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Where did the Cairn come from


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I have read so much contradicting information on where the cairn came from. The first information I ran across is that the Skye terrier came first and then the bread the Cairn from that. From the cairn came Westies and Scotties, Westies being just white cairns. Then I read that it was Skyes then Scotties and The cairn was a from the scotty and the westie was a from cairn and scotty. I am starting to wonder if any one actually knows.

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dog dna is still very hard to trace, partly because there are a huge number of "copies" in the genes that make it hard to distinguish ancestral relationships from spontaneous mutations and coincidental sharing. until the mid to late nineteenth century, it doesn't seem that british farmers were very careful about the terms they used for their terriers, and if you see photographs of cairns from the early breeders (i mean between about 1895 and 1920), they don't look entirely like what you would think of a standard cairn looking like today.

looks like the basic story is that in the west of scotland and particularly on the isle of skye they had come up with short-legged, double-coated, up-eared terriers by the eighteenth century. the exact antecedents of these dogs are unclear, though it is probable that british terriers and schnauzers have got something in common. we assume today that the cairn most resembles this original scottish terrier, partly because it looks like skyes, silkies, dandies and black scotties are all based on selective breeding for very particular traits that are present but not exaggerated in the cairn. westies, obviously, are white cairns, and the last of the "breeds" to be selected out. cairns still have the greatest variation in color and conformation and have what many people consider the most "primitive" look. in fact as a breed cairns don't predate the other breeds much or at all on paper. we are just assuming that the cairn is the original scottish terrier (i think it is a good assumption) or that it best preserves the traits (and variety) of the earliest scottish terrier. part of that assumption is that what we now call a skye terrier (a little shorter than the cairn, long almost in the style of a dachshund, and with a distinctive coat) is a specialized derivative. that makes sense to me. the long skye coat looks like a selected trait, and you can hardly imagine a busy west country farmer managing to coif a skye's coat on a regular basis). add in the achondroplasia of skyes, and the fact that they were selectively bred for self-consciously fancy people (including some royalty) during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and you have a derivative dog which probably does not preserve the traits of the original in the way the cairn does (regardless what skye-breed propaganda says).

we had an earlier very interesting discussion here about greyfriars bobby, and one of the elements in the discussion was that before proprietary breeding of cairns in the very late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the dogs were commonly called "skye" because this general type of dog was known to come from the isle of skye (or, it was refined on the isle of skye, or people just said that because that was what you called it). fussiness about breed names came along well after the time of greyfriars bobby. but people knew what you meant by a "skye" --a short, stocky, independent, furry, intelligent little dog with bright shining eyes.

Edited by pkcrossley
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There are Scotties, Westies and Cairns at my local dog run. It's easy to see the similarities in Cairns & Westies, but the black Scotties look like an entirely unrelated breed to me. Starting with the dramatic color difference, nothing about the Scotties appearance seems to remotely resemble the Cairns or Westies. Has the common ancestry/relationship of Scotties to Cairns & Westies been documented, or is this information just anecdotal? Is anyone else curious (skeptical) about this...or is it just me?


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i just read on a scotties site that scotties are the "originals." it doesn't really make sense. scotties are documented as having been in the show ring first, which only means that they were selectively bred (FROM the original stock) and standardized earliest. that argues against them being the oldest "breed."

clearly, everybody thinks their terrier breed was the original one. i'm in the cairn tribe, so i figure cairns were earliest. just think about it. the working terriers of western scotland were not chosen for color or conformation, they were chosen for their abilities to hunt, trap and kill. grizzled coats are not mutant, they are natural. a solid coat is based on a mutation (probably dominant), which is then perpetuated through selective breeding. the dogs with solid coats are derivatives of dogs with grizzled or brindled coats. the derivation of the westie from the cairn is well documented, but it is only the last example of the same process that produced the scottie. this is why claims that dogs seen "first" in the show-ring are the older breeds is counter-historical. the older breeds continued to supply the source from which the distinct breeds of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were derived. the unnamed ("cairn" is just something to call them, it kind of suggests their original environment and work, but there are no old names for the breed because people just called it "scottish," or "western" or "skye" or "highland" or "roughie"), unselected, older stock was the last to be standardized, named and clutched at by breeders. our assumption, a reasonable one, is that the cairns are the closest survivors of the older stock, since they still show the greatest variation and came into the hands of breeders relatively late. now, the presence of ocular melanosis almost exclusively in cairns is against my general line of argument here. but i blame it on the role of breeders and in-breeding since the early twentieth century. all other genetic cairn illnesses are shared with skyes, scotties and westies.

as for the scottie: give it a hair cut like a cairn and you will see that it looks like a black cairn. i do agree that there is a bit of a difference in temperament, which you would expect to also emerge after a century and a half of selective breeding --i think scotties have less of a sense of humor than cairns, and they seem a bit prone to obesity. but read a scottie site some time and you will see the cairn ancestor peeking out --"independent," "stubborn," "what's in it for me?"

Edited by pkcrossley
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