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Cairn Terrier

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Cairn Terrier
Two Cairn Terriers showing variations in coat color.
Two Cairn Terriers showing variations in coat color.
Alternative names
Country of origin
Common nicknames
Classification and breed standards
FCI: Group 3 Section 2 #004  
AKC: Terrier  
ANKC: Group 2 (Terriers)  
CKC: Group 4 - Terriers  
KC (UK): Terrier  
NZKC: Terrier  
UKC: Terriers  
Not recognized by any major kennel club
This breed of dog is extinct

The Cairn Terrier is a breed of dog of the terrier category. It is one of the oldest terriers, originating in the Scottish Highlands, used for hunting burrowing prey among the cairns.


Cairns stand between 9 and 13 inches (23-33 cm) at the withers and weigh 13 to 18 pounds (6 to 8 kg). European Cairns tend to be larger than American Cairns and, because puppy mills do not care about breed standards, many Cairns available today are much smaller or much larger than the breed standard. Cairns that have had puppy-mill backgrounds can weigh as little as 7 pounds or as much as 27 pounds.

The Cairn Terrier has a harsh, weather-resistant outer coat that can be cream, wheaten, red, sandy, gray, or brindled in any of these colors. 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 color 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.


Cairn Terriers are intelligent, strong, loyal and fearless. Like most terriers, they are stubborn and strong-willed, and love to dig after real or imagined prey. Cairn Terriers have a strong prey instinct and will need comprehensive training. However, they are highly intelligent and, although very willful, can be trained. Although it is often said that they are disobiedient, this is not the case provided correct training is applied. They are excellent with children and make wonderful family dogs. These are working dogs and are still used as such in parts of Scotland. Like most terriers, they require large amounts of exercise.


These dogs are generally healthy but many have allergies. Often the allergies take the form of skin conditions. Corn is often the culprit, so an owner of a Cairn Terrier should routinely try to avoid feeding foods and treats that contain corn. Even if the Cairn does not show symptoms of corn allergy, because corn allergies are so prevalent and can show up at any time in the life of the dog, it is recommended to avoid corn even with a healthy dog.

This breed also suffers more than usual from dislocated kneecaps and inherited eye diseases. Ocular Melanosis (OM) is an eye disease that is found almost exclusively in Cairns.

Health problems are more common with US strains. UK Cairns tend to be less highly bred and less susceptible to most of the listed problems.


The dog named Toto in the 1939 screen adaptation of The Wizard of Oz is a Cairn Terrier.

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