1. You want a lap dog. Cairn terriers were bred to be independent hunters, working on their own to rid fields of vermin. Breeding selected for Cairns with independent drive, skill and tenacity. While some Cairns do like to cuddle (usually briefly and on their own terms!), most are more interested in engaging in some activity (typically defined by them) than sitting on your lap and snuggling. (Tip: boys tend to be cuddlier than girls.)
2. Your beautiful lawn / garden is your pride and joy. Your Cairn will happily rearrange everything and create a new landscape for you. Digging is a hardwired activity resulting from their historic job as vermin hunters. Cairns have specially designed front feet that make for effective and efficient digging. They love freshly cultivated soil and will happily rearrange your bedding plants (in the blink of an eye). (Tip: give your Cairn a sanctioned digging area and fence off any garden areas you want to preserve from Cairn predation.)
3. You want a dog with awe-inspiring obedience. Good luck with that! Cairns, in typical terrier fashion, are not the most biddable of breeds. Because their breeding was focused on independence and drive, they are not naturally highly attentive to handlers. This does not mean they cannot be trained to a high level but training requires time, consistency, and convincing your Cairn that HE wants to do the thing you are trying to train. (Tip: Training methods that rely on corrections and force or aversive techniques generally result in your Cairn disengaging and turning off so use of positive reinforcement training methods is essential,)
4. You want an ‘easy groom’ dog. Cairns’ special double coat provides natural water and dirt repellency. A good brushing several times a week and after outings will generally keep them clean. While day to day grooming is easy, maintaining quality coat that repels water and dirt requires regular hand stripping to remove the old dead hairs. Clipping the coat (instead of stripping) does provide an ‘easy groom’ option but will change the coat texture and colour and result in loss of water and dirt repellency. Not all groomers are skilled in stripping.
5. You object to dog hair on your clothes, furniture and floors… While Cairn Terriers are not a heavy shedding breed – you do have to get used to the idea that ‘life is better with dog hair’! If the coat is clipped, there will be a certain amount of steady shedding as the old hairs (that are left behind when a coat is clipped) eventually fall out. Stripping (hand pulling the dead hairs) does create a large volume of dog hair that has to be cleaned up after the session.
6. You dream of taking long walks with your dog off leash. Cairns are not good off leash dogs. Remember that bit about them being bred for independence and for hunting vermin? This means that they quickly transition to chase mode – chasing anything that moves. When a Cairn is in full on chase mode, the likelihood that you will be able to call them off is vanishingly small. Their brain is fully occupied with the instinct to chase – so much so that they likely to not even be able to hear you calling...and calling…and calling. On the other hand, if you are prepared to keep your Cairn on leash, long walks and even strenuous hikes are right up their alley. Oran, a Scottish Cairn Terrier has now climbed 39 Munros (a Scottish mountain >3,000 feet) with his handler in their quest to climb all 282 of them as a Cystic Fibrosis fundraiser.
7. You don’t have much time to focus on your dog. Your Cairn will be happy to chill out for long periods but he will need at least moderate exercise and engagement in appropriate activities. If you do not find sufficient things for them to engage in, they will create their own activities – usually some form of unsanctioned modification to your house or yard. Cairns are very creative and can be quite adept at escaping yards by digging or climbing fences.