“And Toto, too?” is perhaps the most iconic movie phrase ever uttered in reference to a dog. And just about everyone who hears it conjures up a mental image of a Cairn Terrier. But, of course, the real Cairn Terrier is a far more complicated character than the movie version, although any owner would tell you that pulling back the curtain on the Wizard is a totally terrier thing to do!
More interesting things about the Cairn Terrier
The Cairn Terrier may be confused with the Norwich Terrier, but the Cairn is slightly larger, has a hairier and rounder head, smaller ears, a longer docked tail, and comes only in solid colors, including black. He may also be confused with the Border Terrier, but the Cairn is shorter and stockier, and has more coat and erect ears. He may also be confused with the West Highland White Terrier, but the Cairn never comes in white, and the Westie always does. And he may be confused with the Norfolk Terrier, but the Cairn has erect ears, is slightly larger, has a hairier and rounder head, longer docked tail, and comes only in solid colors, including black.
The Cairn Terrier is one of the oldest terriers, probably existing since the 15th century.
They were used to bolt otters from cairns, which are stone piles used as landmarks, on the Scottish Isle of Skye. They also hunted fox and badger.
They were initially grouped with Scottish Terriers, West Highland White Terriers, and Skye Terriers as a single breed: the Scotch Terrier.
Scotch Terriers were divided into Dandie Dinmont and Skye Terriers, with Cairns in the Skye Terrier group. Cairns were called Short-haired Skye Terriers. Then Skye Terriers were divided into Skye and Hard-haired Terriers, with Cairns in the latter. Finally the Hard-haired Terriers were divided into three breeds: the Scottish, West Highland White, and Cairn Terriers.
The Cairn became a member of the AKC Terrier group in 1913. Initially whites were allowed, as they could interbreed with West Highland Whites, but this was banned in 1917.
Only one Cairn has won the Terrier group at Westminster, back in 1988. None has won Best in Show there.
The Cairn is the 61st most popular AKC breed, down from 42nd a decade ago.
The best-known Cairn is Toto, the dog in the Wizard of Oz movie. The dog who played Toto was a brindle Cairn named Terry, who also appeared in the Shirley Temple movie Bright Eyes and 11 other movies. Toto’s breed was not identified in the original Frank Baum book, but the illustrator drew him as a Cairn (although some say he was Yorkshire Terrier). Baum described Toto as “a little black dog with long silky hair and small black eyes that twinkled merrily on either side of his funny, wee nose.”
Cairn Terriers appear in the TV series I Love Lucy (Little Ricky’s dog) and George Lopez as well as in the book Maximum Ride.
Owners include Liza Minnelli, J. Edgar Hoover, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (Prince Edward and Wallis Simpson), Bill Murray, David Hasselhoff, George Kennedy, and Shelley Duvall.
Do you own a Cairn Terrier? Have you spent time with one? Let’s hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you’d like us to write about, let us know that, too!
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6 thoughts on “Get to Know the Cairn Terrier — and Toto, Too!”
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My Gracie just had her 1st birthday and she is the love of my life. Gracie came home to me when she was 12 weeks old and the past 9 months have been an amazing time of discovery mixed with a bit of frustration – discovery in finding out how amazingly smart Gracie is, frustration in learning how to understand her, I’m definitely the slow learner in this duo. We walk together, play together and sleep together. I echo the need to keep a Cairn on a leash whenever you’re outside – if Gracie sees a squirrel, a rabbit or another person she shifts from calm to high alert in about 2 milliseconds. Gracie LOVES everyone and wants everyone to love her AND play with her. I’m nuts about this little redheaded girl of mine.
I love the sandbox idea! My 2 year old rescued Cairn terrier, Zoe is amazing just like your Cougar! We know that she is intelligent and follows commands, but make sure she’s on a leash or watch out if she sees a rabbit, squirrel, or even a fox. Yes, a fox…she was protecting me….She is just a lovable, friendly, tan haired girl who we can’t believe that we’ve had for a year all ready. Lucky us!
I am owned by Cougar, a cairn terrier and he is every bit as described…I love him dearly as he does me…he has his own sandbox where he digs to his heart’s content and loves his new brother Stan Lee a 100 lb blue pit bull, they eat together, play together, and sleep together although at times Cougar, my boy decides he wants to be the alpha dog and most of the time Stan Lee allows it by sheer tolerance and other times reminds him that it’s not a done deal. Sometimes on his walk he sees someone he doesn’t like and tells me to give him permission and he’ll eat that person up, other than that, he is a sweet little 15 lb bundle of blond wavy hair.