Tarahill Cairn Terriers &
Wags to Wishes K9 Training 

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Thinking of getting a Cairn Terrier? 

Many Cairns live well into their teenage years - a Cairn is a long term commitment.

Cairn terriers make wonderful family pets and great (albeit sometimes challenging) performance dogs - but they are not for everyone.  Before you commit to getting a Cairn (or any dog) be sure to do your homework so that you can make the right decision for your family and for the dog you might bring into your heart and home. Understand what you want in a dog - and what you can provide for the dog. Do you want a lapdog who will be content with lots of physical attention but not a great deal of exercise?  Do you want a hardy little athlete that will accompany you enthusiastically on long hikes?  Do you want a dog that is good with a menagerie of other pets in the home?  Will you have time to spend with your dog?  Do you have a secure area for your dog outdoors? These are just some of the important questions you need to consider before making decisions.

Next, learn as much as you can about different dog breeds so that you can see which ones might be suitable for your situation. Cairns are bred to be independent working dogs  - which means they are not lapdogs (although some love to snuggle), and they are not typically content to hang around all day with nothing to do.  They have incredible stamina and persistence. It is important to engage them in activities that exercise both brain and body - if you don't provide this for them, they can be very creative in finding their own things to do (not all of which you may like!). In deciding on a possible breed or breeds - think about things like: exercise needs, grooming needs, temperament, space, what the dog was bred to do (which may give you a clue as to how easy training may be and the types of behaviour challenges to anticipate) etc. 


Make sure that you are prepared to commit to getting your puppy into classes as soon as you get him.  If you get your puppy at 10 weeks (and generally you should not be getting a puppy any earlier), he should have had his first shots and deworming and can start puppy socialization classes right away.  It is important to get into classes as soon as possible as the early socialization period is over by about 14-16 weeks and you want to take advantage of this wonderful time in your puppy's life when his brain is programmed to accept new experiences as safe and normative. When you graduate from puppy classes you will have just begun his training.  It is very helpful to keep going with classes that will help keep you and your dog learning new things.  Getting involved in some type of canine sport or performance activity can help you make sure your dog is getting good mental and physical exercise on an ongoing basis.


What kinds of activities can you do with your Cairn?  Cairns have been involved in a wide range of performance sports and activities from agility and K9 noseowrk (scent detection), to obedience and rally obedience.  Many cairns make wonderful Therapy Dogs as they are generally quite gregarious around people. They excel at the related sports of Earthdog and Barn Hunt and are one of the few breeds that are eligible to compete in earthdog trials. If you are not interested or able to get involved in an  organized sport with your dog, you can keep him active by training him new behaviours and tricks and enjoying outdoor games.  But, consider trying out one or more activities - you may get hooked, and you will have a good way to help meet your dog's need for a job to do.  If you do get involved in performance activities or sports - remember that Cairns were bred to be independent thinkers and they are not traditional performance sports breeds (like Shelties or German Shepherd dogs) that have been bred specifically for strong handler focus.  Don't get discouraged if your progress is not as fast as other students.  Work on building focus and attention and keep at it with force free, reinforcement based techniques.  We may take longer to get titles on our dogs - but the joy is sweeter for all the hard work that goes into it!

Things you might want to know...
  • Cairns can be quite vocal - after all, they were bred to bolt quarry (with barking, charging and digging) and alert their owners to the presence of rodents. Most cairns however do not bark for no reason and cairns are not prone to random protracted barking spells.  It is very important to avoid reinforcing barking from the start - and reinforcement can come from responding to barking by giving attention in a whole variety of ways. Teach your puppy to 'mand' for attention by sitting quietly.  If you are careful not to pick up your puppy or let him out of a crate or Xpen until he sits quietly, and avoid giving attention when he is barking you will avoid creating a dog that barks for anything and everything.
  • Cairns love to dig - after all, this is one of the tasks they were bred for! If you have prized plants, you may want to plan ahead and protect them with fencing, or move them to a safe location.  Creating a sanctioned digging spot and redirecting your Cairn to that location can help reduce the number of craters in your garden beds and lawns.
  • Cairns can be talented escape artists - they can scale chain link fences or squeeze through small openings by a gate etc. Make sure your Cairn is microchipped and keep a close eye on them. Monitor your yard for possible escape hatches. Escape behaviour can start early so watch for escape attempts from Xpens.
  • Cairns have high prey drive - again, this is something that they were specifically bred for.  If you share your home with pet rabbits or rodents or other small animals, be prepared to socialize your dog early to these animals and use careful management and constant vigilant to avoid potential problems.
Aoibheann climbing over her xpen at 9 weeks.