Cairn Terrier: History and Appearance
In 1873, Scotland’s Terriers were separated into two classifications: Dandie Dinmont Terriers and Isle of Skye Terriers. It is believed that the modern Cairn Terrier was developed to preserve the old time working Terrier of the Isle of Skye.
Three modern Scottish Terriers fell into the Isle of Skye category: the Cairn Terrier, the Scottish Terrier, and the West Highland Terrier. These terriers were working dogs that were sent after foxes, otters, rats, and other animals. All three Isle of Skye terriers were developed from the same stock, and could even be found in the same litter. The only discerning difference between the three was their coloring. A standard was approved for 1882 for this group of Hard Haired Scotch Terriers.
At the end of the 19th Century, Scottish Terrier breeders began to breed along separate lines, separating themselves from the Isle of Skye Terriers. Another group known as the White Scottish Terrier Club, petitioned for the group of white dogs to be considered a separate class, thus differentiating the three breeds further. This left only one group remaining as an Isle of Skye Terrier, and even their place in that group was questioned.
A dog show at Inverness offered classes for “Short Haired Skyes,” though this name was protested as it was felt it caused confusion over the breed. In 1910, the judges at a dog show in Crofts refused to allow the breed to show, stating they were the “wrong class.” A change of name for the short haired Skye was suggested, and the breed received the name of “Cairn Terrier.”
The name “cairn” comes from piles of stones used as landmarks or memorials. Rats, foxes, and other small mammals often hid in these rock piles. The small terriers were used by farmers to chase them out. In 1912, the Cairn Terrier was allowed to compete for a challenge certificate. In 1913, they received official recognition by the American Kennel Club.
Yet this breed’s challenges were far from over. There was some confusion in regards to the breed’s standard. With the English standard permitting white until 1923, there was some crossbreeding between West Highland White Terriers and Cairn Terriers in both the United States and England. The AKC, in 1917, refused to allow Cairns to register, due to what was described as a “mixed breeding practice.”
The modern Cairn, as it stands, is expected to meet the standards of its former prototype. The breed is expected to demonstrate hardiness, and its ability as a working dog should come across. The belief is that since the intent is to preserve the breed in its old working type form, then the breed’s utility is what should be fancied.
It is important that the qualities that make the Cairn terrier true to its old working dog standards are what is held in value in modern times, and that the breed’s unique characteristics are what stand out.
Cairn Terriers have a height that differs significantly from other terriers. They are not considered “low to the ground.” They have one accepted weight, and that is fourteen lbs. for males and 13 lbs. for females. The breed is a short legged terrier, and should appear active and hardy.
The Cairn Terrier should have wide set, hazel or dark hazel eyes covered in shaggy brows. The head should be shorter and wider than any other terrier, with a medium sized muzzle and a black nose. Ears are small and pointed, and should be carried erectly and set wide apart as well. The tail is set in proportion to the head. It is not feathered, but should be well covered in hair. The tail is carried up, but does not curl.
Though a smaller dog, the Cairn Terrier should still have good muscles and strong build. The back should be straight and the hindquarters should give the appearance of strength. The dog should be of medium bone, with sloping shoulders. Forelegs and hindquarters should be straight, though the front feet may turn out slightly. Legs should be covered in hard hair, and the pads of the feet should be thick.
The Cairn Terrier should have a hard and weather resistant coat. Cairn Terriers are double coated, with a harsh, stiff outer coat and a dense, furry undercoat. Coloring can be anything except white, with the muzzle tip, tail tip, and ears being darker.
Showing the Cairn Terrier
The Cairn Terrier is held to a very specific set of standards when in show.
As stated before, the expectation is that this dog is of a specific weight, with males at 14 lbs. and females at 13 lbs. Females should be 9 ½ inches, while males should be 10 inches. The dogs should neither be too thin nor too husky. The coat should be full. The Cairn Terrier should be clean, combed, and brushed. The dog should be tidied up around the ears, tail, feet, and outline. The dog should be active and alert, and should not demonstrate shyness.
The Cairn Terrier is expected to move freely when handled. It should stand up on its toes, and demonstrate “terrier characteristics.” The breed is considered to be at fault if the head is too narrow or if the muzzle is long and heavy. The mouth should not be overshot or undershot. Eyes cannot be too large, yellow, or ringed. The ears are never rounded or set close together. The nose must be black. They cannot be set high on the head, either, and should never be heavily covered in fur. Legs and feet should not be light or heavy boned, crooked, or turned out at the elbow. Feet should not let down on the heel.
The body should not be too short, nor have a low set tail. The dog’s coat should not be overgrown, too short, or have an undercoat that is lacking. There should not be silkiness or curliness. Any white on the dog is considered to be a disqualification.