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How to Train a Cairn Terrier Puppy

How to Train a Cairn Terrier Puppy  

I’ve been told that my doggy cousins, the cairn terrier, can be a difficult breed to train.  This is not surprising, as cairn terriers were bred so differently.  You see, we pugs were raised to be companions.  We’re at our happiest snuggling up to our owners while waiting for our next free meal.  Cairn terriers, on the other hand, are real WORK dogs.  They were bred on the Scottish Highlands, where their primary purpose was to hunt down burrowing prey like rats, foxes, badgers, and weasels.  This is how cairn terrier’s developed their, shall we say, unique personality.


In order to fulfill their primary purpose (rooting out varmints on the family farm) cairn terrier were bred to think independently, without having to rely on constant direction from a human.  As they had to face down wild creatures like badgers, they are not easily intimidated, and resent training methods that rely on force.  Cairn terrier’s were bred to be equals and leaders, not followers.  From my experience, it almost appears as if cairn terriers need a reason to do something.  Unlike we pugs, pleasing our owner is often not enough.


Nonetheless, cairn terriers are highly intelligent, and they can be trained.  However, you will find that motivational methods of training will work far better than force.  Motivational methods of training are based on the works of the human psychologist B. F. Skinner.  Skinner conducted experiments on rats, in which he made the following observations:Two cairn terriers


-         an animal will not learn if it’s response is not rewarded

-         a behaviour will be learned more rapidly if it is reinforced

-         once a behaviour is learned, it will more likely be repeated if it is rewarded occasionally, rather than every time.


Although I don’t like the thought that ideas from studying rats can be applied to dogs, the above is particularly useful when it comes to cairn terriers.  The key is that cairn terriers will respond to gentle and positive reinforcement, such as doggy treats, as opposed to negative punishment and harsh words.


I suppose due to their highly independent and intelligent nature, cairn terriers seem to consider themselves and their time to be valuable.  They do not like to waste it by repeating the same exercise over and over again.  When you are training your cairn terrier, observe them for signs of boredom.  If you do see your terrier becoming bored, I would advise you to stop what you are doing and do something else.   


Oh, just some final thoughts on training methods that rely on harsh reinforcement, such as popping leash corrections.  These methods are often too rough for small dogs, including cairn terriers.  The necks of most small dogs lack the musculature of larger breeds.  This is why forceful jerks on a leash can often cause slipped vertebrate or damage to the dog’s trachea.  Be careful!


I hope you found the above helpful!  Remember, if you have any further questions, let me know!


-         Grover


Most cairn terriers are not like TotoPS Did you know that Toto from the Wizard of Oz was a cairn terrier?  I suspect this is where people got the idea that cairn terrier are cuddly dogs that like to snuggle.  The truth is (unlike us pugs) cairn terriers are generally not good lap dogs, and they don’t always like to snuggle.  Further, no self respecting cairn terrier than I know would willingly be kept in a basket!  I guess this is just another example of how you should not believe everything you see in the movies :)     



 PPS If you are still having trouble training your dog and you need more help, I recommend you check out Dove Cresswell's program.  She's a professional trainer in Canada who has trained dogs for movies and television.  Click here to check it out.