Hailing from the Scottish Highlands in the 1500s, most notably from the Isle of Skye, the Cairn Terrier derived its name from its ability to access the rock dens of fox and badger, also known as 'cairns.' Once these cairns had been accessed, the breed was trained to flush its inhabitants out, killing them in the process. For this reason, the Cairn Terrier was primarily bred for the purpose of vermin control, helping to rid the farmstead of rodents, whilst hunting larger animals such as otters and badgers. Thought to be the oldest of Scotland's working terrier breeds, the Cairn Terrier supposedly descends from the original rough-coated terriers observed on the rustic Highland terrains. The breed was officially recognised by the American Kennel Club in 1913.
A scruffy-looking breed, the Cairn Terrier is often likened to the West Highland White Terrier, despite being an independent breed in its own right. For many years, the Cairn Terrier was otherwise known as the Short-Haired or Prick-Eared Skye Terrier, adopting its current name in 1910. The breed is characterised by a proportioned body of compact build, with short legs, a black nose, high and wide-set ears and a shaggy double coat in colour variations of white, grey, sand and brindle. The modern Cairn Terrier is often seen in hunting, tracking, competitive obedience and agility.
Boasting a shining reputation as a loyal and affectionate companion dog, the Cairn Terrier is highly trainable and adaptable, well suiting it to the domestic setting. Compatible with children and other house pets when introduced gradually, the breed is meek, mannered and playful, with a tendency to exhibit behavioural problems due to its reduced size; if consistently trained from puppyhood, well socialised and shown firm leadership, the Cairn Terrier has the potential to make a great addition to the active family or dedicated sole owner. On average, a healthy Cairn Terrier will weigh 6-8 kg, with a life expectancy of 12-15 years, although it is not uncommon for the breed to outlive this expectancy.
Typically hardy and long-lived, the Cairn Terrier may be susceptible to various health complaints, ranging from relatively minor and treatable, such as allergies, easy weight gain and diabetes, to more serious conditions, including genetic enzyme deficiency and bone and liver defects.