The origins of the Cairn Terrier are lost in the mists of time, but the dog is undoubtedly
descended from the original indigenous working terrier of the Scottish Highlands
and Islands. There are references to them in the sixteenth century, when King James
1 and V1 sent a group of “ Earth Dogges” to the King of France. So prized were they,
that he stipulated that they be sent in separate ships lest disaster befall them
The dogs were used by crofters, shepherds, and foxhunters for pest control - foxes,
rats rabbits were their early quarry, but with the advent in the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries of sporting pursuits, the dogs were much favoured for use against badgers
and otters. Their “gameness” - the ability to ignore pain and continue to fight on
- became legendary, and even at the beginning of the 20th century there were packs
of Cairns that could not be handled by anyone other than their keeper! Dogs varied
enormously in size, shape and colour depending on the terrain they worked, and the
quarry they were used against.
From the mid - nineteenth century the differences began to resolve and the separate
breeds of terrier developed - the Skye, Scottish Terrier and the West Highland White
became well established, but their progenitor the Cairn, remained comparatively unknown
except in the remote sporting estates in Argyllshire and the Isle of Skye.
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The first few years of the twentieth century saw efforts by a few dedicated breeders
and exhibitors to have these little dogs officially recognised by the Kennel Club,
but early attempts were obscured by confusion over the name to call them. Foremost
among the pioneers was Mrs Campbell, of Ardrishaig, whose first Cairns were brought
over from Skye by her father. Mrs Campbell called the dogs variously “short - coated
Skyes”, or “Prick - eared Skyes”, leading to vigorous confrontation with the breeders
of the Skye Terrier, whose dogs had been recognised for at least 30 years!
The Cairn Club was formed the same year, with Mrs Campbell the first Secretary, Mr
Allan MacDonald of Waternish, Skye, the first President, and Fifty Four Members,
mainly from Scotland and the Western Isles. The Club now has an international membership
with over twenty countries represented, but the original object “ to protect and
advance the interests of the old working terrier of the Highlands, now known as the
Cairn Terrier” remains the same today as it was when drawn up by those early pioneers.
Of the Cairn Terrier
Arguments raged back and forth in the Dog press, but it was not until 1910 that the
Kennel Club accepted a delegation of Skye Breeders, and decided that the prick -
eared, or short - coated dogs of Mrs Campbell and her fellow enthusiasts, should
henceforth be called Cairn Terriers.