Written by Doris Donnerman (last updated April 6, 2009)
The Cairn Terrier, originally known as the "Short-haired Skye Terrier," is one of, if not the oldest, true British Terrier. There is some doubt as to whether the first Cairns came from the mainland of Scotland or the Isle of Skye, but most opinion leans toward the "Misty Isle." As far back as sixteenth century writings, reference may be found to dogs which must surely have been the progenitors of present-day Cairns.
At least four Scottish Terrier breeds may be considered descended from the Cairn-namely, the Scottish, West Highland White, long-haired Skye, and the Kyle, the latter now extinct. The Waternish and Drynoch strains from the Isle of Skye and the Harris strain from the Isle of Harris were the basis of the early British Cairns.
These hardy little dogs were maintained in packs by the Scottish lairds for use in routing fox, badger, and other fur-bearing vermin from their hiding places in the rocky terrain. They were also used extensively for otter hunting, proving themselves as capable as the Spaniels in the water. The crofter usually kept one or two as house pets, proof of the versatility and adaptability of this breed.
The Cairn Terrier is the smallest of the working Terriers. It is a hardy, active dog with a gameness which is unsurpassed. Its compact size makes it extremely desirable as a house dog, its spirit and alertness being ideal characteristics for those seeking a "watch dog." A very affectionate dog with his own family, he usually will show no interest with strangers. He has a gaiety and intense interest in everything that is new around him making him an excellent and amusing companion.
The Cairn Terrier is a longer-bodied dog than the Scottish or West Highland White Terrier but not so long as the Dandie Dinmont in relation to body-length and height from the ground. However, a weedy Cairn is not to be desired any more than one with a too short back. The Cairn Terrier's activity is one of its most distinctive features and, although good bone and general substance are demanded, this does not mean a clumsy build. Cairn Terriers adapt themselves readily to the habits of their masters and will thrive on little or much exercise. However, those owners planning to take their dogs into the show ring should provide regular exercise to keep feet and legs in hard condition and body flesh firm. Because of their double coats they may be kenneled in either heated or unheated quarters. Being so completely beguiling in their natural shagginess, their owners have never submitted to the whims of doggy fashion. Even for the show ring, the Cairn Terrier requires only a little "tidying-up" around ears, feet, and tail to present an appearance as smart as the most trimmed and dressed up dog in the show. The winning Cairn Terrier is the result of careful breeding rather than careful barbering.
Fortunately for the breed, the Cairn Terrier has never been over-commercialized. This has tended to limit his popularity more than with some other small breeds. However, he continues to enjoy steadily increasing approval and popularity both in the show ring and with the general public. His infectious charm and personality cannot be disregarded, and it has yet to be disproved that once one has owned a Cairn Terrier, no other breed ever quite takes its place.
The general appearance would be that of an active, game, hardy, small working Terrier of the short-legged class. He is very free in his movements, strongly but not heavily built, having a hard weather-resisting coat. His head shorter and wider than any other Terrier and well furnished with hair giving a general foxy expression.
The ideal size involves the weight, the height at the withers and the length of body. With the weight for the females at thirteen pounds; for the males fourteen pounds. Their height measured at the withers-females at 9-1/2 inches and the males at ten inches. The length of body measures from 14-1/2 inches to fifteen inches from the front of the chest to back of hind quarters. The dog must be of balanced proportions and appear neither leggy nor too low to the ground; and neither too short nor too long in body. Weight and measurements are for matured dogs at two years of age.
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