Fun Things to Do With Your Cairn

Cairns just want to have fun!

Here is a list of activities that are fun for Cairn Terriers and their owners!


Mack on teeter
Mastering the teeter board is only one of the fun elements of agility.

Dog agility is a sport where you direct your dog through a pre-set obstacle course within a certain time limit. Courses typically have between 14-20 obstacles, which can include tunnels, weave poles, jumps, teeters, dog walk, and A-frame. At each trial you and your dog will race around the course designed for that day.  This is done with your dog relying solely on the cues and body language you use to direct them on course. Faults are assigned if the dog touches or knocks down jumps, takes the obstacles out of sequence or misses an obstacle, or goes over the course time. The complexity of the courses increase, and the time allowed decreases at the higher levels of competition.

Dark brindle Cairn weaves through agility poles.
Weaving through agility poles is a necessary agility skill.

Most organizations that teach agility require basic obedience skills before they will allow you to train your dog in agility. Most Cairns, if properly introduced to the equipment, absolutely love agility and participate with great enthusiasm. Positive techniques such as treats and praise are used to train the dog, and negative reinforcement or corrections are seldom, if ever, used either in training or in competition. Your dog must be in excellent physical condition in order to compete in agility.

For more information, contact: 

Barn Hunt

Cairn working the rats in barn hunt
Barn hunt utilizes the Cairn's natural ability to find vermin

Barn Hunt capitalizes on the Cairn's natural ability to find vermin. The courses are designed above ground using bales of hay to create tunnels. Rats are placed in aerated tubes to keep them safe and are hidden within the course for the dogs to find. To add challenge, other tubes are hidden on the course, and these can be empty or contain soiled bedding but no rat. Barn Hunt also tests the ability of the handler to ‘read’ the dog when they have found the rat tube. The dog's reactions can range from the seemingly very ‘obvious’ action of vigorous digging and scratching to more subtle indications of a slight wag of a tail, a perk of ears, or prolonged sniff and look.

For more information, contact:

Canine Good Citizen

Cairn earning Canine Good Citizen title
This pup successfully completed the Canine Good Citizen test!

The Canine Good Citizen title is a title that you can earn through the American Kennel Club. The skills that are learned provide a wonderful foundation to having a well-behaved Cairn. The CGC is recommended for dogs that will be training in agility and in therapy dog work.

There are 10 skills that the dog and owner must master to become a Canine Good Citizen.

Plus (click or tap to expand) + The 10 Skills

  1. Accept a friendly stranger. The dog remains quiet and well-behaved while a stranger chats with its owner.
  2. Sitting politely for petting. The dog stays quietly by its owners' side while a stranger greets and pets the dog.
  3. Appearance and grooming. The evaluator runs a brush over the dog, picks up their feet. Dog should accept this attention.
  4. Walking on a loose lead. The evaluator calls out a series of turns and movements. The dog must stay with the owner and be attentive, and follow the owner's movement.
  5. Walking through a crowd. The dog walks through several people and remains attentive to its owner.
  6. Sit and down on command and staying in place. The dog must do sit AND down on command, and then the owner goes to the end of a 20 foot line while the dog stays in place. When instructed by the evaluator, the owner returns the dog and releases the dog from the stay when directed by the evaluator.
  7.  Coming when called. The handler will walk 10 feet from the dog, turn to face the dog, and call the dog. The dog must stay in place until called.
  8.  Reaction to another dog. Two handlers and their dogs approach each other from a distance of about 20 feet, stop, shake hands and exchange pleasantries, and continue on for about 10 feet. The dogs should show no more than casual interest in each other. Neither dog should go to the other dog or its handler.
  9.  Reaction to a distraction. The evaluator will select and present two distractions. Examples of distractions include dropping a chair, rolling a crate dolly past the dog, having a jogger run in front of the dog, or dropping a crutch or cane. The dog may express natural interest and curiosity and/or may appear slightly startled but should not panic, try to run away, show aggressiveness, or bark. 
  10.  Supervised separation. Evaluators are encouraged to say something like, “Would you like me to watch your dog?” and then take hold of the dog’s leash. The owner will go out of sight for three minutes. The dog does not have to stay in position but should not continually bark, whine, or pace unnecessarily, or show anything stronger than mild agitation or nervousness.

For more information and to find an evaluator near you, contact:


Cairn being judged
Standing on the table for judge's examination.

Each AKC recognized breed has a standard that describes all of the characteristics that make up an ideal representation of the breed. Conformation dog shows provide an opportunity for qualified judges to determine which dogs most closely resemble the breed standard. A dog that conforms to most of the items of description in its individual breed standard is said to have good conformation.

Dogs need to be trained to gait properly, to be familiar with the different gaiting patterns a judge can request, to stand and “stack” so the judge can examine the dog hands on.

Dogs who the judge deems have won over the other entries can win points toward their AKC championship.

For more information, contact:

Dock Diving

Cairn diving into the water
Cairn learning to dock dive.

Dock diving is a sporting competition in which dogs compete at either distance or height jumping from a raised platform, usually known as a dock, into water. Dogs can be judged on distance (between the dock and where they land in the water), speed (how fast they retrieve a toy at the end of the pool), or height (how high they can jump to retrieve a toy suspended over the water).

For more information, contact:


Earth dog
Cairn competing in earth dog trial.
Cairn practicing earthdog in tunnel
A wooden earthdog tunnel is used for both practice and trials.

An earthdog trial tests the working ability and instinct of terriers. Cairns were bred to hunt vermin and other quarry which live in underground dens. Earthdog tests involve man-made tunnels that the dogs must navigate, while scenting a rat (the quarry). The dog must follow the scent to the quarry and then "work" the quarry. Depending on the sanctioning organization, “working” means barking, scratching, staring, pawing, digging; any active behavior. The quarry is protected at all times by wooden bars across the end of the tunnel. The hunting encounter is controlled, and neither the dog nor the quarry are endangered by the activity.

For more information, contact:


Cairn terrier running FastCAT

The Fast CAT Test is a timed 100-yard dash for puppies of at least 12 months of age. In this electronically timed race, the dog chases after the “bunny” lure and the speed of a dog is converted into mph. These times and the size of the dog is taken into consideration.  AKC also has a list of each dog and the average speed of each breed. FastCAT provides a terrific opportunity to introduce new participants to the world of AKC sports as one of the few events where all that is needed to compete is a dog’s natural instincts.

For more information, contact:


Obedience is one of the AKC’s oldest sporting events, and it’s open to all dogs. From walking on- and off-leash to retrieving and jumping, or demonstrating your dog’s ability to stay, Obedience trials feature dogs that are well-behaved at home, in public places, and in the presence of other dogs.


Rally is a team sport similar to agility in that the handler guides the dog through a course. The difference is that the course is made of different signs that indicate obedience-like skills the team must perform before going on to the next sign. The team attempts to correctly complete all the signs in a specific order in the quickest time. Skills on the signs include things like sit, down, stay, and heeling.

Both the dog and handler develop strong teamwork skills in Rally. It’s also a great venue for the dog to learn self-control. Dogs of all breeds (and mixed breeds) love Rally!

Rally is much less formal than traditional competitive obedience and less physically demanding that agility. You may talk to your dog the entire time and use many different cues while doing the course.

Scent Work

Cairn finding scented object
Cairn locating a hidden, scented object during a Scent Work trial.

In Scent Work, dogs are trained to find specific “target odors” in a variety of search scenarios. The dogs use their incredible sense of smell to track down these targets. Dogs get to work like professional detection canines. It’s the job your dog always wanted!

Scent Work was created by a group of former professional K9 handlers who began scent work training shelter dogs as a way of providing mental enrichment. When the shelter volunteers saw how much fun the dogs were having, the sport of Scent Work was born. This sport has been steadily growing, and now that AKC has added Scent Work to their list of events, it has been booming.

Therapy Dog

Therapy dog with patient
Cairn therapy dog visiting a patient.

Cairns can make wonderful therapy dogs. You and your dog train as a team so that you can be certified to visit schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and special events. It is suggested to go through some basic obedience training and the Canine Good Citizen test to make sure that your dog enjoys this type of work and will do well with it.