Tarahill Cairn Terriers &
Wags to Wishes K9 Training 

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 Eight Reasons NOT to Get a Cairn


1. You want a lap dog. 

Cairn terriers were bred to be independent workers on farms, ridding the land of vermin -without being told what to do or how to do it. Dogs that had the drive and skill to work independently and to tenaciously focus on the task were valued and selectively bred, while those that were more interested in hanging around home were not as useful.  As a result, Cairns have a strong independent streak.  While they may cuddle briefly, most are more interested in engaging in some activity (typically defined by them) than sitting on your lap and snuggling.  (Tip: boys are generally cuddlier than the girls.)

2. Your beautiful lawn and garden is the envy of the neighbourhood and your pride and joy.

Your Cairn will happily rearrange everything and create a new landscape for you! Digging is a hardwired activity for Cairns as they needed to be able to dig into the dens of vermin in the fields to get their quarry.  Cairns love to dig and have front feet that are specially designed for effective digging.  That nice soft soil where you have just planted your spring bulbs or summer bedding plants will be especially appealing.  (Tip: Give your Cairn a sanctioned place to dig and protect important areas of your yard if having a half way decent lawn and garden is important to you.)

3. You want a dog whose obedience will inspire awe in all who see.

Cairns are very 'trainable' - but like many terrier breeds, are not the most ‘biddable’ of breeds.  Because they were bred for independence, training takes time, consistency and a commitment to positive reinforcement based training methods.  Using these methods will yield a happy dog that loves to engage with you and will happily take on new challenges - but may never be 100% reliable in doing what you ask.  Using force, corrections and punishment will result in your Cairn disengaging and ‘opting out’.

4. You want an easy groom dog.

Cairns have a special double coat that makes them quite water and dirt proof. A good brushing several times a week and especially after an outing will generally keep them very clean.  Regular bathing is not necessary and may soften the coat.  While day-to-day grooming requirements are quite easy – maintaining a good coat that repels water and dirt requires the dog to be stripped (hand pulling the oldest hairs).  Ideally this is done every couple of weeks, but in dogs that are not destined for the show ring, it can be done two or three times per year, letting the coat grow out in between.  Clipping the coat even once or twice can do long term or damage resulting in changes to the texture, colour and repellency of the coat. Depending on where you live, it may be challenging to find a groomer that is skilled in stripping a Cairn coat – and willing to do it. It is certainly possible for owners to learn to do this themselves, but it will require some dedication and effort.

5. You don’t like dog hair on your couch, clothes, floor…

While Cairns are not heavy shedding breeds – you do have to get used to the idea that life is better with dog hair! If the coat is clipped, there will be shedding as the dead hairs fall out.  Stripping (hand pulling out dead hairs) will reduce the amount of shed hair, but unless it is done elsewhere, does tend to produce a lot of dog hair that has to be cleaned up.

6. You are looking for a hypoallergenic dog

Since there really is no such thing as a truly hypoallergenic dog, this may not be of much significance.  There are a variety of lists of ‘hypoallergenic’ dogs and Cairns sometimes appear on these lists, but in reality, the only way to know if you will be ok with a cairn is to spend quality time with one.

7. You dream about long off leash walks with your pal

Cairns are not good off leash dogs.  Remember the bit about them being bred to be independent? They also have high prey drive that was necessary for their function as vermin hunters. This means that they are always scanning for movement that might indicate something worth chasing – and when something catches their attention they are off and running.  When a Cairn is in full on chase mode, the likelihood of you being able to call them off is low.  Their brain is fully occupied with the instinct to chase down that critter – so much so that they likely are not even able to hear you calling.  On the other hand, if you are prepared to have your Cairn on leash, many of them love long walks and even strenuous hikes.  Oran, the ‘climbing Cairn’ and his owner have climbed 39 Munros in Scotland raising funds for Cystic Fibrosis.  Their goal is to climbing all 282 in two years. (A ‘Monro’ is a mountain with a height over 3,000 feet.)

8. You work long hours and have a lot of other responsibilities during off work hours and won’t be able to commit time to training and engaging with your dog.

Cairns are content to chill out for long periods but they do need at least moderate regular exercise and they most definitely need to be engaged with their owners in appropriate activities – if they do not have sufficient to keep their brains and bodies engaged, they will create their own activities – which often result in unsanctioned modifications to the house or yard. Many Cairns are strongly attached to their owners and long absences will be difficult for them. They will be happiest if they can come with you – or failing that have a consistent ‘second home’. Heavy work responsibilities do not preclude having a Cairn, but they do require careful thought and planning.  Training classes are a must – so it is important to think about how you will incorporate these into your schedule.



This is intended to be a bit 'tongue in cheek' - but also to help you think through the decision to get a Cairn. Cairns are not a suitable choice for everyone.  If you think a Cairn may be for you - but you have never experienced one before, be sure to talk to people who are experienced with Cairns and spend some time with them.  Getting the right dog for YOU will ensure that your relationship is a long and positive one.