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rec.pets.dogs: Cairn Terriers Breed-FAQ
Posting-frequency: 30 days
Last-modified: 10 Nov 1997
There are nearly 100 FAQ's available for this group. For a complete
listing of these, get the "Complete List of RPD FAQs". This article
is posted bimonthly in rec.pets.dogs, and is available via anonymous ftp
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the Web at http://www.zmall.com/pet_talk/dog-fa.../faq-list.html, or
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in the body of the message.
This article is Copyright 1997 by the Author(s) listed below.
It may be freely distributed on the Internet in its entirety without
alteration provided that this copyright notice is not removed.
It may NOT reside at another website (use links, please) other
than the URL listed above without the permission of the Author(s).
This article may not be sold for profit nor incorporated in other
documents without he Author(s)'s permission and is provided "as is"
without express or implied warranty.
Copyright 1995 by Kathy Nicklas-Varraso. All rights reserved. You may
download and print a copy of this file for your personal use. Further
distribution must be with the explicit permission of the author. NOTE:
Cairn Terrier Rescue organizations may freely give a copy with each
dog they place.
Table of Contents
* Overview and History
* General Information
* "Go to Ground" Trials for Terriers
* Obedience Training
* Frequently Asked Questions
Overview and History
Cairn Terriers originated on the Isle of Skye, and in the Scottish
Highlands as a vermin killing dog. They excelled at removing rats and
other rodents from the stone cairns commonly found on Scottish farms.
These dogs were not bred for looks, but rather working ability.
Gradually, separate strains of terrier became the Scottie, the West
Highland White, with the original terrier being defined as the Cairn.
The Cairn is closest to its original ancestors, and still excels in
flushing out vermin. This may not be terribly handy in modern life,
but it can be very amusing.
Today, the Cairn is more of a companion animal. Like all terriers,
they are frisky, independent bundles of energy. They are long lived
dogs, with few health problems, and many live well into their late
teens. They are also quite sturdy, and are much tougher than their
small size suggests. The most famous example of a Cairn is Toto from
the Wizard of Oz. (Not my favorite example, but most people have heard
The Breed Standard for Cairn Terriers in the U.S. states that the dog
should be 9-1/2 to 10 inches tall at the shoulder, and weigh thirteen
to fourteen lbs., with bitches slightly smaller. However, there are
some Cairns out there weighing up to eighteen lbs., due to the
influence of British breeding stock. Cairns also have large teeth for
their size, large feet and strong nails. They have muscular shoulders,
and very strong legs for digging.
Cairns are short, shaggy dogs, fairly long for their height, with
large heads and pricked up ears. They have a waterproof, rough coat,
and do not shed. They come in a variety of colors, with brindle shades
predominating. (Brindle means black hairs interspersed with the other
fur color) A Cairn can be any color but white. Adult color cannot be
reliably predicted based on the puppy coat, as the adult coat can be
markedly darker, eventually approaching black.
Cairn Terriers are "people" dogs. They thrive indoors, with the
family, and soak up attention. If you aren't careful, your Cairn will
sneak between you and your keyboard every time you sit down to write a
breed-faq! They love children, activity and play, although you will
have to take care that the kids don't try to ride the dog. Although
they really are a "big dog in a little dog's body", riding such a
little dog will squish him.
Because Cairns thrive on attention, they are not suitable for people
with "no time for a dog." If left alone 12 hours a day, they will
certainly find a way to let you know how unhappy they are. And, like
all terriers, they are voracious chewers. Be warned. (On a more
positive note, I occasionally left my previous Cairn uncrated for up
to twelve hours at a stretch, while I worked, without any problems.
However, I lavished attention on the dog when I returned, and I kept
the long days to a minimum. I regularly leave my current Cairn for
eight hour stretches without problems.) A Cairn is not an appropriate
dog for an outdoor life. He really needs to live in the house with his
people. (I did get a note from a person in California who keeps his
Cairn outdoors, but I really think that this is a far less than ideal
situation. In New England where I live, it would be impossible to make
your Cairn live outdoors)
Cairns are also rather well known for their digging ability. A
separate area of the yard, without prized shrubs or flowers would be
suitable for your Cairn. Some people advocate filling the holes with
water or other things to stop the digging. In my opinion, a better
policy would be to find an out of the way area for your dog to dig,
and not to worry about it.
Cairn Terriers can be quite verbal. This does not mean that they are
problem barkers, but they will "talk", and grumble, and arf to
communicate. It is a very easy thing to train your Cairn to "speak",
and to "ask" for a treat. A Cairn left on a line in the backyard may
well become a problem barker, due to loneliness. He will also get
eaten by the big dogs in the neighborhood, because he doesn't know
when to back down.
Cairns are very territorial. This is good for security purposes, but
can become problematic if precautions aren't taken. Letting a Cairn
run loose can give him the impression that a whole neighborhood
belongs to him, and woe unto any strange dog trespassing on his land.
Also, if you have a multiple dog household, a male Cairn Terrier
should not live with another (unneutered) male dog of any breed. (A
Cairn really has no clue that he is so small).
As mentioned above, Cairns are chewers. They have also been known to
dig and climb. Those are the bad points. If given plenty of exercise,
and appropriate things to chew, these character traits need not become
a problem. It is very easy to exercise a Cairn while watching TV. Just
throw a tennis ball around the floor, and say "Gimme that ball." ;-)
Unlike many of the working breeds, a Cairn need not be walked for
miles each day. If you want to walk for miles, your dog will be
thrilled, but it's not required. However, this really isn't a dog to
go long distance running with. Not only will people laugh at you, it's
too much for the dog's little legs.
"Go to Ground" Trials for Terriers
Note: This section was stolen shamelessly from a Westie (eek!)
publication. (These are also sometimes called "terrier digs" and
"Working Terrier Trials".) The event is called Earthdog Tests because
it is designed for dogs bred to go to ground for badger, fox, and
otter. The event will lead to the AKC titles Junior Earthdog (JE),
Senior Earthdog (SE), and Master Earthdog (ME). Other kennel clubs,
such as the UKC, assorted terrier breed clubs, such as the Jack
Russell Terrier Club and the American Working Terrier Association have
their own, similar "Go to Ground" trials.
The AKC test is limited to Australian Terriers, Bedlington Terriers,
Border Terriers, Cairn Terriers, Dandie Dinmont Terriers, Fox
Terriers, Lakeland Terriers, Norfolk Terriers, Norwich Terriers,
Scottish Terriers, Skye Terriers, Welsh Terriers, West Highland White
Terriers, and Dachshunds. Because it is impractical to use badger,
fox, or otter as quarry in a test, the quarry will be laboratory rats
or optionally a to-be-designed artificial quarry.
A non-titling Introductory Test is similar to AWTA's Novice Class. It
uses a ten foot tunnel with one corner, the dog has two minutes to
reach the quarry and start to work, and the dog must work for 30
seconds. Work is defined as digging, barking, growling, lunging,
biting at the quarry or any other action which indicates that the dog
is attempting to attack the quarry. The test is pass-fail and is
designed to introduce dogs to earthwork.
The Junior Earthdog Test is similar to AWTA's Open class. It uses a 30
foot tunnel with three corners. The dog has 30 seconds to reach the
quarry, 30 seconds to start working and must work for 60 seconds. The
test is pass-fail. A dog who passes the test twice under two different
judges will earn the Junior Earthdog degree.
The Senior Earthdog test increases in time and difficulty. Dogs must
have the Junior Earthdog or the AWTA CG before entering this test. A
dog who passes the test three times under at least two different
judges will earn the Senior Earthdog degree.
The Master Earthdog test is newly designed. The test consists of
several parts and the dog must pass each part to pass the test. The
dog must pass the test four times under at least two different judges
to earn the Master Earthdog degree.
It is highly advisable to obedience train your Cairn. (Actually, I
think that basic obedience training should be mandatory for every dog,
if only that it makes living with your dog a whole lot more pleasant).
Cairns learn very quickly, and the few standard commands can be
quickly supplemented with some tricks. Training a Cairn, however, is
not like training a Lab or Golden. Cairns won't do fifty sit/stays in
a row, just for the heck of it. If you keep the training fun and not
repetitive, you both will have a great time. Cairns want you to be
alpha, and as such, really strive to please you.
Cairns can be easy to housetrain, mainly due to their desire to please
their people. I strongly recommend using a reward system to house
train your Cairn. In short, each time you take your pup out to do his
business, give a "potty" command (use some word that you won't feel
foolish saying in public. I use "do it.") When the dog produces, be
lavish with the praise, and perhaps even give a treat. If/When the dog
has an accident in the house, don't punish the dog, and clean the spot
with an enzyme cleaner. (It is essential that you use an enzyme
cleaner - dogs can smell a marked spot otherwise, and will continue to
soil your home) They keys to this method are that you take the dog
out, not just let him out, and all the praise. Your Cairn will quickly
learn that going outside gets him a reward, and going in the house
gets him nothing.
Every person I have spoken with that uses this method faithfully has
reported success in a very short time. However, every person I've
spoken with that only uses part of this method has had terrible
housebreaking problems. The most common mistake is letting the dog out
and not taking the dog out with you (This does not apply only to
Cairns, I mean all the dogs and owners that I know) I know it's a
pain, but for a month or so, it's definitely worth it.
Cairns do not shed, and don't require an awful lot of special
grooming. A few minutes with the slicker brush every couple of days
usually does it. They are supposed to be hand stripped at least once a
year, which encourages the growth of a new, rough, waterproof, coat.
Hand stripping means to pull the hair out, root and all. It doesn't
hurt the dog, but if you're a wimp, a groomer can do it for you.
However, due to the enormous time investment involved, be prepared to
pay dearly for this service. (You can shave a terrier in about ten
minutes, but stripping takes a couple of hours, at least)
I hand strip my Cairn about every six months. I use one hand to grip
the hair, and the other hand's fingers at the skin to hold it in
place. Then, I give a quick pull, and the old, dead hair, being so
loosely rooted, just comes out. What is left is a brightly colored
undercoat. This sounds a LOT worse than it is. My Cairn doesn't like
being still for such a long time, but she never seems to even feel the
hair pulling. I always do hand stripping outdoors, and I recommend
that you wear clothing similar in color to your dog. You WILL need a
shower when you finish.
The reward for doing this is that the new coat grows in much more
brightly colored, and looks beautiful. Also, the new coat will be far
more weather resistant than one that hasn't been stripped.
The Cairn Terrier Club of America puts out a detailed instruction
booklet ($2), the address is listed below.
Also, like all other dogs, Cairns require some very basic grooming
steps, namely nail clipping and tooth brushing to maintain optimum
Tooth brushing. In order to keep your Cairn's mouth in the best
possible shape, and to minimize gum and tooth problems in later life,
tooth brushing is a must. As a side benefit, "dog breath" problems are
also greatly reduced. A gentle toothbrush, or piece of gauze wrapped
around a finger, are all that is required. For a more thorough job,
special Dog toothpaste (available at pet stores or from your vet)
works quite well. Do not use "people" toothpaste for your dog's teeth.
It can cause an upset stomach and vomiting. When starting to brush
your Cairn's teeth, take it slowly. At first, just allow your dog to
lick the toothpaste off the toothbrush. Later, begin brushing the
front teeth, and gradually work toward brushing all the teeth,
especially the outside and biting surfaces. If your Cairn already has
a tartar problem, a professional cleaning by your vet may be in order.
Nail Clipping. Unless your Cairn walks for miles on pavement every
day, she may require periodic nail clipping. You can have a
professional groomer clip your dog's nails, or have your vet show you
how to do this yourself. If nail clipping is neglected, the overgrown
nails can curve under, and damage the dog's foot.
Cairns are generally very healthy dogs. There are rare cases of
inherited diseases such as Von Willebrand's Disease, which is a
bleeding disorder, similar to Hemophilia. The Cairn Terrier
Clearinghouse has identified other inherited conditions that can be
found in Cairns. This is not to say that they are unhealthy or prone
to illness in any way. It means that the Cairn community is actively
trying to eradicate hereditary illness in their dogs. In general,
compared to some other breeds, Cairns are quite healthy dogs.
That being said, the most notable common problem in Cairns is that
they tend to have flea allergies. Folk wisdom says that this can be
combated with a teaspoon of tomato sauce in each day's food. (YMMV)
Normal flea prevention is much more effective. (Darker colored Cairns
are reputed to be less prone to flea allergies)
Like most small breeds of dogs, your Cairn can be susceptible to
luxating patellas, or as it is more commonly called, floating
kneecaps. This means that the ligaments holding the kneecap are loose,
and the joint isn't as deeply grooved as it should be. A vet can
diagnose this problem during a routine checkup. A diagnosis of
luxating patellas can mean anything from no restriction of activity at
all, to quite debilitating. Fortunately, most of the time, the
condition is less severe. Even a severe case of floating kneecaps can
be treated with surgery. (Obviously, this is a very condensed
description, and is not meant to be the definitive answer on any joint
condition in your dog. For more information, please contact your vet)
A Cairn can thrive on any high quality dry dog food. Most adult dogs
can be maintained on 1/2 to 2/3 of a cup of food a day, usually in two
small meals. Cairns are prone to getting fat, so keeping a close watch
on their weight is a must. And, as with people, proper daily exercise
the key to maintaining the proper weight in your Cairn. As a practical
guide, my Cairn gets 1/2 cup of food a day, which means an eight lb.
sack lasts about five weeks.
Obviously, if you've read this far, you must agree with me that Cairn
Terriers are the handsomest, best dogs out there. Cute, portable,
loyal, not overbred, and not "sissy" dogs. Most people who have owned
a Cairn never want another kind of dog.
On that note, let me put in a plug for Cairn Breed rescue. Cairns are
pretty near ideal candidates for adoption, even as adults. They
quickly become acclimated to a new home and family, as long as there
is adequate attention. My current Cairn Terrier is a rescue dog.
Adopting her is one of the smarter things I've done in my life. I can
be reached via email for a local contact of breed rescue, or the
national address is listed below.
Frequently Asked Questions
_Do Cairn Terriers Yap? (Are they "Yappy Little Dogs?")_
Not really. They do have a distinctive bark, which of course, is
not the deep voice of a large dog, and no one is going to mistake
the bark of a Cairn for the bark of a Mastiff. On the good side,
they don't yap like a Chihuahua, either. Unless untrained, they do
not bark incessantly. However, if you leave a Cairn, or most dogs
for that matter, tied in the yard alone for hours, that dog will
bark, and bark, and bark, ad nauseam.
_Do Cairn Terriers shed?_
All dogs lose some hair at some time, just like people, but Cairn
Terriers do not shed at all in the traditional sense - in other
words, you won't have to sweep up Cairn fur every day, unlike some
For that reason, they can be especially good for allergy sufferers.
However, if you or a family member is an allergy sufferer, I
strongly encourage that you visit a Cairn breeder and spend time
with Cairns before bringing one into your home. In this way, you
will discover whether you react to Cairns.
_Are they good with children?_
Again, like all dogs, Cairns need to be socialized in order to be
good with people, children included. However, they are loyal family
dogs, and are very good with children.
Many reputable breeders will not sell a Cairn to a home with
toddlers or children younger than school age. However, this is not
a universal situation, and exceptions are often made if you can
show a breeder that your children are careful, and know how to
behave around a dog. As with most things, mutual respect is the
_Are they good with other dogs?_
Sort of. An unaltered Male Cairn should not be housed with another
unaltered male dog of any breed. A Cairn will be a good companion
dog with other dogs in the house, but will still behave in a
territorial manner with "strange" dogs.
_Are they good with Cats and other household pets?_
Cats, yes, once the two are properly socialized with one another. I
would not recommend a Cairn Terrier in any household that has a
rodent as a pet, such a rabbit or guinea pig. Cairns are bred to
kill rodents and could do some damage to such a pet.
_Should I have my Cairn shaved for the summer?_
Well, obviously, you can do as you wish, but a Cairn is properly
hand stripped. Most groomers style a Cairn like a Westie or some
other kind of terrier, which of course, they are not. Also, shaving
does nothing to remove the dead hair which builds up in the hair
_Bonus Question: (which is asked more than any other Cairn Terrier
question) Hey is that a Toto Dog? Alternatively: Hey is that some kind
NO. Take a hike, buddy :-)
Cairn Terrier Club of America
Betty Marcum, Route 3 - P.O. Box 78, Alvardo, TX 76009
Cairn Terrier Rescue Committee
Susan DeWitt. Chairman, 28 Holiday Drive, Norwalk, CT 06851
_All About the Cairn Terrier_
John Gordon, Pelham Books
_The Cairn Terrier_
Beynton and Fisher, et al., Arco Books
_The Complete Cairn Terrier_
John Marvin, Howell Book House
Cairn Terrier FAQ
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