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Cairn Terrier

The Cairn Terrier is one of the oldest of the terrier breeds, originating in the Scottish Highlands and recognized as one of Scotland's earliest working dogs. The breed is commonly used for hunting and burrowing prey among the cairns. Although the breed had existed long before, the name Cairn Terrier was a compromise suggestion after the breed was originally brought to official shows in the United Kingdom in 1909 under the name Short-haired Skye terriers. This name was not acceptable to The Kennel Club due to opposition from Skye Terrier breeders, and the name Cairn Terrier was suggested as an alternative. They are usually left-pawed, which has been shown in dogs to correlate to superior performance in tasks related to scent. Cairn Terriers are ratters.

History Cairn originated in the Highlands of Scotland and the Isle of Skye, initially grouped in the "Skye Terrier" class alongside the Scottish and West Highland White Terriers. In the early 1900s, the three breeds began to be bred separately. The breed was given the name cairn, because the breed's function was to chase quarry from the cairns in the Scottish highlands.


The Cairn Terrier has a harsh weather-resistant outer coat that can be pink, blue, wheaten, red, sandy, gray, or brindled in any of these colours. Pure black, black and tan, and white are not permitted by many kennel clubs. While registration of white Cairns was once permitted, after 1917 the American Kennel Club required them to be registered as West Highland White Terriers. A notable characteristic of Cairns is that brindled Cairns frequently change colour throughout their lifetime. It is not uncommon for a brindled Cairn to become progressively more black or silver as it ages. The Cairn is double-coated, with a soft, dense undercoat and a harsh outer coat. A well-groomed Cairn has a rough-and-ready appearance, free of artifice or exaggeration. The cairn terrier was registered into the American kennel club in 1903.


Cairn Terriers shed very little but should always be hand stripped. Using scissors or shears can ruin the dog's rugged outer coat after one grooming. Hand stripping involves pulling the old dead hair out by the roots. If done incorrectly this can cause discomfort to the dog, causing it to shy away from future hand stripping. Removing the dead hair in this manner allows new growth to come in. This new growth helps protect the dog from water and dirt. Cairn Terrier ancestors are from Scotland, where the wire coat repels water and keeps the dog dry even in rainy or damp climates. Keeping the Cairn Terrier coat in its original state will prevent possible skin irritations. As dead hair is removed by stripping the coat, new growth comes in and the skin and coat will remain healthy. Clipper-cutting a Cairn might destroy the protective wire coat unique to this breed. It is wise to have a pet examined to rule out heritable skin diseases if a Cairn is obtained from unknown sources (i.e. pet stores, rescues, or puppy mills).

Health These dogs are generally healthy and live on average about 12 to 17 years.

Survey Breeders, owners and veterinarians have identified several health problems that are significant for Cairns. Some of these diseases are hereditary while others occur as a result of non-specific factors (i.e. infections, toxins, injuries, or advanced age). Currently, the Cairn Terrier Club of America along with the Institute for Genetic Disease Control in Animals maintain an open registry for Cairn Terriers in hopes of reducing the occurrence of hereditary diseases within the breed. Breeders voluntarily submit their dogs' test results for research purpose, as well as for use by individuals who seek to make sound breeding decisions. Some of the more common hereditary health problems found in the Cairn are: Cataracts Corneal dystrophy Craniomandibular osteopathy (Lion Jaw) Entropion Hip dysplasia Hypothyroidism Krabbe disease (Globoid cell leukodystrophy) Legg-Calvé-Perthes syndrome Luxating patella Ocular Melanosis Portosystemic shunt Progressive retinal atrophy Soft Tissue Sarcoma (STS) Von Willebrand disease

Living conditions

The Cairn Terrier will exist happily in an apartment if it is sufficiently exercised. Cairn Terriers are very active indoors and will suffice even without a yard. Cairn Terriers should have a fenced-in yard, or be kept on a leash. Cairns are particularly stubborn; ethical breeders will strongly suggest obedience school or some other type of training to direct Cairn Terrier's focus on the owner as the one in command. If allowed to take control of the household, behavior problems may develop that can only be resolved by hiring a professional dog trainer. Many breeders will only sell puppies to dedicated dog owners who agree to basic obedience school. Daily walks will help keep a Cairn Terrier happy and healthy. Fenced-in yards are strongly recommended for safety and well being.

Exercise Cairns are active dogs, and thus will need a daily walk. Play will take care of a lot of their exercise needs; however, as with all breeds, play will not fulfill their primal instinct to walk. Dogs who do not get to go on daily walks are more likely to display behavior problems. They will also enjoy a good romp in a safe open area off leash, such as a large fenced in yard. According to Temple Grandin in her book entitled "Animals Make Us Human," dogs need 45 minutes to one hour per day of Playing and Seeking. After fulfilling the Playing and Seeking, dogs become balanced and well-mannered. Obedience school is often a good start to creating interactive play using words or commands for a dog to perform specific actions on cue. Teaching a Cairn Terrier tricks is also a clever way to direct their active energy into acceptable controlled dog games.

Famous Cairns

Terry, the dog who played Toto in the 1939 screen adaptation of The Wizard of Oz, was a brindle Cairn Terrier. Due to the identification of the State of Kansas with the original story The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, a resident of Wichita, Kansas has begun a drive to make the Cairn Terrier the official dog of the State of Kansas. Terry also had a role in the Shirley Temple film Bright Eyes, and twelve other films.

In media In I Love Lucy Little Ricky had a Cairn Terrier named Fred. UK TV presenter Paul O'Grady often features a Cairn Terrier called Olga on his prime time chat show; dark in colour, Olga is a rescue dog. Also in the UK, Pauline Fowler actress Wendy Richard in the BBC TV show EastEnders had a Cairn she fondly named "Betty." Betty made an appearance as Toto on BBC's "Strictly Come Dancing" (Series 10) after Vincent Simone and his celebrity partner Dani Harmer danced a waltz to "Over the Rainbow" from The Wizard of Oz. George Lopez's family dog on the ABC TV series George Lopez, is a Cairn Terrier named Mr. Needles, named by the son, Max, for the extremely high number of shots that the incredibly sick former stray received from the veterinarian. Australian television soap series Neighbours had a Cairn Terrier named Audrey who belonged to the character Libby Kennedy. National Treasure: Book of Secrets The character of "Romulus", owned by Ray Milland's character, Steven Tolliver, in Cecil B. De Mille's epic Reap the Wild Wind (1942) was a Cairn Terrier. Oddly, the Ray Milland character a few years later in The Uninvited (1944), along with his sister also had a Cairn Terrier named "Robbie" in that film. Robbie was quite the ghost hunter in that film. Thimble the dog was a brindle Cairn Terrier played by Danvers. Thimble appeared once in Episode 5, Season 5 of the British television drama Upstairs, Downstairs (1971 TV series). A Wheaten Cairn Terrier named Kobe was featured in the following movies: Dunston Checks In / Lost And Found / and the opening scenes of Twister John Goodman's character Walter brings a Cairn Terrier bowling in The Big Lebowski (1998), though he misidentifies the dog as a Pomeranian

In books In the Maximum Ride book series Total, the talking dog, is a Cairn Terrier. In the first edition of L. Frank Baum's book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1899), though Baum did not specify in the text what breed Toto was, illustrator W. W. Denslow drew him as a Cairn Terrier. In Donald Barthelme’s short story “Chablis”, the narrator says that his baby wants, according to his wife, a “Cairn terrier.”