Cairn Terriers have a special double coat. The coat is insulating, water shedding and dirt repellent.  An ungroomed Cairn has long, shaggy coat that 'drops' if grabbed.  This was a useful quality for working terriers that may face unhappy quarry, but most Cairns today don't need that shaggy look and are easiest to care for if kept groomed. Regular grooming helps prevent skin irritation and matting. Grooming can be by stripping or clipping. This is a personal choice unless your dog will be shown in conformation. If you plan to, or might plan to, show your dog, do not clip the coat.  Clipping the coat will change the coat quality, softening it, lightening the colour and reducing the water / dirt shedding characteristics of the coat.  Clipped coats may require more frequent bathing.  Regular bathing is not necessary for Cairns with a stripped coat. A good brushing will remove much of the dirt even after a serious digging episode!  Reserve bathing for times that your Cairn has perfumed themselves with something disgusting!   If your dog comes in with muddy feet and belly, a quick wash of the undercarriage will usually suffice.  If you do bathe your dog, be sure to use a special Terrier or Crisp Coat shampoo..

Grooming Tools

While a variety of grooming tools is available at most pet stores – the quality of these are often less than desirable and for some items, professional quality tools are going to make your grooming tasks much easier. They will be more expensive but will last much longer and are less damaging to the skin and coat of your dog than cheaper pet store tools. Professional grooming tools are often available at local dog shows as well as through online sales.

A good basic grooming set will include items such as:

1. Pet store tools – Lil Pals Slicker Brush and Conair Pro scissors

Scissors and slicker brush

The Lil Pals Slicker Brush is handy for getting rid of mats on the belly, the arm pits etc. The small size makes it ideal for getting into small spaces.  The Conair Pro scissors is a reasonable alternative to expensive professional scissors provided you replace them frequently as they do tend to dull quickly.

2. Professional quality pin brush and comb: e.g. Chris Christensen #20 Brush and Encore comb

Brush and comb

3. Stripping knives – 3 different versions - be sure to get the correct version for your dominant hand as these are specific to left or right handed use. There are many different versions of stripping knives. If you are not sure what to buy, talk to your breeder about their preferred choices - and how to use them properly.

Stripping Knives

4. Tools to aid hand stripping: finger cots, pumice stone cuticle pusher, Greyhound detailer, Greyhound stripper. You will not need all of these and will likely find that you develop personal preferences. Again, there are many different options and everyone develops their own preference. A good and inexpensive place to start is the Pink Nail Buffering File (10 pack) available from Amazon:

Nail Care

5. Nail care: Variable speed Dremel with Diamagroove head and clippers with clip guard.  The diamagrove head is specifically designed for trimming nails.  It is hollow so reduces heating of the nail as you trim.  It is expensive but should last for years unless you are doing many dogs. Another advantage of the Daimagroove is that it is less likely to snag and become entangled in hair - your dog's or yours!  The Diamagroove is available from Tybrushe Pet Supply:

Nail care

Nail care

Basic Regular Coat Care

To keep your Cairn’s coat tidy and free of mats, a regular brushing a couple of times a week will suffice. You can use a spritz of water in a spray bottle to lightly wet the coat before brushing if you wish. Brush through the coat with a good pin (wire) brush. Pay special attention to the areas where the legs meet the trunk – these areas are prone to matting. A slicker brush is useful if mats are already present. If there is severe matting, a detangling spray will help. e.g. After brushing, go over the coat again with the metal comb. When using these tools make sure you get through both layers of coat. This stimulates the skin and encourages good coat growth. Be gentle but firm, remembering the side and belly are more sensitive than the back. You will probably notice dead hair coming out when brushing and combing, especially if it has been some time since the last brushing and you are not doing regular stripping of the coat.

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 gently cleaned with mineral oil on a q-tip. Any dirt build up in front of the eyes can be combed out with a fine tooth comb or gently dabbed away with a moist cosmetic pad. Check the teeth to make sure they are clean and odour free. Brush the teeth – see the information on General Care for more information on tooth brushing. Use moist, unscented wipes to clean around the butt, penis sheath or vulva as needed. Trimming the hair around the anus and sheath (in male dogs) will help keep that area clean. Some recommend leaving a bit of longer hair around the sheath or vulva to help wick urine away.


Advanced Coat Care: Stripping or Clipping

Your Cairn’s coat will grow quite long if it is not stripped or clipped. A long shaggy coat will be more prone to matting and often looks quite unkempt. There are two ways to maintain a shorter, tidier coat – Stripping or Clipping.


Clipping uses scissors or an electric hair trimmer to cut down the coat to a uniform short length. Clipping does damage the coat - a clipped coat will lose the natural water and dirt repellancy (requiring more frequent bathing) as well as the insulating properties of the coat. Clipped dogs are less tolerant of weather extremes. A clipped coat tends to lighten in colour over time. Clipping leaves the dead hairs in place - eventually these will fall out, so clipping may actually result in more stray hairs than stripping. Of course, the process of stripping results in lots of hair as you strip! When weather permits it is helpful to set up an outdoor grooming station.

NEVER clip a dog that might be shown! Clipping is appropriate for:

  • Dogs whose owners do not wish to strip the coat out regularly or pay the costs of stripping by a professional groomer. (Stripping can be more expensive as it takes much longer than clipping.)
  • Older dogs that have finished their show career and dislike long grooming sessions.
  • Younger dogs that are highly averse to stripping.  Most youngsters can become comfortable with stripping if properly introduced to the grooming table, noose and stripping through positive reinforcement and habituation through short sessions.

Be aware that most commercial groomers are not skilled at stripping coats and will default to clipping. If you are taking your dog to a professional groomer be sure you find out how they will work the coat and if you do not want your dog clipped be very clear that they are not to use scissors or clippers on the coat at all, except to tidy up the feet and genital areas. Check our Find a Groomer page for groomers who have demonstrated skill in proper stripping.



Stripping is the process of pulling out the old, dead hairs from the coat to allow new hairs to grow in.  As the old hair is 'dead', stripping does not hurt the dog. Stripping can be done periodically with a full strip several times a year, or can be done regularly, every couple of weeks to yield a nice layered coat. If your dog will be shown in conformation, regular stripping is essential. Whether you strip periodically or regularly, or even take your dog to someone else to be stripped, here are some tips.

1. Make the grooming table a FANTASTIC place to be. Feeding your young puppy his meals on the table can start the process of building good associations with the table (Never turn your back on a Cairn on a table! Jumping off the table can result in serious injury.) Practice gentle brushing on the table, rewarding your dog for standing still. Even if you never groom your own dog, this is a great thing to do. A dog that is happy on the grooming table will make the process of grooming easier on your dog, not to speak of the groomer.

2. If you have never done stripping before - get an experienced breeder to teach you how to do it. Your breeder may be able to mentor you – or recommend someone in your area. Our ‘Find a Groomer’ list may helpful in locating a groomer near you. We have grooming videos available in our members section of the website with great tips for new and experienced groomers.

3. There are several Cairn Grooming DVDs and YouTube videos available to help you learn the ropes. A note of caution – many You Tube videos on grooming Cairns do not demonstrate proper grooming techniques for a good rolled coat – they are designed more for pet grooming and use a combination of clipping, scissoring and stripping.  The list below identifies several useful ones.

Grooming DVDs:
Meike Jensen: Cairn Terrier Trimming Step by Step - available from a club member  - e mail the Cairn Shop for information.
Dawn Inett: Grooming Your Cairn Terrier, available from Dawn Inett, Carradine Cairn Terriers

Good You Tube Videos:
Linda Tuttle: Grooming the Cairn Terrier Head
Abigails Hundekanal: Cairn Terrier Trimmen - the narration is in German and autotranslate leaves a lot to be desired but the techniques are well demonstrated. To turn on closed captioning, click on the CC icon at the bottom of the video then chose the language in settings icon to the right of the CC icon.

4. Have a good grooming table with a noose, good lighting and a mirror – these will make your job much easier. A smooth grooming jacket will help you avoid becoming covered in dog hair. Never groom while wearing fleece!


How to strip

Baggins - a great example of a rolled coat and a beautiful Cairn.


The amount of hair taken off is a matter of personal preference. If a Cairn is not destined for the show ring it is perfectly acceptable to do a full strip down their undercoat once or twice a year. For dogs that may be shown, or if a nice rolled coat is desired, you will need to get in the habit of stripping the coat regularly every two to four weeks. It is helpful to keep a picture of a well groomed Cairn to compare to as you work.

Good tools definitely make the job easier. A variety of things are used to help grip the hair: groomers chalk, finger cots, lava rocks, finishing stones and even vet wrap taped around your thumb, index and long 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, with your hand or by sliding a comb under a section of coat and rotating it up and out so that you lift that section of the coat away from the rest and can see the longer and shorter hairs. Using the 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). Do not work any one area too long or you will end up with a patchy coat or bald spots. Instead, pull a bit and move on to the next section. You can always return to the area if you have not taken enough, but if you have taken too much it can be a long wait for the coat to grow back. As you strip, stop frequently to look at your dog from a distance and to compare what you see to a good example of a well stripped dog so you can achieve the desired profile.

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.

StrippingWhen stripping the legs and tail, treat each as if they have four sides and work one side at a time. 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 you want, 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, and it is acceptable to use the small scissors for that area. A small clipper can also be used to tidy up the immediate area around the anus – but be sure not to trim only about ½ cm out from the anus on each side.

AmCan GCh Quarrydene's Queen of Diamonds (Aoibheann)

The Cairn head should be circular rather than football shaped – stripping to get that nice shape is a bit more challenging but is done in the same manner as the body. 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 furnishings 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. The front of the chest is usually kept quite short.

Stripping the ears involves pulling the topcoat from the upper third of the ear front and back, leaving just the undercoat in that area. A properly stripped ear will look velvety smooth. This creates a neat, trim, perky ear that is typical of the Cairn. Cairns should not have long hairs growing out and over the ear. The classic description of the Cairn is ‘varminty’ or ‘foxy’ and long shaggy ears definitely detract from that alert, ‘ready to rumble’ look. Blend the hair on the lower part of the back of the ear into the head furnishings.

Don’t forget to trim the nails if needed. If your Cairn spends a lot of time walking on rough surfaces or digging in gritty soil, he may naturally keep his nails ground down but most Cairns do require trimming. This can be done with clippers – but with caution to avoid cutting into the quick which will cause bleeding – and dislike of the process. Styptic powder can help stop bleeding but be careful not to get the foot wet until the wound is well clotted. Some people prefer to dremel the nails as there is less risk of inadvertently getting into the quick. A Diamagroove tip (see above under tools) will make the process easier as there is less heating up of the nail and the shape of the tip is purpose designed to make the job easier. If your puppy has not been introduce to the dremel before you get him, be sure to get him accustomed to the sound and vibration before using it on his nails. Pair the sound and the sensation of vibration (hold the side of the handle against his body, keeping the tip well clear of his coat) with fantastic treats. Start the dremel on low speed and gradually increase it as your puppy shows a happy response to having it turned on.