Cairn Terrier Dog Breed

The Cairn Terrier is very playful and loving but can be quite stubborn at times.
By: PawCulture Editors
Cairn Terrier dog breed running in a grassy field

About the Cairn Terrier Dog Breed

The Cairn Terrier originated in 16th century Scotland on the Isle of Skye. It was bred to hunt foxes, otters and rodents in the cairns (dens in the rocky cliffs.) The West Highland White Terriers are close relatives to the Cairn Terrier.

Cairn Terrier Physical Characteristics

The Cairn Terrier has a small stocky body. Its head is slightly larger than most terriers, with erect ears and a dark muzzle. The tail is short and pointed.


The Cairn Terrier is most commonly seen in wheaten, red, gray and almost black colors.


The Cairn Terrier’s coat is short and rough with a soft undercoat and an added benefit of being weather resistant.

Cairn Terrier Personality and Temperament

Activity Level

Medium to moderate


The Cairn Terrier is very playful and loving with its family.

Things to Consider

The Cairn Terrier does best with training, as it is known for being quite stubborn if left to its own.

Cairn Terrier Care

Ideal Living Conditions

The Cairn Terrier would do well in the country or city.

Special Requirements

The Cairn Terrier needs regular grooming and attention.

Cairn Terrier Health

The following conditions are commonly seen in Cairn Terriers:

  • Allergies
  • Globoid cell leukodystrophy (a hereditary disease)

Cairn Terrier History and Background

The Cairn Terrier retains features of its root stock to a larger extent than others that have descended along the same lines. It belonged to a group of short-legged terriers, bred on the Scottish Isle of Skye.

Such dogs were used to hunt otters, foxes, and badgers in the 15th century. They were especially skilled at keeping their footing on piles of stones and cairns, so that they were able to track and jump on otters, making them very useful for otter hunting. These dogs had several colors: gray, white and red were often entered into dog shows as Scotch Terriers.

In 1873, the Scotch Terrier group was divided into two distinct breed: the Skye Terrier and Dandie Dinmont. The group was further split in 1881 into Skye and Hard-haired Terriers. Later the Hard-haired Terriers were separated into the West Highland White, Scotch, and the variety that was later known as the Cairn. The name Cairn Terrier was adopted in 1912.

Most of the earlier Cairns were completely white, but crossing with West Highland Whites was abolished by the 1920s. Having gained popularity in England, the breed also made its mark in America, particularly after a Cairn Terrier was chosen to play the part of Toto the dog in The Wizard of Oz.

The British breed club’s motto, “The best little pal in the world,” describes the true nature of a Cairn Terrier today.