Cairn Terrier: origins, physical characteristics and personality

Cairn Terrier: origins, physical characteristics and personality

Cairn Terrier

This sensible and independent terrier comes from the Isle of Skye in Scotland. Farmers used the Cairn Terrier to get rid of vermin plus they needed a dog with tenacity, courage, and intelligence that this dog still distinguishes for.


The Cairn Terrier is one of the oldest terriers, developed over 200 years ago by Captain Martin MacLeod, who is credited with developing one of the oldest strains of this dog  breed. His name comes from his function of chasing and hunting quarry between the cairns in the Scottish Highlands.

The dog was initially called “Short-Haired Skye Terrier” but the AKC did not accept mainly due to opposition from the Skybreederser breeders. They were initially put together with the Skye Terrier, the Scottish terrier, and the West Highland White Terriers. But in the early 1900s, the breeds began to separate.

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Physical Characteristics

The coat of the Cairn Terrier is harsh and specially designed to withstand unfavorable weather. This coat can be black, cream, wheaten, red, sandy, gray or blinded in any of those colors. These dogs tend to look like the Norwich Terrier except for some differences, the shaggy hair in the Cairn, for example.

The double coat is shaggy on the outside but soft on the inside. Their appearance is always rough-and-ready. Their ideal weight is 4.5-7.3 kg (10-16 lb) and a height of 9–13 in (23–33 cm).


This dog is friendly, happy, and cheerful. As a Terrier, he is also independent, alert, and tough. The Cairn Terrier is devoted to his family and is happy to share all activities with them. A very sensitive dog, he will be upset if you are not happy with him.

He also makes a good guard dog as he will warn you of any visitors.

Caring for a Cairn Terrier

Perhaps the most important aspect of caring for a Cairn Terrier is taking care of his coat. However, living with one is not really a challenge. His size allows him to be a good apartment dog. His energy and disposition also make him suitable for the country.

This is an active dog that will require daily exercise. Take him out for about 20-30 minutes daily and he should be fine.


This is an intelligent dog so he should pick up on basic commands fairly easily. Regular obedience training is necessary as he needs to be reminded of who is the boss. Be gentle and always use your regular tone of voice. This dog requires consistency and a firm hand when it comes to training.

Fun Facts

  • They like to bark, dig, and chase. These traits can be controlled but not eliminated.
  • He tends to think that he is bigger than what he really is. He will usually challenge dogs much bigger than him.

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