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Cairn Terrier

Other names: Cairn, Toto dog

Cairn Terrier

The Cairn Terrier is typically Scottish: loyal, hardy and tenacious. It is a breed that enjoys the outdoors no matter what the weather and will forage for small furry animals all day long. The Cairn is nowadays considered a worthwhile family pet because of its intelligent and loving personality. Cairns enjoy the outdoors but are just as happy indoors cuddled up to their special person or people. One of the only drawbacks of a Cairn is the dog’s tendency to nip and bark at other dogs.

Key facts about the Cairn Terrier

Life expectancy :





Temperament :

Affectionate Playful Hunter

Size :

Origins and history

A dog similar to the Cairn Terrier was bred in Scotland in the 1500s. It was used by huntsmen to track and kill game, and animals such as foxes and otters that were then classed as vermin. It was one of three small terrier types used for this purpose, the other two being the Scottish Terrier and West Highland Terrier. In 1912 the Cairn Terrier was recognised as a pedigree.

FCI breed nomenclature

FCI Group

Group 3 - Terriers


Section 2 : Small sized Terriers

Physical characteristics of the Cairn Terrier

    Adult size

    Female : Between 11 and 12 in

    Male : Between 11 and 12 in


    Female : Between 13 and 15 lb

    Male : Between 13 and 15 lb

    Coat colour

    Type of coat

    Eye colour



    A stocky, square and agile dog, the Cairn stands slightly forward on its forepaws. The body, head and legs are proportionate and covered in thick hair. The tail is short and neither high nor low above the croup; the tail is also covered in a good coat of hair. Ears are fox-like and erect.

    Good to know

    The dog that starred in the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz was a brindle Cairn Terrier. Although its screen name was ‘Toto’ (hence the nickname of the breed) the dog’s real name was Terry. Terry went on to star in 13 other films.


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      The Cairn is a loyal and affectionate dog, and due to these attributes makes an amiable companion to people of all ages (with the exception of very young children). The dog also enjoys being the centre of attention, but his feelings are easily hurt by scolding or mistreatment.

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      A playful dog is the Cairn Terrier and one that enjoys interaction with people. As long as the Cairn is the centre of attention and being fussed over by his clan he is happy. An opportunity to show off is never missed, but this is not a ‘silly’ dog.

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      Although calmer and more mild-mannered than most terriers, the Cairn still possesses a great deal of tenacity and excitability. It does not shy away from fighting other dogs when the need arises, which can become troublesome when picking a fight with a much bigger dog.

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      The Cairn is a highly intelligent breed but the dog must be stimulated and interacted with in order to develop this intelligence. Cairns want to please their owners and will be very upset if they think they have misunderstood a command.

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      Its heritage as a hunter of foxes, badgers and rats is hard to ignore. The Cairn enjoys chasing any small and scurrying animal, which unfortunately includes cats (see later). It is advisable to walk a Cairn only by the lead and not to let it have a free roam unless you are sure there is nothing in the vicinity that will pique its interest.

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      Fearful / wary of strangers

      Adult Cairn Terriers may be friendly or reserved with strangers. They are always alert and quick to announce guests. They are quick to determine whether visitors are friends or foes.

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      The Cairn is quite independent but exhibits more of a stubborn streak. Like most terriers Cairns do not shy away from being the Top Dog. Early obedience training and socialization are essential measures to stem the dominance of the dog.

      Behaviour of the Cairn Terrier

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        Tolerates solitude

        The Cairn Terrier is happiest when at home with his pack. He thrives on attention and feels unhappy if he is left alone for even a short period of time. In such cases the Cairn is quick to feel bored and will exhibit destructive behaviour and excessive vocalisation.

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        Easy to train / obedience

        The Cairn’s stubbornness makes training an important part of his assimilation into the home. A Cairn that is not trained in a consistent and confident manner becomes bossy and over-confident. To train a Cairn properly yields excellent results: with some reinforcement of lessons the dog can be incredibly obedient.

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        Barking is reported to be a problem for many owners of Cairns and their neighbours! The Cairn bark is shrill and accompanies anything the dog may find interesting. All sorts of things can trigger an extended bout of Cairn barking: cars passing the living room window, people walking along the pavement, loud noises and bright lights.

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