The subject of crate training is a common one in my practice. There are many reasons to use a crate with a new puppy. Some are good, some are bad and some are ugly. One good reason for crate training is making the safety and well being of the puppy your first concern. When you bring a new puppy into a new environment it takes time for the puppy to adjust and LEARN the ways of the world. For the puppies own safety it is best that the puppy be confined when you are not there to supervise them.
Another good reason is habit. Dogs are creatures of habit. Establishing good habits quickly with a new puppy or dog will make training much easier and minimize stress on both the puppy and their owner. By crate training you have very strict control over what behaviors the puppy can and cannot do in your absence. So, bad habits such as chewing and house soiling have no room to become established. A bad reason to crate your puppy is a misguided belief that your puppy will learn something from being crated. They will not learn anything. Controlling a puppy does not teach the puppy the RIGHT thing to do. You will still have to teach them the right thing to do. But, controlling them does allow you the time to teach them without taking chances with their safety and taking pressure off you to watch the 24/7.
Crating will not house break your puppy. You will still have to go outside with them and reward them for that behavior. Later when they are old enough to be held accountable for their behavior they will need to learn that using your house for a bathroom will cause them discomfort. In short crating will not teach your dog to be housebroke, but it will control the puppy and give you time to establish good habits that lead directly to housebreaking and reliability in the house. A very ugly reason to crate your puppy is punishment. Using your puppies crate, his home away from home as a means of punishing them for misbehavior is not only ineffective, but can have serious negative effects on your dogs long term behavior. The crate is never going to be an effective way to correct misbehavior. Dogs minds are not wired to understand this type of cause and effect. At best you will simply make your dog cowed and unhappy. At worst you can create avoidance of the crate and even aggression and resentment of being crated.
Properly raised and trained a puppy/dog will willing go into their crate and stay there quietly for many hours while unattended. I am happy to answer questions on crate training. Please feel free to ask. But, for now here are some do?s and don?t. Do make sure your crate is properly sized for your dog. The crate is not a play room. To large a crate is just as much a problem as one that is to small. A crate should have the feeling of a den to your dog. If your dog were seeking safety and comfort they would go into a small den with very limited access from outside. The would not lay out in the open were they could be attacked from all sides. For this reason I prefer the plastic crates to wire ones. I chose one that is about twice the size of my dog. Just enough room to go in, turn around and comfortably lay down in.
Don?t put bedding or any item in the puppies crate that is not an approved chew or toy. This specifically includes bedding, old shoes, rags, shirts or other so called comfort items. You do not want to develop a bad habit of chewing these items and then have to attempt to break this habit later. It is better and safer to not allow this habit to get started in the first place. Do reward your puppy for being quiet in his crate. I use praise words and then drop a few treats into the pups crate if he is being quiet. This sometimes cause the puppy to start barking again, but they will soon learn that treats only come when they are being quiet.
Don?t ever let your puppy out of his crate when they are barking or scratching at the door. This will only encourage more barking and scratching. Even if you want to let your puppy out, you should simply unlock the door, but do not open it until they are quiet, then quickly open the door to reward the puppy for his silence. I am often ask how long it takes for a puppy to learn to be quiet in their crate. There is no formula to answer this question since all puppies have different temperaments. Harder, more driven puppies often take days to settle down and accept the confines of their crate. Some puppies never make a sound and accept their crate immediately. Both types of puppies have merit. I take this opportunity to learn something about my puppy and his mental attitude. I can use this information later when training them.
When I first crate my puppy I make sure a few things are in place. One is that the puppy will be reasonably comfortable in their crate. Not to cold or to hot. Not hungry and not in need of bathroom time. Then if find a place far, far away and crate the puppy with little to no fanfare and walk away. No baby talk, no fuss. Just put the pup in the crate and leave. If the house you live in isn?t big enough to put the puppy far enough away to reduce the noise I would even consider puppy the puppy in the crate in my car if weather is permitting. Cold is ok, just put a blanket over the crate, but hot is never ok. A puppies normal body temperature is 102 degrees. Caution is always to be used when crating a puppy in warm weather. But, a dry, well fed puppy that is not exposed to damp or wind can easily handle very cold temperatures with no harm. That is one reason I personally prefer to raise puppies in the fall and winter. I like taking them in the car and leaving them crated in the car and this is much easier to do in the cooler months of the year.
In the beginning of crate training I do not expect my puppy to go into his crate willingly. I will teach that later. For now I just pick up my puppy and put them in the crate, close the door and walk away. The age of the puppy will determine how long they can be crated. Baby puppies from six to eight weeks can easily be crated for a few hours at a stretch. Set your alarm and get them up to go out. Do not wait for them to cry to go out. Puppies from 10 to 14 weeks can easily be crated for 4 to 6 hours at a stretch. And puppies over 16 weeks can be crated for a normal human sleep cycle. Feeding and walk times should be planned around crate time. It would be pretty silly to feed your puppy a full meal and then crate them before leaving for work. So, plan and work feeding schedules around your work schedule and you will have greater success.
Do expect accidents. Puppies are puppies and will make mistakes, but the close confines of the crate will correct this behavior since the puppy will not be able to get away from their own mess. This is another reason to not use an overly large crate or bedding since either of these will allow the puppy to mess their crate and not have to deal with the mess themselves. Do not punish accidents at this stage. With no fanfare just take the puppy out and put them outside, clean the crate and puppy as needed and repeat. Your puppy will train themselves to hold it in the crate assuming that they are physically healthy and no other factors are encouraging messing their crate. There are puppies that do not care and will mess their crates and lay in it. That is a subject for another article. Normal/healthy puppies will have occasional accidents, but will learn from them and will be remiss to repeat them.
Do use a crate when raising a puppy. It will greatly reduce the stress of this stage of development for both you and your puppy. There is no harm mentally or physically from being crated, but their is often much harm that comes from puppies being left to their own devices. Have fun. Puppies grow up very, very fast. Now is the time to enjoy watching them explore and learn about the world around them. They learn very quickly. The crate will help you develop a structure where they are learning good habits while being supervised by you and not learning bad habits while running amuck and unattended.