Get to Know the Cairn Terrier — and Toto, Too!

Find out why the Cairn was the ideal breed to pull back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz.

Caroline Coile  |  Mar 3rd 2015


“And Toto, too?” is perhaps the most iconic movie phrase ever uttered in reference to a dog. And just about everyone who hears it conjures up a mental image of a Cairn Terrier. But, of course, the real Cairn Terrier is a far more complicated character than the movie version, although any owner would tell you that pulling back the curtain on the Wizard is a totally terrier thing to do!

More interesting things about the Cairn Terrier

  • The Cairn Terrier may be confused with the Norwich Terrier, but the Cairn is slightly larger, has a hairier and rounder head, smaller ears, a longer docked tail, and comes only in solid colors, including black. He may also be confused with the Border Terrier, but the Cairn is shorter and stockier, and has more coat and erect ears. He may also be confused with the West Highland White Terrier, but the Cairn never comes in white, and the Westie always does. And he may be confused with the Norfolk Terrier, but the Cairn has erect ears, is slightly larger, has a hairier and rounder head, longer docked tail, and comes only in solid colors, including black.

  • The Cairn Terrier is one of the oldest terriers, probably existing since the 15th century.

  • They were used to bolt otters from cairns, which are stone piles used as landmarks, on the Scottish Isle of Skye. They also hunted fox and badger.

  • They were initially grouped with Scottish Terriers, West Highland White Terriers, and Skye Terriers as a single breed: the Scotch Terrier.

  • Scotch Terriers were divided into Dandie Dinmont and Skye Terriers, with Cairns in the Skye Terrier group. Cairns were called Short-haired Skye Terriers. Then Skye Terriers were divided into Skye and Hard-haired Terriers, with Cairns in the latter. Finally the Hard-haired Terriers were divided into three breeds: the Scottish, West Highland White, and Cairn Terriers.

  • The Cairn became a member of the AKC Terrier group in 1913. Initially whites were allowed, as they could interbreed with West Highland Whites, but this was banned in 1917.

  • Only one Cairn has won the Terrier group at Westminster, back in 1988. None has won Best in Show there.

  • The Cairn is the 61st most popular AKC breed, down from 42nd a decade ago.

  • The best-known Cairn is Toto, the dog in the Wizard of Oz movie. The dog who played Toto was a brindle Cairn named Terry, who also appeared in the Shirley Temple movie Bright Eyes and 11 other movies. Toto’s breed was not identified in the original Frank Baum book, but the illustrator drew him as a Cairn (although some say he was Yorkshire Terrier). Baum described Toto as “a little black dog with long silky hair and small black eyes that twinkled merrily on either side of his funny, wee nose.”

  • Cairn Terriers appear in the TV series I Love Lucy (Little Ricky’s dog) and George Lopez as well as in the book Maximum Ride.

  • Owners include Liza Minnelli, J. Edgar Hoover, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (Prince Edward and Wallis Simpson), Bill Murray, David Hasselhoff, George Kennedy, and Shelley Duvall.

Do you own a Cairn Terrier? Have you spent time with one? Let’s hear what you think about this fascinating breed in the comments! And if you have a favorite breed you’d like us to write about, let us know that, too!

Interested in other breed profiles? Find dozens of them here.

Read more about the Cairn Terrier:

About the author: Caroline Coile is the author of 34 dog books, including the top-selling Barron’s Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds. She has written for various publications and is currently a columnist for AKC Family Dog. She shares her home with three naughty Salukis and one Jack Russell Terrier.