Description & History

The Cairn Terrier is a native of the Isle of Skye, an island which is part of the Inner Hebrides and is situated off the north-west coast of Scotland.

The history of the Cairn or Cairn - like dogs goes back many centuries. Although there is no reliable information, only supposition, it is believed to be the oldest of all the terrier breeds north of the border and probably the ancestor of all Scottish terriers.

These tough little dogs were natural hunters and were used throughout the Highlands and on the islands around the northern coasts of Scotland. Two or tree hundred years ago vermin were prolific in these areas. Rocks and cairns were the natural homes for most of them and therefore small earth terriers, which could burrow underground and could reach inaccessible hideouts, were needed to keep the vermin population under control. Foxes, badgers and otters were some of the prey which kept these terriers busy.

It is recorded that King James I of England and VI of Scotland, an admirer of working terriers, sent a number of them to the King of France. Whether or not these dogs were ancestors of the present day Cairn or a Highland terrier of that time is not known.

The original name of the breed was the Short-haired-Skye Terrier. In 191O the name was changed to Cairn Terrier in order to distinguish it from the Skye Terrier which also comes from the Isle of Skye. In 1912 it was recognised by the British Kennel Club and a year later by the American Kennel Kennel Club.

The foxy-faced and rough coated little Cairn is quite happy to live in the country or a town providing adequate exercise is given. They make good house dogs and are not usually quarrelsome by nature.

Today's dogs, whatever their breed, have inherited both good and problematic characteristics and idiosyncrasies from their ancestors. The Cairn is no exception to this rule as many a owner has found out when he discovers his flower-beds have been re-designed for him. Some members of the clan, like their forebears, find burrowing a compelling pastime - no doubt hoping their owners have a supply of wee beasties!

Rosamund Walters.

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