The Cairn Terrier traces its origin in the Scottish highlands as one of Scotland’s earliest working dogs. Often categorized as a small dog breed, the Cairn Terrier was initially bred by farmers to eliminate vermin’s and rodents in farms. 

With proper care, the Cairn can become a loyal family pet and easily adapts to most environments. This small dog breed is sensible, highly playful, and affectionate. Though they have a short stature, Cairn’s have a pleasant character and intelligence that resemble bigger dogs.


The breed’s name developed from the word Stone Cairn, which means a pile of stones. The title emerges from its original duty of rooting out rodents and vermin from rock pilings that marked boundaries and memorials. 

Scottish farmers also used them to assist in getting rid of rodents in their farms. Initially, in Scotland, the Terriers were widely recognized as Scotch Terriers. The Scotch Terrier was further categorized into Dandie Dinmont and Skye Terriers. 

Towards the last years of the 19th century, the distinct Cairn Terrier breed emerged. The Cairn had some resemblance with the Scottish Terrier and West Highland Terrier. 

In 1913, the Cairn Terrier breed was officially recognized by the American Kennel Club.

Physical Characteristics

The Cairn is a small dog breed with a short compact body, strong legs, and a natural tail held high. It is easy to spot his broad round head and powerful jaws. The Cairn has a wide-set of ears that complements his attentive and curious nature. 

The Cairn’s coat offers protection from harsh weather and comes in various colors from black, grey, cream, red sandy, or a brindled coat. The Cairn Terrier breed has a double coat with a soft, dense undercoat and a rough outer coat.

The Cairn Terrier sometimes can resemble the Norwich terrier but with a slight difference of shaggy fur.


The average adult Cairn Terrier stands at the height of 9-5 inches (22 to 26 cm) and weighs between 13-14 pounds (5 to 7 kgs), depending on the diet and lifestyle.  

Character & abilities

The Cairn Terriers are intelligent, curious, playful, and loyal family pets. With their strong immunity, they can adapt to most environments, provided they have regular checkups and correct feeding. 

Like all other small dog breeds, they are incredibly active, always moving, digging, barking, and chasing. With this dynamic nature, the Cairn Terrier would not make the right choice for a pet owner who wants a quiet lap dog. 

The Cairn Terrier is very protective and watchful of its territory. It has the courage and agility to sniff out and chase away small furry creatures. The Cairn can sometimes forget its size and challenge big animals like foxes posing a risk of injury to itself. 

They can make excellent watchdogs because the slightest movement or sound triggers their senses. They will announce any visitor who is approaching the home. Cairns can make good watchdogs under supervision, though they don’t stand a chance against big animals.

Cairns are friendly even to new people, and you can trust them around your children as long as you make sure they understand who’s in charge.

Trainability & Intelligence

The Cairn Terrier is a small dog breed, but its intelligence matches that of the larger breeds. This dog is receptive to training, and by rewarding obedience, with treats, you can have a disciplined, friendly dog. 

Early socialization is paramount in developing your dog’s personality and enabling him to function well in different situations. The Cairn Terrier does not respond well to harsh training and requires patience. This dog loves treats and loves to learn. 

Exercise Needs & Nutrition

As a former working breed, these dogs have high energy and always move around the compound. This breed will require daily walks and moderate gaming activities in wide-open spaces. 

Regular exercises and activities ensure your Cairn is mentally healthy, physically substantial, with a healthy weight. 

Leash your Cairn while in public or unrestricted compounds to prevent him from roaming away and getting into trouble.

The Cairn Terrier requires quality dog food, whether commercial or home-made. If you choose to provide a diet of home-made dog food, make sure you consult his veterinarian for correct advice. 

Several factors determine your dog’s diet; age, and weight. Treats are essential aids in training but pose overweight risks to your dog’s. Make sure your Cairn has access to fresh, clean water.


Like all small dog breeds, the Cairn is very delicate, requiring proper care and maintenance.

The Cairn doesn’t require too much grooming, just some weekly brushing to keep the proper coat texture. Puppy grooming helps in bonding and accustoms them to cleaning activities. 

It’s crucial to trim your pup’s long nails regularly because they can cause discomfort when walking or get caught in upholstery.

Living Conditions & Adaptability

The Cairn Terrier easily adapts to any environment, whether apartments or countryside.  The outer coats protect him from harsh weather conditions.


Generally, the Cairns are healthy dogs; however, they face some common health problems. Some of the conditions to be aware of include:

– Liver Shunt: This is a liver disease where blood from vessels bypasses the liver. It results in liver and kidney failure due to un-cleansed blood. If diagnosed, early surgery is done to correct the condition.

– Eye problems: Cairns are prone to cataracts and Ocular Melanosis. Great breeders will do eye tests on prospective parents and advice accordingly.

– Hip and Elbow Dysplasia: This condition affects the joints causing them not to develop properly. It causes pain and mobility problems to your terrier.

When in good health, the Cairn Terrier can survive for an average of 13 to 15 years. 


When taken good care of, the Cairn offers loyalty and affection to his human companions. Their playful character offers companionship and can be a mood booster for people suffering from loneliness and depression.

Ensure you acquire your Cairn Terrier from a reputable breeder whose pups are free from genetic issues, and ensure they are in proper condition. Good breeders will help you prepare to deal with potential problems and give your pet a happy life.

The team at All The Small Dog Breeds is really passionate about our small four legged friends. We celebrate them and enjoy being a valuable resource for dog breed descriptions to help you better understand these beautiful furry creatures. 


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