Search Menu
Norwich Terrier (left) and Cairn Terrier (right)

One of the most famous dogs in movie history is little Toto, following Dorothy along the yellow brick road to see the wizard of Oz. Toto was played by a Cairn Terrier named Terry. You might think every little wire-haired terrier you see is a Cairn, but in fact there is a similar breed called the Norwich Terrier that can sometimes cause confusion. Read on to learn the similarities and differences between these two small and alert earthdogs.

Game, Active, and Hardy Hunters

According to Joe Vernuccio, Cairn Terrier breeder for 20 years and judge of many terrier breeds, there are quite a few similarities between the two breeds. “Both the Cairn Terrier and Norwich Terrier are game, active, and hardy hunters ready to dispatch vermin, alone or in packs. Both terriers are considered of the short-legged class and both carry a hard, weather-resistant double coat. Cairns, like Norwich, should have a gay and fearless temperament and both breeds as companions are adaptable to country or city living.”

Although people confuse the two breeds, Vernuccio explains that the differences are obvious when you know what to look for. “At a quick glance, one would notice that Cairns carry an erect undocked tail and have more daylight visible underneath their body. They are not easily mistaken for the Norwich, which are typically smaller, lower to the ground, and more compact.”

Physical Similarities and Differences

Al Ferruggiaro, a Norwich Terrier judge and breeder, says Norwich Terriers are the smallest of the working terriers. According to the breed standard, they stand only 10 inches at the shoulder and weigh around 12 pounds. They have short legs and a short, compact, stocky body. Their tail is held straight up and although it’s docked, it’s still of sufficient length to grasp.

Ferruggiaro finds the fox-like face of the Norwich endearing. “Their small, dark eyes and medium, prick ears give them a bright, keen expression.”

These adorable little dogs have a hard, wiry, straight coat which is weather resistant. There are four coat colors: black and tan, all shades of red, wheaten, and grizzle (a mix of black or red hairs with white hairs). Ferruggiaro advises hand trimming the coat to maintain the texture and color.

Vernuccio explains that Cairns are a teeny bit larger. “Cairn Terriers today are typically between 10-12 inches tall measured at the withers and their weight is most often between approximately 14 to 18 pounds.”

The two breeds also have different proportions. In the Norwich, the distance from the shoulder to the ground is approximately equal to the distance from the shoulder to the base of the tail. On the other hand, Cairns have a body length one and a half times their height.

In addition, although both breeds carry their tail straight up, unlike the Norwich, the Cairn’s tail should be undocked and carrot shaped. And the Cairn’s head is covered with abundant facial hair and a shaggy brow whereas the Norwich’s facial hair is short and smooth. Finally, Cairns come in a variety of coat colors including all shades of red, wheaten, and gray, and most have brindling in their coat.

Same Job, Different Location

Although these are toy-sized dogs, they were not developed for a life of leisure. Both breeds are working terriers to their core. According to Ferruggiaro, the history of the Norwich Terrier, who was named for the town of Norwich where they originated, is based on their beginnings as a small vermin hunter. “They were developed around 100 years ago in England for pest control and kept by the college students in Cambridge to keep the dorms free of rodents.”

On the other hand, the Cairn Terrier is native to Scotland. Vernuccio explains that the Cairn remains closest in type to the old working terrier of Skye and the West Highlands. “The breed was recognized by the AKC in 1913 and interbred until 1917 with what is today the West Highland White Terrier. The current standard of the Cairn Terrier was adopted in 1938 and remains unchanged to date.”

The name Cairn comes from the heaps of stones that were piled up as memorials or landmarks in Scotland at the time. Vernuccio says, “Vermin infested these piles of rocks, and Cairn Terriers, with their natural ability to navigate the rocky terrain, were used to rout them out. The breed acquired its name accordingly. “

Big Dogs in Small Packages

Ferruggiaro appreciates the Norwich Terrier’s spirited but loveable disposition and the fact they are not quarrelsome with other dogs. And as you’d expect from their heritage, they’re also fearless. In addition, Ferruggiaro describes them as alert, affectionate, and cheerful. “The Norwich Terrier is a great family pet including those with well-behaved young children. They are easy keepers and are good for conscientious first-time dog owners.”

Vernuccio says Cairn Terriers are known for their mischievous nature, plus they have the ability to leave no stone unturned. Although they are typically seen as stubborn, he has seen them have success in many dog sports. In their minds, Cairns are big dogs. “Nothing about them should be delicate, including their temperament. They are confident, independent, adaptable, playful, and inquisitive.”

Both these breeds pack a lot of personality in a small package. They are more than cute, they’re true terriers. Now that you know what to look for, the next time you see a small terrier walking down the street, you won’t automatically think “Toto!”

Related article: Mastiff vs. Bullmastiff: How to Tell the Difference
Get Your Free AKC eBook

Canine Body Language

Your Dog is Trying to Tell You Something. You have questions, we have answers. Download this e-book to get the explanations behind some of the strangest canine behaviors.
*Turn off pop-up blocker to download
*Turn off pop-up blocker to download