Cairn Terrier

Breed Characteristics

Agile, strong, tireless. Superior watchdog. The Cairn Terrier has a bark bigger than his bite. Can be restless in the house, but given enough room, will self-exercise. Cairns Terriers are good diggers and barkers. Will take off after small animals. Some may try to dominate their owners.

Is the Cairn Terrier approved as a pet in a Singapore HDB flat?



Scottish Highlands and islands, 1500s. Related to the West Highland White Terrier and the Scottish Terrier, and these breeds were freely crossed until 1916. In fact, early Cairns, West Highland White Terriers, and Scottish Terriers often came from the same litter and were separated only by colour. The Cairn Terrier was named for the way it would squeeze down into "cairns" and bark at fox and badgers until the farmer could arrive to kill them. The breed was first publicly presented in 1909 and became popular after the 1930s. It was a Cairn Terrier who played Toto in ”The Wizard of Oz.”

Original Purpose

Hunting foxes, rats, otters, and badgers.

Behaviour and Temperament

Curious, courageous, strong-willed, cheerful, independent, assertive but not aggressive.

What are some Physical Features of the Cairn Terrier?

23 to 30.5 cm; 6 to 7 kg. Colours are cream, wheaten, red, grey, nearly black or brindle; ears, muzzle, and tail usually dark.

Coat Type and Recommended Grooming

Harsh, shaggy weather-proof outer coat; soft and dense undercoat. Moderate to high maintenance; several brushing sessions are required weekly. A neglected coat can quickly end up a matted mess. Eyes need special care. Professional grooming is recommended; dead hair should be stripped a couple times a year, even for pets. A very light seasonal shedder.

Life Expectancy of the Cairn Terrier

12 to 15 years.

Have a Cairn Terrier?

Health Concerns

Portal systemic shunt (liver problem, blood disorders (von Willebrand’s, globoid cell leukodystrophy), CMO, eye problems (PRA, ocular melanosis), allergies.

Exercise Needs

Moderate but needs regular outdoor exercise. Play will take care of much of their daily exercise needs, however, as with all breeds their primal instinct to walk needs to be fulfilled daily.


Adaptable to almost any living situation. The Cairn Terrier will do well in an urban environment if sufficiently exercised. Expect a lively dog indoors. Does well without a yard.


Enjoys the company of human. Not always reliable with toddlers but likes to play with older kids; tends to be overbearing with kids. Gets along with other dogs if socialised early but not fond of sharing his territories with other pets.


Low to moderate; responsive to his owner and a good problem solver.

Recommended Activities

Earthdog trials.