Caring for your
Cairn Terrier


Cairns are relatively easy dogs to care for.
Below you will find information on feeding, grooming and basic training for your Cairn.


Generally, Cairns are easy keepers. A healthy, well balanced diet is all they need, good quality food whether it be dry kibble or a raw diet, should keep your dog in good shape. Feeding the right proportions is the key. You should be able to just slightly feel the ribs when you run your hands down their sides. A Cairn in good condition should have a shiny healthy coat and good muscle tone. Feeding raw meaty shank or knuckle bones will help to keep the teeth clean and gums healthy.


Cairns, like many terriers, must have the dead coat pulled or stripped out. It is not hard to do and the breeder should be happy to show you how to do it. Keeping a Cairn’s ears, feet and tail trimmed goes a long way to making the dog look good. A Cairn can be clipped but this may ruin the hard, weather resistant coat that is so versatile. A wash cloth for cleaning faces, tummies and feet is advised when the dog gets exceptionally dirty. A wet and dirty Cairn, if allowed to dry in his crate, only needs brushing for all the dirt to fall off him if he has the correct coat.

General Grooming

For general grooming, brushing the coat out thoroughly with a wire toothed brush, then do the same with the comb. When using these tools make sure you get to the skin of the dog. A Cairn is a double-coated breed, so you need to make sure you get through both layers of coat. This is what stimulates the skin. Be gentle but firm, remembering the side and belly are more sensitive than the back. You will probably notice a lot of the dead hair coming out when you are brushing and combing. To remove additional dead hair, use a soft slicker brush. This last step will remove any dead undercoat. Using the small scissors, trim any long hair around the feet and between the pads. Check the nails and trim if necessary. Also check the ears for any wax build up, if necessary, they can be cleaned with mineral oil on a q-tip. Any dirt build up in front of the eyes can be combed out with the fine tooth comb. Check the teeth to make sure they are clean and odor free. Brush the teeth if you are able to.

A Cairn should be bathed as little as possible unless it is absolutely necessary. It can make the skin dry and the coat soft and dull. If you do have to bath, make sure it is a shampoo suitable for a wire coated breed.

More Extensive Grooming

This requires a bit more work. The amount of hair taken off is a matter of personal preference. (Some people strip their Cairns down their undercoat once or twice a year) Start by grooming your dog as described above. It is helpful to keep a picture of a groomed Cairn to compare to.

Note: When hand stripping, using a powdered chalk, rubber fingers or a lava rock helps to grip the coat better. Vet wrap can also be used, taped around your thumb, forefinger and index finger. Keep your hand and wrist relaxed when hand stripping, using your whole arm to develop a smooth rhythm.

To pull the coat, lift up a small area of coat, put your one hand in front of the area you are pulling and using your thumb and first two fingers, pull the hair you want to remove. Pull only a few hairs at a time, combing the hair down every once in a while to see the overall effect. If you only pull the longer dead hairs, you will start what is called a rolled coat. To maintain this you will have to pull coat at least once a month (show coats are worked on every week).

Starting at the top of the neck, gently pull the amount of hair you want to remove. Work your way down the back, sides and hips, always pulling the coat in the direction it grows. When doing the underbelly, hold the skin firm, then pull the hair, this area can be very sensitive. For the males, trim the long hairs around the end of the sheath with the small scissors. Do the same for the females around the vulva. This will help to keep these areas cleaner and dryer.

When stripping the legs and tail, treat each as if they have four sides. For the legs comb the hair away from the leg, hold the leg with one hand and pull hair to desired length with the other hand. Start at the elbow or hock and work down towards the paw, blending the elbow and hock into the body. Once you have pulled all the hair, clip the toenails. To finish trimming the foot, use the small scissors, cut the long hair between the pads. Then put the foot on the table and trim any long hair around the foot, keeping the flat side of the scissors parallel with the table.

The tail is done in a similar fashion as the legs, working as if there are four sides. The tail is to be shaped like a christmas tree, wide at the base coming up to a point at the tip. The hair on the front side is shorter than the hair on the backside. Starting at the tip of the tail, pull any long hairs working towards the bum. Be patient in this area as most Cairns are not fussy about having the ends of their tails pulled.

The back part of the buttocks is the same as the body. From the hock, pull the coat up towards the base of the tail. Thin the hair on the flat part of the bum. The hair around the anus should be kept as short as possible, the small scissors maybe need for that area.

The head is little trickier to do to get the shape, but is still done in the same manner. Starting on the muzzle, brush the hair back towards the body. Holding a few hairs at a time, pull any of the longer hair, working towards the back of the jaw line. Once you get past the mouth, start blending the hairs into the jowl and neck area. Once the sides are done, pull the hair on the top of the head blending it into the sides. The eyebrows are pulled a bit shorter than the top. A Cairn should not have the sunflower type shape to the head furnishing like a Westie. The muzzle and side of the face should taper into the scruff which is the area that comes around the jaw and blends in to the chest area. To do the ears, pull the top coat from the upper third of the ear front and back, leaving just the undercoats. Blend the hair on the lower part of the back of the ear into the head furnishings.



Housetraining can be easy as long as you follow a few simple rules and know the signs of when the puppy needs to go.

The first thing to do is choose a spot where you want your puppy to eliminate, and then always take your puppy there. To know when the puppy needs to go potty watch him carefully. A puppy will usually go to a certain area sniffing and turning in circles. When you see this, quickly take him out to the spot you have chosen. Give lots of praise when the puppy uses the area to eliminate. It may take him a few minutes to remember what he was thinking of before you whisked him off to this area. If you in are still using paper in the house for him to eliminate, put the paper in front of the door that you will be using to take him out. He will quickly learn that when he goes to the door, you will know to take him outside to do his business. Be patient, it can take a few months for a puppy to be completely house trained. One thing to remember is that dogs prefer to soil in an area that is absorbent like carpet. Limiting these areas will help with the training.

The second thing is to know when a puppy will usually have to go potty. He will have to go after a nap, after eating and after a play period. Schedule mealtimes, playtimes and naps and keep to those schedules as much as possible. Feed the last meal around 6:00 pm and remove water at least 2 hours before bedtime. If you have to leave the puppy for any length of time, give him a large confined area to stay in and put paper down at one end. Make sure he has toys and water.

The most important thing is to be consistent. If you can’t supervise the puppy, put him in his crate or confined play area. Give him a treat when you put him in these two areas so he thinks this is a good thing.

If your puppy has an accident in the house, don’t punish the puppy unless you actually catch him in the act. Just clean up the area and remove the scent. If he is consistently soiling in the same area, close off that area. If you do catch the puppy in the act, a mild scolding is all that is necessary, pick up the puppy and take him to the spot you have chosen.

Some puppies will pee when excited or nervous. Don’t scold them when they do this, as it will only make it worse. Usually they will outgrow this stage.

Remember, lots of praise when the puppy has gone where you want him to go, and be consistent.

Crate Training

Crates are an excellent way to train your dog and provide it with its own sanctuary. Crates should have enough room for the dog to stand up and turn around in. The best crate to use is the hard plastic variety. There are several styles to choose from and they are available at pet or department stores. Always keep the crate as a positive experience, give them a small treat when they are put into their crate and never use it for punishment.

Some of the benefits to crate training your dog are:

  1. Security and safety for your dog
  2. Damage control
  3. Helps you train proper chewing and elimination
  4. Easier traveling (Many hotels will only accept pets if they are crated)

Introduce the puppy to the crate as early in the day as possible (your breeder may have already started this training). Place a few treats, toys, or food in the crate to motivate the puppy to enter voluntarily. Place the puppy in its crate with a toy and a treat, and close the door. You can expect some crying and whining at first, but don't give in and let the puppy out. Ignore it until the crying stops, and then release it.

If crying does not subside on its own, a light scolding may be useful. Avoid any excessive correction— it can cause fear and anxiety, which could aggravate the whining or cause elimination. When correcting, remain out-of-sight and make some sort of noise to interrupt barking (a can or bottle with a few coins in it works well). With correct training, the puppy will soon be happy to go into it's crate when asked or even go there on it's own when it wants to take a nap.