Terriers specialize in getting into.

Big energy and excellent guard dogs are some of the features they possess. Many bigger breeds have been bred down to a smaller version have been with some version of a Terrier. You can tell from these dogs suddenly having ears that are straight at a smaller version and different ear in the regular breed size.

Here are some of the dogs in the Terrier Group

Exercise Needs

Cairn Terrier needs a lot of exercise. The real question is how much exercise will be enough. That is something that only a dog can show an owner through their behavior.

Bad behavior will show that the dog isn’t getting enough exercise and is using their excess energy to conduct bad behavior. Digging, barking excessively, biting, nipping, and not listening in general is a great sign that the dog lacks exercise.

Once the owner commits to getting the dog a daily outlet everything changes. Problems with whining and other common lack of exercise issues will start to go away overnight. Dogs will be recovering from their workout and preserving energy for the right activity. Activities like running, walking and treadmill time.

Here is what we recommend

Morning: Hour (run, walk, or treadmill)

Evening: 30 minutes (run, walk, or treadmill)

Younger dogs will need more runs that normal. Expect to exercise them a lot while training them on the rules of the household and backyard. At this stage you’ll give them introductions to socializing unless you have another dog.

Adult dogs will start to need a combination and more of a mix with walking, but still need a lot of runs in the process. Running is productive at this point and you will notice the dog takes longer to recover.

Older dogs should exclusively get walks and sometimes they will need a run. A short run will be the best option for older dogs. Recovery is very slow at this stage in their life and daily exercise will not need to happen. Every other day will be more realistic or every two days after exercise.

As you can see the needs are fluid throughout their life and hard to pinpoint other than behavior modifications.


  1. Exercise program
  2. Commands
  3. Socialization
  4. Corrections

Training a dog needs to be built on a solid foundation. No foundation is more solid than a daily exercise regimen for your dog. Starting with exercise will eliminate most of the common issues that come with boredom and lack of discipline. When we offer structure and discipline of doing the same thing every day the dog will become more behaved than any dog you know. Try this for the first three months with runs three to four times per week and let us know if that made major changes. Most of your time will be spent in this area.

Commands are less time-consuming and not a major focus. Owners should naturally introduce these commands after a training environment. For example, sitting before they eat, go in the cage, come out the cage, and many other times.

Socializing the dogs will happen easily with a solid exercise program. Aggression and over excitement will decrease due to daily exercise and the dog will mentally and physically socialize much better. Taking them to the park with an exhaustive run workout will work the best.

Corrections are a natural part of teaching the dog rules. Hand, leash, or verbal are all ways to correct a dog without hurting them. When you tell a dog to stop and they do make them sit or lay after. Only use leash or hand corrections when the dog isn’t listening to the verbal. Quickly, your verbal will become a “drop everything and listen” program.

Is Cairn Terrier a Good Family Dog?

Yes, the Cairn Terrier is great with the family, kids, and other dogs. There are reports that they don’t get along with other dogs, but we all know that is the result of an inexperienced owner.

Train ability is a factor and this dog can respond excellent to the right training program.

Additional Resources