Small "EARTH DOGS," or terriers, as we now know them, have existed in the Western Highlands and Islands of Scotland for close to 500 years. It is recorded that every Scottish chieftain had his pack of hounds and his pack of terriers which were used to control small fur-bearing vermin such as fox, otter, weasels, and rodents. And while these "earth dogs" may have differed in appearance from the modern Cairn, it is assumed that it was from these short-legged, game, and tenacious little dogs that the breed was developed. Fanciers claim that the Cairn is one of the oldest, if not the oldest, breed of pure British terrier.
Stronghold of the breed was the Isle of Skye, where it is reported that the purest strains were developed and had been known as working terriers since 1810. Thus it seemed appropriate that when the breed made its show debut at Inverness in 1909, the dogs should be classified as "Shorthaired Skyes." This name did not sit well with Skye Terrier adherents, who had laid claim to the "Skye" appellation many years before. A lengthy dispute followed, the issue finally being resolved when one of the breed's strongest supporters suggested that to persist in using "Skye" could lead to confusion. Or, even worse, it might give the impression this should be a long-bodied dog. In 1910 the committee charged with defining breed characteristics was persuaded to rename the breed the Cairn Terrier. Two years later the Cairn was granted official breed status by The Kennel Club (England). Since that time the breed has grown in popularity not only in Great Britain but throughout the world. Fanciers fondly call the Cairn "the best little pal in the world."
The first Cairn Terrier was imported into the United States by a Mrs. Price in 1913, and was registered with the American Kennel Club. First Canadian registrations were recorded in The Canadian Kennel Club Stud Book of 1920.