in ,

Are Cairn Terriers Good For Seniors?

Are Cairn Terriers a good dog choice for a senior person? Absolutely, yes. The dog is a very intelligent breed that comes in a small package but plenty of energy. They are extremely loyal, attentive, and when taken care of by a firm owner, they do extremely well.

Even better, Cairn Terriers are amenable both to seniors as well as children, which makes them a big plus and reason for the grandkids to visit regularly with their grandparents.

Quick Navigation

The Terminology of the Dog’s Name

The Cairn Terrier was named after a British term, Cairnishness, which refers to a sense of stout wiriness but isn’t overwhelming but definitely self-confident and very much in command of one’s person. For the dog, the name fits well.

The Cairn Terrier is a small size dog that basically gets about 10 inches high and only about three inches past a foot long, which makes it perfect as an indoor dog in a senior’s home. The entire outfit of the dog is a double coat of fur, which allows the dog to do well in colder climates as well.

Beneath the wiry presence, the Cairn Terrier is a spry, very alert animal, always moving with its ears listening for sounds and head looking for what’s going on around versus nose to the ground. The eyes sparkle and give the dog a general sense of character, which many seniors like.

Among the British, the Cairn Terrier has been nicknamed the “best little pal in the world,” which goes a long way for its marketing to senior dog owners. The dogs love family contact, attention, and being spoken to and interacted with.

However, these terriers are not overwhelming, easily understand commands and situations, and they stay very loyal. That said, the Cairn Terrier also does well with children, being quite interested in games and running around on the lawn, which gives seniors yet another bonus if they like to see their grandchildren a lot.

Easy to Fit in Small Quarters

 Whether a senior is living in an apartment, a flat, or small home, the Cairn Terrier will do just fine. Their compact body takes up little room, and they don’t have the mass of a bigger dog in terms of getting in the way, bumping into people or things, or knocking over furniture.

The Terrier is also fairly light to pick up and carry, only weighing a total of 14 lbs with the biggest examples. Cairn Terriers also have no problem finding themselves a corner to sleep in, to tuck into a sofa couch, or to find their bed basket in the evening when it’s lights out. In short, the dog really does do well in the typical kind of environment most seniors would live in.

A Feisty Ball of Energy

Given a lot of attention, daily interaction, and walks, the Cairn Terrier will do fine with its owner. However, being a terrier, these dogs are a bundle of energy that needs to be worked off daily. They don’t walk around from room to room; they dart.

They can be a bit noisy too if not trained properly. They are very much solo dogs if not raised together; Cairn terriers tend to be very territorial and will get aggressive with other dogs they come across, a common habit in smaller dogs trying to fend off potential threats. They definitely are not a sleepy, quiet lap dog type of canine.

Seniors who have small pets or other smaller dogs will not be able to take these terriers as they will likely kill things smaller than them. However, for a dog that loves to go for walks, never seems out of energy, and always pays attention, Cain Terriers fit the bill, which makes them a good encouragement for personal exercise of their owners as well for better health.

It’s not a bad idea before getting a Cairn Terrier to spot where there might be a small dog park. Taking these terriers to a park is a great way for them to play and get a good run, and the smaller dog parks are the perfect size of them to put in a few laps. That said, they will do fine with a regular leash walk and a smaller backyard as well.

Personal Grooming

Cairn Terriers have a big plus for seniors who like to keep things clean and don’t want to deal with a lot of fur everywhere. These terriers don’t shed very much at all. Instead, they just need a good, regular brushing and a scheduled haircut at a pet grooming provider.

These are easy to arrange, and the brushing provides a good bonding opportunity between the senior and the pet.


Because of their small size, Cairn Terriers do not consume near as much food as a regular-sized dog (nor are they anywhere of a big job to clean up after as well). Easily trainable, these dogs do very well with a firm owner who keeps them on a schedule and regimen.

Because of their high energy, Cairn Terriers stay their healthiest with a better than average quality dog food. Seniors owners should pay attention to the dog’s age and match the food type with the dog’s age range, adjusting as the Terrier gets older.

Because they can gain weight quickly, limiting Terriers to a strict diet is generally the best way to avoid most caloric-related health problems in the breed. Seniors do have to avoid giving the dogs scraps and treats as this is the number one way to cause the dog to become overweight as well as have gastric problems. Water should be available in multiple locations, so the dog never gets dehydrated.


For seniors who like to have a dog with a history behind it, the Cairn Terrier won’t disappoint. The breed was a result of a terrier breeding that ran for centuries in Scotland. Often used for natural warning systems as well as helping keep farm stock in place and corralled, the terriers did well in keeping the local rodent population in check, rounding up and errant sheep, and barking up a storm when a stranger appeared.

They might as well have been the world’s first alarm system with the racket the Terrier can make when it wants to. Often referred to in history as Scotch terriers, it wasn’t until the 1800s that the Cairn Terrier started to become bred intentionally for its features and quirks. Their particular appeal, again, was as small pest and rodent exterminators.

The actual name of the Cairn Terrier first appeared in 1887, but the breed was well known in the Scottish Highlands as well as on the Isle of Skye. The dogs were extremely good at chasing down other animals seen as problems as well, including foxes, otters near creeks and rivers, hedgehogs, weasels, rabbits, and far more. Because they were so darn vicious, even against animals larger than them, they often won out against a badger or rat regardless of the claws and teeth involved.

By the 20th century, the Cairn Terrier had migrated from a working dog on the farm to a toy dog in the home, being a well-established cousin in the Terrier family. The Cairn Terrier also received its own breed recognition by the AKC in 1913. However, people became most familiar with the Terrier when it appeared as the personal pet, Toto, in the movie “The Wizard of Oz.”

Try a Test Run if Possible

Because the type of a dog and person tends to be a bit of a guessing game until put together in a committed fashion, it’s a good idea where possible to bring over a Cairn Terrier for a bit and see how a senior person can cope with the dog type in his or her home.

This isn’t always possible, but if a friend or a family member has an appropriate Terrier, it’s a good opportunity to spend an afternoon and see if the dog is the right match for a senior. This experiment approach does a couple of things. First, the senior in question gets a chance to interact with the breed itself personally.

Second, everyone involved gets a sense of what the dog type is like in a home and backyard area, if applicable. And third, if it doesn’t work out, the senior has committed to a big mistake and taken on a dog that then has to be relocated or given up, which can be painful for both the owner and dog. It’s a far better idea to do a dry run if possible and get a good idea of what might be involved before jumping in both feet and acquiring a new dog whole hog.

Additionally, some seniors may not have the mobility and skill anymore to handle a brand-new puppy. After all, they are new and are going to make a lot of mistakes at first, at least for the first year or so.

A Cairn Terrier that has a little bit of age on it, about a year or two, maybe a better choice, having gotten rid of its early youth and acting more like an adult dog with experience around humans already.

Where possible, adopting a Cairn Terrier does a big favor, giving an abandoned Terrier a second chance as well as a new friend for a senior too.