Cairn Terrier dog breed characteristics, origin and care

Cairn Terrier breed characteristics

  • Size: Small
  • Traits: Fearless, Active, Perseverant, Tough, Intelligent,
  • Maintenance: Low maintenance, weekly brush, no/minimal hair clipping required
  • Best Suited To: Families With Children, Elderly Owners
  • Lifespan: 12 to 15 years

There is no place like home, and there is no dog like the Cairn Terrier. These Scottish working dogs are brave creatures that make excellent family companions. Their claim to fame came when one of these scruffy-looking Terriers starred as “Toto” in “The Wizard of Oz”.

Where I'm From

Cairn Terriers originated over two hundred years ago in the Isle of Skye, having descended from the indigenous working dogs of the Scottish Highlands. For most of the 18th and 19th centuries, these tenacious little dogs were used for pest control.

Farmers and shepherds adopted the terriers to keep rats, mice, mole and rabbits at bay. They would also participate in hunting sports, chasing primarily badgers and otters.

It was at the start of the 20th century that the breed was officially recognised after some pups were brought to the mainland from their native island home. They were given the name “Cairn Terrier” which refers to the traditional pile of stones found in Scottish burial sites.

The breed reached worldwide notoriety in 1939 when a small Cairn Terrier called Terry played “Toto” in the film ‘The Wizard of Oz’.

What I Look Like

Cairn Terriers are small, yet tough and sturdy creatures. Don’t allow their innocent appearance mislead you, these are some of the most fearless dogs out there.

These messy-looking Terriers have a double coat that is soft underneath, yet harsh and wiry on the top. Their fur is also completely water-resistant and does a good job of protecting them from the elements.

Coat colours vary greatly from shades of red, sand, gray, brown and black. Dark markings around their face are common, making some of them look like they’re sporting a stylish mask.

How I Act

During their days as working dogs in their homeland of Scotland, Cairn Terriers were known for their relentless spirit and ability to overcome pain. Almost nothing could prevent these brave terriers from soldiering on with the task at hand. Today, these small pooches are just as perseverant and courageous as they were back then.

This breed can be described as confident and independent, but also as loving and affectionate. These mischievous dogs enjoy taking part in family activities and are extremely loyal companions.

Their devoted nature makes them amazing pets for elderly owners looking for a little friend. Cairn Terriers are also excellent pets for children, as they thrive in homes with a bit commotion and excitement.

Extremely curious by nature, they can be often be found digging or chasing some poor little animal around.

Looking After Me

It is important to socialise these Terriers from an early age, otherwise they will grow up to be suspicious of strange people and dogs. Training is usually easy when it comes to these clever dogs. Obedient and intelligent, Cairn Terriers can quickly learn to follow commands and perform various tricks.

They are also very sensitive creatures that are easily offended if scolded too harshly. Remember to always maintain a positive disposition, and to show your affection and approval towards your cute pet.

Like any other breed, neglecting your pooch is never a good idea. Cairn Terriers become disruptive if they are not properly looked after. If you want to avoid your terrier from digging up your yard or bark incessantly, then make sure you are there for them every day.

Due to their small size, Cairn Terriers are able to live indoors in homes with little room, which means they are great for people who live in apartments.

Grooming requirements are minimal, as a quick brush every week will keep your Terrier looking fantastic.


  • These Terriers are able to live in homes with limited space
  • A great fit for families with children
  • They act with determination and perseverance


  • Become disruptive and destructive if they feel neglected
  • They tend to chase other animals such as cats, possums and squirrels
  • Can be suspicious of strangers if they are not properly socialised

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