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Housebreaking 9-week-old

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Hi all! Last week I adopted a happy, healthy cairn/poodle mix from a local rescue. The foster mom had her and her siblings confined to one end of the house and was training them to use potty pads when she let them roam the house freely for playtime. She used her potty pads here when I brought her home, but the house is big and she's been wandering off and doing her business secretly on the floor lately.

She will potty and poop outside when I take her out, but it's freezing here and we're about to get a snowstorm. I'm fine with it taking time to train her, I just want to make sure I'm doing this right. I've raised many puppies but I"m reading the cairn terrier is difficult to train. How would you handle this situation? She'll be 10-weeks-old in 2 days. 


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Hello and welcome.

I might try a multi-pronged approach to address the wandering off part 

  • Barriers to keep her confined to the part of the house where accidents are forgivable and do the least damage
  • Crate when she can't be watched — and I mean *really* watched — from a distance where she can be snatched outside the moment the potty light bulb goes off; for sure you don't want to be standing around waiting!  🥶 

While scary smart and infuriatingly stubborn, I don't think Cairns are necessarily any more difficult to house-train. Famous last words. :P 

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Never let her out of your sight.

Above suggestions are great plus you could use a xpen placed where you can see her. Take her out often and praise when she does her business.

As an aside I have found my terriers often take longer than my retrievers to house train reliably. But all dogs are different.

Patience and persistence will get the job done

Good luck with your sweet little pup

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 Potty training our Katie went pretty smoothly. I recommend crates and xpens in a confined area. Freedom in the house has to be earned. 

With Katie, at 8 weeks, we started by taking her out every hour, then every two hours then..., lots of praise and a treats, then freedom from xpen for short time.  The freedom time was extended as the age and  "can hold it" time lengthen.  Base formula is age in months plus 1. So a 2 month old should be able to hold it for 3 hours. 

After 30+ years with Westies, I found Katie a quick learner. One command we have not been able to conquer is "Come". Understanding that Cairns operate on responding to commands with "it has to be my idea" and/or "what's in it for me?"  and the inevitable 5 second pause "while I think about it" we can tolerate this occasional omission.  

We do not have a fenced yard. Katie has to be leashed to go in the yard. Although no snow, when it rains she goes in an area under the eaves of the house that is protected from the rain. She's quick, not wanting to get wet.

Patience, persistence and a good sense of humor will get the job done.

Enjoy these puppy months, they go by so fast!!! 

Dianne and 4 1/2 yr old Katie the Cairn


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HeidiM, I've raised a few litters, and found the puppies learned pretty quickly to use the doggie doors to go outside to potty by watching their Momma and other adult family members do so, but they didn't have much serious bladder control until they were well over 12 weeks old.  I also had the benefit of covered runs downstairs and modest coverage from the eaves on our deck and patio, plus a relatively moderate climate.  With your bitter, and actually dangerous temperature situation, I don't see any reason not to use potty pads until your little girl is older and the weather in your area is milder.  If you intend to install a doggie door so your puppy can come and go as needed, you can put a potty pad right outside the dog door, so the puppy knows she's going where she's supposed to, as soon as she gets through the door, as long as there's enough cover to keep the pad dry, of course.  You can weight it down with large rocks on the corners so it doesn't blow away.  I agree with everyone about using a crate and/or an ex-pen to confine the puppy when you can't be watching her, but remember she can't hold her bladder or bowels for more than a few hours at her age.  Overall, I don't consider terriers harder to potty train than other dogs, but I have always had doggie doors for my puppies, from my very first Scottie in 1985.  Best of luck with your little girl, she is quite adorable!

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I agree with the others as far as Cairns and potty training. I've had Cairns all my life and I don't find them hard to train at all. We used a crate for Atticus but for most of the time we were home, we watched him carefully. We set our Google max alarm to go off every hour and off we went. We couldn't put an xpen out since we don't have any tile flooring. Atticus came from our breeder using a litter box. He used this for a few weeks then then decided not to! We took it away and just started letting him out every hour.

We also don't have a fenced in yard either, so we go out with him on a leash. I actually think this is quicker for the dogs since a human is ALWAYS with the dog when they potty and are given immediate treats as soon as they go. When Atticus was about 4 months old we started waiting for a sign that he had to go out instead of taking him out right at an hour (we still used the alarm). To our surprise, Atticus started barking when he had to go out (or standing up and pushing us with his legs) and we went from taking him out every hour to being completely housebroken.

Your puppy is still VERY young so you have a ways to go, but you are on the right track. Keep treats in your pocket and give lots of praise and a treat when she goes. I'm sure our neighbors thought we were nuts when we jumped up and down and cheered at 6am in the morning in our front yard!

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