Cairn Terrier Overview

Dog Breed:
Cairn Terrier
Breed Group:
Tenacious, intelligent, courageous, loving, and smart.
9.5-10 inches
13-14 pounds
Life Span:
13-15 years
Coat Colors:
Any color except white
Area of Origin:
Best For:
Active family life/All types of homes/Where they have human company most of the day.
Adult Food:
Best Dog Food for Cairn Terriers
Puppy Food:
Best Puppy Food for Cairn Terriers

Cairn Terrier Characteristics

Good for First-Time Owners
Good with Children
Easy to Train
Exercise Requirements
Ease of Grooming
Amount of Shedding
Amount of Drooling
Tendency to Bark

About The Cairn Terrier

  • The breed found fame as Toto in the Wizard of Oz

  • Retain terrier instincts

  • Loving family dog


The Cairn Terrier hit fame when a female called Terry played the role of Toto in the Wizard of Oz. And that character you see in the film is an excellent representation of the breed, intelligent, confident, and ready for action.

Like all terriers, the Cairn can be an independent thinker and they tend to have an opinion on most things. Early obedience training and socialization helps to build a confident youngster and develop the relationship between you and your dog.

While this is a breed that can progress to advanced training, the terrier instinct is always there lurking in the background. So, be prepared for high prey drive and a desire to chase.

The Cairn loves people and makes a good choice as a family pet. As long as owners keep that terrier instinctual behavior in mind, they can make for a great first dog.

Cairn Terrier Breed History

  • Used for rodent control

  • First written mention of a Cairn Terrier in 1887

  • Recognized by the AKC in 1913

For many years Scottish farmers bred terriers to help with pest control. There was little breeding for a particular look, they simply needed a dog who could do the job. It wasn’t until the late 1800s when the dog fanciers began to separate out the different terriers that they began to breed to a ‘type.’

Even though the first record of a Cairn Terrier was in 1887, it’s likely that they were around for a lot longer in the Western Highlands of Scotland. A cairn is a word for a mound of stones used to mark either a boundary or a grave. Rodents found them to be a perfect place to hide, and the terriers were then needed to dig into the cairns and hunt out them out.

The Cairn Terrier, as one of the smallest terriers, was able to get into small spaces, making them perfect for getting in between the stones. The breed’s independent nature, combined with courage, and alertness were all essential qualities that were needed when confronting their quarry.

By the 20th century, there were many distinct breeds of terriers, including the Cairn. They found their way across to the US in the early 1900s and were recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1913.

Cairn Terrier Size & Weight

  • Males 10 inches tall and 14 pounds in weight

  • Females 9 1/2 inches tall and 13 pounds in weight

  • Body length of 14 1/4 inches to 15 inches


The breed standard published by the AKC mentions not only the required height and weight but also the length of the body. This then means that you should have a very good idea of how big your Cairn will grow up to be.

The required height at the withers is 9 1/2 inches for females and 10 inches for males. On the weight, well, that should be 13 pounds for females and 14 for the males.

The body length is the same for both sexes, and that should be 14 1/4 inches to 15 inches measured from the front of the chest to the back of the hindquarters.

Cairn Terrier Personality & Temperament

  • Very friendly

  • Will dig and chase

  • Can adjust to apartment living


The Cairn Terrier combines all the very best of the terrier personality. They are a fantastically, friendly dog who seems to genuinely enjoy meeting people. Then they have that independent streak, always alert to visitors and noises outside.

The instinctual behaviors are there too; they love to dig and chase, which may mean any trespassing cats will find themselves promptly chased off the property. Though they are independent, they still adore their family and love being part of everything that’s going on.

The Cairn can adapt to apartment living as long as they have the opportunity to get out and run around for a while, several times a day. They can also live with other dogs and even cats, with introductions best done as a pup.

Generally, the Cairn loves being around children, but this does vary from dog to dog. You can increase the chances of a great relationship by ensuring that children understand rules around leaving the dog alone when sleeping and being gentle when interacting with them.

This breed can adjust well to most weather conditions as long as they have shade in the summer and somewhere warm to rest come the colder seasons.

Cairn Terrier Health & Grooming

  • Generally, a healthy long loved breed

  • Some genetic conditions which breeding dogs need to be screened for

  • Easy grooming needs


Although most Cairns are very healthy dogs, there are several different conditions that the breed club recommends dogs are screened for before breeding. These include:

  • Ocular Melanosis (OM). This condition causes small spots or patches of very dark pigmentation within the white part of the eye. This then decreases the ability of fluid to drain and leads to increased pressure. If diagnosed early, the condition can be controlled with medication
  • Cardiac Exam to check for any indications of heart problems
  • Patella Evaluation. A common problem in small dogs, this causes the knee joint to slide in and out of place, causing pain and lameness.
  • Globoid Cell Leukodystrophy (GCL). This is a rare condition that causes muscle weakness and uncoordinated movement. It can be detected through a DNA test.
  • Liver Portosystemic Vascular Anomaly (PSVA). This condition causes the blood vessels to bypass the liver. This then results in the liver being unable to cleanse the blood before it is recirculated.

This is not a breed that tends to shed much, so grooming is nice and quick. A weekly brush to remove dead hair is all that’s needed.

Cairn Terrier Training

  • A smart dog who learns quickly

  • High prey drive

  • Can be very vocal


The Cairn is a smart little dog, and they love the challenge which comes from learning new behaviors. To keep them keen and interested, use reward-based methods, and don’t let training become boring or monotonous.

Attending puppy classes is important not only for help in teaching the basic behaviors but also for opportunities to learn to be calm and focused around the distractions of other dogs and people.

Thinking back to the Cairn’s heritage, it’s no surprise really that they still retain a high prey drive and a desire to dig. This then means that training a great recall is essential to get your terrier out of most situations when they might get into trouble.

The other terrier trait which might come up is their need to bark when they spot something exciting. Now, this might just be someone walking past your gate, but for the Cairn, it needs announcing!

Cairn Terrier Exercise Requirements

  • A smart dog who learns quickly

  • High prey drive

  • Can be very vocal


Cairns need daily exercise, and once they have the opportunity to get rid of some energy, they can then adapt well to different home environments. Ideally, there should be somewhere that they can off lead each day, but this should be securely fenced to prevent them from going off on a hunting expedition. Training for dog sports is an excellent option to tire both their brains and bodies.

The Cairn is a very playful dog, especially when younger and they will love the opportunity to have a game with their family.

Cairn Terrier Diet & Feeding

  • Seek professional advice for individual dogs feeding needs

  • Puppy food provides all the requirements for healthy growth

  • Select food suitable for your dog's age, size, and exercise level.


For professional advice on your dog’s nutritional needs, do speak with your veterinarian or pet nutritionist.

Pups need a specially formulated food designed to provide all the nutrients their growing bodies need. When then moving on to adult food, choose one which is intended for your dog’s age, size, and exercise intensity.

You may also be interested in:

Cairn Terrier Rescue Groups

There will be times when owners of Cairns are no longer able to provide them with the care they need. If you’re interested in adopting a Cairn Terrier who needs a new home, get in touch with your breed rescue, who are based in most states of the US. This includes –

Cairn Rescue USA –

Cairn Terrier Club of S. California –

Potomac Cairn Terrier Rescue –

For further information on the Cairn Terrier, take a look at the website of The Cairn Terrier Club of America,