Cairn and silky terriers are big dogs in small packages. These terriers have some similarities but differ in temperament and coat. Both breeds are part of the American Kennel Club's terrier group and have terrier characteristics. But the silky, although smaller than the cairn, tends to be more willful. Cairns and silkies both make good pets but require obedience training when they're young.
Similar in Size
The cairn terrier is slightly larger than the silky. Silky terriers are fine-boned and typically considered purse dogs because of their diminutive 8- to 10-pound size. They stand 9 to 10 inches at the shoulder, making them very portable and good travelers. The cairn terrier is slightly larger and more muscular at roughly 14 pounds and 10 inches tall. Both are hardy little dogs, though the silky is more vulnerable to injury from rough play. The long silky coat can hide the dog's more delicate body.
Who's the Boss?
Cairn terriers can be independent and stubborn, but a silky terrier may try to run your house. Cairns love children and play well with them. They tolerate rough-and-tumble kids' play better than their silky counterparts, who tend to be more delicate. Both breeds are smart and learn easily, but a silky wants to be boss and without early training will demonstrate that he's in charge by barking and chewing your furnishings. Both terrier breeds are genetically programmed to dig, so expect holes in your garden from their searches for hidden vermin. They may chase other small pets such as cats or rabbits. The cairns tolerate other canines better than the silkies.
That Terrier Coat
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The silky coat is very different from the cairn's. A silky coat is long and, as the name suggests, fine and silky. It will tangle easily if you neglect maintenance. Brush or comb through the coat daily. Silky coats should be trimmed regularly by a groomer. A cairn terrier has a double coat -- a soft undercoat and a harsh, short outer coat. It will mat easily unless you brush it at least weekly. The cairn coat requires hand-stripping several times a year to remove dead hair. Trimming a cairn with scissors or clippers will reduce the weatherproof outer coat. Neither breed sheds much, but the silky needs regular baths while the cairn does not.
Training Is a Must
Train your cairn or silky terrier early and gently. Positive reinforcement works best with these breeds, but they need to know you're the alpha. Both breeds were developed to hunt vermin, and they're happiest when they are busy. Expect either a cairn or a silky to get into trouble when bored. They have lots of energy and need to play and exercise daily. Combine play sessions with training to make it fun. These terriers respond well to obedience training; many are stars at agility, rally, herding, flyball and other performance sports.