Cairn Terrier, also called Skye Terrier and Short-haired Skye Terrier
Canis lupus familiaris

  The Cairn Terriers have been featured in many movies over the years, including The Wizard of Oz and Twister!

The Cairn Terrier is an older terrier breed. It was formerly called the Short-haired Skye Terrier and was not widely recognized until the early 1900’s. The name it carries now, Cairn, comes from piles of stones that were once used to mark farm borders, graves, and other landmarks in Scotland. Like many of the various types of terriers, Cairns were used primarily for hunting small animals.

The Cairn Terrier today is an adorable pet and a great choice as an apartment dog. These small dogs are friendly, loveable and high-spirited. They are very curious animals, and they are notoriously brave. They excel at hunting vermin and can be trained as watchdogs. Cairns are great at doing tricks and are more amicable with other dogs than many terrier breeds.

When selecting a Cairn Terrier, check bloodlines for eye problems, hip dysplasia, Von Willebrand’s disease, and thyroid problems. Luxating patellas are also somewhat common in the breed.

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Mammalia
  • Order: Carnivora
  • Family: Canidae
  • Genus: Canis
  • Species: lupus familiaris

Common Name(s)

Cairn Terrier; formerly called the Short-haired Skye Terrier

Breed Type

The Cairn is a small terrier breed. Although once used primarily for hunting small animals, the Cairn Terrier is now a beloved pet.


The Cairn Terrier is an older breed, but wasn’t widely recognized until the early 1900s. It is thought to be an ancestor to a number of Scottish breeds, including the West Highland White Terrier and the Skye Terrier. The Cairn Terrier gets its name from the piles of stones that were once used to mark farm borders, graves, and other landmarks in Scotland, which were called cairns. These dogs would run small, borrowing animals out of the cairns. Cairn Terriers have been featured in many movies over the years, including The Wizard of Oz and Twister.


Cairn Terriers are compact dogs with broad heads. Their eyes are dark hazel, and their ears small, pointed and upright. The nose should be black, not pinkish. The coat is wiry and fairly short, with bushy eyebrows and a topknot. Colors include cream, wheaten, red, sandy, gray and brindle. Color is hard to predict in puppies, as the coat may change as the dog ages.
Male Cairns are 10 to 13 inches tall and weigh 14 to 18 pounds. Females are 9 to 12 inches tall and weigh 13 to 17 pounds.

Care and Feeding

Cairn Terriers do well on diets that include ocean fish, poultry and wheat. The Cairns are prone to gaining weight, so it is very important not to overfeed and to limit treats.
Although Cairn Terriers are known for their scruffy appearance, they still require a significant amount of grooming. Daily brushing is advisable, along with regular stripping. Baths should be given monthly, and the hair around the eyes and ears needs regular trimming. The anal glands will also need to be expressed as needed.
Cairn Terriers need annual checkups to ensure good health. Vaccinations are due as follows:

  • 6-8 weeks: Distemper, Leptospirosis, Hepatitis, Parainfluenza, Parvo, and Corona virus (DHLPPC)
  • 10-12 weeks: Second DHLPPC
  • 14-16 weeks: Third DHLPPC and rabies
  • Annually: DHLPPC and rabies booster

Cairns shed lightly, so little extra cleaning is required. They do, however, tend to be allergic to fleas, so it is important to keep their environment free of them.

Housing Your Dog

Cairn Terriers are good candidates for apartment dogs. A yard is not necessary.

Social Behaviors

The Cairn Terrier is a very friendly breed, and usually gets along very well with humans and other dogs. If challenged, however, they will usually fight back. This breed does well with children, but should not be trusted with small pets such as rabbits or hamsters.

Handling and Training

Cairn Terriers are easy to train as long as you can keep their attention. This can prove to be a feat, so training is best undertaken with minimal distractions.


Cairn Terriers need ample exercise, including daily walks and frequent play sessions. They should be allowed to play off-leash as much as possible, but only in a well-fenced area.


When selecting a mate for your Cairn Terrier, check for eye and thyroid problems, Von Willebrand’s disease, hip and knee problems, and lion’s jaw.

Common Health Problems

The Cairn Terrier is overall a healthy breed. They may live as long as 15 years. Flea allergy is one of the most common health problems in the breed, and its effects can be minimized by keeping the dog’s environment as flea-free as possible. Hereditary problems that may be a concern include joint problems, eye problems, and Krabbe disease.


Cairn Terriers are pretty easy to find in most areas. Breeders may be located online if there are none in your local area. Prices usually range from $300 to $800.


Cairn Terrier“, Dog Breed Info Center, Copyright 1998-2008
Cusick, William D., “What to Feed a Cairn Terrier“, Referenced online, 2008
Cairn Terrier Puppies for Sale“, Copyright, LLC, Referenced online, 2008
Grooming Your Cairn“, Col. Potter Cairn Rescue Network, Copyright 2001-2007, Referenced online, 2008
Cairn Terrier“, Wikipedia, Copyright 2008

Featured Image Credit: Marina Plevako, Shutterstock