Steps for Grooming and Stripping a Cairn Terrier

Updated August 9, 2021
Cairn terrier running in the grass

Grooming your Cairn Terrier is an important part of maintaining your dog's health. Dogs that are groomed on a regular basis are less likely to have skin irritations and other problems. 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.

Cairn Terrier Grooming Standards

While the amount of grooming you do will vary depending on whether it's part of your regular care routine or you are grooming for a dog show, the American Kennel Club's (AKC) Cairn Terrier page provides some information about the necessary grooming requirements for the breed. The AKC breed standard states that the Cairn Terrier should always have a clean, brushed, and combed coat. A Cairn should have "plenty of head furnishings" (this refers to the dog's mustache and eyebrows) and fur around the ears. The feet and tail should be nicely trimmed and neat. The dog should also have a cleanly trimmed outline.

Cairn Terrier On Field

Tools You Will Need

There are several items you need before you begin grooming your Cairn Terrier.

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

Using a Furminator Tool

Some Cairn Terrier owners prefer to use the Furminator when grooming their dog. The Furminator is a useful tool for grooming the Cairn Terrier undercoat. You can use it safely by applying gentle, 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 keep your dog in excellent shape by following a grooming schedule. This will ensure 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 another breed of dog, as can be seen in this before and after video.

Weekly Grooming

Once a week you should check your dog thoroughly for skin irritations and other problems that may come up.

  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 the breed.

  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, sheath of the penis or vulva. This is an important factor in keeping these areas clean and free of bacteria. 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 zone to groom.
  7. Spray your dog with 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 "every day 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 such as stripping knives and a lot of finger plucking. Competitors are looking to create the best example of the breed they can for the judge's table. The average owner can do a much simpler stripping regularly.

Cairn Terrier Dog Show | Getty Editorial Use

Safely Removing Mats From a Cairn Terrier

Although with some other dog breeds 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

  • Purchase high-quality grooming tools.
  • Do not over-bathe a Cairn Terrier. Bathing your Cairn too often will remove the protective oils from their coat and soften its natural, coarse texture. One bath every 3 months is sufficient.
  • Begin regularly brushing your dog from the time they are a young puppy to accustom them 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 your 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, professional groomers do not recommend shaving Cairn Terriers. Shaving can damage a Cairn's fur and have long-term negative side effects for new hair growth. It can also lead to skin problems and issues with regulating 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.

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 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.

Was this page useful?
Related & Popular
Steps for Grooming and Stripping a Cairn Terrier