Millie & Mouse

Half way up the stairs for these two gorgeous Cairn terriers!

The Cairn Terrier.

These gregarious and fun loving little dogs will be the focus of this Holidays4Dogs breed article.  Originating in the Scottish Highlands, they were first mentioned in the 16th Century when King James the V1 sent a pack of them to the King of France.

Their role was in hunting vermin and they were widely kept by crofters in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.  In these earlier times, the breed ranged in size and shape and this had a bearing on the type of quarry they were set against – but some Cairns were sent to put up Badgers and Foxes and in general all Cairns were regarded as tough and tenacious fighters.

By the middle of the 19thCentury, these differences in types began to be formalised and as such separate breeds emerged; these being amongst others the Skye terrier and the Scottish terrier.  The Cairn terrier then actually went into somewhat of a decline and were much less known, apart from in remote areas of Argyll and the Isle of Skye.

Brilliant Brandii the 4.5 year old much loved pet - Crufts 2022 winner Good Citizen Class and Very Highly Commended in (5th) in her Open Class.

Brilliant Brandii the 4.5 year old much loved pet – Crufts 2022 winner Good Citizen Class and Very Highly Commended in (5th) in her Open Class.

By the start of the 20th Century some breeders began to be interested in reviving the Cairn terrier as a breed in its own right.  However, there was some debate over what they should be called.  One pioneer, a lady called Mrs Campbell had some Cairns brought to Ardrishaig from the Isle of Skye. She proposed that the dogs should be called prick-eared Skyes but this did not go down well with breeders of the Skye terrier which had been recognised for almost three decades before.

There were even published arguments and debates in the Dog Press of the time, but eventually it was agreed that the prick eared, short coated Skyes bred by enthusiasts like Mrs Campbell, should be known as Cairn Terriers.

In 1910 the dogs were finally officially recognised by the Kennel Club and in the same year the Cairn Terrier Club was founded, with Mrs Campbell as the president.  The club now has an international presence with over twenty countries being represented to maintain the breed standard for the Cairn terrier.

As pets, Cairn Terriers are certainly lively little dogs.  Because they were bred to hunt, they still do retain this somewhat wilful and stubborn nature, so they need socialising well and should be trained with patience. They need a secure garden because they are notoriously good escape artists and excellent diggers!  They may also be somewhat determined chasers – so this has to be borne in mind when bringing up and training a puppy.  Many Cairns will live happily with cats and other small animals in the same household if they are brought up from a young age, but this may not stop him from chasing the neighbours cat!

However, they are a charming breed and their handy size means they can make good family pets.  Of course, as with all dogs, care should be taken with young children in the household, since Cairns will not take to rough handling, no matter how unintentional.

Grooming the Cairn is relatively easy, but they do have a soft undercoat with a wiry top coat, so always sensible to make sure you comb through well every couple of days or so. Their coats shed little, but they may require professional grooming attention a couple of times a year, otherwise the coat can become ‘straggly’ and unkempt looking.  Some people prefer this more natural look however and this is fine, as long daily grooming is part of the routine. If you intend to show your Cairn, his coat needs to be in a certain condition and trimmed into style, but many enthusiasts learn how to do this themselves.

Cairn Terriers are generally fit little dogs, but unfortunately like many breeds they do suffer from certain hereditary diseases.  It is recommended that Cairns are tested for Ocular Melanosis, Porto Systemic Shunt (Liver Shunt), and Microvascular Dysplasia.  For those considering purchasing a puppy it is always wise to ask the breeder whether they carry out health screening on their stock.

All in all, Cairn Terriers can make delightful family pets with distinctive personalities, always ready for some fun and action, they will suit active families prepared to put some time into training.