The Cairn terrier originated in Scotland, where it was used by farmers to keep farms free of rats and other pests. The breed was formerly known as the short-haired Skye terrier, after the Scottish isle where it came from, and it is distantly related to both the West Highland white terrier and the Scottish terrier. The most famous example of the Cairn terrier was the dog that played Toto in "The Wizard of Oz."
These dogs were bred for working, not looks, and they have sturdy bodies with a thick and wiry double coat. They stand at around 10 inches at the shoulder, and weigh roughly 14 pounds. Because they were bred to catch pests they like to dig, and their large feet and strong claws allow them to do this very well. They also have strong jaws with large teeth for the same purpose. The Cairn terrier can be any color except white, and frequently has black markings on the paws, tip of the tail and face. The appearance of this terrier is relatively easy to maintain, with an hour or so of brushing weekly and only occasional bathing.
Alert and intelligent, their instinct as working dogs means the Cairn terrier will often try to chase small mammals. Indeed sometimes they will challenge larger dogs, as they are not short of courage. Active and friendly, they make good pets as they like to make friends with everyone they meet. This also makes them good with children, and they love to play even when they are getting older. The Cairn terrier has been known to test its owners, so obedience training is necessary to maintain good behavior.
Cairn terriers are generally quite sturdy and long-lived, with a lifespan of 13 to 14 years. However this breed is not without its problems, and there are a number of genetic issues that pure-bred dogs can suffer from. These include allergies, bone dysfunction, heart defects and eye conditions including glaucoma and cataracts. Breed organizations are working to improve the terrier and do away with these genetic problems, but if there seems to be anything wrong with a dog, it is always best to visit the veterinarian.
Although they are physically tough, Cairns are not well suited to living outside. They are better off in a home environment with close contact with humans. It is also best not to leave a Cairn terrier alone in a yard with neat flowerbeds, as the instinct to dig will take over. These terriers do appreciate being walked, and especially love going on long walks. They will probably need to remain on the leash when out, because if the terrier sees a cat or squirrel or other small mammal, it will set off in pursuit.