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11 Cairn Terrier Pros & Cons: What to Consider (With Pictures)

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

cairn terrier in grass flowers

Terriers. Who doesn’t love them? Beautiful and extremely intelligent, with lots of engaging characteristics, it’s no big mystery why they’re so popular the world over with dog lovers.

Cairn Terriers might not be the most popular breed of terrier, but they’re of special interest to lots of potential owners. They’re a perfect choice for those who truly appreciate proven terrier characteristics of gameness, independent thinking, and steadfast loyalty, and their combination of cute appearance and lively personality are equally endearing.

We’re going to look at the best reasons for owning a “Cairnie,” as well as factors that might, in your case, warrant a second thought before bringing one home. Remember that, as always with pets, your own personal circumstances are unique, and some items presented as negatives might not be a problem in your circumstances.

Either way, the following should help you to decide whether a Cairn Terrier is the pooch for you.


The 7 Cairn Terrier Pros

1. Appearance

Cairn Terriers have sturdy little bodies with perky ears and straight-up tails. Dark, close-set eyes peeking out from a surrounding ruff of symmetrical facial fur give a cute, inquisitive appearance that matches their energetic and curious demeanor.

Cairn Terrier dog standing on trail
Image Credit: everydoghasastory, Shutterstock

2. Good Travelers

Maxing out at 10 inches tall and about 12 pounds, Cairns are supremely portable, as you can see by how Dorothy spends most of The Wizard of Oz with her Cairn Terrier Toto tucked under her arm. They’re generally quite happy being carted around, and their boundless curiosity and fearless nature make them always ready for an adventure.

3. Excellent Family Pets

Cairn Terriers are known to get along well with children. If you and your kids are thinking about getting a family-friendly pet, a Cairn Terrier may be a good option for you. Active and playful, they can normally keep up with kid-level energy, and their good nature and patience result in a great playmate.

4. Easily Trained

While many of the genetic traits resting from generations of breeding can potentially be problems with Cairn Terriers, the majority of them can be minimized or controlled by training. Cairn Terriers’ high intelligence and lively nature allow them to respond very well to positive reinforcement and other standard training parameters. Training can, and should, start as early as 8 weeks, firmly establishing you as the leader. Basic obedience discipline, once established, can then be recalled easily throughout their lives.

man training a Cairn terrier dog
Image Credit: emmanuellegrimaud, Shutterstock

5. Active

Cairn Terriers’ well-known intelligence and curiosity mean that they’re almost always up for some fooling around and are robust enough to love an energetic romp in the yard. Any kind of play is good for them, and the more active the better. Additionally, their high energy levels allow them to keep playing for long periods without tiring.

6. Equally Suited to Urban and Rural Living

Typical for terrier breeds, Cairns are amazingly hardy and resilient, in seeming contrast to their small size. This includes the ability to be comfortable and remain interested in a wide variety of environments. With adequate training and attention to daily exercise, they can thrive equally well in apartment conditions, neighborhood homes (especially with enclosed yards), and country dwellings, although the latter works best with some form of enclosure.

True to their Highland origins, Cairn Terriers function well in even bad weather and climate conditions.

7. Low Maintenance

Despite their long fluffy coats, Cairn Terriers only require a weekly brushing and clipping or other grooming every 3 months or so. Healthwise, they’re normally prone only to the range of skin and joint issues and eye problems common to most terriers. These can be averted or minimized if spotted early through regular vet visits.

Cairn Terrier
Image Credit: EiZivile, Shutterstock

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The 4 Cairn Terrier Cons

8. They Can Be Noisy

Like many terriers, Cairns can often be prone to frequent barking and yapping. This isn’t necessarily a sign of aggression or anger, but rather just them expressing their energetic and excited nature. Sometimes, it’s just how they communicate. Fortunately, training can keep this under control, as can making sure they’re getting enough exercise to burn off that tremendous energy.

brindle Cairn Terrier puppy runs over the meadow
Image Credit: thka, Shutterstock

9. They Love to Dig

As you’ve probably noticed, Cairn Terriers are named for cairns, which are basically big piles of rocks found all over the place in their native Scotland. The structures are well known for rats and weasels building burrows under them. Cairn Terriers were specifically bred to root out these pests from such locations, hence the name. The result is a strong genetic disposition to dig, especially under existing structures.

Unchecked, this behavior has the potential to cause enormous amounts of property damage. Your training is essential here, not only to teach them to not dig when told but more so by getting them habituated to “good” digging in places and conditions where it won’t cause problems.

10. Must Be Leashed or Contained

The Cairn Terrier’s famous energy and curiosity, together with a hefty fearlessness, make it a wanderer. This is not a breed you want to set free, confident they’ll return home shortly of their own volition. Additionally, as mentioned, a Cairny, especially in environments populated by other people and pets, has a decent chance of encountering situations that can challenge their socialization.

This kind of scenario demands both physical restraint and your presence, utilizing their training to prevent or defuse unwanted conflicts. With a Cairn in your family, a fenced yard or enclosed outdoor area is definitely recommended.

11. Strong Prey Instinct

True to their breeding, Cairns remain good hunters, with an emphasis on rodents and similar-sized critters. While training can suppress this instinct, it’s doubtful it will be completely eliminated. This means that it’s probably not wise to have a Cairn Terrier in a house with smaller pets like hamsters or guinea pigs.

Even if your dog has been acclimated to co-existing with a fellow pet fitting the prey profile, there’s no guarantee that they won’t go for similar creatures out in the world.

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Just the right size for cuddles, Cairn Terriers provide a lot of character in a small package and are sufficiently robust to love a spirited romp in the yard. They thrive on abundant close family contact, and the training required to prepare them for a happy life as a member of your family is relatively low.

You’re sure to find that the ultimate rewards of Cairn Terrier ownership vastly outweigh the effort of training them up.

Featured Image Credit: Olga Ovcharenko, Shutterstock

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