Everyone remembers Toto from the movie The Wizard of Oz. Spunky, curious, fearless, and loyal, little Toto went everywhere with Dorothy and helped her stop the Wicked Witch of the West and even exposed the Wizard as simply a man behind a curtain. Most Cairn Terriers are exactly like Toto – loyal to their family, curious and brave. They are excellent companions for families of all shapes and sizes and can even be useful vermin exterminators on farms.
The bright-eyed, up-for-anything Cairn Terrier was bred in Scotland to dig into piles of rocks – the cairns from which he gets his name – in search of vermin. Today he’s a full-time family pet and companion, but he’s no lap dog. With his head up, ears and tail twitching, he’s always game for a long walk, wrestling with the kids, or ridding the backyard of invading squirrels.
The shaggy-coated Cairn only weighs 13 or 14 pounds, but he’s a little dog who clearly has no idea just how small he is. He’s intelligent and fairly easy to train, with a streak of what some would call independence, but you might call stubbornness.
Cairn Terriers are very affectionate, particularly with children, and while some small dogs can’t handle the rough-and-tumble games kids play, the Cairn Terrier loves them. He’ll even invent some of his own.
That’s not to say every Cairn Terrier will automatically be great with children. Adult supervision of playtime along with training and socializing of the dog are still required. But in most cases, kids and Cairns are a match made in heaven.
With small furry creatures, it’s a very different story. The Cairn still remembers rooting out otters, foxes, and other vermin on Highland farms, and he’s not likely to make a distinction when it comes to cats, hamsters, and other small animals. Always walk him on leash so he can’t indulge the urge to chase other animals.
The Cairn Terrier is a low-maintenance dog, needing just a weekly combing to keep shedding under control. Cairn Terriers don’t do well if they’re left alone for long periods, and are not happy as backyard dogs. Let him live as a member of your family, preferably with the company of another dog, or you might find yourself with a lonely, bored, noisy, and destructive nuisance.
- The Cairn is a Terrier, which means his natural instincts are to bark, dig, and chase. These behaviors can be minimized with training, but they can’t be eliminated. If you don’t enjoy the typical terrier temperament, you should consider another breed.
- The Cairn is intelligent and curious. He also has a mind of his own. He will challenge your authority — good naturedly, of course — but you must be able to establish and maintain your role as pack leader, or he’ll get the upper hand.
- The Cairn loves the attention of his family. Do not leave him alone for long periods of time or he may become destructive.
- The Cairn Terrier often thinks he’s bigger than he actually is. Don’t be surprised if he stands up for himself against large dogs or animals.
- To get a healthy dog, never buy a puppy from an irresponsible breeder, puppy mill, or pet store. Look for a reputable breeder who tests her breeding dogs to make sure they’re free of genetic diseases that they might pass onto the puppies, and that they have sound temperaments.
Other Quick Facts
- The Cairn Terrier is a rugged little dog with a shaggy coat, sharply pointed ears, large teeth, and dark eyes. He’s a bit longer than he is tall and has a natural tail, meaning it isn’t docked for length. His coat can be cream, deep red, brindle, light gray, or black.
- When you get a Cairn puppy, you never know what color he will turn out to be. A Cairn’s coat color can change over the years, often becoming darker with age.
- AKC Group: Terrier
- UKC Group: Terriers
- Average Life span:12–17 years
- Weight: 10-16 pounds (4.5-6.8 kg)
- Height: 9–13 inches (23–33 cm)
- Coat : Abundant shaggy outer coat, soft downy undercoat. Can be cream, deep red, brindle, light gray, or black. The Cairn Terrier has a harsh weather-resistant outer coat.
- Comparable Breeds: Norfolk Terrier, Norwich Terrier
The Cairn Terrier was developed more than 200 years ago on the Isle of Skye, where Captain Martin MacLeod is credited with developing one of the oldest strains of the breed.
All terrier breeds in Scotland were originally classified as Scotch Terriers. In 1873, a new system was implemented and Scotch Terriers were separated into two classes: Dandie Dinmont Terriers and Skye Terriers.
The Skye Terrier classification included Cairns as well as dogs that are now known as Scottish Terriers, West Highland White Terriers. These breeds were distinguished only by color, as all three could come from the same litter. A club for Hard-Haired Scotch Terriers was formed for the three breeds in 1881; a standard was approved in 1882.
Toward the end of the 19th century, Scottish Terrier breeders began to select for different characteristics, color among them. The West Highland White Terrier became a separate breed in 1908.
In 1912, the Cairn Terrier was designated as a breed, taking its name from the piles of stones that marked ancient Scottish burial or memorial sites. These stone piles were often hideouts for the vermin sought by the terriers.
The first Cairn Terriers were imported to the United States by Mrs. Henry F. Price and Mrs. Byron Rodgers in 1913. In both the U.S. and in England, the Cairn and the West Highland White were interbred until 1917, when the American Kennel Club barred registration to any dog from such interbreeding. That same year, the Cairn Terrier Club of America was granted AKC membership.
The Cairn Terrier is an alert, animated, hardy, little dog. Loyal, curious, cheerful, lovable and friendly, they enjoy playing with children. Independent, but will listen if it sees the human is stronger minded than itself. Meek and passive owners will find the dog to be willful. This breed can be taught to do tricks.
A fearless, bold vermin hunter, Cairns like to dig. With enoughmental and physical exercise along with consistent leadership they will be calm and easy-going. Cairns adapt well to their new homes. They need firm, but not harsh, training and discipline. Without the proper leadership, the Cairn can become destructive and bark excessively.
If they spot a rabbit or other small animal they may take off chasing it. Do not allow this little dog to develop Small Dog Syndrome, human induced behaviors where they believe they are pack leader to humans. Cairns with this syndrome will develop all types of varying degrees of behavior problems, including, but not limited to separation anxiety, stubbornness, snapping, growling and guarding.
The Cairn Terrier, which has an average lifespan of 12 to 14 years, may suffer from major health concerns such as Globoid cell leukodystrophy (GCL), or minor issues like glaucoma, portacaval shunt, and Craniomandibular osteopathy (CMO). Veterinarian often recommend tests to confirm GCL in Cairn Terriers.
Cairns don’t need a lot of vigorous exercise and can happily dwell in an apartment or condominium. One daily walk and the occasional chance to get out and run in a yard or park will cover their exercise requirement . Cairns should always be kept on a leash or in a fenced in yard, as they will take off after small animals and will not respond to calls to return home.
Caring for a Cairn Terrier isn’t difficult. Because of his small size, he’s a good dog for apartment dwellers, but he’s also hardy enough to enjoy ranch life. He must have sufficient exercise and activity, however. A long daily walk or vigorous play for 20 to 30 minutes will help keep him healthy and alert.
Despite the fact that he’s a quick study, remember that the Cairn also has a stubborn streak. Regular obedience training is essential to teach him good manners and respect for your authority. Don’t be surprised if he challenges you — just keep training. Be positive, kind, and consistent.
A “quiet” command should be one of your Cairn’s basics. Don’t let him off-leash in public places; he’s likely to give in to any temptation to chase. And don’t give him unsupervised free time in the yard. He’ll dig, and he doesn’t care whether he excavates a secluded area by the fence or your lovely new flower garden.
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.
Like nearly all terrier breeds, the Cairn can be stubborn and willful. Training requires consistency, patience, and lots of treats. Discipline is wasted on the Cairn as they will just stop listening to you all together. They must be trained early on to understand who is in charge of the house, and that the leaders mean what they say. If a Cairn Terrier sees even one opportunity to bend the rules, they’ll take it and run with it.
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 .
Children And Other Pets
The Cairn Terrier loves kids and is highly tolerant of them. In fact, he enjoys the noise and commotion that goes along with children. As for other pets, a properly socialized and trained Cairn tends to get along with and respect those in the household. He’s apt to chase any other animal that comes into his yard, however.
As with every breed, you should always teach children how to approach and touch dogs, and always supervise any interactions between dogs and young children to prevent any biting or ear or tail pulling on the part of either party. Teach your child never to approach any dog while he’s eating or sleeping or to try to take the dog’s food away. No dog, no matter how friendly, should ever be left unsupervised with a child.
Did You Know?
The most famous Cairn of all? Why, that would be Toto, who along with Dorothy wasn’t in Kansas anymore in “The Wizard of Oz.”
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 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 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” 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
- A Wheaten Cairn Terrier named Kobe was featured in the following movies: Dunston Checks In / Lost And Found and the opening scenes of Twister
- In USA Network’s Mr. Robot, Rami Malek’s character Elliot Alderson has a Cairn Terrier named Flipper.
- 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, 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.”