The Cairn Terrier is one of the older breeds of terriers, dating back to the 1500s. Originally from Scotland, this breed gets it name from its hunting abilities. A cairn is a rock den where badgers or foxes lived. The Cairn Terrier became known for its ability to crawl down into these dens and make a racket to let a farmer know an animal was nearby.
Originally this breed was considered to be the same as the Scotland Terrier and the West Highland White Terrier. In the 1900s, however, the three types of dogs began being bred separately.
This breed was treated to a surge of popularity in the late 1930’s, when a Cairn Terrier became a movie star. Lovers of the Wizard of Oz will recognise that Dorothy’s companion Toto belongs to this breed. In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy was able to carry Toto around in a basket. This was no Hollywood exaggeration – Cairn Terriers are tiny! They have a broad head with a short muzzle and ears that point straight up.
One of the most recognisable parts of the Cairn Terrier is their coats. Sometimes they tend to look like little furballs. They have a thick double coat that can get shaggy very easily. This shagginess extends to their face, giving them heavy eyebrows. While Toto was black, that certainly isn’t true of all dogs in the breed. In fact, Cairn Terriers are known for having coats that change colours several times throughout their lives. Their coats can be any colour, including grey, red, cream, wheaten or nearly black but solid white, black and black and tan are not allowed by most kennel clubs.
Some special care must be taken with grooming Cairn Terriers. Shears or scissors can damage their coats, so they must be groomed by hand. This means pulling out the dead hairs by hand. This doesn’t harm the dog, it simply means running your hands over their coats to draw out dead hair, making room for new growth. This is also a good way to check for skin problems, which can occur from time to time with this breed.
These little bundles of fur can be extremely energetic. They are adventurous and loyal to their owners. They’re very intelligent dogs and with the right training are able to learn a number of tricks. On the other hand, they don’t do very well with an owner who is meek or unwilling to assert dominance.
Historically this breed was used as working dogs. They have a strong prey instinct and enjoy hunting for vermin. This instinct leads to a bit of digging, so if you prefer your garden “just so,” it’s important to spend some time with them in training.
In general Cairn Terriers are healthy dogs. They may fall victim to ailments that bother other breeds, but for the most part they can easily live a long, healthy life. A bit of care is needed in feeding, however, since they do tend to put on extra weight quickly.
These dogs are energetic, so it is essential to take them out for daily walks. Although they can work off some of their energy by playing, they really need the added stimulation of a walk. If they’re kept cooped up for too long, they can develop some unwanted behaviours.