Cairn Terrier

Many terriers were developed for working in specific regions of Great Britain, depending on the type of terrain and prey. Today's feisty, mischievous little Cairn Terrier is one of the few breeds that has not changed much in the last hundred years and still looks the same as depicted in old portraits.


Small game terriers on the Scottish islands were known since 1500, and were a mixture of several different types. Only the best killers and guard dogs were retained, so, by selective breeding, little dogs kept the crofts comparatively free of rats, rabbits and foxes which lived in cairns (rock piles denoting boundaries and graves). Until the advent of dog shows, ordinary working people cared little about breeds, their size or colour: the criteria was if they did the job for which they were bred. The name "Cairn" was not recognized by the Kennel Club, but Mrs Alistair Campbell, a breed enthusiast, persisted in exhibiting her "Cairns" as "Short-coated Skyes" and "Prick-eared Skyes". This so infuriated the Skye breeders that a delegation in 1910 persuaded the Kennel Club to accept the name "Cairn".

Cairns may be small in stature but they more than make up for it in toughness and character.


The Cairn is a vibrant little dog, which is full of fun and mischief. It is very intelligent but training has to be patient and firm because it has an independent streak. Cairns are playful with children, but you must watch out for other small hairy pets like hamsters - these dogs still have their hunting instincts.

must know

Cairns can be affected by PSS, an occasional blood and live condition at birth (a bile acid test is available) and, rarely, by glaucoma.


Small but sturdy with rough, tousled hair, the Cairn Terrier always has prick ears. It is well muscled, giving the impression of agility, and can be cream, wheaten. red. grey or nearly black. Dogs and bitches are 28-31cm (11—12in) in height and should weigh 6-7.5kg (14—16lb).

Strangers 2/5

Will warn but generally friendly

Temperament 3/5

Intelligent, playful and mischievous

Exercise 3/5

At least two walks a clay plus garden play

Grooming 2/5

Twice a week

Other dogs 3/5

Usually OK but some males like to dominate


Lovable, mischievous, and once bonded, always bonded

General care

Cairns are tough but they need plenty of exercise to maintain their bodies and minds. They enjoy playing in a large garden, snuffling about under bushes and searching every mole hill. It is important, however, not to overfeed them as they can get fat. Grooming is minimal – just a brush and comb twice weekly.

Gallery of Cairn Terrier