Cairn Terrier Agility Training

An intelligent, alert cairn terrier
chien terrier image by Danielle Bonardelle from

According to the Cairn Terrier Club of America, the cairn terrier is friendly, confident and playful. This shaggy, intelligent little terrier has no fear and is strong in both shoulders and hindquarters. The temperament and build of a cairn terrier makes him the perfect match for agility training. Cairn terriers enjoy going over jumps, through tunnels and weaving through poles. Many cairn terriers excel in agility competitions.

Foundation Skills

Reward obedience with treats.
dog biscuits image by Greg Pickens from

One of the most important things to teach the cairn terrier before beginning agility training is basic obedience. The dog must be adept at the commands: sit, stay, down, come and wait. The cairn terrier must also be able to walk or run beside the owner while off the leash. Attend a basic obedience class with the dog or view basic obedience DVDs and work with the cairn terrier every day. Keep the training sessions to only 5 or 10 minutes, a couple of times every day.


Training a dog to go through the agility tunnel.
welpen im tunnel image by Regina Kaute from

Cairn terriers are sometimes hesitant to enter the tunnel at first. Have a treat ready and tell the dog to wait at one end of the tunnel. Go to the other end of the tunnel, kneel down and call the dog to you. If the cairn terrier runs through the tunnel to you, immediately praise him and give him a treat.

If the dog is afraid to enter the tunnel and goes around it to get to you, then shorten the tunnel. Agility tunnels can be folded up so they are only a couple of feet long. This way, the terrier will know that you are right there. If necessary, crawl into the tunnel and show the dog the treat.

When the cairn terrier runs through the tunnel without hesitation, add the cue “tunnel.”


Agility jumps are set at different heights depending upon the size of the dog.
jumping dog image by Earl Robbins from

During American Kennel Club (AKC) agility competitions, the jump height for a dog the size of a cairn terrier is 8 inches. When first teaching the dog to jump, set the jump a little lower than 8 inches. Most cairn terriers have no trouble learning the jump. If the dog does hesitate, tell him to sit and wait on one side of the jump while you go on the other side. Call the dog over the jump while showing him a treat. Praise and treat the dog when he jumps to meet you. Eventually, add the cue “over” when the dog is going over the jumps reliably.

Weave Poles

Weave poles are one of the most difficult agility obstacles to teach a cairn terrier. The dog must always enter on the left of the first weave pole. In the beginning, lure the dog through the weave poles with a treat, rewarding him for every pole. Eventually, reward the dog when he goes through every other pole until he can complete six poles.

Another method is to use weave poles that can be adjusted to slant. This type of weave pole is known as Weave-a-Matic.This way the cairn terrier runs through the slanted v-shaped poles. Gradually raise the poles as the dog gets more confident.

Finally, straighten the poles completely. Use the cue “weave” when the cairn terrier is comfortable running through the weaves.


Contacts are an important part of training a cairn terrier for agility. The agility contacts are the A-frame, the dog walk and the seesaw. Contacts are sometimes very difficult for dogs to learn, especially if they have an issue with heights.

All the contacts are taught in basically the same way. Start the cairn terrier with the A-frame. The A-frame is made of 3-foot wide by 8-foot long boards. These boards are hinged at the top and raised to make an A, like the shape of a roof. The agility dog must run up the A-frame and down the other side. The dog must touch the bottom two feet of the A-frame with at least one paw.

For all the contact obstacles, hold a treat only high enough so the cairn terrier has to put one foot on the contact. Gradually, place treats higher on the A-frame until the dog commits to going over the top. Slow him down on the other side by using treats as he goes down.

Dog Walk

The dog walk is another contact obstacle which consists of three 1-foot wide by 12-foot long planks. These are placed 4 feet above the ground, one leading up and one or two across the top, then one leading down.

Train the cairn terrier in the same way as the A-frame, luring him up the dog walk. This obstacle is more intimidating for a small dog because it is much narrower than the A-frame and longer to walk across. When the cairn terrier is comfortable going over the dog walk, add the cue “walk it.”


Many cairn terriers take 6 months to a year to learn the seesaw. Begin training by luring the dog up to the center of the seesaw, but do not let it drop down on the other side. Call the dog off and treat him. Do this until the cairn terrier goes to the center of the seesaw without fear.

Have a helper hold the other side of the seesaw and tell the cairn terrier to walk up. This time, allow the dog to go past the center while the helper slowly lowers the seesaw. Follow this method as long as it takes the dog to get comfortable with the end of the seesaw going down. Eventually, train the cairn terrier to slowly walk past the center of the seesaw until it drops. This obstacle usually takes the longest to train out of all the agility obstacles.