My Approach to Breeding and Puppy Rearing

Breeding Cairn Terriers is a labour of love and a passion.  I love this wonderful, feisty, versatile breed and want to see the breed continue to represent their ancient heritage into the future through wise, preservation breeding and proven puppy rearing practices.  This means breeding for health, good temperament and excellent structure. Once a breeding is done and puppies are born, it means working hard to prepare them well for their future roles as family pets and performance dogs.

My dogs are family first, and performance and breeding dogs second. There is much more to their lives than breeding and having puppies. They live in my home and regularly travel with me as I am on the road frequently for work and for dog shows and performance events. They easily adapt to travelling by plane, motor vehicle or ferry and living in a small RV as well as hotels. I typically breed only once or twice a year because breeding and puppy rearing is an intensive process that requires my full attention and care.

Puppies are whelped and raised in my home in close contact with people and other dogs in the household. They start life in a whelping box in a quiet room where the mother can feel secure and be comfortable with her newborns. After a few weeks, they move into a weaning pen in my living room so that the sights, sounds and daily rhythms of a home surround them and become part of life.

Puppies are raised using Puppy Culture (TM) protocols, an intensive program of habituation, socialization and training to optimize puppy development, socialization and resilience. This includes activities such as Early Neurological Stimulation, Early Scent Introduction, sound habituation (fireworks, thunder, gunshots, machine sounds, etc.) intensive physical handling, focus work, clicker training, regular exposure to novel stimuli and much more.

Once puppies are up on their feet and have their eyes open (around 3 weeks), a litter box is introduced and puppies continue to use this through 12 weeks. Due to my geographic location, regardless of the season, outdoor potty training is limited due to risk to tiny puppies from raptors.  Weather permitting puppies are outdoors for carefully supervised periods.

Puppies are introduced to crates as soon as they move out of the whelping box and into the weaning pen. At first, crate doors are removed or fixed open so that puppies can choose to go in and out at will. They quickly opt to sleep in crates – usually several to a crate, then as they get bigger, one to a crate. Over time, they are exposed to brief periods in the crate with closed doors - with fabulous treats to make the experience a good one. As they mature, they learn to be content in individual crates with doors closed for longer periods so that by the time they go to new homes, they are typically quite comfortable in crates for extended periods and overnight, and are happy travelling in crates.

Puppies have numerous vehicle rides, start attending classes at 9 weeks and visit pet friendly businesses such as Canadian Tire and others and meet horses, gerbils, children and other people. At around 8 weeks of age,  they have a formal assessment for structure and temperament. Health testing is done at 8 weeks and at 11 -12 weeks.  Puppies are ready to go to new homes only after the results of the 12 week health testing is available.  Puppies are microchipped and usually receive 2 sets of vaccinations prior to going to new homes.  Once they go to new homes they are ready immediately to attend puppy classes and carefully curated exposures outside the home. Puppy_Socialization_Position_Statement_Download_-_10-3-14

Placing a puppy is far more than a financial transaction - I have invested a great deal into producing each puppy and preparing them for life as a family pet, or as a performance or show dog and it is a dearly held hope that each one placed will lead to new friendships and an ongoing relationship with the family with whom the puppy is placed. If something goes wrong - I want to hear about it. If advice is needed, I am here to help with training and behaviour advice. If there are health issues, I need to know as that may impact future breeding plans.  If a puppy needs to be rehomed for any reason, I expect that that will be done through me, or at a minimum with my advice and approval. I never want a puppy I have raised to be turned over to a shelter, rescue group or resold on kijiji, given away or otherwise passed along.  I will bring a dog back to my home for assessment, health checks and any remediation work that might need to be done and then find them the best possible new home. I want to stay in touch with families and celebrate milestones and accomplishments with you.  I maintain a facebook group for families where we can privately share information about what are dogs are doing and I always enjoy e mails and pictures.

Feeding: I strongly recommend feeding with a product that meets World Small Animal Veterinary Association guidelines for animal feed production. At the present time, approved foods are produced by Purina, Iams, Royal Canin, Eukanuba or Hills.  There are several reasons why I recommend using WSAVA approved foods.

1. WSAVA guidelines have a number of important stipulations to ensure foods have appropriate nutritional content and appropriate digestibility.  These guidelines are science based - not based on fads (like grain free, gluten free etc) and marketing strategies.

2. Use of non WSAVA compliant foods has recently been implicated in the outbreak of Canine Dilated Cardiomyopathy (non genetic).  While the precise cause of DCM is uncertain, it is clear that the vast majority of cases are found in dogs feed on non compliant (but currently highly popular) foods.  Vanishingly few cases have occurred in dogs fed WSAVA compliant diets.

3. Major differences between WSAVA compliant and WSAVA noncompliant manufacturers include:

  • the presence (or absence) of a qualified veterinary nutritionist on staff,
  • actual post production analysis of food vs computer generated nutritional profiles using 'as formulated' information - ie WSAVA compliant manufacturers test the actual product after it completes the manufacturing process.  This is important because simply predicting nutritional content based on what goes into a food does not take into account alterations occurring as part of the manufacturing process.  The ideal way to test the nutritional content of a food is to do feeding trials where dogs fed the actual produce over a period of time are assessed nutritionally.  Very few companies do this as this is a costly process and involves maintaining a colony of test dogs.

4. Many WSAVA non compliant manufacturers are fad and marketing driven - the combination of feeding fads and heavy marketing leads to a variety of false understanding about dog food, and pushes people to opt for more expensive but not more effective diets.

I am not a proponent of raw feeding - but if you wish to feed your dog a raw diet, my strong recommendation is that you consult with a qualified veterinary nutritionist to ensure that you are providing a balanced and healthy diet.


Spay and Neuter requirements My main concern in the area of spay and neuter decision making is that dogs are not spayed or neutered too early. The current fad of spay / neuter at 6 months, or worse, at even younger ages is detrimental to the health of dogs.  Hormones have a purpose and desexing a dog prior to sexual maturity carries a number of important health risks - from musculoskeletal development to temperament issues and malignancy risk.  It is important to be fully educated on the pros and cons of procedures that remove sex hormones before making a decision. I want to see every effort made to retain normal hormone function at least until sexual maturity at around 18 months; 12 months at the absolute earliest if there are special circumstances.  Of course this means that owners must be responsible to prevent breeding while waiting for the dog to mature. Most puppies are fully capable of breeding at 6 months or so.  If a puppy is to be placed in a home where there are other intact dogs, vasectomy or ovary sparing spay procedures that retain sex hormone production are recommended, or spay / neuter of older dogs in the household.


Training: As a trainer myself, I feel it is very important that puppies get into good puppy classes early on. Even if this is the 5th or the 10th dog you have trained and you 'know it all', there is benefit to attending a good puppy class. I love to see my puppies go to homes where they will continue to be challenged and their lives enriched by participating on dog training classes and performance sports.


Shipping puppies: I don't.  Shipping small puppies is not a risk I am willing to take, even with a puppy transporter.  It is important to me that I meet you in person and spend time with you, helping to set you and the puppy up for success in your home.  If you are not prepared to come and pick up your puppy (driving or flying) in person, while I am happy to chat Cairns with you, you would be better off looking for a breeder closer to your home. By submitting an application you are making a commitment to come in person to pick up your puppy.  If in my work or dog show / performance travel I am in a position to drop off a puppy I am happy to do that but I cannot make any guarantees in that regard.


Fencing: I require homes to have a securely fenced yard with immediate access from the house. This is especially important for young puppies who need to be able to get out and run freely in a safe area.  It is also critical for effective potty training - both for the protection of very young pups from exposure to infectious diseases (a risk of public walks and parks are used for pottying) and for being able to get them out quickly when needed. Secure fencing means: well maintained, tight to the ground or sunk into the ground and no gaps that young puppies can slip through. Gates may need a double barrier / 'air lock' system especially if they open to high traffic areas.  I realize the requirement for a private fenced yard may eliminate some otherwise excellent homes from getting one of my puppies and that is regrettable, but I do feel that it is important for the well being of the puppy and for the success of placements. If you lack a fenced yard, you may want to consider an older Cairn where house training is not an issue.

Why do I require prospective families to use Facebook?  I use Facebook as a key strategy to provide prospective families insight into my puppies daily lives, growth, development and training and to provide important information and useful links.  I certainly appreciate that some people have legitimate concerns about using Facebook and there are many things I do not like about it too.  However, it is the most efficient way for me to share information, pictures, videos, documents and links - which I do on an almost daily basis at certain stages of pups development.  If you wish to be seriously considered for a puppy I need to know that you will have access to this information (for practical reasons I cannot do this by e mail).  I use a secret and private facebook group (only people who are invited can join and the site is not 'findable' or visible to the general public).  The group is restricted to prospective and actual families with Tarahill puppies as well as a few select people involved in my puppies lives.  The site has a single purpose - to share information about Tarahill puppies and no other activity is permitted.   It is very important that at least one family member have access to facebook and checks the site regularly.  Your participation in the group does factor into my final decisions about placements. If you have concerns about using facebook but are willing to explore ways of doing that without going all out, I am happy to discuss with you and help you get set up so you can participate.

Cairn Terrier Puppies

Want to be on a Tarahill Puppy waiting list?

I know that once you have made your decision to get a puppy, it is very hard to wait.  But let me assure you, the wait is well worth it to get a quality puppy that is right for you and a good match with your family / circumstances.  Puppies are not toasters - I do not have 'inventory'. I breed only occasionally (typically once or twice a year at most) because raising puppies is a time consuming and sometimes exhausting process, and I keep puppies till 11-12 weeks. This means waiting is part of the process.  I do keep puppy questionnaires on file and you are welcome to submit one at any time, whether or not I have puppies on the way.   Under normal circumstances, I do NOT take deposits or make prior commitments for puppies from any particular litter.  Be sure to review all the information on this page. Once you have submitted a questionnaire, I will be in touch with you. If I don't think it is likely I will have a puppy for you I will let you know. I am also happy to refer to breeders with available puppies if I know of any at the time.  If you like my approach to puppy rearing and are willing to wait, I am happy to have you on a wait list. It is important that you keep in touch though as I need to know you are still interested. If I cannot get ahold of you when the time comes to look at placements, I will remove your questionnaire from the file, so do be sure to provide accurate contact information and update as necessary. In addition to the questionnaire, phone conversations +/-  site visits are part of the process.

While you wait: there are some things you can do to help prepare you for a future puppy. I strongly recommend the Puppy Culture DVD/ VOD (Puppy Culture: the Powerful First 12 weeks, Attention is the Mother of all Behaviours and Shaping Emotional Responses in particular).  You can get these items as DVDs or Video on Demand  from  Watching them while waiting for your puppy will give you a great foundation for your new puppy. Kathy Sdao's book 'Plenty in Life is Free' is another great resource. Start seeking out good positive reinforcement based puppy classes and see if you can observe a class or two to help you locate the best class for you.  The Cairn Terrier Club of Canada has information on how to choose a good training class as well as other useful information.

Puppy Faqs

Puppies are not released to new homes prior to 12 weeks with rare exceptions at my discretion only and not earlier than 11 weeks. These last few weeks are important opportunities for puppies to learn impulse control from littermates and their mothers and it is well worth the wait. During the last 4-5 weeks in my home, puppies will typically attend classes in my dog training business to further their socialization and help them become familiar with the class environment and other dogs working around them.  Another reason why I do not place prior to 12 weeks is that some health testing is best done later rather than earlier and I do not want to place a puppy and later find out about a health issue. Bile acid and renal ultrasound testing is deferred as long as possible and usually done between 11 and 12 weeks so that results are available by 12 weeks.

    1. Breed recommended genetic disorders: Craniomandibular osteopathy, Globoid Cell Leukodystrophy, Pyruvate Kinase Deficiency and Hemophilia B are tested using a recognized genetic test.
    2. Renal ultrasound if not done as a puppy.
    3. Veterinary examination: general exam including checks for patellar luxation, hip and heart murmurs.
    4. Veterinary ophthalmologic examination for ocular melanosis.
    5. I do not do hip Xrays (OFA, PENN HIP) because studies have shown that test criteria used in these tests are not reliable in detecting hip dysplasia in Cairn terriers.
    1. Puppies receive at least two general veterinary exams prior to placement.
    2. Renal ultrasound (for Renal Dysplasia) at approximately 11 weeks.
    3. Bile acid testing (for Liver Shunt) at approximately 11 weeks.
    4. Additional tests as needed.

I do not take deposits and I do not guarantee puppies until after the puppies are 8 weeks old. There is far too much that can go wrong with a breeding for me to feel comfortable taking deposits and holding on to your money. There are also many puppy scams that involve taking deposits so I prefer not to take deposits.

    1. If you are interested in a Tarahill puppy, you must complete a puppy questionnaire. I review the information you provide carefully. If I do not feel I am likely to have a puppy that fits with your circumstances, family, activities etc. I will let you know. I keep questionnaires in a file and when I have a litter, I review them again, looking for the best match between puppy and family.
    2. It is very important to stay in touch with me if you are serious about a puppy! If you send me a questionnaire and I never hear from you again, it suggests you have lost interest. If you are able to get a puppy elsewhere, I do very much appreciate it if you let me know you are not longer interested so that I do not have you on a list I am counting on for the next litter.
    3. Show and performance homes have first priority in puppy placement. That is, if a puppy has characteristics that suggest it will be a good show prospect, a potential show home will be given priority for that puppy. Likewise, if a puppy shows great potential for performance activities, a performance home would receive priority for that puppy. After show and performance homes are prioritized, I then match the remaining puppies with the best-fit families on my list. I do not place based on “first come - first served” and the decisions are mine alone. I have raised these puppies for 12 weeks, observed them intensively and know them better than anyone else. My goals for each puppy is to place them in the best possible home for that puppy . Generally once puppies are about 2-3 weeks old, I have a good idea about potential homes for the litter. By about 8 -9 weeks I have a pretty solid idea of what puppy goes where and I start letting people know their match.
    4. Experience with terrier breeds and especially Cairns is a definite plus but not an absolute requirement. If you have never had a Cairn or a Terrier breed, be sure to do your homework and educate yourself about the terrier temperament and typical behaviours you might expect from a Cairn. Terriers are wonderful, delightful, but sometimes challenging dogs – and not appropriate for everyone.
    5. Off leash expectations – Cairn terriers are NOT off leash dogs for the most part. They are easily distracted by small animals (or even larger ones) and readily give chase....without a thought for where they are going or whom they have left behind frantically calling for them.  A SECURELY fenced yard is a MUST.  Secure means that fencing goes tight to the ground (or better yet, buried in the ground) with NO small gaps that a puppy can squeeze through. Constant care is needed to watch for digging attempts and any new gaps that may allow escape. I will not place a puppy in a home that expects to be able to engage in off leash activities with their dog except in securely fenced areas.
    6. Home and Yard - Puppies do best in homes with direct access to a secure outdoor area for play and potty training.  When puppies are young they need to be taken outside every couple of hours for pottying.  This is a significant challenge for apartment / condo dwellers with no dedicated outdoor space.  Not having your own green space also means that puppies are at increased risk of exposure to a variety of canine infectious diseases if other dogs are using a common area for pottying.  Yards MUST be fully secure - that means good quality fencing - either sunk into the ground or with added surface level protection to prevent dogs from digging under. Fencing that is not tight to the ground encourages digging. There must be no small gaps around gate installations (I recommend an 'air lock' system with an inner barrier so that opening the gate does not allow quick puppies to dart out.). It is important that puppies have a safe secure area where they can run and play off leash - and a private yard is the safest and best option. For all these reasons,  I have a clear preference to placing dogs in homes or condos with private attached yards. If you are an apartment dweller or live in a condo with not private yard, you may want to consider an older dog where house training is no longer an issue.
    7. Commitment to positive reinforcement based training and attending puppy classes. I choose not to place puppies in homes that are not committed to adopting force free / positive reinforcement based training. My puppies are raised in this mode and it is unfair to them to change the rules when they go to a new home. Punishment and aversive methods have significant risk of negative fallout (behaviour problems, stress, health consequences). If you feel that you would be unable to raise a puppy without resorting to punishment / aversive methodologies I am not the breeder for you. If you have prior experience using these methods and are not sure how to move beyond them, but are willing to learn and commit to it, I am happy to work with you in both providing helpful resources, recommending a local trainer to work with you and being there for ongoing help and advice. It is also important that you are committed to taking your puppy to a good puppy class to help you get off to a good start with training. While it is not necessary for families to engage in competitive dog activities, I do strongly encourage you to become active with your Cairn in some type of regular activity and training that will challenge your dog's mental and physical abilities. Cairns are working dogs and need a job....if you do not provide one for them, they may well create one for themselves, and it may not be one you like!

As above, my selection of which puppy goes to which home is based on my understanding of your family and my intimate knowledge of each puppy. I have been with these pups nearly 24/7 for 12 weeks. There is no substitute for this knowledge. Quick visits, videos and pictures capture only a small bit of what each puppy is all about. That is not to say that I will not consider your preferences – all else being equal. I certainly try to accommodate sex preferences (but given that I cannot control how many puppies of a given sex are available, flexibility is your best option). Colour is never a valid reason for a specific choice as it is very common for Cairn puppies to darken with age. Brindle puppies typically will become much darker. In contrast to some breeds, there are no known genetic health issues associated with specific colours (such as the  association of the Merle in some breeds with deafness and ocular defects).

I use a facebook group to help prospective homes have a window into your future puppy’s life from the time they are very young. I post videos, pictures and important information as the puppies grow. I want you to understand in detail how puppies are raised and to see their development. I do understand that some people prefer not to use facebook but you are certainly free to limit your facebook presence to the puppy group and to set up your account in a way that protects your privacy. Your engagement in the group does factor into placement decisions.

Most puppies will be sold on a Non Breeding Agreement. This is an agreement between us, registered with the Canadian Kennel Club. Any dog under an NBA receives a registration status so indicating that prevents any offspring from being registered and advertised as pure-bred Cairn Terriers. It is a binding commitment that you will not breed your dog and that you will be careful to prevent any possible accidental breeding. The purpose for the NBA is to help prevent indiscriminate breeding, casual breeding by inexperienced individuals and to prevent puppies ending up in puppy mills as breeding stock, or surrendered to shelters.

I recommend spay or neuter on all pups (no earlier than 18 months) that are not intended for future use in my breeding program or in the program of another experienced and ethical breeder. I do NOT recommend paediatric spay neuter (often done at 6 months). There are serious health issues that we are only now learning of that are consequences of early spay / neuter. Therefore, I strongly recommend that you defer spay / neuter until at least 18 months, ideally 2 years. It is important to remember that most pups are able to sire a litter or become pregnant from 5 or 6 months old – so there is a time period when you need to be vigilant and responsible. Waiting until the dog is mature allows your dog to benefit from sex hormones during their all important growth periods. If you are concerned about possible pregnancy, or if you prefer to allow your dog to remain hormonally intact, I recommend ovary sparing spay and vasectomy.