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Do Cairn Terriers Bark A Lot? [What Owners Can Expect]

Cairn Terriers have quite the history – being one of the oldest terrier breeds and initially bred to work and hunt on the harsh conditions of the Scottish Highlands. More recently, they have become a popular breed to own as pets; due in part to a number of positive attributes that they have – including being friendly, affectionate, and intelligent. But does this breed typically bark a lot? Has their working heritage left them with specific behaviors that owners need to consider, acknowledge and work with? I spent some time researching the breed; how they generally behave and act, along with their barking traits and characteristics. You’ll be able to find a summary here today.

So, do Cairn terriers bark a lot? Cairn terriers do typically bark a lot. The leading cause of barking in this breed is due to their hunter instincts; they were initially bred to chase after small animals and rodents during a hunt. These terriers would have barked a lot when they couldn’t get out of a burrow after chasing their prey. Other common causes of barking can include boredom, loneliness or out of alarm and fear.

As such, the Cairn terrier is not generally recommended for individuals who would like a quiet dog.

But despite their propensity to bark, the Cain terrier is typically a well-rounded little dog that loves to play.

Equally, they are adaptable to any household, even being suitable for apartment living.

This little terrier do love their daily walks and loves to be involved in all types of activities. These are not the dogs to leave out and they do love their attention.

Just like any terrier, they do have their bossy and bold side, and they will let you know if something is not up to their high standards.

With a confident owner with firm leadership however, this trait can be kept under control.

While it will prove impossible to stop your Cairn terrier from barking completely, there are ways and approaches to lowering it somewhat.

Ensuring your terrier gets plenty of daily exercise, keeping them busy with a job, their minds active and early socialization are key examples.

But more on these later.

The truth is, all terrier breeds are energetic, quite vocal and it some ways quite needy.

Its essential when owning one to make sure that they healthy, not only physically but emotionally and intellectually.

Meeting the above requirements can prevent your terrier from barking excessively before it gets out of control. This is not the type of dog you can just own and leave!

Let us now take a closer look at the Cairn Terrier regarding their propensity to bark.

We will also be looking at the specific contexts and situations where they tend to bark more along with some practical ways to reduce and lower the noise if you do decide to ever keep one.

So be sure to keep on reading to get all the information on the topic you need!

Are Cairn Terriers Barkers?

Cairn Terriers were bred initially to hunt and kill rodents and small game in the highlands of Scotland. Their duties involved digging underground, whereby sometimes they would lose their way. Barking was their way to let the farmer know where they were and to help find them.

As such, barking does come natural to this breed. It is in the nature to some extent.

Beyond this, these dogs are notoriously courageous, fearless and assertive. They have big attitudes despite their small size. They needed these attributes to undertake their previous duties – no hunting dog would be successful otherwise.

Therefore, the Cairn terrier has a typical terrier nature, and you can see a number of similar traits in other related breeds.

So, they will naturally have a lot to say and will need to communicate that with you. The easiest way, is of course, in the form of barking.

Even if today’s Cairn terriers are kept purely as companions, they still have their needs. For starters, they cannot do without exercise and stimulation.

Failing to keep them effectively occupied will result in excessive barking out of boredom. This includes both physical and mental stimulation.

Equally, due to their highly alert, protective nature, you can expect barking whenever they catch sight of a visitor or potential intruder. Thus, they do make a good watchdog and are sometimes kept as such.

Thankfully, Cairn terriers are sensible and will only bark if there is a reason to do so. As an owner, it’s therefore up to you to discover the root cause which can differ between dogs. It depends on the environment, the context and how they have been raised.

For the most part, barking only ever becomes excessive when your Cairn terrier becomes too eager to alert you to everything that’s going on.

You need to therefore set the boundaries with sufficient socialization and training from a young age to reduce this innate response.

Furthermore, Cairn terriers will need an outlet for their abundant energy; whether this is through regular walking, playing, or the provision of games and toys. Otherwise, you can expect them to be more vocal.

Likewise, if these dogs are left alone and especially for long periods, they’ll begin to bark. Owners therefore need to consider how, when and where these dogs are left, along with other considerations to keep their neighbors on side!

Common Reasons Cairn Terriers Bark

Cairn terriers bark for a few reasons, which we will discuss shortly. However, we must always remember that barking has been bred into them and by default. It actually served them once upon a time.

The word “terrier” actually means “earth dog” and they were given this name because they pursued prey straight into their burrows.

Often these burrows were long and winding, and they would often lose their way. Once inside, the terrier would bark in order for the farmer or terrierman to dig them out!

So, with years and years of this being a desirable trait, it has become a natural tendency that has passed down the generations. Even when kept as domestic pets this behavior still remains firmly in their genes.

Let us now look at some other contexts, situations and examples of when this breed is likely to bark:


Boredom is the main reason owners will often find this breed resort to barking.

When Cairn terriers have nothing to do, and they are not sufficiently stimulated, they will likely turn to this unsavory behavior. This helps them to release their energy while also helping to alleviate the distress they find themselves in.

Generally, the younger the Cairn Terrier, the more stamina and aptitude for barking they will have; so such vocalizations will persist for longer.


Cairn terriers are protective of their family and their home. If they sense an impending threat from a person, animal, or situation, they are likely to bark in response.

Cairn terriers are a highly alert breed, and it’s common for them to misread a situation. Occasionally of course, these dogs are right to bark. But, it can become a problem if they are not taught when and when it is not appropriate.

This breed generally makes a good watch dog, but they do need training to leverage their qualities in the right way.


Cairn Terriers need company; they do not like being on their own. They often bark to get their owners attention, or as a cry out for help.

Keeping this dog engaged and included in family activities is one of the best ways to prevent barking.

Separation Anxiety

Following on from the above is separation anxiety. This breed does not do well when left alone for extended periods of time.

Barking is often accompanied by other destructive behaviors like chewing, or by repetitive movements like running in circles or along a wall.

Alarm or Fear

Cairn terriers can bark at the slightest sound or object that grabs their attention. This can occur anywhere at anytime, and it can be quite a nuisance.

Often, owners report that their dog barks if they hear something outside, or even see something visually through the window.

How Do I Prevent My Cairn Terrier From Barking?

You will never stop your Cairn terrier from barking completely; in fact, it would usually indicate that something was wrong.

However, no one should have to contend with a dog that barks excessively.

Getting your Cairn terrier to bark less will take time, patience, consistency, and practice. You should not expect results overnight, but with the right techniques, you will see improvements that can go a long way to establishing a calmer and more peaceful environment.

Before you begin taking steps to curb barking, remember not to shout at your dog at any time. This is counterproductive; and dogs actually assume that you are joining in. So instead, you will always need to speak calmly but firmly, without raising your voice.

If you yell or tell your dog to “shut up,” they will not understand. Instead, you need to teach your terrier commands, such as the word “quiet.”

The following approaches are also great strategies to reduce barking in this vocal breed:

Keep Your Cairn Terrier Busy

Cairn terriers are energetic, and they have a sharp mind that requires stimulation. So one of the best things you can do is to keep your dog active.

Take them out for long walks, encourage them to run, chase a ball or a frisbee.

Play with them at home, and if you can let them release some energy in a large open space such as a fenced yard or garden.

If you do need to leave them at home alone, give them plenty of exciting toys to play with, and hide treats around the house.

You can drop them off at a doggy daycare when you need to spend extended time away. There, they will have plenty to do, and they will also be able to socialize with other dogs.

Failing this, you can always get a trusted friend, family member or neighbor to pop by and visit your dog throughout the day.

Offer A Distraction

If your terrier seems to bark constantly, distractions can help.

Sometimes, making your own loud noises can distract them, as can dropping something on the floor. When your dog does stop barking, you should look to praise them.

Learn to anticipate what will trigger them to bark, and distract them either ahead of time or during the event. Then be sure reward their good behavior.

You can use obedience commands as a distraction such as “down” or “sit.”

Obedience Training

Cairn terriers do not do very well without some form of obedience training.

You can enroll your puppy with a puppy kindergarten whom will help you with group activities.

You can also teach your puppy to learn what “quiet” means – being sure not to shout at them if it takes a while for them to learn it or understand.

Be sure to use the same tone of voice to teach your terrier other commands. You can offer them a treat when they stop barking, but just be sure not to give them a treat when they are barking when they shouldn’t.

Let’s look at the steps you should take in obedience training:

Step 1: Teach The ‘Quiet’ Command

One of the best commands to teach is the “quiet” command.

Once your dog starts barking, say “quiet” and give them time to stop.

When he stops barking, offer them a treat.

Each time they bark, wait for them to stop, say “quiet” and produce a treat.

Never reward them while they are still barking, or they will think barking equals treats. Offering your dog a toy can work as well as a treat, mainly if you are concerned with overfeeding them.

Step 2: Teach The ‘Speak’ Command

Teach your Cairn to “speak”. This way, you are teaching your puppy to speak only when you want them to be vocal.

If your Cairn barks at every noise like footsteps and doors closing, encourage your Cairn to bark by knocking on the door, say “speak” when you knock and when they bark, say “quiet”. This will make them stop.

Practice the “speak” and “quiet” commands numerous times a day until they respond well and learn both.

Step 3: Distract

Interrupt your Cairn’s barking with a sound that interrupts them. This way, you are teaching your Cairn that when they bark, something unpleasant will occur.

If you do attempt them, make sure that they do not see you making the noise.

Good ideas for this involve dropping coins or pebbles, or whatever you have to hand that can make a sound/distraction.

If you want your Cairn to be a good watchdog, you should use a different technique, but this is effective for companion dogs.


Cairn terriers are barkers; it’s an inherent trait that we just have to accept as they were once hunting dogs and used this as a key communicative tool.

Cairn terriers do make excellent companions and have a range of desirable traits. They are loyal to their owners and great company, but barking is one of the downsides of owning such a dog.

On the upside, Cairn terriers are highly intelligent and learn quickly, especially when treats are involved. There are a lot of approaches, and things you can do, to minimize their vocalizations and raise a better-rounded and disciplined dog.

When training, be consistent and firm. B sure to reward good behavior, while equally not punishing unwanted behavior.

Over time, your Cairn terrier will learn what you want and expect from them, and excessive barking can be somewhat reduced.