Frequently Asked Questions

Why Do Cairns End Up in Rescue?

There are generally three reasons why Cairn Terriers end up in need of a new home. One is that people make the decision to acquire a Cairn without understanding what Cairns are really like. They are interested in a small lap dog that is a good family pet. Well, Cairns are small, and they are affectionate, but they are not lap dogs in the true sense of the word. Because they are terriers and were bred to hunt small game, they do have a feisty, independent streak and like to keep busy.

The most famous Cairn was, of course, Toto in the Wizard of Oz. A good number of people adopt a Cairn because they want a dog just like Toto, not realizing that most Cairns are not as well trained as Toto. It is possible to train a Cairn, but because they are such independent thinkers, terriers need to be trained differently from other types of dogs. In order to train a terrier, you need to capture their interest and engage their minds, and many people find this to be more of a challenge than they bargained for.

The second reason that Cairns end up in need of a new home is the same reason that would apply to a dog of any breed. People adopt a dog with the best of intentions, and then something happens whereby they are no longer able to keep the dog. Loss of a job/financial problems, not enough time for the dog, a move, divorce, illness, owner having to move to assisted living, or the death of the owner are all valid reasons. And even though Cairns are a breed that is recommended for people with allergies, there are individuals who have to give up their Cairn due to the allergies of a family member.

Thirdly, Cairns who have been used as breeding stock to produce puppies may be lucky enough to enter rescue. A few of these dogs come from breeders who have small, carefully-managed breeding programs and want to find a good home for their dogs who are no longer producing or who are being retired from breeding due to age (typically, at 5 years). The majority of breeding dogs, however, come from puppymills in Missouri and Kansas and the Amish counties in Ohio and Pennsylvania, where dogs are kept in small wire cages and unsanitary conditions for most of their lives, often receiving little if any vet care or socialization, and are auctioned off and sold to the highest bidder or simply given to rescue if they are old and of no further use to the mills. We at Cairn Rescue USA believe that these Cairns deserve to be rescued from the living hell that they are put through by an industry that is driven by greed and regulated by weak laws that fail to protect them.

Fortunately, Cairns are a very adaptable breed. They generally do well in rescue and adapt well to a new home.

What colors do Cairns come in?

Cairns can come in any color but white. If you see a dog that looks like a Cairn, except for the fact that it’s white, that dog is most likely a West Highland White Terrier, or Westie. Cairns can range in color from cream to wheaten (blond), red, gold, and shades of grey, to almost solid black. Their coat can be almost a single solid color, such as solid wheaten, or it can have a “brindle” coat (multiple colors in the coat). Cairns are never bi-colored or spotted. Cairns may change color more than once over the course of their life, with lighter Cairns often becoming darker. Cairns have a double coat, with a harsh outer coat and a softer undercoat.

How much do Cairns weigh?

According to the breed standard, female Cairns should weigh 13 pounds and males should weigh 14 pounds. However, the breed standard was written many years ago and due to better nutrition and crossings with British stock (where the standard for Cairns calls for a bigger dog), it is not unusual to see fit Cairns weighing 18 to 21 pounds. It is unusual for a Cairn, however, to weigh much over 21-25 pounds. A 25-lbs. Cairn is generally overweight. A 25-lbs. to 30-lbs. Cairn is obese.

Are Cairns good with older people?

Cairns can be wonderful companions for older people. This really does depend on the activity level of the particular person and the particular dog. As a general rule, Cairns are an active breed but they do mellow out with age. An advantage of an older person adopting a Cairn through rescue is that the activity level of the dog will have already been assessed.

Do Cairns get along with other dogs?

There seems to be a misconception that Cairns, males in particular, are not good with other dogs. The opposite is generally true. Cairns were bred to hunt in packs, so tend to get along well with other dogs. They seem to recognize, and get along well with, other Cairns. They can have their individual likes and dislikes, and many like to challenge larger dogs.

As long as the dogs are spayed or neutered, males and females tend to get along the best, but dogs of the same sex also generally get along well with each other if both dogs have been socialized and are relatively close in age. One advantage of adopting a Cairn through rescue is that the Cairn will already have been evaluated to see if it gets along with other dogs. Cairn Rescue USA will also provide adoptive homes with information on how to properly introduce a new dog.

Are Cairns hard to housebreak?

Cairns are an intelligent breed, so given proper, consistent training, catch on quickly when it comes to housetraining. Some will backslide in a new situation, so Cairn Rescue USA will provide new owners with information on remedial housetraining. We also recommend the use of a crate, at least until the Cairn is accustomed to its new surroundings. Although some males will lift their legs in a new situation, they are no harder to housetrain than the females. Bellybands can be an effective way to train the males not to mark. Most rescue Cairns are housetrained or well on their way at the time of adoption.

Are Cairns diggers?

This depends on the individual dog. Cairns were bred to dig and hunt and this instinct is stronger in some Cairns than in others. Some Cairns are not interested in digging at all but those that have the instinct to dig and hunt are not easily discouraged. A wonderful activity for these Cairns is Earthdog Trials. Digging is one of the traits that will be evaluated while the dog is in its foster home.

Can Cairns ever be off-leash?

No, a Cairn can NEVER be off-leash unless it’s in a securely fenced area. This is due to their high prey drive. Even a Cairn that is well trained in obedience will take off after a squirrel or other small animal without a second thought. You even need to be careful when a Cairn is on a leash, because it can yank the leash out of your hand in the blink of an eye if it sees something it wants to chase.

What kind of fencing is best for a Cairn?

If your Cairn is a climber, a tall (at least 6 foot) fence with no footholds is necessary. If your Cairn is a digger, it may be necessary to bury chicken wire at least 6 inches into the ground and use concrete or railroad ties as reinforcement. Cairns can fit through surprisingly small spaces, so it is important to make sure there are no gaps in the fencing, and all gates should be kept securely latched.

Electronic or invisible fencing is NOT suitable for a Cairn. Because of their prey instinct and high tolerance for pain, they will run out through electronic fencing, but because of their high intelligence, they generally will not “take the hit” to come back in. Electronic fencing also does not keep other dogs out, and Cairns generally do not back down from a fight. Likewise, a Cairn should not be left tied out in a yard for the same reason.

What medical problems are common to the breed?

Cairns are a very healthy breed. Although medical problems are uncommon, the Cairn Terrier Club of America has information about health related concerns on their website at Although it is impossible to predict what health problems a dog may develop over the course of its lifetime, Cairns adopted through rescue will have been assessed for existing health problems.

How much does it cost to adopt a dog from Rescue?

At the time you take possession of your Cairn, we require that you make a donation to Cairn Rescue USA in an amount that depends on the age of the Cairn and on whether the Cairn is a purebred or a mix. These donations help defray shelter fees and other costs that we pay to procure our rescue Cairns, the cost of transporting them to our foster homes, the costs of providing them with food, and the high costs of providing them with appropriate veterinary care, including spay/neuter, immunizations, heartworm testing and prevention, and other medical and/or grooming needs as are required by the particular dogs in our program.

For purebred Cairns under 6 months old, the donation is $450; for purebred Cairns between 6 months and 1 year old, the donation is $400; for purebred Cairns between 1 and 3 years old, the donation is $350; for purebred Cairns between 4 and 7 years old, the donation is $300; for purebred Cairns between 8 and 10 years old, the donation is $250; for purebred Cairns over 10 years old, the donation is $150. For Cairn mixes up to 5 years, the adoption donation is $250; for Cairn mixes between 6 and 10 years old, the donation is $200; and for those over 10 years it is $150. In addition, if the Cairn is microchipped, we require that you pay a microchipping fee of between $20 and $45 as explained in the Adoption Contract.

For Cairns under 6 months of age, which are not altered at the time of adoption, we also require a $250 spay/neuter deposit, which is FULLY refundable upon presentation and verification of a spay/neuter certificate. In some states we are able to procure pediatric neuters for our puppies and if the puppy that you are adopting has had one, we ask for an additional donation of $100 to help offset a portion of the cost that we incur for the procedure. Please note that adoption donations do not constitute purchase monies paid for the rescue dog, and therefore are not refundable in the event that you decide to return your rescue Cairn or for any other reason.

Can I adopt a dog from another part of the country?

Yes, if the adoptive family is willing to drive to where the dog is being fostered to get the dog or if the distance is too far, if one of the adoptive parents travels by plane to get the dog and brings it back in the cabin of the plane in a soft-sided carrier (please note that airlines charge between $150 and $200 one way for allowing you to bring a pet in the cabin).

Please note that we do not place dogs outside of the continental United States.

What if I see more than one dog I’m interested in adopting?

There is a place on the adoption application to specify the names of any dogs in which you might be interested.

How can I help Cairn Rescue?
How old is the typical Rescue Cairn?

Smaller dogs tend to age slower than larger dogs and Cairns can live to age 15 or 16. Most Cairns are active and alert at 10 years of age and older. We typically have rescue Cairns of all ages, although it is not as common for us to have puppies and dogs under one year old.

Are Cairns good with children?

Regardless of the breed, whether a dog gets along with children depends on whether the dog is obedience-trained and the children have been taught by their parents to humanely treat the dog and respect its space and are supervised by an adult at all times during their interaction with the dog. Cairns in general make good family pets but unlike Golden Retrievers and Labradors, they generally are not tolerant of being mishandled by children, having their ears, tail and fur pulled, being patted roughly on the head, and not being left alone when trying to eat or sleep. They may nip the child to make the child stop the unwanted behavior. In addition, a Cairn that has not been raised in a household with children can become nervous when small children squeal, cry, run or make sudden movements or may confuse the child with prey, giving chase and nipping the child. Small children can also be a threat to the safety of a Cairn by inadvertently leaving doors open or ajar, allowing the Cairn to escape to chase the bicycle, car, squirrel, bunny, bird, etc. that has just caught its eye and end up being killed by traffic.

Can I adopt from Cairn Rescue USA if I have young children at home?

It depends. Cairn Rescue USA has a policy of not adopting dogs to families with children under the age of 7 years. This is both for the protection of the child and of the dog. We make exceptions to our policy (i) when the parent has a lot of experience with Cairns, Westies, Scotties (ii) if the child has been raised with Cairns, Westies, or Scotties or (iii) if the parent has fostered rescue dogs before (and we verify those facts before proceeding).

Our policy is based on the fact that all dogs, even the best behaved ones, have the potential to bite, and Cairns in particular are not very tolerant of young children pulling their ears, tail or facial hair. Their small size and cuteness also tends to give the parent a false sense of security and the parent usually lets his/her guard down. Cairns also tend to view young children as their peers (i.e. as another dog) and when the young child does not listen to its warnings (and most young children do not understand what a growl, moving away, or snarling teeth means), the natural response of the Cairn is to snap or bite the child as it would have done with another dog. The natural response of the parent is, of course, to label the dog unsafe and return it. In fact, a large number of our Cairns have ended up in rescue precisely because their families bought them as companions for their young children, often relying on what the AKC website says about Cairns being “good with children,” yet the Cairn bit the child after the child insisted on hugging the Cairn, crawled to the Cairn’s food dish, got into the Cairn’s crate when the parent was not looking, pulled the Cairn’s tail, ears or facial hair, tried to ride the Cairn like a pony, held a ball on his hand that the Cairn really wanted badly, picked the Cairn up when the Cairn wanted to be left alone, insisted on playing with the Cairn when it wanted to sleep, etc. This happens with both old and young dogs. Our rescued Cairns have been through so much already that we prefer to err on the side of caution and not set them up for failure. We want their next home to be their forever home.

In addition, Cairns have been bred for many years to hunt prey and are very quick and agile dogs. This fact combined with young children in the household can also be a threat to the safety of any Cairn. If a child inadvertently leaves a door open or ajar, the Cairn can slip by them in the blink of the eye allowing the Cairn to escape to chase the bicycle, car, squirrel, bunny, bird, etc. that has just caught its eye, often resulting in the Cairn being killed by traffic. Cairns typically do not stop running until they have caught or cornered their prey.

Are Cairns lap dogs?

This really does depend on the individual Cairn. Most of them are very affectionate but while some may love to sit in a lap for hours, others (and females in particular) may be too independent to be held for long periods. This is a trait that will be evaluated by the foster home.

Do Cairns get along with cats?

Most Cairns can co-exist peacefully with cats or can learn to do so. Cats can be very resourceful in setting limits with a dog. There is the occasional Cairn that cannot be placed in a home with a cat, and Cairns can be intolerant of strange cats, even though they may get along well with “their” cat.

Are Cairns barkers?

Most Cairns will bark for a reason, and therefore can be good watchdogs, but they usually are not “barky” dogs. This is one of the traits that will be evaluated while the dog is in its foster home.

Do Cairns like to ride in cars?

This depends on the individual dog, but most Cairns enjoy going for a ride and are not prone to carsickness. Cairns should be secured in a crate or by a seatbelt harness whenever they are in a vehicle. This will prevent your Cairn from distracting you while you are driving and will protect both of you in the event of an accident.

You can also get a booster seat for your Cairn. We recommend the Snoozer brand in the Medium size. Use our Amazon Affiliate link to buy it.

Do Cairns need to be groomed?

Because Cairn terriers are still bred to reflect their original purpose as hardy working dogs, they require less grooming than most other breeds. Routine grooming for a Cairn, however, should include regular brushing, toenail clipping or dremmel filing, teeth brushing and occasional baths. In addition, the outer coat should be stripped off periodically to remove dead hair and permit new hair growth. Cairns have a double coat, consisting of a harsh outer coat and a softer undercoat. The key to a successful grooming session is to keep its duration short.

Stripping (namely, plucking the dog’s dead hairs) is not painful for the Cairn and can be done by hand, with the help of latex fingers worn on the thumb and forefinger to improve grip, with stripping knives, or with a grooming tool such as the Mars Coat King (16 blade) or the Mat Coat King (20 blade). The Mat Coat King and the Mars Coat King make the job of stripping a pet Cairn’s jacket easy and fast for both owner and Cairn. The Mars Coat King costs $45 and has a replaceable blade, a wooden handle and is made in Germany, whereas the Mat Coat King costs $25 and has a non-replaceable blade and a resin handle. They are used similarly to a rake or brush and pull the dead hair without the Cairn minding. For grooming sensitive areas such as the underbody, legs, throat and head, thinning scissors (i.e. single blade, 46 tooth) work well and are safer to use on your Cairn than regular scissors. To purchase your grooming tools, please visit our CRUSA Store.

Because of their double coat, Cairns do not need to be bathed as frequently as most other breeds. In fact, their skin and coat tend to do better with infrequent bathing provided the coat is brushed frequently (i.e. 2 to 3 times per week). Brushing the coat stimulates the oil glands resulting in a shinier and sleeker coat.

Do Cairns need obedience training?

Because they are such intelligent, independent dogs, all Cairn terriers can benefit from obedience training. Cairn Rescue USA recommends obedience training for all of its Rescue Cairns, and requires it for some. It is important to find a trainer that likes and understands terriers and uses positive training methods. Cairns do not respond well to punishment or negative training. Cairn Rescue USA may be able to help you find a trainer in your area.

Training can be a very rewarding experience, both for the dog and its owners. It’s not just about housebreaking or giving corrections when the dog does something wrong. Training can help your dog reach its full potential as a well-adjusted family pet and helps to strengthen the bond between dog and owner, particularly with a dog that has been rescued. Most new owners find it to be an enjoyable, worthwhile experience.

How much does it cost to own a Cairn?

Since Cairns are a very healthy breed, expenses involved in their care are usually routine and typical of what they would be for an average dog. Food and regular vet care will be your chief expenses. Most Cairns are not picky eaters and most can tolerate a varied diet. However, Cairns can be sensitive to corn and develop allergies and hot spots from it which can be difficult to get rid of once started; for that reason we recommend that you feed your Cairn a corn-free food, so be sure to read the ingredients. Some Cairns may also be sensitive to wheat and beef, requiring a special diet such as Wellness or a lamb and rice kibble. This food can be found in pet stores such as Petsmart and Petco and can be ordered from online retailers such as

Cairns require the same vaccinations as other dogs, including rabies and distemper. Depending on how much contact your Cairn will have with other dogs, you may also want to have it vaccinated against kennel cough (Bordatella), and depending on what area of the country you’re in, you may want to consider a Lyme disease vaccine. Cairns should be checked for internal parasites on an annual basis, and should be tested annually and kept on a monthly heartworm preventive, such as Interceptor or Heartguard, year-round. Cairns, like all dogs, will need routine dental care, and problems due to age or illness will also need to be considered.

Other costs that will need to be factored in are for items such as a leash, harness and collar, toys, bedding, and a crate. If you don’t groom your Cairn yourself, you will need to budget for that, and if you travel and are unable to take your Cairn along, the cost of boarding will need to be considered.

How does your adoption process work and how long does it take?

Cairn Rescue USA’s Adoption Process takes approximately 2 to 3 weeks to complete after we receive your completed application AND you are matched to a dog in our program. We cannot hold a dog or promise any dog to an applicant until all these steps have been completed, and we reserve the right to deny an application at any time in the process if in our board’s or officers’ opinion the applicant and the dog are not a good match.

The matching is done by the Placement Director for your region (Regional PD) with input from the foster home(s) that have the dog(s) that you are interested in. It is not first-come, first-served. Rather we seek to match each of our dogs with the best possible home for its needs. For this reason, it may take the Regional PD one day to find a dog that is a good match for you or it may take her a couple of months, depending on how flexible you are as to the Cairn’s age, sex, etc. and the dogs that are available in your area at the time.

You can also increase your chances of getting a rescue Cairn from CRUSA by checking our website and our Facebook page regularly for new dogs after you complete and submit your online application and letting us know if one of them interests you. Families with children should expect a longer wait since few of our dogs have been tested with children and/or are known to be child-friendly, and many have been given up precisely because they ran into a problem with children in their prior household. Once matched, however, the process moves quickly and because we process only one application per dog at a time, the applicant need not fear losing the dog to someone else, provided his/her reference check, home visit and foster home impression all go well. Unlike other programs, ours is not a race to the finish line. The biggest delays after being matched to a dog tend to be caused by references not being available and the scheduling of the home visit. Due to COVID, however, we may waive the home visit and have you submit a video instead.

Please note that we do not place dogs outside of the continental United States. For a complete description of our Adoption Process, please click here.

Can I meet the dog I want to adopt prior to adoption?

Because we are a national rescue organization and have no shelter facility to house our dogs, it is not possible to meet the dog you want to adopt until after you have completed an Adoption Application, your references have been called and your home visit has been completed or waived. The reason for this is that we rely on a wonderful network of foster homes to house, feed, evaluate and rehabilitate our Cairns. All of our foster home volunteers are private individuals with families, jobs and dogs of their own and we must respect their privacy. Between the time that you complete the Adoption Application and the time your home visit is completed or waived, your Placement Director will answer any questions you may have. If after being put in contact with the foster home that has the Cairn you want to adopt and/or meeting the Cairn, you decide that the dog is not the best match for you, you would simply let us know and advise us again when you see another dog you think might be more suitable, or we may be able to suggest another dog in our program for you. Deciding a particular Cairn is not right for you will NOT harm your chances of adopting another Cairn. The important thing is to make the right match, both for the Cairn and the adoptive home, so we count on you to let us know if you have any reservations. If the dog in question turns out not to be the right match, it is preferable to wait to find one that is.

Will I receive AKC registration papers with my Rescue?

No. However this does not mean that the dog is not a purebred. If you rescue a dog you can apply for an ILP (Indefinite Listing Privilege), which will allow you to compete with your dog in AKC Sanctioned Agility and Obedience events.

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