Owning a Cairn

The Cairn is one of the original terrier breeds of Scotland developed in the Western Highlands and the Island of Skye to hunt fox or otter in a pack, on foot, with a crofter. The work for which the breed was developed very largely determined both its physical and temperamental characteristics …very much a case of form following function. Whilst most Cairns today are never likely to be in a position to pursue their hunting heritage breeders try to stick to the Breed Standard as closely as possible which describes a terrier best suited to the task. 

Should impress as a small, alert, active terrier with its tail (which is undocked) and ears up, bright eyes full of intelligence and ready for anything.
The coat which should be profuse is double coated and can come in range of colours ranging from cream, red, grey and almost black with brindling in all these colours  Black, white and black and tan are the colours proscribed by the Standard. 
An interesting characteristic of the breed is that brindles will often get darker and darker with each change of coat until they end up really very dark indeed in old age. 
A sturdily built dog the Cairn is truly a large dog in a small package but at 28-31 cm at the shoulder and 6- 7.5 kg is robust enough to enjoy long walks, a romp in the backyard with the kids but small enough to be easily carried and to enjoy sitting on his owner’s lap of evening watching television. 
The breed is suitable for most people who are willing to spend time with them, exercise them regularly and put a little effort in to maintaining the coat. Obviously a young energetic puppy might not be as suitable for an elderly person where an older and more settled dog might fit the bill. Often a breeder can be persuaded to part with an older one when their show and stud career is over if they are certain that the new home is going to be very special!!  
Cairns seem to have a natural affinity with children and although a convenient size are tough enough to enjoy the rough and tumble which is so much part of play. However they should never be teased or mistreated. In their enthusiasm to play neither the puppy not the kids might take the rest required for growing youngsters so it may sometimes be necessary to lock the puppy away to ensure they do so.    
The breed is very people oriented so that it needs close company and if you want a dog that is just going to be locked out in the backyard and not made part of the family then this may not be the breed for you. Without close human contact no Cairn will develop to its true potential. 
No two Cairns are exactly alike each has their own individual personality. 
They are highly intelligent and quick to learn as long as they clearly understand what it is you expect of them. However it must be said that they are fairly independent and are not necessarily a breed that will give instant obedience every time. For those who love the breed this independent streak is very much one of the things which attracted them to the breed in the first place. 
Alert, active ,hardy and outgoing are all words that might be used to describe the average Cairn and most are eager to please their owner…if not always immediately! The Standard calls for them to be assertive but not aggressive and given the fact that they were bred to work in small packs that is hardly surprising. Whilst most Cairns will stand their ground when challenged a Cairn who actively seeks out confrontation is not typical of the breed. 
Like most other characteristics temperament is a combination of genetic effect and environment. The breeder can only do so much…your upbringing of your new puppy will be crucial in the final outcome. The puppy needs much TLC but also firm, gentle and above all consistent discipline. As puppies Cairns are terribly cute and it’s so easy to let them get away with murder but do bear in mind that what might seem very amusing at 12 weeks can seem very much less so at 12 months!  
In the days when bitches were not routinely neutered the demand was for dog puppies but this has changed and now there is a far greater demand for bitch puppies. Since most are neutered it must be said there is little difference between the two sexes. A castrated male will not generally mark its territory and in terms of temperament is not really significantly different to a bitch. Indeed many would say that Cairn bitches can be rather more independent than their male counterparts. 
The breed is a coated one and therefore there is certainly some work required but done regularly it should not be too onerous. They should be brushed once or twice a week with a good stiff bristle brush and combed through with a steel toothed comb to ensure there are no knots. As a double coated breed at the onset of summer the topcoat is best removed to keep the dog comfortable during the hotter months. The coat is best removed by hand stripping and your breeder is the best person to speak to as to who may be able to help. It is not a particularly difficult skill to master and with a little tuition most pet owners should easily pick it up. Most grooming parlours will clip your Cairn and whilst this will certainly make the dog tidier and cooler it will generally result in a loss of coat quality and colour. 
A coat brushed and combed several times a week will tend not to shed in the house as the regular grooming will remove the loose hairs. Coats regularly attended to will require infrequent washing and even on those occasions become when the little dear has rolled in something indescribable the plentiful application of talc or a proprietary brand of dry shampoo to the coat and its removal with a good stiff brushing will leave the coat fresh and clean smelling. 
If your dog is walked on a hard surface it should keep its nails well worn down. It is still wise to check the feet regularly to ensure the nails are no too long. Not all dogs step evenly on each foot and the odd nail may, even in a dog exercised regularly, make insufficient contact with the surface to be effectively worn down. If the dew claws have not been removed they too should be checked. Not making contact with the ground if left unchecked they can continue to grow and cause significant problems. There a number of nail clippers, files etc available and you should use whichever is most suitable for you and the dog. The secret is regular gentle use introduced when the puppy is young so that he becomes used to it. 
It’s also wise to keep an eye on the hair between the pads as if knots form the dog can very quickly become lame. 
Fed a good hard biscuit each day and provided with the occasional large bone to chew most Cairns will keep their teeth strong and clean well in to old age.  
Regular exercise is essential for the wellbeing of any Cairn and a daily walk does much to keep dog and owner fit as well as contributing to the development of a strong bond between the two. Teaching them to retrieve a ball is handy as a vigorous session of ball chasing and retrieving can do much to keep the dog well muscled. 
A young puppy will generally get enough exercise in your backyard up until about 5 -6 months when daily walking can start and the length of the walks gradually increased. 
As most Cairns have little road sense it’s important that exercise is either on a lead or in a secure off lead area.In NSW Local Government authorities are obliged under the Companion Animals Act to provide appropriate off lead areas so a call to your local Council should soon ascertain where the nearest one is located.  
In this country dogs need to be vaccinated against distemper, hepatitis and parvo virus. There is also a vaccine which will deal with most strains of kennel cough. If there is any chance that you will need to board your Cairn most commercial boarding kennels will insist on them being vaccinated against kennel cough.  
When you get your puppy it should have already had an initial vaccination and the breeder should supply you with a certificate indicating when it was done and when the next needles are due. Follow the instructions and discuss with the vet the need for annual boosters. Most practices will send out a reminder to you when it is due. 
It is now possible to have an annual shot to combat heartworm and depending on where you live this is often advisable. Your vet is the best person to ask whether you need it in your area.  
Most Cairns live in the house with their owners as much loved family pets. Even in those circumstances it’s important that your Cairn has his “own” space be it a bed or dog crate. Getting the Cairn used to using an open plastic crate as his space is a very good thing as then if you have a need to lock him up for any reason, even if only to take him to the vet, he won’t resent the experience. 
Cairns can quite happily live outside as long as they are provided with a warm weatherproof kennel not too far from the house where they can see and hear their owner’s moving around. 
It goes without saying that your yard needs to be fenced adequately to stop your Cairn wandering. 
As a relatively small dog they don’t require substantial amounts of food so that whether you mix your own diet or rely on a commercially prepared one it’s important that the food be of good quality. They are normally very good “doers” so care needs to be taken that, whatever they eat, they don’t get overweight particularly if they have been neutered. 
Bored dogs are generally unhappy dogs and either destructive or noisy...or both! There are many products on the market today designed to be left with your dog when you are not there to keep him amused. Most work well and it’s really just a question of finding those that most appeal to your particular dog. However remember the most effective are not necessarily the most expensive. A large marrow bone will keep him amused for hours as well as keep his teeth clean. A sealed tin can with gravel in it which he can push around the yard is another favourite. There are many things around the average household which can be adapted to make toys for you Cairn and as long as you make sure that it can’t break up into pieces small enough to swallow or splinter the choice is only limited by your imagination.