The Cairn Terrier – A Big Dog in a Small Dog’s Body

The Cairn Terrier is a frisky, adorable dog that’s really a big dog in a small dog’s body. He’s loving, smart and loyal and makes a good companion dog for most families.

General appearance and Description

The Cairn Terrier has been around since the 1500s, but was first introduced publicly in 1909. His popularity soared in the 1930s (after a Cairn Terrier named “Toto” starred in the movie “Wizard of Oz”) and this dog has been popular ever since.

The Cairn Terrier (often misspelled as Carin Terrier) is part of the original Scottish Terrier group and is probably somehow a part of the West Highland White, Sky, and Scottish terrier breeds as well.

Cairn Terriers are named after piles of small rocks and stones that were used to line Scottish farms and graves because the dogs were expected to take the job of removing small animals from their homes in the rocks. Now he’s primarily a companion dog.

This sweet-faced dog looks a bit like a miniature fox with his bushy head and shaggy coat. He might be black, sand, grey, red or brindle and his coat color as an adult might be vastly different from what it was as a puppy.

Basic Temperament

The Cairn Terrier dog is a spirited and hardy soul in a small body. He’s busy, restless, mischievous and quite happy most of the time. Most Cairn Terrier breeders believe that the females generally are more independent than males but that males are generally more affectionate and loving.

These dogs are still attached to their original breeding purposes and will dig for vermin wherever they are. Many Cairn Terrier owners will avoid leaving the dog alone in a landscaped yard because the yard might suffer the consequences. They also enjoy chasing things (birds, bugs, squirrels, cats) and shouldn’t left off lead in an open area, because they might run long and hard.

Cairn Terrier puppies and dogs need firm leadership. They are adorable but challenging dogs that will take on many unfavorable characteristics if you don’t set yourself up as the alpha dog and the leader of the house.

The Cairn Terriers are compulsively loyal, so if you are part of a Cairn Terrier rescue or simple adoption, you will truly have a friend for life.

Care Required

Although the Cairn Terrier has a shaggy look about him, that coat does require some maintenance. Without regular brushing, his coat will become matted and ugly. It’s best to brush your Cairn Terrier several times a week (nightly is best) and give him a bath once a month. His eyes and ears should receive a simple trim with blunt-nosed scissors regularly.

Exercise Requirements

This is an active breed, so make sure that your Cairn Terrier gets a good deal of exercise, particularly if he lives in an apartment.

Your Cairn Terrier needs a daily walk, regardless of his living situation, so make sure he gets that; while play is important and takes care of some of his exercise needs, nothing takes the place of a walk, even a short one. You can deal with a lot of potential behavioral challenges by simply ensuring your dog gets that daily walk.


If you are the type that enjoys teaching your dog tricks and you see Cairn Terrier puppies for sale, snap one up. These dogs are easy to train and particularly enjoy doing tricks.

Although they do need firm leadership, always use a firm but gentle voice and training manner. They are sensitive and might wither under too much harsh guidance.

Height and Weight

Male dogs will grow to be about 10 to 13 inches tall, while the females will be between 9 and 12 inches tall. Male dogs will weight between 14 and 18 pounds, while the female will weigh 13 to 17 pounds.

Health and Longevity

This is a small breed, but he enjoys eating. Be careful of overfeeding your Cairn Terrier because he will gain weight easily. Limit treats in particular, because he can easily overdo these. They are adorable when begging though, so be firm.

Watch his coat and skin, because if your Cairn Terrier gets fleas, he might develop an allergy.

The Cairn Terriers usually live to be about 12 to 15 years old.


The Cairn Terrier is an excellent family dog, because he’s affectionate and loyal. He’s particularly good with children, so this is a good dog for homes that include children. He’s also a good choice for people with allergies, as he sheds little, but is not hypoallergenic.

If you want a dog that’s good at tracking and hunting, the Cairn Terrier is a good choice. These dogs are also great at agility, competitive obedience and – as we mentioned earlier – doing tricks.

More Information

Further information about the Cairn Terrier  can be found here.

Be Sociable, Share!