Do Cairn Terriers get along with other dogs? In a short answer, not usually. A lot depends on how the Terrier has been raised. However, as a breed, they can be quite aggressive despite their size, and the Cairn Terrier can often seem outright rude or belligerent towards other animals, even dogs four or five times their size.
Given its size, the Cairn Terrier is an extremely intelligent dog that quickly learns its environment and the extent of its territory. And that sharp canine brain is coupled with a ball of energy in how much activity the dog can get into.
However, like many small dogs, the Cairn Terrier has to fend off threats before they engage with the dog, so it almost instinctually acts aggressively or frequently growls at any unknown dogs in close proximity.
It’s a surprising reaction given how well the Cairn Terrier does with humans of all types in comparison.
Understanding the Nature of the Breed Helps
The name of the Cairn Terrier is one that is rooted in the history of the United Kingdom. The term Cairn has often referred to a personality that is bigger than the smaller shoes it fits.
Often referencing a wiry, stout but sturdy character, Cairnishness became a trait that was synonymous with this given Terrier breed. Size-wise, the wiriness helps. After all, the Cairn Terrier only grows to a height of maybe under a foot and a length of about 15 inches.
This makes for a good dog set of dimensions in a home where the dog doesn’t have a lot of space to run around or a small backyard, but the breed is definitely not going to win any heavyweight contender belts anytime soon either.
The wiry character of the dog is accentuated by its physical appearance; the Cairn Terrier has a rougher bristler fur coat that actually has a double-layer to it; this makes the dog far more hardy and durable in colder climates as well.
The features combined with its alert ears and head always looking around to see what’s going on makes the dog seem anxious, especially as it keeps a close eye on other dogs near it or in the vicinity.
And with the Cairn Terrier’s natural look for fire in the eyes, the dog can even seem overwhelming to other breeds that aren’t comfortable with direct eye contact on a regular basis.
Ironically, the Cairn Terrier doesn’t have near as many problems with humans. The British dub the breed the “best little pal in the world,” giving the Terrier a two thumbs up for the kind of dog to have for sociability and man’s best friend status, especially when living in the city or traveling long distances in tight quarters.
Cairn Terrier are big suckers for human contact, being the focus of attention, regular communication, and interaction, and generally being in the spotlight. They are also extremely loyal to their human masters and pick up on human instructions very well. And as playful dogs, Cairn Terriers excel, enjoying running around tremendously as an optimum way to burn off their energy.
If they are raised with other dogs from the start, the Terrier can easily adjust and interact heavily with its pack, but it’s very likely to compete for a tiny alpha position where it can.
Size is an Advantage in Urban Settings
Unlike big breeds, the Cairn Terrier does quite well in city environments. It’s smaller size makes the dog ideal for apartments, flats, townhomes, and small residences that don’t have a large range for running around.
However, that doesn’t mean this breed sits. It needs to be exercised regularly and taken for walks. Small size dog parks are ideal for the Terrier, and for the most part, the dog will do fine as long as it is not cornered by other dogs in a threatening manner.
The Cairn Terrier will generally stake out its zone and explore while keeping a watchful eye on any other canines in the area as well as unknown movements.
Choosing the Right Partners for a Cairn Terrier
Ideally, the best dog partner for a Cairn Terrier is one of its own, another Terrier of the same breed, or a cousin breed. Generally, they would both have the same amount of energy and sync well in terms of their behavior and interaction with their owner.
Individually, the Cairn Terrier is already a ball of zip and spark, which in the best of situations is worked off on a regular basis, even daily, if possible via walks, exercise, chasing, and general running around. These terriers are hardly ever seen walking slowly from room to room or location to location. Instead, they charge and run like an electrical arc, popping up to see what’s the next thing going on to grab their attention.
Getting two going is literally watching twins fire off in salvos around each other. Of course, all that energy with the breed can also come with a lot of noise, and Cairn Terriers are known for making a hell of a racket if not trained properly to behave themselves.
Grooming and Care Advantages
If an owners has a pair of Cairn Terriers to care for or combined with another dog breed, there is a big advantage to the Terrier in that it doesn’t shed much. So, for cleanliness, the Cairn Terrier is definitely a winner. Instead, the Cairn Terrier does well with a regular trim as well as a regular brushing session to keep everything straight.
Also, because of the breed’s size, Cairn Terriers don’t eat a dog owner straight to the bank. They easily stay within a well affordable diet range, and because the breed can gain weight quickly, it’s actually advisable to keep them on a regimen of a high-quality dog food.
And, because they are so sensitive to calories, it’s also a good idea to monitor the type of food these dogs eat, making sure it matches their age bracket with a tapered down variety as they get older. Like most dogs, however, Cairn Terriers should never be fed human food or human food scraps. These are one of the most contributory sources of dietary health problems for Terriers and can lead to serious gastric issues as well.
In addition, especially where more than one dog is in the household or backyard, Cairn Terriers need a regular source of water to stay hydrated. Their metabolic rate and energy level can easily dehydrate them faster than other breeds.
The Social Background of the Breed
Interestingly, the Cairn Terrier was very much an outdoor farm and range dog when it was first bred centuries ago in Scotland. The Terrier was a good breed for multiple purposes, not the least of which was routing out and eliminating pests and rodents.
Cairn Terriers were originally part of a wider terrier family, bred over the years for their features and characteristics. The dog was an ideal partner to have when it came to rounding up and keeping an eye on the rest of the farm animals, as well as to sound a very loud racket when something odd appeared nearby or in range of the dog’s senses.
With a pair a brood of Cairn Terriers working together, Scottish families and farmers literally had the first home alarm on four legs. However, the breed didn’t really become official until well into the 1800s, being first named in 1887.
Cairn Terriers absolutely hate anything smaller than them, which doesn’t make them very good partners for toy dogs that are weaker or less in mass and probably an issue even for dogs the same size, like a pug, for example.
The Terriers go absolutely bonkers for any animal smaller, which is why they are so prized for going after rats, rabbits, weasels, squirrels, and other pests or problems that farmers would run into. In the cities, rats and mice were the big targets, and the Cairn Terrier often made short work of them, driving the rodents to other easier locations that were less of a threat than the domain of the small dog.
No surprise, the Terrier was often enlisted as an exterminator tool.
Today, Terriers have no such official or practiced role chasing rodents, but they will still revert to instinct if they see a target. Cairn Terriers work in a pack or solo with each other, but they will practically turn other dogs into pretzels running between them to get to a target. The Terrier is so fast, and they will practically scare other dogs nearby with how the Cairn Terrier reacts to stimuli.
If Not Sure, Experiment Socially
If you’re not sure your other dog will do well with a Cairn Terrier or you have the Terrier and are thinking about getting a second dog, spend some time trying to expose your dog to an interaction.
If the Terrier you have is anti-social towards anything, you’ll find out pretty quick. If the dog you have seems to trigger a negative reaction from a Cairn Terrier, that’s good to know ahead of time as well. There’s no sense committing to a new dog or Terrier blindly, and then finding out the whole thing was a mistake.
That can be painful for you and the dogs involved, and it’s totally avoidable.