Steps for Grooming and Stripping a Cairn Terrier

Updated October 17, 2022
Cairn terrier running in the grass

Grooming a Cairn Terrier is an important part of maintaining good health in this breed. Dogs that are groomed on a regular basis are less likely to have skin irritations and other problems. They're also more likely to be healthy overall with reduced inflammation and boosted immune systems. If you begin grooming when your dog is a puppy, it will be easier to do it later on. Your dog will be used to the process and less likely to struggle. And, many dogs that are groomed early on learn to enjoy the grooming process, making it simpler for not only the dog but for the groomer.

Cairn Terrier Grooming Standards

While the amount of grooming you do will vary depending on whether it's part of a regular care routine or you are grooming for a show, the American Kennel Club provides a set of Cairn Terrier grooming standards to follow. The AKC states that the dog should always have a clean, brushed, and combed coat. There should be "plenty of head furnishings" and fur around the ears, feet, and tail should be nicely trimmed and neat. The dog should also have a cleanly trimmed outline.

Tools You Will Need

There are several items that you will need to have on hand before you begin grooming your Cairn Terrier.

  • Coat conditioner
  • Cotton balls
  • Double-sided dental tool
  • Ear cleaner solution
  • Nail clippers
  • Paper towel
  • Pin brush
  • Scissors
  • Stripping knife
  • Slicker brush
  • Comb

Using a Furminator Tool

Some Cairn Terrier owners prefer the use of the Furminator when grooming their dog. The Furminator is a useful tool for grooming the Cairn Terrier effectively. The brush comes with a unique design that allows it to penetrate deep into your dog's coat. This helps remove dead hair and loose undercoat without causing any pain or discomfort. It can be used safely if you use it gently with even pressure and short strokes. Make sure the dog's fur is not wet when using it.

Grooming Schedule for a Cairn Terrier

You can actually keep your dog in excellent shape by following a grooming schedule. This will ensure that you handle mats and tangles while they are still small and don't end up with an overwhelming amount of grooming to do all in one day. Cairns that are not regularly groomed can look quite different and almost like a different dog, as can be seen in this before and after video below.

Weekly Grooming

Once a week you should check your dog thoroughly for skin irritations and other problems that arise. As a side note, check for any lumps and bumps. Any abnormal growths should be checked by your veterinarian.

  1. Clip your dog's nails to a short length. If you haven't clipped them in a long time and they are very long, you should only clip the tips to avoid cutting the quick.
  2. Spray coat conditioner all over your Cairn's coat and brush it in. Using the pin brush, move against the grain of the hair and then brush the hair down in the direction of the grain. The hair of the head should be brushed forward.
  3. Brush your dog's teeth at this time, as well.

Bi-Weekly Grooming Chores

It is important that you do a thorough grooming twice a month. When stripping a Cairn Terrier, there are areas you will want to concentrate on and others to avoid. Using a Cairn Terrier hand-stripping diagram is important, especially if you're new to grooming one.

  1. Use a stripping knife and your fingers to remove the long hairs from the coat and thin out the hair on the neck.
  2. Strip off any extra hair around the feet, and use scissors to trim the hair between the foot pads and toes.
  3. Trim the hair all the way around the foot.
  4. Carefully trim the hair off the top of the ear and then trim any long hair to create a sharp outline.
  5. With the help of an assistant, very carefully trim the hair around the anus, and sheath of the penis, or vulva. This is an important factor in keeping these areas clean and bacteria-free. These areas are very prone to matting as well.
  6. Trim the hair on the inner legs where they connect with the body. This area mats easily and is a sensitive area to groom.
  7. Spray your dog with a coat conditioner and brush it out with the pin brush.
  8. Clean the inside of the ears with the cleaner and cotton balls.

Once a Month

Once a month, take the double-sided dental tool and scrape the tartar and plaque from your pet's teeth. Dip the tool in alcohol to disinfect it as you are using it. Draining the anal glands is no fun, but it is an important part of keeping your dog healthy and comfortable. The anal sacs are on either side of the anus, and they become filled with a fluid that has a nasty odor. You may even see your dog drag himself along a carpet or the ground if his anal glands are bothering him.

  1. In order to drain the glands, you will need to lift the tail with one hand.
  2. Hold a paper towel over the anus and use your finger and thumb to squeeze in toward the anus.
  3. This will release the fluid, sometimes with a bit of force, so be ready with the paper towel.
  4. You may then want to wipe your dog down with a baby wipe to handle any bacteria or lingering smell.
  5. If your dog is older or has had problems with impacted glands in the past, you may need to empty the glands more often.

Show Versus "Pet" Grooming

Show dog competitors will strip their Cairn's fur at least two to three times annually. Cairn terriers that are "everyday pets" can be stripped or clipped. Many pet owners prefer clipping as it's much easier and less time-consuming than stripping. Stripping for a show Cairn is also more intensive, takes longer, and uses more tools like knives and lots of finger plucking. Competitors are looking to create the best example of the breed they can for the judge's table and the average owner can do a much simpler stripping regularly.

Safely Removing Mats From a Cairn Terrier

Although with some other breeds of dogs you may remove mats by cutting them even with the body, you should not do this when grooming a Cairn Terrier. You can end up nicking the skin or making a bald spot on your dog. The best way to remove mats on a Cairn Terrier is to slide scissors carefully between the body of the dog and the mat. Make short snips up toward the main portion of the mat. This is slow work, but you should eventually be able to get the entire mat out without leaving a bare spot or cutting your dog's skin. Just be sure you always keep the points of the scissors away from the dog.

Tips for the Grooming Process

  • Be certain to purchase high-quality grooming tools
  • Do not over-bathe your dog. Bathing your Cairn too often will remove the protective oils from their coat and soften its natural coarse texture. One bath every three months is sufficient.
  • Begin regular brushing as a young puppy to get your dog accustomed to the grooming process.
  • Use a spray conditioner when necessary and lightly brush it in before grooming.
  • To define the back of the ears, strip the untamed hairs at the tip.
  • Trim the head with thinning scissors to leave an indentation between the eyes and a well-furnished round shape to the head's outline.
  • Strip your cairn in brief sessions to avoid the dog becoming fearful of grooming

Shaving a Cairn Terrier

If your Cairn has very messy hair or mats, you might be tempted to shave them. However, since they are a double-coated breed, shaving is not a recommended practice by professional groomers. Shaving can damage a Cairn Terrier's fur and have long-term negative side effects for new hair growth. It also can lead to skin problems and issues with regulating their body temperature. If you feel you need to shave your Cairn, consult with your veterinarian and a professional groomer before you proceed.

Pictures of Groomed Cairn Terriers

Review pictures of properly groomed Cairn Terriers before you get started. This way, you'll have an idea of how a groomed Cairn should look when you're finished. The Cairn's coat can be damaged if hand stripping isn't carried out correctly, so take your time to learn the correct procedure. Also, talk to local breed experts and groomers who have experience with Cairns to make sure you are doing it the right way.

Is Grooming Your Own Cairn Terrier Too Difficult?

It's not hard to groom a Cairn Terrier on your own if you have experience and can follow the hand-stripping diagram. If you are brand new to grooming a Cairn, and to grooming dogs in general, you may want to work with a professional groomer first until you feel comfortable doing it on your own. Speak to your veterinarian about professional groomers in your area that they recommend.

Your breeder, dog rescue, or shelter may also be able to refer you to excellent local groomers that they have experience with. The National Dog Groomers Association website also has a directory of groomers you can search online. You want to be sure the person you hire is experienced with the breed and is also open to providing you with education on keeping your dog's fur and skin healthy.

Steps for Grooming and Stripping a Cairn Terrier