4 min read


Why Do Cairn Terriers Dig



4 min read


Why Do Cairn Terriers Dig




Strong willed, tenacious, and a natural born digger is the way to describe the Cairn Terrier. He is a feisty member of the Terrier family and has been bred to dig and chase after small furry prey. He is well equipped to catch rats that are a nuisance on farms and hiding in amongst the rocky piles of stone in Scotland, called cairns. The Cairn Terrier has the perfect paws and claws for the job of digging into burrows. His front paws are bigger and stronger than his back paws. He has sharp claws and well-developed pads on his front feet. He is driven to dig, not only by the physical qualities he has, but also by his strong prey drive and courage. He will dig into a burrow confidently. The Cairn Terrier knows just what to do if he smells a rat! 

The Root of the Behavior

The Cairn Terrier uses his instinctive behavior to lead him into a burrow and dig out the vermin he was trained to catch. This little dog is energetic and needs to interact with family members. He loves children and enjoys playful activities and exercise. The Cairn Terrier does not want to be left at home on his own. He will find opportunities to dig in your garden because he seeks your attention. If you are not there to play with him, your garden will become his playing field. The Cairn Terrier is a curious dog and responds well to training. He is intelligent and always ready for action. He needs to know who is the boss. Obedience training is a worthwhile discipline, although he does not like harsh words. The Cairn Terrier has little to no fear and therefore, he will follow his instincts to track a rat or other form of small prey in his path. 

Earth Dog trials would be an activity that your dog may enjoy. Earth Dog trials set up burrow courses for Terriers to explore and to enjoy legal tunneling. You will be there to cheer your Cairn Terrier on with other enthusiasts. When you watch him tracking and chasing through the tunnels you will appreciate how brave and strong and determined he is. Digging, barking, and chasing are three activities that motivate the Cairn Terrier. When you go on an outing, it is wise to keep your Cairn Terrier on a leash. If he smells the scent of something interesting, he will disappear to chase after the possible prey. A bored Cairn Terrier will most probably resort to digging as this makes him feel satisfied. Cairn Terriers rank in the top three of the hardcore Digging Dogs list. He is a serious digger. It is possible to allow digging in your garden area by creating a digging pit where you encourage digging. You will need to train your fanatical digger to use the designated area and provide chew toys and other playthings to turn this area into a fun spot for the Cairn Terrier. 

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Encouraging the Behavior

Understanding instinctive behavior is the key to tolerating digging dogs like the Terrier breed. They are built to dig and wired to dig because digging just comes naturally to them, especially if there is nothing else to focus on. The Cairn Terrier wants to be part of the family, but not as a lap dog, even though he is a small breed. He wants to be actively involved in family games, outings, and Earth Dog trials if you find the time to go along. The Cairn Terrier will have to pass a suitability test to make sure he has his instincts intact. He will be tested to see if digging in a burrow is really of interest to him. 

In the same test, he will be assessed to see if he will be able to pick up the scent of the prey item. If he is found to do well in response and desire to get into the tunnel, he will be admitted to the Earth Dog Trials. The Cairn Terrier should revel in this activity. You can watch excitedly as he shows you what he is bred to do and tunnels along after the rat scent. No need for a real rat, just some shavings from a rat cage in a pet shop, wrapped in a cloth, will create the perfect dummy rat. The decoy is dragged through the tunnel, and it will alert the Cairn, and other Terriers, to the opportunity to get down and dirty searching for a rat. Your Cairn Terrier will be grateful that you have recognized his instinct and the whole family has come out to watch him do what he was bred to do. 

Other Solutions and Considerations

The Cairn Terrier is a first-rate family dog, but his instinct to dig can get him into trouble. He needs to be active and involved so that boredom does not drive him to dig holes in your garden and elsewhere. If he is left alone, he may try to dig his way out of your house or through your garden to see what goes on elsewhere. Remember, he is well-equipped to dig with his strong claws and paws. Rummaging round in piles of stones and cairns kept him very busy. The Cairn Terrier first dug his way into the hearts of young Americans through his role in the Wizard of Oz, as the little dog Toto. The center stage suited his personality and he was very adept at learning new tricks. 


Life with a Cairn Terrier will be entertaining. These small, active dogs love children and are known to be playful and fun loving. The Cairn Terrier will always have the ‘upper hound’ when it comes to digging. The Cairn is a ‘furvent' digger but hopes he will be ‘furgiven’ because he just can’t help following his instinct and dig, dig, dig!

By a Rhodesian Ridgeback lover Christina Wither

Published: 04/19/2018, edited: 01/30/2020

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