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August 15, 2009

I Don’t Think We’re in Kansas Anymore…the Cairn Terrier

By: Keri Weyenberg

One of the most famous lines in movie history was uttered to one of Hollywood’s most recognizable dogs, Cairn Terrier, Terry-get it, Terry the Terrier? Anywho, most of us know Terry by his stage name Toto, the beloved movie icon that joins his best friend Dorothy on a magical journey out of Kansas.

The Cairn did not originate from the plains of the Midwest, or from Oz for that matter, but from the rough and rocky Isle of Skye in the Scottish Highlands. The breed has been in existence since the 1500s and has the same historic relative as the Scottish, West Highland and the Skye Terrier. They were actually once called the Short-haired Skye Terrier but when they began making their way to British show rings in the early 1900s, Skye Terrier owners opposed use of the Short–haired name and so Cairn Terrier was born.

The name proved to be a good fit since ‘cairn’ refers to the rocky piles found throughout the Scottish countryside and it was the job of these tenacious terriers to root out rats and other vermin from the stones. They have also been used to hunt fox, weasel, otter and other small animals. The Cairn remains the closest physically to the original hunting dog than the other Scottish terriers’ descendants.

The shaggy overcoat conceals soft downy fur, the combination meant to stave off the fierce wet and often chilly Scottish weather. They come in a variety of colors including black, gray, brindle, red and wheaten and while they’re not heavy shedders, their thick coats do require regular brushing to prevent matting. A trim around the eyes and ears help keep these peppy little pups looking their very best. A regular flea treatment, or some form of flea prevention, should also be used as Cairns are known for having flea allergies. Fleas are never fun, but for dogs that are allergic, a single flea bite or two can cause severe itching leading to hair loss, open sores and hot spots.

Cairns have a small, sturdy body structure. At 13-14 pounds and nine--10 inches tall they’re perfectly-sized to fit though rocky crevices. Don’t be fooled by their small stature; these are some tough little pups. Like most terriers they’re convinced they are Great Danes in a dainty body. While they enjoy a good snuggle, don’t expect them to stay pampered on a pillow while there’s adventure to be had.

Like most hunting dogs, a Cairn’s spirit is deeply rooted in what its ancestors were trained to do. Bred with the stamina to sustain a long hunting trip through a rough and hostile environment means a Cairn will not be happy as a couch potato. Their compact body can comfortably fit in an apartment, but they still require a daily walk and some playtime. Walks should always be on a leash as these little guys will always seek out fun, and if that happens to be chasing a running squirrel so be it.

For homeowners that also means investing in a fenced yard, and if you enjoy your nicely manicured yard, don’t plan on leaving your Cairn unattended. Those large, strong paws are equipped with durable nails that love the feel of dirt between them. Remember, they’re designed for digging in stones and rocks after weasels, rats and other critters; your rose garden doesn’t stand a chance. Despite their warm coat, they are still strictly indoor pets. Like most dogs, they are loving animals that require attention and the comforts of shelter and should never be left outside for extended periods of time.

Their need for attention and adventure, along with their sturdy build and loyal disposition, makes them wonderful family pets, especially with children. As for the other furry members of your family, it depends on the Cairn whether you’ll have a peaceable kingdom or not. Since every dog has their own unique disposition, some may be thrilled to curl up on the coach with a kitty while others might have a stronger prey drive and Mr. Meows might look like a really good squeaky toy.

Speaking of disposition, despite their size, Cairns are notoriously independent and strong willed. “Cairns will take over the house if you let them,” warns breed rescuer and Cairn owner Diane Pease, adding “you have to establish who is in charge.” Often owners of littler pooches suffer from the notorious Small Dog Syndrome, believing that because their dogs don’t knock you over when they jump up they don’t require training. Try that with these pups and you’ll have a Cairn Terror.

Bad puns aside, without training and attention you can expect digging, barking, chewing, separation anxiety, biting and being overly protective of their families. Suddenly a six-week class doesn’t seem so bad. Although independent and feisty, Cairns are also sensitive, so make sure to choose a trainer who uses positive reinforcement. “They are very food orientated, that helps a lot when working with them,” said Pease.

Their love of food is the primary health concern for Cairns. While generally healthy and long-lived, with an average life span of 12-15 years, these guys never met a treat or table scrap they didn’t like. Along with obesity, afflictions like epilepsy, seizures, hypothyroidism, heart defects, eye ailments and allergies are among the issues Cairns can face. Breeders and the Cairn Terrier Club of America have been working hard to eliminate these health concerns from genetic lines.

As with all purebred dogs, if you’re purchasing a pet from a breeder, do your homework first. Also, like most purebred dogs, if you prefer rescuing as opposed to purchasing from a breeder or pet store, there are plenty of these pups available through shelters and breed rescues. “We’re seeing a lot of dogs due to home foreclosure,” said Pease “along with divorces, owners passing away, and just a lot due to changing circumstances. We try to emphasize commitment to all our potential adopters.”

Want to show a special Toto there’s no place like home? Groups like the Cairn Terrier Club of America (www.Cairnterrier.org), Cairn Terrier Rescue USA (www.Cairnrescueusa.com) and Col.Potter Cairn Rescue Network, (www.cairnrescue.com) can help you find the perfect pup.

Keri Weyenberg has had the good fortune to have spent the majority of her life in the company of canines. She currently shares her home with Sophie, a Golden Retriever, and Rufus the rebel beagle.


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