Facts About the Cairn Terrier

by Jane Meggitt
Perhaps, for a cairn terrier, there's no place like your home.

Perhaps, for a cairn terrier, there's no place like your home.

Ysbrand Cosijn/iStock/Getty Images

The cairn terrier earned fame as "Toto" in the classic 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz." This small terrier originated in Scotland, where he was used to help kill vermin. Cairn refers to rock piles, homes of the foxes and badgers who preyed on livestock. The cairn's task consisted of wriggling into the cairns and holding the animal at bay for the farmer to kill.

Cairn Terrier Size

At maturity, a male cairn terrier stands 10 inches high at the shoulders, with females just slightly shorter at 9.5 inches. Males weigh about 14 pounds, with females 1 pound lighter. Cairns are longer than they are tall, with a body length ranging between 14.25 to 15 inches measured from the chest to the rear of their hindquarters. There's no size range with a cairn terrier. The strict weight and height limit gives him his distinctive "cairnishness," according to the American Kennel Club.

Coat and Colors

Cairn terrier's sport a double-coat, with a thick, harsh topcoat and much shorter and softer undercoat. That coat was designed to protect the working dog in all kinds of weather. He's a moderate shedder, but a weekly brushing should keep stray hairs in check. The AKC breed standard allows cairns to appear in any color, with the exception of white. The cairn is closely related to an all-white dog, the West Highland white terrier. Common cairn shades include black, gray, cream, red or brindle, the latter a coat with a striped effect.

Cairn Terrier Temperament

The cairn is a smart, affectionate, active little dog, but he's all terrier. That means digging, barking -- and all-around mischief -- is part of his nature. Though small, he's not a lapdog. These independent canines aren't clingy. Curiosity and exploration are two of his strong suits, so it's important that you keep an eye on him so he doesn't get into trouble.

Kids and Other Pets

Cairn terriers can make good family dogs. What they lack in size they make up for in spirit, so they can enjoy roughhousing with kids. Unlike other terrier types, they often get along well with cats and other dogs, but his vermin-hunting instinct will kick in if you keep rodents or rabbits as pets.

Cairn Terrier Training

While all dogs benefit from obedience training, it's especially important with cairn terriers. These dogs can be headstrong, so they must learn early on that they are not the ones calling the shots. No matter how well-trained your cairn, you should never let him off-leash while on walks. The temptation to hunt prey is just too strong. Cairns do well in competitive canine sports, including agility, obedience and "earth dog" trials, which allow them to do with they do best -- dig and hunt.

Photo Credits

  • Ysbrand Cosijn/iStock/Getty Images

About the Author

Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.