Cairn Terriers - and Me

Cairn Terriers are a delightful small breed characterized by terrier tenacity and determination.  They make wonderful family pets and are typically good with children. They are generally easy travellers by road or air provided they are trained from a young age to enjoy being in a crate.   They have great stamina and will happily join in on family hikes, whatever the weather.  Cairns typically live to well into their teens so are a long term commitment.

While sometimes described as stubborn, they are in fact, not difficult to train as they are easily food motivated and always ready for a challenge. However, it is important that training be done through use of consistent positive reinforcement based techniques without resorting to correction or coercive techniques which often result in the dog disengaging from training - and from you.  As with most terrier breeds, they were bred to be independent - but they are by no means standoffish.  They love interaction and play - and cuddles, on their own terms. They are typically very welcoming of strangers - though they do make good guard dogs because they will alert bark at anything out of the ordinary.

Cairns are moderately active and need to have a job, otherwise they may find one of their own choosing - and one that may not be to your liking, such as reorganizing your garden!  Providing a job for your Cairn can be as simple as routinely involving them in enrichment activities or trick training at home, or getting involved in regular training classes and canine sports and regular outings.

Cairns typically enjoy being outdoors and they need the freedom to be off leash (especially during puppy development) - but they also need the security of a well fenced area in which to run and play.    A well fenced yard is a must!  Fencing must be tight to the ground, or better yet embedded in the ground, and well maintained.  A puppy can slide through a three inch gap in a heartbeat and even an adult can sometimes squeeze through a 4x4" gap so wire fencing should be no bigger than 2x4 inches.  Cairn Terriers are not good off leash dogs (unless in securely fenced areas) - they were bred to chase and bolt quarry and will happily give chase to anything that moves. When in chase mode their brain and body are fully engaged in the chase and it is unlikely that they are even able to hear you frantically calling. Recalling a cairn while in full on chase mode is unlikely to be successful even with strong recall training.

Digging is a hard wired behaviour for Cairns. It was a necessary part of their job as vermin hunters.  Their structure is well designed for digging, with bigger front than back feet, front feet that may turn out slightly (to permit pushing dirt behind them when underground) and a strong scissor bite that allows them to clamp down on roots and yank them out, . Providing a sanctioned digging area can help reduce more widespread digging but you may need to consider protecting plantings and areas of lawn that you want preserved.

For a much more extensive look at the characteristics of Cairn Terriers and the history of the breed, see the Cairn Terrier Club of Canada website at 


I obtained my first Cairn in 2005, after searching far and wide - and ultimately finding one very close to home.  Ceilidh (Grastar's Forget Me Not, bred by Jeannette Hargreaves in Saskatoon) introduced me to many firsts - my first terrier, first dog requiring anything more than the occasional brushing for grooming, my first dog show, my first performance events, first time travelling long distances with a dog... and more.  While she never loved the show ring - she did get me hooked on Cairns and on showing.  I cannot imagine 'life without Cairns' now. I started breeding in 2012 with the encouragement and support of a wonderful community of Cairn breeders in Calgary and have just had my seventh litter of Cairn Terriers. Since my second litter, I have followed the Puppy Culture (TM) approach to raising puppies - an approach that yields resilient, confident pups that easily fit into new homes and face novelty with enthusiasm.


Cairn Terrier BreederAbout my kennel name and logo: Tarahill is my registered kennel name and looks back to family origins in Ireland.  Tara was the ancient capital of Ireland.  Many of my dogs have call names that are Irish in origin as well. The stylized Cairn on the logo is confident and ready to take on the world - the way I would like my cairns to be in the show and performance rings as well as in daily life.

My logos were designed by Catherine McMillan of Minuteman Miniature Schnauzers, Deslilse, Saskatchewan.  She was a pleasure to work with and did a great job of capturing what I wanted in a logo. You can see more of Kate's art work on her website at Look for her dog logos under the Canine Art page. And if you are looking for a logo, Kate has my vote!