Did you know?
The Cairn Terrier who starred in The Wizard of Oz as Toto was actually a female dog named Terry.
No one appreciates the very special genius of your conversation as the dog does. – Christopher Morley
The Cairn Terrier was originally bred in the British Isles as a hunting dog, working in packs to kill rats mostly, although they will go after an animal as large as a badger.
A cairn is actually a pile of stones, formed either naturally or through stacking by human hands. They have been used since ancient times to mark direction, indicate a road, or as a memorial. Stacks of stones such as these make ideal homes for the Cairn’s natural prey: mice, rats, and other small vermin. The Cairn was developed to go in and flush them out.
The Cairn Terrier takes his name from these rock piles. He actually hails from the Isle of Skye but to avoid confusion with the existing Skye Terrier, he was named the Cairn Terrier.
Known in his native Scotland for over 500 years, the Cairn Terrier is believed to be the oldest of the British terriers.
A fun fact about the Cairn Terrier: they are usually left-pawed! That is to say, their left paw is dominant and they will generally lead with their left paw when playing or reaching for something. This characteristic has been shown in dogs be related to superior performance in scenting.
Photos displayed courtesy of Carol Kay, Cairnpit, Ontario
The Cairn Terrier stands between 11 and 12 inches (28-31 cm) high at the shoulder and weighs ideally 14-16 pounds (6-7.5 kgs).
As befits a dog who hails from a damp, rainy climate, his double coat is weather-resistant. The shaggy, scruffy looking outer coat is profuse and harsh over an undercoat that is short and soft. The coat may be cream, wheaten, red, grey or nearly black. It may also be a brindle pattern in all these colours.
Although not a heavy shedder, the Cairn coat requires a bit of care. It should always be hand stripped. Hand stripping involves pulling the old dead hair out by the roots. If not done properly, it may cause the dog some pain. Get professional help with grooming to avoid this. Removing the dead hair by stripping is the best way for new growth to develop and keeps the skin and coat healthy. This new growth helps protect the dog from water and dirt. Using scissors or clippers can actually ruin the protective coat.
Keeping the Cairn Terrier’s coat in its original state will also help prevent possible skin irritations.
Perhaps the best known Cairn Terrier is “Toto” from the Wizard of Oz. Cairns are people dogs who thrive on attention and are NOT suitable for people without any time for a dog. They are very active, inquisitive and “ready to go” dogs. The Cairn is a great dog for the house and is very good with children. Alert, energetic and always on the watch, Cairn Terriers are very territorial, and will alert you to the presence of strangers.
Although the Cairn Terrier is a small dog, he is often described as a “big dog trapped in a small dog’s body”. His fierce determination and unwillingness to back away from confrontation even if the other dog is much bigger can cause him to come to grief. It is also the main reason behind the absolutely essential backyard fence!
Cairns are natural diggers who can only be discouraged through early and firm training. However, they are intelligent little creatures who are easily house trained. Cairns are curious and independent but do require attention. Without enough human contact or proper training, they can become destructive and boredom barkers.
A daily walk on leash (your Cairn won’t be able to resist chasing squirrels or other small animals) provides the necessary exercise.