4 min read


Why Do Cairn Terriers Bark So Much



4 min read


Why Do Cairn Terriers Bark So Much




Born and bred to hunt, these tough little terriers use barking as an important part of their communication system. Cairn Terriers are ready to get down and get dirty as they were bred to hunt vermin and to search for their burrows. Their prey drive is completely in tune with hunting for small animals. Cairn Terriers will even chase after an animal that has tunneled underground. This can be dangerous if there is no way to sound the alarm. Cairn Terriers and other members of the terrier group use their high-pitched bark to alert the hunting party of their whereabouts. When they find a burrow, they do not hesitate to follow their prey into its underground hiding place. The Cairn Terrier’s bark is the only way he can ‘shout out’ if he is stuck in the tunnel and needs a helping hand to get out. The astute hunter can listen for the barking dog and make a rescue plan. Cairn Terriers are confident little dogs and they love to play. Exercise and family outings are important to this breed and activity will distract them from yapping all day.

The Root of the Behavior

Cairn Terriers are very alert little dogs and always busy as they want to be involved in everything. They are very inquisitive and it is their natural instinctive behavior to bark and sound the alarm. This is how they welcome guests or ward off unexpected visitors. Try to attend to their barking sooner rather than later. If they are satisfied you have noticed them, they won’t need to continue barking. It is difficult to control an instinctive behavior so if your Cairn Terrier is very disruptive, then an animal behaviorist would be able to help with some guidance. Never punish instinctive behavior, it will be confusing for your terrier who is doing what he was bred to do. It would be better to find out how to modify the unwanted behavior. Attending some specialized burrow hunting simulations would be a great way to understand what it is your terrier finds alluring about running into tunnels. Watching these tough little dogs crawling through a maze of tunnels on a tunnel course is a fascinating experience and the tunnels are made of clear Perspex on one side so you can see the terriers crawling as fast as they can after their ‘prey.’ 

The feisty terriers, completely focused on their quest, push along the tunnel to get to the imaginary creature in front of them. This is a firmly imprinted instinctive behavior and the Cairn Terrier knows this tunneling activity goes with some excited barking. The Cairn Terrier’s strong body and short legs enable him to squeeze through some challenging tunnels. In the event of getting wedged in the tunnel, it is the terriers' strong bark that will save the day. Tunnels are often hidden in bushes and as the eager terrier has already disappeared into the tunnel, he would be very difficult to find without his bark to get his master’s attention. Cairn Terriers think they are big dogs inside their small bodies and they like to take part in all sorts of activities. These little terriers will enjoy romping in the garden or a walk in the park. However, it is important to keep them on a leash because if they get a whiff of something small and furry, they may just take off into the distance searching for a tunnel. 

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Encouraging the Behavior

Cairn Terriers originated from the Isle of Skye, Scotland and were known as Skye Terriers. Later this tenacious breed, adept at running over rocky mounds called cairns, became known as the Cairn Terrier. A true little 'Scotsman,' he is courageous, strong, and very passionate about his hunting prowess. Barking is an integral part of his natural instincts. Although he has made his way into family urban life, he is still by nature a dog that was bred to hunt and bark. In his hunting days, he would be trained to ‘go to ground’ which simply means that he would follow his prey underground where the vermin he was taught to hunt would be hiding. 

The Cairn Terrier does not like to be left alone and will probably make a noisy fuss if you don’t include him in family activities. He loves children and is as boisterous with them as you would like him to be. It is a good idea to monitor activities with young children carefully, but the Cairn Terrier is good company and will love to be part of whatever you are planning as a family. During outings, where there are open areas, you will need a leash for this energized, curious little terrier. He meeds to be kept in check as he could rush off after a distraction that he thinks is ‘going to ground’ and he needs to be on its trail.

Other Solutions and Considerations

The Cairn Terrier is a very ‘down to earth’ kind of dog. The name terrier means Earth Dog derived from the Latin word terra meaning ground. They are part of a brave and tenacious group of dogs, terriers. The barking aspect of this lovable breed can be adapted to suit your home environment. It will require some early intervention and obedience training. It would be helpful to learn how to anticipate some barking and listen briefly then train with a reward modification. The moment your Cairn Terrier stops barking, use clicker training to click and treat for the good behavior when your Cairn Terrier stops barking and responds to a ‘quiet’ command. Try to remember that this is a natural behavior and if it is bothersome then you will need to teach your Cairn Terrier that you are the boss and you have heard the warning. Reward your noisy terrier for the quiet time is requested.


Cairn Terriers rate highly as family dogs, despite their barking. Toto, a Cairn Terrier, made the breed famous as Dorothy’s dog, in the Wizard of Oz. Toto showed how adventurous Cairn Terriers can be. The narrator describes his love for Dorothy by saying “Toto did not really care whether he was in Kansas or the Land of Oz, so long as Dorothy was with him.” It was Toto who got Dorothy into Oz when they were swept away by the cyclone. Toto remained by her side throughout the movie. A fearless companion and true testimony to the Cairn Terrier. 

By a Rhodesian Ridgeback lover Christina Wither

Published: 04/11/2018, edited: 01/30/2020

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