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The Cairn Terrier

Breed Profile

AKC Standard

Breed Profile

Country of Origin: Scotland
Coat type: Coarse, wiry, profuse outer coat.  Short undercoat.  The coat is weather resistant.


Color: Wheaten, red, blond, nearly black and grey.  Most dogs have brindling.  Dark tips at the ears, muzzle and tail is desirable.  White is not desirable and is considered a fault.


Size: 10" to 12" at withers.  The US standard specifies dogs are 10 inches and bitches are 9 inches.  It is difficult to find a competitive 10" dog in today's breed rings.  Weight ranges from 13 to 20 pounds.


Group: Terrier


Temperament Persistent, assertive, alert, fearless, "ready to go".   Behavior can range from incredibly affectionate to fairly aloof.  Cairns are good with children.


Original Purpose: Originally bred to engage and flush fox, badger, weasel, otter and rodents form the rock cairns in Scotland.


Care & Training: Cairns are a fairly easy breed to maintain and to groom.  Regular brushing helps keep the coat clean.  Cairns don't naturally shed, so at least twice/year they should be hand stripped of their outer coat.   Show-dog coats are rolled (continually stripped) to keep top appearance.  This keeps their coat and skin healthy.  Scissoring the coat (except for shaping around the feet) should be avoided as it will cause the coat to become soft.  Nails should be trimmed weekly and teeth should be checked often.  Cairns are active and need lots of exercise to keep them out of trouble.   A yard to run in and daily walks will satisfy their exercise requirements.


Living Environment: House with a yard, apartment, country or city the Cairn Terrier will thrive in any environment as long as he receives attention and exercise.  The Cairn enjoys plenty of exercise but is also adaptable to most living situations. As an earth dog and digger, he may leave holes in your backyard if not given a place to dig.  As with any dog, leaving them unattended outside on a rope or chain can cause aggression.


With Children: Cairns are great with children.   Because they are small breed, younger children should always be supervised around them.


With Pets: Cairns love to be with other cairns.  Mostly opposites get along best.  They accept and work well with any other pet (cats or dogs)  that they are raised with.   An adult that has not been raised around a cat, is placed with a cat, could present a problem!


Life Span: 13-15 years


Protection: Watch Dog - yes, Guard Dog - no


Health rating: Very good to excellent


Learning Rate: Very high, Obedience - medium, Problem Solving - high 
The Cairn Terrier is happy, energetic companion that is very good with children.  As they were bred to flush vermin and quarry that were quite fierce and larger then them, cairn terriers are fearless.  Cairns are assertive, but not aggressive by nature.  Every cairn has a distinct personality.  Generally males end up more affectionate and loving, females a little more aloof.  They are a great watchdog, alerting to most stimuli by barking, but can be trained to quiet quickly.   They are known worldwide as the "best little pal in the world".



Cairn Terrier Standard

American (AKC)

General Appearance

That of an active, game, hardy, small working terrier of the short-legged class; very free in its movements, strongly but not heavily built, standing well forward on its forelegs, deep in the ribs, well coupled with strong hindquarters and presenting a well-proportioned build with a medium length of back, having a hard, weather-resisting coat; head shorter and wider than any other terrier and well furnished with hair, giving a general foxy expression.


Broad in proportion to the length with a decided stop and well furnished with hair on the top of the head, which may be somewhat softer than the body.


Strong but not too long or heavy.


Large, mouth neither overshot nor undershot.




Set wide apart, rather sunken, with shaggy eyebrows, medium in size, hazel or dark hazel in color, depending on body color, with a keen terrier expression


Small, pointed, well carried erectly, set wide apart on the side of the head. Free from long hairs.


Tail in proportion to head, well furnished with hair but not feathery. Carried gaily but must not curl over back. Set on at back level.


Well muscled, strong, active body with well-sprung, deep ribs, coupled to strong hindquarters, with a level back of medium length, giving an impression of strength and activity without heaviness.

Shoulders, Legs and Feet

A sloping shoulder, medium length of leg, good but not too heavy bone; forelegs should not be out at elbows, and be perfectly straight, but forefeet may be slightly turned out. Forefeet larger than hind feet. Legs must be covered with hard hair. Pads should be thick and strong and dog should stand well up on its feet.


Hard and weather-resistant. Must be double-coated with profuse harsh outer coat and short, soft, close furry undercoat.


May be of any color except white. Dark ears, muzzle and tail tip are desirable.

Ideal Size:

Involves the weight, the height at the withers and the length of body. Weight for bitches, thirteen pounds; for dogs, fourteen pounds. Height at the withers, bitches nine and a half inches; dogs, ten inches. Length of body from fourteen and a quarter to fifteen inches from the front of the chest to back of hindquarters. The dog must be of balanced proportions and appear neither too short nor too long in body. Weight and measurements are for mature dogs at two years of age. Older dogs may weigh slightly in excess and growing dogs may be under these weights and measurements.


Dogs should be shown in good hard flesh, well muscled and neither too fat or thin. Should be in full good coat with plenty of head furnishings, be clean, combed, brushed and tidied up on the ears, tail, feet and general outline. Should move freely and easily on a loose lead, should not cringe on being handled, should stand up on their toes and show with marked terrier characteristics.

1. Skull: Too narrow in skull
2. Muzzle: Too long and heavy a foreface; mouth overshot or undershot.
3. Eyes: Too large, prominent, yellow and ringed are all objectionable.
4. Ears: Too large, round at points, set too close together, set too high on the head; heavily covered with hair.
5. Legs and Feet: Too light or too heavy bone. Crooked forelegs or out at the elbow. Thin ferrety feet; feet let down on the heel or too open and spread. Too high or too low on the leg.
6. Body: Too short back and compact a body, hampering quickness of movement and turning ability. Too long, weedy and snaky a body, giving an impression of weakness. Tail set too low. Back not level.
7. Coat: Open coats, blousy coats, too short or dead coats, lack of sufficient undercoat, lack of head furnishings, lack of hard hair on the legs. Silkiness or curliness. A slight wave permissible.
8. Nose: Flesh or light-colored nose
9. Color: White on chest, feet or other parts of body.

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