How to Groom a Cairn Terrier

by Kimberly DeCosta
The cairn terrier's origins are in the Scottish Highlands.

The cairn terrier's origins are in the Scottish Highlands.

chien terrier image by Danielle Bonardelle from

Grooming a cairn terrier can be a challenge, due in part to the breed's rugged coat and rough-and-tumble personality. Cairns are active and playful through their senior years, and they require proper grooming to ensure optimal health and a clean, lustrous coat. Due to the cairn terrier's curiosity and independence, you may find him covered in dirt, debris and grime on a frequent basis. Grooming your cairn often, a bonding experience for you both, will ensure he is clean and ready for his next adventure.

Step 1

Bathe your cairn only when necessary: Excess bathing can cause breakage to the dog's coat, attracting more dirt and debris. Lather your cairn with a shampoo designed for dogs with "hard" coats, being careful not to get shampoo in the dog's eyes, ears or mouth. Rinse him thoroughly with warm or tepid water, making sure no shampoo is left behind in his dense undercoat. Dry the dog with a clean towel.

Step 2

Spray your cairn between baths with a spray bottle filled with diluted rubbing alcohol or astringent to refresh the dog's coat and keep excess oil at bay. After spraying, dry him with a clean towel.

Step 3

Brush your cairn with a pin brush to untangle mats and smooth the dog's coat. A pin brush is ideal for a cairn because it neatens the thick undercoat while simultaneously grooming the rough top coat. Apply firm, sweeping strokes across his coat, being sure to brush his belly and legs as well.

Step 4

Strip your cairn to maintain the breed standard. Stripping is a way of removing dead hair that becomes entangled in his coat, making it appear scruffy and unkempt. Draw a stripping knife or shedding blade across the dog's coat in the direction of hair growth. Strip your cairn in short sessions so the task does not become a stressful experience for the dog. Stripping a cairn terrier's entire coat properly can take several months due to shedding cycles, but once you've done it once it will be easier to maintain with regular grooming.

Step 5

Trim the fur on your cairn's legs and between his paw pads. Snip a small amount of fur with a pair of scissors. This will alleviate dirt, debris and snow from collecting between the paw pads, which can cause discomfort.

Items You Will Need

  • Dog shampoo
  • Towel
  • Rubbing alcohol or astringent
  • Spray bottle
  • Pin brush
  • Stripping knife or shedding blade (optional)
  • Scissors (optional)


  • Ask a veterinarian or professional groomer to trim your cairn's nails.
  • Many cairn terriers are allergic to flea bites, so inspect your dog for fleas or begin a flea prevention program.

Photo Credits

  • chien terrier image by Danielle Bonardelle from

About the Author

Kimberly DeCosta is an accomplished equestrian and entrepreneur. She has written for numerous equestrian publications and authored marketing packages for large companies and sports teams.