The Cairn Terrier lays claim to being the oldest of all the Terrier breeds, with roots that run deep in Western Scotland, specifically the Highlands and the Isle of Skye. The Cairn Terrier’s name comes from piles of stones used as landmarks or memorials (cairns) that dot the Scottish countryside and serve as lairs for small animals, such as rabbits and foxes. It was into these rocky dens that Cairn Terriers were commonly used to wriggled in to capture their prey.
The ancestors of the Cairn Terrier roamed Scotland for centuries; these “Earth Dogs”, as the word Terrier translates, were valued for their gameness (their fearlessness and toughness in fighting), and their ability to “go to ground”, meaning to burrow underground and root out their prey. Excelling as ratters and skilled at hunting foxes and rabbits made them one of the earliest means of “pest control”. In the 17 century King James VI of Scotland, who would become King James I of England, sent six of these Terriers to the King of France. According to the story these dogs were so highly valued that they made the voyage traveling on separate ships, so that, in case of shipwreck all of the Terriers would not be lost. When hunting developed as a sport in the 1700s and 1800s, their utility was expanded to include catching badgers, otters, and other smallish game. These Terriers varied in size, color, and shape according to the specific terrain they had to traverse and the type of animals they were used to hunt.
Around the middle to late 1800s, these differences began to be developed into distinct types. The result was five Terrier breeds native to Scotland, known today as the Skye, Scottie, Cairn, West Highland White, and Dandie Dinmont Terriers. Although until 1873 all these dogs would be lumped together as ‘Scotch Terriers’. Cairn breeders maintain that the Scottish, West Highland White, and Skye Terriers are all descendents of the Cairn.
In the course of its history, Cairn Terriers have been called Scotch, Skye, Hard-Haired Scotch, and Short-haired Skye Terriers, as well as Cairn Terriers of Skye, making it tricky to establish when they began to be intentionally developed as a separate breed. History does tell us that two of the oldest strains come from the Isle of Sky; one owned by Captain Martin MacLeod of Drynock and the other by the Mackinnos of Kilbride. Captain MacLeod had a pack of silver gray “Short-haired Skye Terriers” at the start of the 1800s, which Mr. John Macdonald of Bridge of Ose Kennels took over and maintained from 1845 until 1917. He was the gamekeeper to the Clan Chief MacLeod of McLeod of Dunvegan Castle. The Mackinnos’ strain had foundation stock which can be traced to the 1600s to Farquhar Kelly of Drumfearn, also of the Isle of Skye.
The advent of dog shows in the 1870s increased interest in establishing separate breed standards and the intentional breeding of the Terrier types. The closer scruitiny and heightened interest also generated more heated disagreement. In 1873 Scotland’s Terriers ceased to be known simply as “Scotch Terriers” and were divided into two groups, Dandie Dinmont and Skye Terriers. Skye Terriers included the Cairn, West Highland White, and Scottish Terriers.
By the close of the 1800s, Scottish Terriers were being bred separately from the Cairn and West Highland White, but the Cairn and West Highland White continued to be intermixed. At the Crufts dog show in 1907, separate classes for the white Terriers were held. West Highland White Terriers were listed as a separate breed in the stud books beginning in 1908. But Scottish Terriers, whose type was set in 1859, would have their breed standard revised as late as 1933. Skye Terriers and Scottish Terriers—which was the “better” breed? Were Cairns just inferior types of Skye Terriers or were they Short-Haired Skyes, Prick-eared Skyes, or Cairn Terriers of Skye? Mrs. Alastair Campbell helped settle the latter question.
Mrs. Alastair Campbell (Ida Munro), born in 1871, had a lifelong love affair with the breed. Her father had brought Waternish Cairns from Skye to their home in Edinburgh, Scotland, when she was a young girl (called Skye Terriers in the 1870s and 1880s). After Miss Munro became Mrs. Campbell, she lived in West Scotland in Ardrishaig and it was then she began her campaign to have her beloved breed recognized by the Kennel Club.
She lobbied for separate classes for the breed at Kennel Club dog shows. She entered her dogs at the Inverness Show in 1909 as “Short-haired Skyes” or “Prick-eared Skyes” (names she preferred), but they had to be listed on the Skye Terrier register at the KC. This sparked heated debate in the dog breed press, with Mrs. Campbell versus Sir Claude Alexander (Secretary of the Skye and Clydesdale Terrier Club) and Mr. James Porritt (Secretary of the Skye Terrier Club of England).
Mrs. Campbell’s next move, accompanied by Mary Hawke, brought the breed fight to a head following the Cruft Dog Show of 1910. With two classes for “Cairn or Short-haired Skyes” offered, they entered theirs in the Skye Terrier classes. The judge, Miss Clifton, marked them as “Wrong Class” noting they did not match the breed standard at all, which was exactly the point the women wanted to make. Whatever they were called—inferior or otherwise--they were not Skye Terriers.
Their persistence paid off against those who opposed their recognition, when a contingent representing various Skye Terrier Clubs addressed the KC on April 6, 1910. They objected to the dogs being listed on the Skye Terrier Register when they did not fit the standard. The result, after much discussion, was “That the breed, (hitherto described as Short-haired Skye Terriers) shall only be registered as Cairn Terriers…” The Cairn Terrier was finally recognized as a distinct breed by the KC; on May 29, 1912, the KC Committee began a separate register for Cairn Terriers.
Mrs. Campbell continued her active work for the breed, becoming the first Secretary of the Cairn Terrier Club and the proud owner of the first Dog Champion, Gesto. She started the “Brocaire” affix for her Cairns which became known world-wide (her affix is still protected by the CTC today). Ch. Gesto, considered by fanciers to be a pure specimen of a Cairn, established the Brocaire strain. He was described by Alex Fisher in the Cairn Terrier as “…free from any trace of Scottish Terrier character, built on light, agile lines, not unduly short in body, and with the characteristic foxy face and expression upon which Mrs. Campbell laid such stress.” Other Cairns important in forming the Brocaire strain included Macleod of Macleod, Doran Bhan, Roy Mhor and Calla Mhor. Five Brocaire Cairns became Champions; the strain produced many famous descendants as well.
As for Mrs. Campbell, she continued to show her dogs throughout her life, attending the Championship show of the Cairn Terrier Club a few short weeks before her death in 1946 at the age of seventy-five. A plaque in her honor, sponsored by the Cairn Terrier Club in 2000, was placed in the Small Animal Hospital near Edinburgh, part of the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinarian Studies. The plaque reads: “In memory of Mrs. J. Alastair Campbell (Ida Monro) 1871-1946 who brought the Cairn Terrier out of obscurity and gave the World its Best Little Pal.”
Noteworthy Cairn Terrier Kennels in the UK during the 1900s included Out of the West, The Dochfour, Felshott, Oudenarde, Blencathra, and Redletter Kennels, with the latter four experiencing their heyday after WWII.
Mrs. Fleming, who owned and ran Out of the West Kennel from 1914 to 1939, was also an early proponent of the breed, attending the 1911 meeting to determine the Cairn Terrier standard, held in Edinburgh. She was also considered one of the best Cairn Terrier handlers of her day. Her kennel had twenty-four certificate winners, twelve of whom became Champions; a total of 102 certificates were won by her Cairn Terriers. Out of the West Kennel was considered one of the premier show dog kennels of the twentieth century, while maintaining the Cairn Terrier’s working ability.
Even though Mrs. Fleming won her first certificate in 1914 for her Cairn “Loch Scolter Out of the West”, her kennel did not rise to prominence until she bought Doughall Out of the West and Kyley Out of the West, both born in 1919. Their claim to fame was not in the show ring, but in the bedroom, producing numerous Champions. The top Champions of this pairing included Ch Fisherman Out of the West and his brother and litter mate Spunkie Out of the West. Other notables were Ch Fury Out of the West, Ch Bonfire Out of the West, Rime Out of the West, and Ch Tam O’Shanter Out of the West.
Baroness Burton, who ran The Dochfour Kennel, played a leading role in establishing the Cairn Terrier as a show dog. She was President of the CTC, a member of the Ladies Kennel Association, a judge, exhibitor and breeder. She also provided the Prince of Wales with several Cairn Terriers, which were a favorite breed of the Royal Family for a number of years. Even though several members of the Royal Family owned Cairns, only once did one of them enter their dog in a show. The Prince of Wales showed Dochfour Molly at the Caledonian Canine Society Championship Show on January 1st, 1924; Dochfour Molly did her kennel proud when she won the reserve certificate for a female.
The Baroness’ Dochfour Kennel won its first certificate in 1914 and its last in 1958. The 1920s were the best decade for the kennel; in 1922 she had between sixty and seventy Cairns. In 1922 Ch Dochfour Vennach won her title, along with Top Cairn for that year. The kennel’s top Champions were mother and daughter, Ch Dochfour Vennach and Dochfour Vuiach Vorchad, respectively. They won twenty-one certificates between them, the daughter winning one more than her mother. Both were outstanding breed specimens, sparking open-ended debate as to which was better. Their winnings occurred between 1922 and 1926.
The decade of 1950s was not too shabby for Dochfour Kennels, either. In 1951 three Cairns bred by Burton won their Championships all within six months. All three were related to Dochfour Jack (Jake), the Baroness’ best stud dog of that decade. The Champions were Jake’s daughter Ch Dochfour Suisadh, Jake’s son, Ch Dochfour Eacob, and Jake’s granddaughter Ch Dochfour Langach. The Dochfour Kennel’s Ch Dochfour Bean Mormhaur, another one of Jake’s daughters, won their final Championship in 1958. In the end, Baroness Burton’s kennel housed twenty-one certificate winners, eleven of whom became Champions.
Dorothy and Margaret Hall worked for the Baroness Burton at Dochfour Kennels for a year, where they had the opportunity to tend to three Champions, as well as Molly of Wales, the Cairn owned by Edward Prince of Wales. With these experiences under their belt, the sisters opened Felshott Kennel in 1925. But they experienced a severe setback when disease ravaged their Cairn Terriers. In 1939 all kennels were closed with the outbreak of WWII, which proved to be a six year delay for them, after which they had to start over with new foundation stock. After WWII, Peggy Wilson came on board at Felshott as a partner to the Halls. They found foundation stock, some which were Redletter and Blencartha Cairns, and began breeding them. They built their own high quality strain of Cairn Terriers and in 1963, Ch Felshott Bryany was Felshott Kennel’s first Champion.
The Hall sisters’ partner Peggy Wilson, who had served as a codes and cipher officer in WWII, did much for Cairn Terriers, besides her work for Felshott Kennel. For seventeen years she was a CTC Committee member and also served as a Committee member for the CTA. She revised The Cairn Terrier by Beynon and Fisher and twice revised the Cairn Breeders’ Bible. Miss Wilson also wrote a regular column on Cairn Terriers for Dog World.
Walter Bradshaw, owner and founder of Redletter Cairns, was the preeminent breeder and exhibitor of Cairn Terriers for forty years. His kennel boasted forty-two Champions between 1948 and 1981, a phenomenal record. Ch Redletter Magnet was his first Champion; his top winner was Ch Redletter McMurran who won twenty-six CCs and was the breed record holder until 1991. Two top Cairn studs were Ch Redetter McBryan, who sired thirteen Champions, and Ch Redletter McJoe who sired nine. Female Ch Redletter Marcel was a top dam, whelping four Champions.
Walter Bradshaw won Best in Show at All Breeds U.K. Championship Shows, which was a first for the breed. He accomplished this feet twice in 1955 with Ch Redletter McMurran at Paignton and again in 1968 with Ch Redletter Sea Spirit at Manchester. Mr. Bradshaw was a Committee member of the KC and served on the CTC Committee for twenty-three years. He held every office of the CTA and helped the Midland Cairn Terrier Club get off the ground in the 1980s.
Another star in the history of Cairn breeders is Mrs. Mabel Drummond, aka “Drummie”, who ran Blencathra Kennel. Mrs. Drummond’s foundation stock was Hyver, Harvieston, Brocaire, Donnington, and Twobees. She blended Blencathra Cairns into a recognizable strain, world renowned for their magnificent heads. She and Mr. Bradshaw were said to be rivals, but with great respect for each other. Their different attitudes are reflected in the following repartee: Drummie: “without the real Cairn head you do not have a true Cairn.” Walter: “Aye but a Cairn doesn’t walk on its ‘ead!”
Even though Mabel Drummond registered her first Cairn, Blencathra, with the KC in 1923 and then registered her Blencathra prefix in 1925, her kennel did not hit its stride in the show ring until after WWII. In 1947 she had her first Champion in Blencathra Sandpiper, who also sired five Champions, leaving his mark on the Cairn Terrier breed. Mabel Drummond’s kennel produced twenty-five Champion titled Cairns; the last one was Ch Blencathra Barret who earned his title in 1971.
Oudenarde Kennel, founded in the 1920s, housed several different breeds, but it was the Cairn Terriers who brought recognition to the kennel. From 1949 to 2006, Oudenarde Kennel produced thirty-one Champions, with Ch Oudenarde Dusky Belle as their first. Another Champion, Oudenarde Fair Prospect, was described by author Tom Horner in his book Take Them Round Please as “…one of the greats of the breed, showing the true Cairn Terrier expression and correct length of body and leg.” Oudenarde’s influential stud dogs include Ch Oudenarde Raiding Light, who sired eight Champions, Midnight Chimes, siring five Champions, Midnight Marauder, who sired three, and American, Canadian, and UK Champion Oudenarde Sea Hawk.
Sea Hawk was exported to Cairndania, a Canadian kennel owned by Betty Hyslop, who also imported English Champion Redletter McRuffie, bred by Walter Bradshaw. Ch Redletter McRuffie was a great grandson of Ch Splinters of Twobees. Born in 1933, English Ch Splinters of Twobees won eight CCs and was a renowned stud dog. Many of the top Cairns today can trace their pedigree back to Splinters. Descendants of Redletter McRuffie, like Ch. Cairnwoods Quince and Ch. Cairmar Fancy Dresser, became key players in the development of the breed in the U.S. Most Cairn Terriers in the United States can claim at least one of the three as an ancestor.
In the United States Mrs. Henry F. Price was pivotal in introducing the Cairn Terrier to the American public. In 1913 Mrs. Price imported the first two Cairn Terriers to the U.S; she also owned the first AKC registered Cairn Terrier, Sandy Peter Out of the West. The first Cairn Terriers shown in the U.S. were those owned by Mrs. Price; they were exhibited on October 1913 at the Danbury, Connecticut dog show in the Miscellaneous Class. Mrs. Price owned Robinscroft Kennel for Cairn Terriers in Danbury, Connecticut. The advertisement in “Country Life Magazine” that ran in 1922 for Robinscroft Kennel sported the slogan “first benched at Danbury and Westminster in 1913”. . Mrs. Price also edited the Official Book of the Cairn Terrier Club of America in 1933.
Mrs. Byron Rogers and Mrs. Archibald D. Turnbull also played significant roles in establishing Cairn Terriers in the U.S. Mrs. Rogers showed Cairn Terriers from her Llandoyley Kennel in Manhasset, Long Island; Mrs. Archibald D. Turnbull of Morristown, New Jersey had Lannock Kennel. Following the breed’s recognition by the AKC in 1913 and the awarding of their own breed class in 1915, the AKC accepted the Cairn Terrier Club of America (CTCA) as the official parent club for the breed in 1917. Mrs. Price served as the first Treasurer of the newly formed CTCA and Mrs. Rogers as the first Secretary for the new club in 1917. Mrs. Archibald Turnbull trumped both women when she served as President and Treasurer of the club simultaneously in 1922.
The AKC disallowed the registration of any Cairn Terrier who was intermixed with the West Highland White Terrier as of 1917. In England the breed standard allowed for this intermixing until 1923. The modern Cairn is bred to maintain the form of the working Terrier of the Isle of Skye and of the three Skye Terriers, the Cairn has remained closest to the original working dog.
“Toto” who played in the movie The Wizard of Oz (1939), is undoubtedly the most well-known Cairn Terrier in the United States. Toto was a female whose real name was Terry. She also acted in thirteen other movies, including a Shirley Temple film called “Bright Eyes”. In the TV series “I Love Lucy”, Little Ricky had a pet Cairn named Fred.
Today Cairn Terriers compete in agility, obedience, terrier and tracking trials. They are ranked 56th out of 167 AKC registered breeds in popularity as of 2010.
Cairn Terriers are short-legged, small dogs with rough coats; they look the part of the strong, active, and hardy working Terriers that they are. They have shorter, wider heads than other types of Terriers and a fox-like expression.
The size standards for this breed apply to dogs who have reached the age of two years. The ideal height, measuring from ground to withers, is 10 inches for males and 9 ½ inches for females. The ideal weight of male dogs is 14 pounds, 13 pounds for females. Older dogs may weigh slightly more. The length of the dog’s body should be about 14 ½ to 15 inches measuring from the front of the chest to the back of its hindquarters. Younger dogs may fall below these height, length, and weight standards.
Their coats may be any color, except white. In fact, brindle colored Cairns often change colors throughout their lifetimes. Their weather-resistant outer coat is profuse and harsh, while their under coat is short and soft, lying close to their skin.
Cairn Terriers have a generous amount of hair on the tops of their broad heads and a definite stop. The hair on top of their heads may be softer than that on their bodies. They have shaggy eyebrows over medium size, wide set eyes that are somewhat recessed. Eye color is hazel or dark hazel, according to coat color. Their small, pointed ears are set wide apart on either side of their heads, and are carried erect. They have black noses, strong muzzles, and large teeth.
They have muscular bodies and strong hindquarters, with straight backs of medium length. They appear strong and active without looking heavy. The tail is set at back level, carried jauntily, never curling over the back. Their tails are well covered with hair, in proportion to the abundance of hair on the head; the tail hair is never feathery.
They have sloping shoulders and legs of medium length. Forelegs are straight, not turning out at the elbows, although their forefeet may turn out slightly. The forefeet are bigger than the hind feet; pads are thick and strong. The Cairn Terrier stands well up on its feet.
Cairn Terriers make great companions and family dogs as long as they receive plenty of mental and physical exercise and lots of attention. They are alert, active, and remain playful into their teen years. Even though they are affectionate and need their humans, their curiosity, intelligence, and independent ways mean they may quickly lose interest in being a lap dog and want to explore. Cairn Terriers need to live in close contact with their families and should never live outside. Male Cairns tend to be more affectionate, while female Cairns are more independent.
Cairn Terriers love children and enjoy playing with them, but young children should always be supervised with any dog. Cairns are generally gentle with people, but will not tolerate mistreatment from humans of any size. Socializing your Cairn as a puppy with children, people, and family dogs is essential.
They are loyal and protective of their families, making them excellent watch dogs; with their keen sense of smell, they can detect an intruder from a distance and will bark continuously to alert you. But they are people-oriented and therefore friendly to most humans.
Cairn Terriers are better with humans than other animals. They do not behave well with cats, and may hurt them. They retain their hunting instinct, which means they are prone to give chase to small animals and may show aggression toward them, making them a threat to other non-canine pets. Their instinct to hunt also means they should never be outside and off leash. They get along with other dogs most of the time, but if challenged will stand their ground.
Crate training is recommended for house breaking, and also provides your Cairn with a place to go when he or she wants to rest undisturbed. Obedience training is critical, but they are sensitive and will not react well to harsh punishment. It is critical, however, that you show yourself to be in charge, exhibiting firm, consistent, and loving discipline at all times. Otherwise, your Cairn will try to dominate the house and may become overly territorial. They crave attention and training; it will show if either are lacking. Without both, your dog may become bored and destructive, and bark a lot out of frustration. Training your Cairn should be fun and challenging for them because they are smart and learn quickly; avoid too much repetition.
Long, brisk daily walks on a leash are a must. As with all dog breeds, the daily walk is essential for mental as well as physical health. They enjoy running free, but should only be allowed to do so in an enclosed yard, and even then, they should be supervised. They love to dig and play with a ball. Cairns are working dogs so they particularly enjoy task-oriented games and activities. Playing indoors with your Cairn Terrier can serve as indoor exercise when weather prohibits a walk (but only temporarily). They can live in an apartment, as well as anywhere, as long as they get enough exercise, stimulation, and attention.
Cairn Terriers require a minimal amount of grooming, about an hour a week will keep the coat healthy. Brush and comb them once a week and bathe only when needed. They do not shed much, if their coats are maintained properly.
Their coats should always be hand stripped; cutting a Cairn Terriers’ hair with scissors even once can ruin the texture.
Many Cairns are allergic to flea bites, so it is important to keep them flea free.
Cairn Terriers are generally healthy dogs with a long lifespan of fourteen or fifteen years, maybe even longer. Cairns can become overweight easily, so keep your pet active and avoiding overfeeding.
Ocular Melanosis is a painful genetic disease that primarily affects Cairn Terriers. It progresses slowly and causes eventual blindness. Dr. Simon Peterson-Jones of Michigan State University is working on a project to identify the particular gene mutation that causes this condition and to develop a screening test through the use of DNA samples. The test would allow breeders to identify and not mate dogs who carry the gene, which could lead to the elimination of this disease in Cairn Terriers.
Renal Dysplasia is the faulty development of kidneys in the fetus; mild forms may not impair the dog’s life, while severe cases can lead to early renal failure and death. Dr. Margaret Casal of the University of Pennsylvania is researching Renal Dysplasia in Cairn Terriers, gathering data through Renal Dysplasia Ultra Sound clinics. Her data will be used to identify and improve the quality of life of affected dogs in early stages of the disease, if possible, and for further research to determine if markers or mutations can be found that cause the condition.
Other health issues include: