Behavior of a Cairn Terrier

Who are you calling scrappy?
i chien terrier image by Danielle Bonardelle from

Lions, tigers and bears are no match for the cairn terrier. Or at least that was true of Toto, canine cairn terrier star of "The Wizard of Oz." Even if your cairn's not a movie star, he's likely to be a scrappy, independent little guy -- and absolutely adorable.


Cairns are tough little dogs, befitting their history as rodent control specialists in the often inhospitable Scottish climate. While every dog has his own personality, remember that the cairn evolved to hunt pests. The cairn doesn't think of himself as a little dog, and he might make the mistake of challenging an actual large canine. He'll try to challenge his owner as well, although not in the same way. It's just that he thinks he rules the roost. It's your job to let him know how it really works.


Toto was not an exception as far as a well-trained cairn terrier. These clever, athletic little dogs do well in competition, such as obedience and agility. They also do well in terrier-oriented pursuits, such as earth dog trials -- giving him an opportunity to dig his little heart out -- and terrier races. Because cairns tend to push the envelope with their people, taking your cairn for obedience training is a good idea. Who knows, you could end up with a star!


Cairns need a fair amount of exercise, as they are active dogs. If you don't have a fenced-in yard, take your cairn for a good walk every day, rather than just a quick do-your-business and back in the house outing. If you do have a fenced yard, check the fence line regularly to ensure there are no cairn-sized gaps where he could escape, or that he's not engaging in one of his favorite activities -- digging. Those rabbits, squirrels and other small wildlife will engage his attention whether on a leash or in the backyard. You can't train the hunting instinct out of a hunting dog, but make sure he walks properly on the lead. You're taking him for a walk, not the other way around.

Other Pets

Cairns are hunters and may not distinguish -- or pretend not to distinguish -- between actual prey and the family cat. Be careful introducing your cairn to Kitty. It may take a while before the two reach some sort of living arrangement agreement. Other small pets, without sharp claws, are even more vulnerable. As for other dogs, well, somebody has to be "top dog," and guess who the cairn thinks that is. While he'll probably be fine with more submissive dogs, especially those of the opposite sex, be careful with canine introductions in the home or at the dog park.

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