Cairn Terrier

The Cairn Terrier made its debut on the Wizard of Oz as Dorothy’s now legendary dog, Toto. The word cairn refers to a pile of stones used as a landmark or pathway point. The Cairn Terrier originated in the Scotland Highlands and the Isle of Skye, and earned its name by digging and squirming down into badger holes to catch foxes and badgers.

Common Characteristics

  • Size: 1 to 20 pounds
  • Lifespan: 6 to 15 years
  • Pet purchase cost: $501 to $1000
  • Allergies: Moderate
  • Shedding: Moderate
  • Primarily suited for indoors


Common Reasons for Surrender

Oftentimes, Cairn Terriers become homeless because their owners simply do not have a clear understanding of the breed or what to expect from their dog. Some owners also fail put the time or effort into training their Cairn Terrier. Without consistent training, the dog’s behavior worsens and the family cannot or will not deal with it anymore.


A sturdy and outgoing breed with a sense of humor, Cairn Terriers love people. Their intelligence makes training easy. Many people, allergic to other breeds, find they have no problems with the Cairn because shedding is minimal. An independent breed, Cairns are generally very active but not hyper. They love playing and just want to hang out with their family.


Don’t expect a Cairn Terrier to sit blissfully on your lap. Cairns want to play and love exercise. They also tend to chew and, because they have been bred to catch foxes and badgers, Cairns dig, both habits that typically pass once they hit two or three years old.


Because Cairns gain weight easily, carefully monitor what you feed your dog. Opt for a high quality kibble or wet dog food that is made without grains. Dogs don’t eat grains in the wild, and they aren’t healthy for domestic dogs either.

You may also want to offer a healthy treats, such as freeze-dried meats like liver or carrots. Offer treats in moderation.


Cairns have a lot of energy to expend each day, so ideally you will have a fenced yard. Ensure your Cairn has enough space to run around for at least four to five hours every day.

Possible Health Problems

While Cairn Terriers do not have any predominate health problems, you may find your Cairn has dry, itchy skin, which is often the sign of an improper diet. To remedy the problem, try changing your Cairn’s diet and, if that doesn’t work, make an appointment to take him to your vet.


To avoid excessive shedding with your double-coated Cairn, brush and comb him thoroughly once a week but bathing him occasionally. Some people opt to clip their Cairn’s coat or to shave him completely. If you do this consistently, your Cairn will lose his harsh outer coat. However, if you want him to maintain that harsh outer coat, you must strip your dog or have him stripped. To strip your dog yourself, use the Furminator or make an appointment with a groomer to have him stripped.


Because of their intelligence and their love of challenges, Cairns respond well to training. Offer your Cairn positive reinforcement—such as an enthusiastic response or a treat—and ensure he doesn’t get bored if you want a smooth training experience. If he doesn’t pick up on something, such as sitting when you command him to sit, after a few times, stop and go back to it later.


Cairns typically love to go for walks and the longer the walk, the happier the Cairn. Walks will help expend your Cairn’s energy, but even better is having plenty of space, either a yard or going to the dog park, to allow your dog to run. Teach your Cairn to play ball early in his life, and you’ll find it’s the ideal indoor and outdoor activity throughout her life. 

We want to thank StoneMark Cairns for help with this profile.

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