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Breed of the Month – Cairn Terrier

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Cairn Terrier

Country of Origin: Great Britain
Height: males 10in/females 9.5 in
Weight: males 14lb/females 13lb
Coat: Hard, weather-resistant double coat with harsh, profuse outercoat and short, soft, close, furry undercoat
Colors: any color except white
Registries (With Group): AKC (Terrier); ANKC (Terriers); CKC (Terriers); FCI (Terriers); KC (Terrier); UKC (Terrier)


The Hebrides Islands to the north of Scotland is the place the Cairn Terrier originally called home. He is named after the Scottish word for a pile of rocks used as a boundary or to mark a grave—a cairn. Foxes and other pests lived in the rocky cairns, and the Cairn Terrier was developed to be able to burrow into their lairs and rout them out. The Cairn’s development paralleled that of the Skye, West Highland White, and Scottish Terriers—all who have been doing the job of pest control for over 500 years. When the Cairns were first exhibited in 1909, they were called “Short-haired Skye Terriers,” but complaints from Skye Terrier fanciers resulted in the name change. The British Cairn Terrier Club has nicknamed the breed “the best little pal in the world.”


Cheerful, alert, and bursting with joy for life, the Cairn endears himself to all he meets. As charming as he is, he has an independent streak and can prove a challenge in the training department. His affectionate nature and kind heart make him a beloved family member, and his sturdy, compact body serves him well as a child’s playmate.


  • Exercise: The curious, active Cairn benefits tremendously from several walks a day—preferably long walks. He likes to investigate the world, which makes him easy to exercise. Digging in the yard or garden may be his favorite activity.
  • Grooming: The wiry outercoat and downy undercoat were intended to protect this small dog from the harsh and unpredictable weather and environment of northern Scotland. Because it is thick and tends to the scruffy side, the Cairn’s coat needs regular brushing, and the hair around his eyes should be trimmed. Professional grooming several times a year to keep his coat plucked and looking its best is advised.
  • Life Span: The average life span of the Cairn Terrier is 12 to 15 years.
  • Training: While the Cairn Terrier typically dotes on his owner, asking him to follow basic obedience commands may cause him to change his tune. The best way to work with his seemingly stubborn streak is with positive, motivational training. He gets along well with other people and animals, but socialization from an early age is important.

Excerpt from World Atlas of Dog Breeds, 6th Edition. © 2009 TFH Publications, Inc.

World Atlas of Dog Breeds

World Atlas of Dog Breeds Book

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