Cairn Terrier: Facts and Personality Traits

Cairn Terriers are the miners among the hunting dogs. They dig up their prey or drive it out of their burrow. Around thirty small to medium sizes are subordinate to this designation.

Characteristics / Breed Portrait of the Cairn Terrier

  • FCI Standard No. 4
  • Origin: Great Britain
  • Height at the withers: 28-31 cm
  • Weight: 6-7.5kg
  • Fur needs trimming
  • brave little terrier
  • has great self-confidence
  • good family and companion dog with guard abilities
  • has a hunting instinct
  • Life expectancy 13 years +
  • Coat colors: black, red, beige, gray


They include:

  • the Scottish Jagdterrier
  • Scottish
  • West Highland White
  • Skye
  • and cairn terriers

It takes its name from the Gaelic word cairn, meaning raised stone walls built either to define boundaries or to mark ditches. However, it is also partly assumed that these cairns were used to mark ancient Roman graves.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the Cairn Terrier, known as the Short-Haired-Skyes, was the last of the bunch to be recognized as a separate breed. The western Scottish highlands and the offshore islands, such as the Isle of Skye, offer humans and animals a rugged, inhospitable living environment. Herding sheep is a central part of life in this area.

Lamb-tearing foxes endanger valuable possessions, as do other predatory animals. As early as the 16th century, short-legged terriers were used to pursue robbers. To do this, the nimble four-legged hunters go into the shelter, the so-called cairn. It is one of the many cairns in which only small, brave, and protected rough-coated dogs can successfully prey.


The ancestors of the Cairn Terrier are undemanding. They live and work in packs, hunting game from subterranean hiding places. They keep mice and rats in check on the landowners’ farms. Due to their originality, they still have all the prerequisites to be successful in hunting.

Nevertheless, they mostly live together with people such as house and companion dogs. The versatile character of the dog adapts to the family with children, the sporty person living alone as well as the possibilities of seniors. The four-legged friend expresses his child-friendliness in a special way when he even learns tricks for human children. The four-legged friend makes no great demands on his accommodation. A house with a large garden is just as suitable as an apartment in the city.

Cairn Terrier Creature

As a courageous go-getter, he is a popular dog for men, but his robust and hardy nature also makes him a fiery protector of single ladies as well as a patient playmate for children. The Cairn Terrier is full of energy and joie de vivre and is very independent and curious by nature. But he is not stubborn and learns very quickly.

However, to prevent him from becoming the head of the family, he needs clear orders and consistent training. He is also very well suited as a guard dog, as he is very alert, but does not bark unnecessarily. It is important for the Cairn Terrier to belong to everyday human life. He needs movement and playful romping just as much.

In this context, cairn and garden owners can sometimes experience what originality means: whenever the terrier has succumbed to its urge to be connected to the earth while digging. Apart from that, he is a bold all-rounder who loves long walks. In order to be able to relax here, it is important to counteract the existing hunting instinct in puppyhood and to promote a good bond between the terrier and its pack.

He is very enthusiastic about sporting activities. For the Scots, obedience, agility, and tournament dog sports are just as interesting as dog dancing or playing with the Frisbee disc. The dog’s face with the small, pointed ears looks boldly at its people. The mischievous expression and the dog’s self-confident nature give the Cairn Terrier a lot of sympathies.

However, if there is no clear hierarchy within the pack, the sympathetic Scotsman knows how to mime the pack leader. In addition, the trait of stubbornness is not alien to a terrier. He is tolerant towards other dogs, although encounters of the same sex can be accompanied by friction. The Cairn Terrier signals the unusual by barking loudly, without this becoming a permanent condition.

A typical feature of the Cairn is its lively expression, which is achieved through the short muzzle and erect ears. The history of the origin of the archetype of all Scottish terriers can be traced back to at least 1500 AD.

It was first bred in the western highlands of Scotland and on the Isle of Skye. For a long time, the cattle and sheep breeders there had been breeding terriers, not for sporting reasons, but to hunt foxes, which stole the lambs from their herds. Confronting the foxes in their hiding places required a small but exceptionally brave terrier capable of crawling into the cairns.

Only the toughest and most sophisticated terriers survived this task, as the dogs could not be helped by digging up the burrows. Scottish lairds at the time kept large packs of these shaggy terriers to hunt down and decimate the predators. The Cairn Terrier shares a common ancestry with other Highland Terriers.

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