Caring for Your Cairn

Maintaining the Cairn’s shaggy appearance is not difficult. An hour or so of grooming each week will keep their coat in good condition. For additional information on grooming,  see Grooming tab under Breed Standard.

Shedding is minimal if the dog is thoroughly brushed and combed weekly, and infrequently bathed. Preparation for the show ring is comparatively simple compared to other long haired breeds.

It is important to keep a Cairn free of fleas, as many Cairns are allergic to flea bites.


No two Cairns are truly alike; each has distinct personality and character differences. As a rule, though, Cairns are somewhat independent, not lap dogs. A typical puppy may sit on your lap for a few moments, but will resist being held for long, wriggling impatiently to get down and explore.

Their intelligence makes them curious and extremely quick to learn. They are surprisingly sensitive, and harsh punishment is not necessary or desirable. However, a Cairn must know from the first that someone else is in charge. If he has any question about that, he’ll do his best to run the house himself. Firm, loving and consistent discipline is the key to a good relationship with your Cairn Terrier.

Cairns seem to have an inborn affinity for children. They are physically very tough, and forgive or overlook mishaps and stepped-on feet with characteristic generosity of spirit. They should not, however, be teased or mistreated by children, and close supervision of small children and puppies is essential.

Without training, he will be bored and destructive, barking to help relieve the tedium. There is very little a Cairn cannot learn if his owner takes the time to teach him. Because Cairns are highly intelligent, training sessions should be fun and challenging, not overly repetitious. They do love to dig, and flower beds are hard to resist; don’t tempt your puppy by leaving him alone in a manicured yard.

Cairns are not suited to living outside. They are far more rewarding pets when they live in close contact with the family. Being left “tied out” in an unfenced yard can be dangerous to the Cairn as he is vulnerable to any attack that he might invite from larger dogs. The safest arrangement is a securely fenced yard and supervision when he is in it.

If there is no fenced yard, the Cairn MUST be exercised on a leash, as it is impossible to train a Cairn to r

esist the urge to chase squirrels, cats, rabbits, other dogs, etc. (remember, Cairns were bred to hunt!)

Walking is excellent exercise for Cairns and their owners. A brisk walk daily, on leash, is ideal. From the Cairn’s point of view, the longer the walk the better. Encourage your puppy’s natural ball playing talents, and you’ll have the perfect indoor exercise when the weather prohibits walking.

The Cairn Terrier is basically a healthy dog, and frequently lives 14 to 15 years or more. To contribute to his longevity and health a Cairn should be kept trim and active.

His diet should consist of a premium brand of dry dog food. NO “generic” dog food, please!

Table scraps should not be fed, and the amount of dog food must be carefully monitored.

Most adult dogs maintain their weight on 1/2 to 2/3 cup of quality food a day. Dog biscuit treats should be kept to a maximum of 2-3 daily.

Cairns easily become overweight, at least in part because they are so endearing as they beg for treats.

Here is what the American Kennel Club ( says about feeding your dog:

“With so many dog foods on the market, it’s tough to know what’s right for your dog. You can ask a breeder or veterinarian for advice, but it’s up to you to see how the food affects your dog. If your dog’s energy level is right for his breed and age, if his skin and coat are healthy, if his stools are firm and brown, and if he seems to be in overall good health, then the food is doing its job.

“Many owners prefer to feed kibble (dry), rather than soft dog food for several reasons. Crunching the hard kibbles keeps your dog’s teeth clean and exercises his jaw muscles. It also keeps the dog’s stools compact and firm, resulting in easier cleanup. If your dog prefers soft food, you can mix some in with the kibble (try three-quarters dry with one-quarter canned). Semi-moist foods, while convenient, don’t offer the nutritional benefits of premium kibble or canned foods.

“Puppies need more calories and essential nutrients than do adult dogs. Choose a food specially formulated for puppies. Puppies under six months should get three or four meals a day. They are growing rapidly, but their stomachs have limited capacity. After six months they can handle two to three meals a day.

“Adult dogs should be fed according to their size and energy needs. Most adults should get two meals a day.”

Cairn Terrier Club of Southern California