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  • Temperament: Alert, Cheerful, Busy
  • AKC Breed Popularity: Ranks 70 of 194
  • Height: 10 inches (male), 9.5 inches (female)
  • Weight: 14 pounds (male), 13 pounds (female)
  • Life Expectancy: 13-15 years
  • Group: Terrier Group

    The AKC has grouped all of the breeds that it registers into seven categories, or groups, roughly based on function and heritage. Breeds are grouped together because they share traits of form and function or a common heritage.

Cairn Terrier lying down facing forward, looking left
Cairn Terrier sitting with head tilted
Cairn Terrier sitting facing forward, looking left
Cairn Terrier head and shoulders facing left
Cairn Terrier coat detail
Cairn Terrier Puppies

Find a Puppy: Cairn Terrier

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GENERAL APPEARANCE

That of an active, game, hardy, small working terrier of the short-legged class; very free in its movements, strongly but not heavily built, standing well forward on its forelegs, deep in the ribs, well coupled with strong hindquarters and presenting a well-proportioned build with a medium length of back, having a hard, weather-resisting coat; head shorter and wider than any other terrier and well furnished with hair giving a general foxy expression.

HEAD

Skull – Broad in proportion to length with a decided stop and well furnished with hair on the top of the head, which may be somewhat softer than the body coat. Muzzle – Strong but not too long or heavy. Teeth-Large, mouth neither overshot nor undershot. Nose – Black. Eyes – Set wide apart, rather sunken, with shaggy eyebrows, medium in size, hazel or dark hazel in color, depending on body color, with a keen terrier expression. Ears – Small, pointed, well carried erectly, set wide apart on the side of the head. Free from long hairs.

BODY

Well-muscled, strong, active body with well-sprung, deep ribs, coupled to strong hindquarters, with a level back of medium length, giving an impression of strength and activity without heaviness.

LEGS

Shoulders, Legs and Feet: A sloping shoulder, medium length of leg, good but not too heavy bone; forelegs should not be out at elbows, and be perfectly straight, but forefeet may be slightly turned out. Forefeet larger than hind feet. Legs must be covered with hard hair. Pads should be thick and strong and dog should stand well up on its feet.

COAT

Hard and weather-resistant. Must be double-coated with profuse harsh outer coat and short, soft, close furry undercoat.

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Cairn

About the Cairn Terrier

The Cairn’s unique qualities, called “Cairnishness,” include a short, wide head and a free-moving, short-legged body that exudes strength but not heaviness, topping out at about 10 inches high and about 15 inches long. The double coat is harsh and wiry on top and downy beneath. A Cairn presents as a small, shaggy, alert dog, with head, tail, and ears up, and eyes shining with intelligence.

A British breed club promotes Cairns as the “best little pal in the world.” Cairns are small enough for a lap-top snuggle and sturdy enough for a good romp on the lawn. They do best with lots of close family contact. For owners who cherish the terrier qualities of gameness, independent thinking, and true-blue loyalty, no other breed will do.

National Breed Clubs and Rescue

Want to connect with other people who love the same breed as much as you do? We have plenty of opportunities to get involved in your local community, thanks to AKC Breed Clubs located in every state, and more than 450 AKC Rescue Network groups across the country.
Cairn Terrier Puppies

Find a Puppy: Cairn Terrier

AKC Marketplace | PuppyFinder

AKC Marketplace is the only site to exclusively list 100% AKC puppies from AKC-Registered litters and the breeders who have cared for and raised these puppies are required to follow rules and regulations established by the AKC.
Find Cairn Terrier Puppies

Care

NUTRITION

The Cairn Terrier should do well on a high-quality dog food, whether commercially manufactured or home-prepared with your veterinarian’s supervision and approval. Any diet should be appropriate to the dog’s age (puppy, adult, or senior). Some dogs are prone to getting overweight, so watch your dog’s calorie consumption and weight level. Treats can be an important aid in training, but giving too many can cause obesity. Learn about which human foods are safe for dogs, and which are not. Check with your vet if you have any concerns about your dog’s weight or diet. Clean, fresh water should be available at all times.

GROOMING

Cairn Terriers are generally easy keepers, although weekly brushing and combing are recommended, as well as periodic hand-stripping to maintain the coat’s texture. Having a comb and soft slicker brush handy will help with the grooming tasks. With a new puppy, spending time together in grooming sessions helps to accustom him or her to being worked with and is an opportunity to develop the bond between you. The nails should be trimmed regularly, as overly long nails can cause the dog discomfort.

Grooming Frequency

Occasional Bath/Brush
Specialty/Professional
Weekly Brushing

Shedding

Infrequent
Frequent
Occasional

EXERCISE

Cairns require a moderate amount of exercise and can adapt well to various living situations when given daily outings. They can thrive anywhere from a Highlands farm to an urban high-rise and are excellent all-around dogs. Training for dog sports provides an ideal outlet for their energy. The breed exercises body and mind by participating in obedience, tracking, herding, agility, earthdog events, coursing ability tests, and other activities that dog and owner can enjoy together.

Energy Level

Couch Potato
Needs Lots of Activity
Regular Exercise

TRAINING

Cairns are very smart and love their families, but they may try to test their owner’s limits, so obedience training is necessary. Although they learn quickly, the Cairn may always have the instinct to dig and chase small animals, so new owners should be prepared for these behaviors. Early socialization and puppy training classes are recommended and help to ensure that the dog grows into a well-adjusted, well-mannered companion.

Trainability

May be Stubborn
Eager to Please
Agreeable

Temperament/Demeanor

Aloof/Wary
Outgoing
Friendly

HEALTH

Cairn Terriers are generally healthy dogs, and responsible breeders test their stock for health disorders and communicate with other dedicated breeders regularly, working together for breed health and preservation of the breed’s unique qualities.

Recommended Health Tests from the National Breed Club:

  • Ophthalmologist Evaluation
  • Cardiac Exam
  • Patella Evaluation
  • GCL DNA Test
  • PSVA
  • MVD
  • Kidney Aplasia/Dysplasia

Read the Official Breed Club Health Statement.

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Cairn Terrier
Cairn Terrier
Cairn Terrier
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Cairn Terrier

History

The Cairn is one of several terrier breeds, some still extant others now extinct, who for centuries patrolled the game preserves and farms of Scotland. Unravelling the histories of these breeds is difficult because for so many years they were lumped together as simply Scotch terriers. Not until the late 1800s did breed fanciers devise strict breeding programs and classifications for this hardy family of exterminators. The name Cairn Terrier did not appear in print until 1887, though by then the Cairn-type terrier had been around for a long time. Cairns were known from at least the 1600s to dwell in the Western Highlands, most notably on the Isle of Skye, birthplace of their kinsman the Skye Terrier.

Once upon a time in Scotland, a mound of stones used as a boundary or to mark a grave was called a “cairn.” On Highland game preserves, rodents would live within and beneath these rock piles. The Cairn Terrier, among the smallest of the go-to-ground terriers, was developed to dig into cairns and rout out the critters. When grouped in packs, these plucky little hunters also worked on foxes, otters, and other predators. The Cairn’s independence, courage, toughness, and alertness were qualities that served them well when digging into a cairn alone and confronting sharp-toothed mammals.

By the turn of the 20th century, Britain’s terrier fanciers had sorted out the various Scotch earthdogs and began breeding Cairn, Scottish, Skye, and West Highland White terriers as distinct pure breeds. Cairns were exhibited at British dog shows of the era, and the AKC recognized the breed in 1913.

The breed’s public profile received a tremendous boost in 1939, when a Cairn named Terry was chosen to play Toto in MGM’s production of “The Wizard of Oz.”

Did You Know?

The Cairn Terrier originated in the Western Isles of Scotland, where, for centuries, he has been used as a working terrier, and was formerly known as the "Short-haired Skye Terrier."
The Cairn Terrier is alert, intelligent, active and long-lived.
Farms with several Cairns were free of rats, mice, moles, and other burrowing animals.
One of the most popular Cairns was Toto from "The Wizard Of Oz" whose real name was Terry, and he was a she.
The Cairn Terrier has a working background and they like to dig.
There is evidence that one of the oldest-known strains of Cairn, or "short-haired Skye Terriers," as the breed was generally known at the turn of the century, was founded by Captain Martin Macleod of Drynock, Isle of Skye.

The Breed Standard

GENERAL APPEARANCE

That of an active, game, hardy, small working terrier of the short-legged class; very free in its movements, strongly but not heavily built, standing well forward on its forelegs, deep in the ribs, well coupled with strong hindquarters and presenting a well-proportioned build with a medium length of back, having a hard, weather-resisting coat; head shorter and wider than any other terrier and well furnished with hair giving a general foxy expression.

HEAD

Skull – Broad in proportion to length with a decided stop and well furnished with hair on the top of the head, which may be somewhat softer than the body coat. Muzzle – Strong but not too long or heavy. Teeth-Large, mouth neither overshot nor undershot. Nose – Black. Eyes – Set wide apart, rather sunken, with shaggy eyebrows, medium in size, hazel or dark hazel in color, depending on body color, with a keen terrier expression. Ears – Small, pointed, well carried erectly, set wide apart on the side of the head. Free from long hairs.

BODY

Well-muscled, strong, active body with well-sprung, deep ribs, coupled to strong hindquarters, with a level back of medium length, giving an impression of strength and activity without heaviness.

LEGS

Shoulders, Legs and Feet: A sloping shoulder, medium length of leg, good but not too heavy bone; forelegs should not be out at elbows, and be perfectly straight, but forefeet may be slightly turned out. Forefeet larger than hind feet. Legs must be covered with hard hair. Pads should be thick and strong and dog should stand well up on its feet.

COAT

Hard and weather-resistant. Must be double-coated with profuse harsh outer coat and short, soft, close furry undercoat.

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Colors & Markings

Colors

Description Standard Colors Registration Code
Black Check Mark For Standard Color 007
Black Brindle Check Mark For Standard Color 279
Brindle Check Mark For Standard Color 057
Cream Check Mark For Standard Color 076
Cream Brindle Check Mark For Standard Color 255
Gray Check Mark For Standard Color 100
Gray Brindle Check Mark For Standard Color 107
Red Check Mark For Standard Color 140
Red Brindle Check Mark For Standard Color 148
Silver Check Mark For Standard Color 176
Wheaten Check Mark For Standard Color 224
Red Wheaten 156
Silver Brindle 303
Silver Wheaten 305
Wheaten Brindle 304

Markings

Description Standard Markings Registration Code
Black Markings Check Mark For Standard Mark 002
Black Mask Check Mark For Standard Mark 004
Black Points Check Mark For Standard Mark 019

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