Cairn Terrier Dog Breed: Puppy, Rescue, Shedding, Life Span & More


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If the holiday season is anything in your house like it is in mine, one of your favorite traditions may be settling down with a nice mug of hot chocolate and perhaps a bag of popcorn, and watching The Wizard of Oz. Did you know that the dog who played Toto was a female Cairn Terrier by the name of Terry? She earned $125 each week, which was a huge amount of money back in 1939. Want to learn more about Cairn Terriers? Keep reading!

Cairn Terrier Overview

Cairn Terriers originated on the Scottish Isle of Skye. Originally, all Scottish terrier breeds were known as Scotch Terriers. This changed in 1873, when they were separately identified as Skye Terriers and DandieDinmont Terriers. The early Cairn Terriers were classed as Skye Terriers, as were the breeds that we now know as West Highland White Terriers and Scottish Terriers. In 1912, the Cairn Terrier was recognized as a breed in and of itself.

A year later, Cairn Terriers found their way to America, imported by Mrs. Byron Rodgers and Mrs. Henry Price. I’m not sure what their actual first names were, but at the turn of the century (and indeed, for some time thereafter), the common form of address for a married woman was to use “Mrs.” Followed by her husband’s name. Today, of course, we give women their own names!

Over the next four years, West Highland Whites and Cairns were frequently crossbred, but in 1917 the American Kennel Club (AKC) decided to deny registration to dogs that were not bred from pure stock. Also in 1917, the AKC granted membership to the Cairn Terrier Club of America.

Cairn Terrier Puppy

Cairn Terrier puppies, like all puppies, represent a significant commitment in terms of time and money. It’s not just the purchase price, but the initial care that goes into raising a puppy into a healthy adult. The most important thing you can do for your Cairn Terrier puppy is to make sure that he has a veterinary checkup as soon as possible after you bring him home, and begin the series of immunizations that he will need to protect him from disease.

You might be surprised to know that “anti-vaxxers” aren’t just endangering the lives of human children by refusing to have them immunized. There’s also a contingent of ill-informed people who would have you believe that vaccinations are bad for dogs. “After all,” they say, “When you have your dog vaccinated against parvo, you’re actually having him injected with parvovirus!”

Yes, you are. But the way vaccination works is by using a form of the virus or germ that’s either dead or extremely weakened. It’s easily fought off by your puppy’s natural immune system, and then he’s protected against the actual disease. So please, get your Cairn Terrier puppy all the vaccinations that your veterinarian recommends. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than seeing a dog die of an illness that could have been easily prevented.

The other thing you want to protect your puppy from is the trouble that can result from poor socialization. It’s also heartbreaking to a dog surrendered to a shelter, or even put to sleep, because he’s become a danger to humans or other animals.

Fortunately, socialization is usually just as easy as immunizing, and it doesn’t cost anything at all! All you need to do in order to work on socialization is make sure that your Cairn Terrier puppy meets a lot of people, and a lot of other animals. This could involve taking him on walks and to the dog park (don’t do this until his shots are up to date, though), inviting friends over, hanging out in the mall parking lot, or even going to your local school after the kids get out, and inviting them to play with your new best buddy.

A word of caution, though – if you’re going to do the school thing, please, by all that is holy and sensible, call the school first! A friend of mine (not the brightest bulb on the string but a friend all the same) didn’t call, and then had to do a lot of explaining. Adult men (women too, for that matter) hanging around a schoolyard can invite some pretty intense scrutiny.

A healthy, well-socialized Cairn Terrier puppy will almost always grow into a healthy dog that’s also a good canine citizen. Make sure that you invest the time and money to ensure this happens.

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Cairn Terrier Rescue

It’s sad when a dog ends up in a rescue facility, and it’s hardly ever the dog’s fault, despite the fact that it’s usually due to behavioral issues. Some are taken from bad owners (the ones who couldn’t be bothered with socializing or house training) or bad breeders. Others may end up there because their owner has died and they’ve developed behavioral problems due to grief. Every dog has a story.

In my posts, I often tell you to beware of scams, and it’s no different with Cairn Terrier rescue. Scammers know exactly how to tug at your heartstrings, take your money, and deliver nothing, so if you’re looking online to rescue a Cairn Terrier, tread carefully. You’ll likely find any number of sites offering Cairn Terriers for rescue, but not all will be legitimate. In fact, the AKC only recognizes one, the Cairn Terrier Club of America. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other reputable rescue organizations, but it does mean that this one is safe.

Cairn Terrier for Sale

If you come across an ad online offering a Cairn Terrier for sale, use the same level of caution as you would if looking for a Cairn Terrier rescue. Again, your best source is the AKC. They offer a puppy marketplace where AKC breeders can be contacted. You can proceed knowing that these sellers have been vetted by the AKC, and are reliable. As of the time of this writing (January 2020), the AKC puppy marketplace features 51 litters from recognized breeders.

Of course the caveat here is that if you use the puppy marketplace, you will have access only to breeders of registered stock, and you can expect to pay a fair bit of money for your Cairn Terrier puppy. Can you get a Cairn Terrier for sale elsewhere? Of course you can. Not all breeders are AKC members, and you might very well be able to get a purebred, non-registered Cairn from what the AKC likes to call “backyard breeders.”

In my post, How to Get the Right Dog From the Right Breeder, I suggested that the term “backyard breeder” is inherently pejorative, and should not necessarily be applied to all breeders of non-registered (but still purebred) puppies. All that registration means is that your puppy has papers, and all that non-registration means is that he doesn’t have papers. Registration is not always an indication of quality.

That said, if you’re going outside the realm of AKC-recognized breeders, you do need to be careful. Much of what you’ll need to know if you don’t deal with an AKC-recognized breeder will be covered in the section on Cairn Terrier breeders.

Cairn Terrier Shedding

Do Cairn Terriers shed hair? Well, of course they do – all dogs shed. If they didn’t, they’d have very unhealthy coats and a lot of skin problems. Cairn Terriers, however, are known for shedding very little. With a Cairn Terrier, shedding can usually be controlled with a bit of grooming (more on that in a bit), and you probably won’t have to worry much about constantly sweeping up dog hair.

Cairn Terrier Breeders

When it comes to any breed of dog, there are good breeders and bad breeders. So how do you distinguish between the two?

It’s actually pretty easy. Good Cairn Terrier breeders care very much about their dogs, and about the puppies produced by their breeding stock. They’re not going to sell a puppy to just anyone who shows up and hands over the money. They’re going to ask you a lot of questions – in fact, they’re going to grill you – about your living arrangements, your plans for veterinary care, whether you have kids and/or other animals, and so on. A bad breeder will ask none of those questions.

A good Cairn Terrier breeder will not just invite you to visit the mother and the rest of the litter – they’ll insist on it. A bad breeder won’t care if you visit or not, and might suggest simply bringing your puppy to your home once he’s old enough to leave his mother, or even meeting you in a public place to deliver your puppy. That’s usually because they have something to hide, like a dirty kennel, sick dogs, or other things that might indicate a puppy mill.

Always, always visit the breeder. See the mother. If you can, see the father, although that might not always be possible – sometimes perfectly reputable breeders take their bitches to outside studs. Just make sure that things look good to you. If you think that anything is “off,” it probably is.

Cairn Terrier Grooming

Cairn Terriers don’t’ require much in the way of grooming. In fact, if you’re a bit lazy when it comes to grooming, the Cairn might be the perfect dog for you, since usually a brushing about once a week gets the job done.

Bathing is also not problematic. Unless your Cairn is very, very dirty, you can get by with bathing once every few months, or even less. In fact, frequent bathing is really not advised, since it can soften the coat. This isn’t harmful, but if you’re showing, it will detract from your dog’s appearance. The main grooming requirement for a Cairn Terrier is periodic trimming, and even then, it’s only necessary if you’re showing.

Cairn Terrier Hypoallergenic

Let’s get one thing out of the way at the outset – as I’ve already stated, all dogs shed. Every single one. There is no such thing as a dog that does not shed. Some do it more than others. Even Poodles, which are often said to be non-shedding, do shed to some extent. Some people can be very sensitive to dog hair in any amount. So, there is no such thing as a truly hypoallergenic dog. And actually, it’s not just hair that can cause allergic reactions. Dander, saliva, and urine deposits on the dog’s hair can also cause problems.

Fortunately, Cairn Terriers don’t generate a lot of dander. Also, much of the difficulty when it comes to saliva and urine relate to proteins that are released, and Cairn Terriers produce low-allergenic proteins. Accordingly, Cairn Terriers are less likely to aggravate allergies in people who are not abnormally sensitive.

Cairn Terrier Lifespan

A Cairn Terrier will usually have a lifespan of 12-15 years, assuming that he receives regular veterinary care.

Cairn Terrier Temperament

Cairn Terrier temperament follows from two things – nature and nurture. The nature part is genetics. In other words, if the parent dogs have good temperament, chances are that your Cairn Terrier puppy will also be of good temperament. The nurture part is up to you – it’s socialization and training. Cairns are very intelligent and learn quickly, but you have to start soon because the breed is known to have a stubborn streak.

Cairn Terriers typically adore children, and will put up with a lot of mistreatment. It’s worth mentioning, though, that any dog can decide “enough is enough,” and snap. Never leave your children alone with your Cairn Terrier until they’re old enough to know the dog’s boundaries and understand how to treat him respectfully. This actually goes for any breed of dog; not just the Cairn.

Cairn Terriers crave attention, and do not do well when left alone. They want to be with their humans, and if deprived of human contact can become destructive.

Cairn Terrier Training

Cairn Terriers benefit from firm, kind training. Their feelings are easily hurt, so you should never shout at your Cairn Terrier puppy. Of course it also goes without saying that you should never physically discipline any dog. It’s a betrayal of trust, and something that is just wrong on so many levels. That said, it’s important that your Cairn Terrier knows that you are in charge, but it’s equally important that he doesn’t fear you.

There really isn’t much that a Cairn Terrier can’t learn. The only thing that might be impossible is teaching him not to chase other animals. This is nature, not nurture. Cairns are born and bred to chase, and they’ll chase anything – cats, other small animals, and just about anything that moves. Because of this, you should only take your Cairn out in public if he’s on lead, and you should only let him run freely in enclosed spaces.

Common Questions

1. How much is a Cairn Terrier puppy?

Usually, a Cairn Terrier puppy will set you back anywhere from $700 to $1,000. You should expect to pay more for a dog with outstanding bloodlines.

2. How much should I feed my Cairn Terrier?

It depends on his age and level of activity. Generally speaking, though, you should feed anywhere from half a cup to one cup of quality dog food per day, spread over two meals. If you’re in doubt as to how much, and how often, to feed your Cairn Terrier, consult your veterinarian.

3. Are Cairn Terriers good dogs?

All dogs have the potential to be good, provided that they are properly trained and well-socialized. The Cairn Terrier is no exception.

4. Are Cairn Terriers affectionate?

Cairns are very affectionate, and love to snuggle.

5. Can Cairn Terriers swim?

All dogs can swim. Some enjoy it more than others. Cairn Terriers are not typically fond of swimming, and should not be forced to swim if they resist going in the water.

6. How big is a Cairn Terrier?

Cairn Terriers are small dogs. The typical Cairn Terrier male will weigh about 14 pounds and stand 10 inches. Females usually weigh a little less – about 13 pounds – and are a little shorter at about 9.5 inches.

7. Are Cairn Terriers good with cats?

It’s usually best, with any breed, to introduce a puppy to an adult cat rather than introducing a kitten to an adult dog. Cairn Terriers are born and bred to chase and hunt down smaller animals, so an adult Cairn might not be all that good with a kitten, and should be closely monitored. If raised with an adult cat, though, a Cairn will usually defer to the cat.

8. How to train a Cairn Terrier not to bark?

Good luck with that. Most terrier breeds tend to be barky. The best course of action here is to let him bark and then wait until he stops. Offer a treat and say “Quiet.” If you’re lucky, eventually he’ll equate “Quiet” with getting a treat, and will connect stopping the barking with getting a reward. Don’t count on it, though.

9. How to shave a Cairn Terrier?

Don’t, please. It’s bad for the coat. Refer to the grooming section above.

10. Are Cairn Terriers good with other dogs?

The Cairn Terrier will generally want to be the boss, and might be aggressive with strange dogs. If you have other dogs in your household, it will depend on how dominant or submissive the other dogs are.

11. Do Cairn Terriers like to play fetch?

They LOVE it! It channels their natural instinct to chase and hunt.

12. What happened to the dog that played Toto?

She died at 11, of natural causes due to old age.

13. Are Cairn Terriers hard to housebreak?

No more so than any other dog. As is always the case, don’t punish your dog for messing in the house. If it happens, just clean up the mess and move on. Start potty training early on, taking your Cairn Terrier outside every couple of hours as well as first thing in the morning and last thing at night.

14. What is the best small dog?

It’s the one that pleases you the most. For some, it might be the Cairn Terrier.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at the Cairn Terrier, a wonderfully intelligent, loving dog. If you think that the Cairn is the right dog for you and your family, then I wish you much happiness with your new best friend!

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