Dorothy's dog drops in popularity

The historic British breed, the Cairn Terrier, which came to fame as Toto in the Hollywood classic the Wizard of Oz, could be at risk of disappearing, according to statistics released today (16 June) by The Kennel Club.

Annual puppy births from the dog registration body shows a significant fall in numbers – in the first quarter of 2023 the breed has seen a 42 per cent decrease in popularity compared to the same period in 2022. The small Scottish breed is already facing an uncertain future, with their numbers having more than halved in the last decade, dropping from 1,085 annual puppies born in 2013 to 492 in 2022.

During the 1930s, the Cairn Terrier was in the top five most popular breeds in the country before the decade ended with the release of the Wizard of Oz, one of the first ever colour films, in 1939, which included one of the most well-known dogs in film – Dorothy’s beloved Cairn Terrier, Toto. Following the release of the film, the breed’s popularity flourished, growing from 481 puppies registered in 1940, before seeing a 658 per cent increase in just seven years, with 3,645 puppies registered in 1947.

While numbers fluctuated over the years, Cairn Terrier popularity peaked in 1989, with over 4,000 puppies born that year. However, the numbers of the breed have taken a nosedive in recent times, with 2022 figures revealing that they had more than halved in a decade, and if the current rate of decline continues, they will enter The Kennel Club’s Vulnerable Native Breeds list, which highlights British and Irish breeds which are at risk of disappearing from our streets and parks due to low puppy births.

Bill Lambert, spokesperson for The Kennel Club said: “The Cairn Terrier is an iconic breed, best known as Toto, but also as a firm family favourite, so the low numbers we are currently seeing are very worrying.

“Cairn Terriers are active and fearless little dogs who make a great pet for the right owners. We have such a rich diversity of dogs in this country, with over 200 different breeds, and we urge would-be owners to make sure they spend time researching to find the right one for them, and are prepared for their various needs, such as grooming, exercise and training requirements. The upcoming Vulnerable Native Breeds show is a wonderful way to do just that, with all 34 unusual breeds, and their experts, there to meet.”

Other British breeds have also seen a worrying start to the year, with numbers dropping across such family favourites as the Airedale Terrier (49 per cent decrease compared to this time last year), Irish Setter (48 per cent decrease) and the Pointer (42 per cent decrease).

To increase awareness of those British and Irish breeds at risk of disappearing, the Vulnerable Native Breeds Show, which will showcase all 34 vulnerable breeds and is free to the public, is taking place this weekend (18 June) at The Kennel Club Building, Stoneleigh, Warwickshire. More information for those interested is available here.

More about vulnerable breeds and The Kennel Club’s campaign to save them can be found on The Kennel Club website.