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 :

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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

  • Cairn Terrier
    Cairn Terrier
  • Cairn Terrier
    Cairn Terrier
  • Cairn Terrier
    Cairn Terrier
  • Cairn Terrier
    Cairn Terrier
  • Cairn Terrier
    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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        Tendency to run away

        The Cairn is not to be trusted off a lead. The feistiness of the terrier is not easily dampened especially when the dog is outside and amid the scents of Nature. Training and confident (not harsh) discipline can instil some sense of obedience, but even the best-trained Cairns cannot be recalled if they are on the ‘hunt’.

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        If it finds itself in an enclosed space or at home for long periods of time without exercise and fresh air the Cairn will notify you of its displeasure by destroying your furnishings, doors, window sills and carpets. Terriers are chewers and will not let up until you do something to address the problem.

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        Greedy / Gluttony

        The Cairn loves its food and has a tendency to become very possessive of its dinner.

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        Guard dog

        The Cairn’s voice is a worthwhile early warning system. Someone lurking close to the house (whether friend or foe) will cause the dog to bark. It is difficult to dampen down the barking.

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        First dog

        The Cairn is a good first dog if you do not have young children. It is no lap dog but its exercise needs are not as much as some dogs of a similar size. It is affectionate but the Cairn must be socialised and trained to avoid unwanted behaviour. There is always the barking to consider as well…

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          Cairn Terrier in a flat

          A good dog for a flat in that the Cairn does not need a lot of hikes and vigorous walks to entertain itself. Access to a garden and two walks a day is sufficient. However, its tendency to bark may cause your neighbours some consternation.

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          Need for exercise / Sporty

          The Cairn needs twice-daily walks, some play and interaction indoors, and free access to a garden. This is not an especially active dog but the owner should consider games and one-to-one time as essential components of the Cairn’s overall wellbeing.

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          Travelling / easy to transport

          A Cairn is usually obedient and very inquisitive. It is comfortable with new surroundings, enjoys new experiences and is happy to travel.


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            Cairn Terrier and cats

            The Cairn is an avid hunter and may not take kindly to a cat. Even cats that the Cairn is brought up with are at risk if the dog’s tolerance is especially low. It is not advisable to introduce a Cairn to animals smaller than a cat.

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            Cairn Terrier and dogs

            Outdoor meetings with other dogs should be kept short. A Cairn that senses it has been cornered (even by you) is likely to react aggressively. Cairns will always consider themselves top dogs when it comes to meetings of peers. Observe the dog’s behaviour carefully to avoid fights.

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            Cairn Terrier and children

            Children who are too young to understand the concept of a dog’s tolerance will not do well in the presence of a Cairn Terrier. The dog does not like to be teased or treated roughly and has a tendency to nip.

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            Cairn Terrier and the elderly

            A Cairn’s obedience, alertness and love of companionship will suit an elderly person, especially someone who is living alone. Furthermore, the dog does not need a great deal of exercise and its coat is relatively easy to groom.



            The price for a Cairn Terrier can vary according to its origin, gender and age. For a dog registered at the Kennel Club, they will cost approximately £635.

            Concerning your average monthly budget to satisfy your Cairn Terrier’s needs, it will vary between £130 to £150.


            Brush the Cairn’s coat once or twice a week to prevent it from becoming matted and tangled. Hand stripping will be required once every few weeks, and baths should only be given if absolutely necessary (if covered in mud, fox poop, etc.).


            The Cairn Terrier does not shed a great deal of hair. On the whole, the coat of this dog will not cause an allergy sufferer too much bother.

            Nutrition of the Cairn Terrier

            You should feed your Cairn a high-quality dog food; ideally a food that is grain free. There are formulated foods especially for small terrier breeds. Over-feeding a Cairn quickly leads to obesity; the dog should not be given food that was originally meant for human consumption.

            Health of the Cairn Terrier

            Life expectancy

            12 to 15 years.

            Strong / robust

            Cairns are rugged, robust, feisty and resilient.

            Withstand heat

            Despite their double coat Cairn Terriers are not intolerant to heat.

            Withstand cold

            The rugged coat of the Cairn keeps the dog warm in the rain and snow.

            Tendency to put on weight

            Weight gain is commonly seen of some Cairns; research indicates a genetic predisposition to obesity.

            Common illnesses

            • Liver shunt
            • Luxating patellas (the kneecaps slipping temporarily out of place)
            • Glaucoma
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