Crate Training Your New Puppy
I often get asked for advice on crate training a new puppy. I think crates can be a wonderful way to keep a young puppy safe, as well as help him finish housebreaking, as long as they are used correctly. I have a proven method I use. It does take time and effort but it helps get the puppy off to the best start in this area. I will go into more detail below.
First of all, your breeder should be introducing the puppy to crates while young, and doing so in a way as to build a positive association. By that I don't mean keeping puppies crated full time, forcing them to potty in there. That can make them VERY hard to housebreak later. Puppies are born with a natural instinct not to soil their living areas, so the ideal housing for a litter is in an area large enough they can eat, sleep and play in one part and get farther away to potty. The surfaces are also important, as pups form their preferences at an early age, say 4 to 6 weeks of age. Removing all waste numerous times a day is good too, not just from a sanitation stand point, but so they don't learn to be near it, or step in it and track it into their living areas. I don't use papers or try to teach them to go inside, but try to get them on grass as soon as possible, or if the ground is snow covered, straw. Straw seems to still be close enough to grass so they learn to go on grass later, not paper, cement (such as your patio) or other surfaces. Puppies who live in small, cramped quarters, especially those that are not kept very clean, also can be very hard to house break, since their instinct to stay clean will be ruined.
What I do is put them in when they are tired and ready to sleep. At say 6 weeks of age, they will nap a couple hours, then want to get up, potty and play a while. So that's what we do. When the pups first wake up they all go out to potty. Then we play outside at various places in the yard or inside. I vary their play locations so they can learn about different surfaces, sights and sounds. They have free access to water when they are out of the crate, so drink as much as is needed. I also only feed on schedule so they relieve themselves on a schedule. At that age it would be 3-4 times a day and they are still nursing. By the time they go to new homes after 8 weeks of age, they can eat 3 times a day. Then after we play a while, the pups go back in the crate for a nap. Then we repeat as needed throughout the day. If it is cool out, sometimes I may let them nap outside in a covered pen. If it's hot they prefer the house and air conditioning. This system is a lot of work but it gets the puppies used to a lifestyle that is ideal for a family life situation, and they are very well adjusted.
Definitely remember, once you get the puppy, to never keep a pup in the crate too long. You don't want to force them to have to potty in there. At 8 weeks I would say 2-3 hours is the longest a pup should stay in a crate, and shorter if the pup needs out sooner. Some can go up to 4 hours over night, so plan to get up at least once or twice each night. Also, since it can be a very scary feeling to be alone for the first time, if you can put the crate in a place that is not isolated, it is good. Having a child or even adult sleep near the pup at first, or even another dog, can help. The puppy will learn to sleep in his crate but take things slow the first few nights, have some patience and compassion on this new canine baby as he learns about his new life. Adding a stuffed toy at first is another ideal, since it can simulate having a littermate to curl up with.
I also give special chew toys that they only get in the crate, so they learn that is were some really good stuff is. If I have a single pup I am keeping and raising, that is when I may feed some meals in the crate, which also builds a positive association. Otherwise group meals are fed out of the crate.
The worst thing you can do is keep a puppy in all the time because you don't want to have to supervise him while he is out, as it will become a prison. Also, don't make a big fuss about getting the pup in and out. Don't feel bad about using is as those bad feelings will make the pup think there is something bad about being in there. View it as a safe, positive way to help raise your puppy to be safe, house broken and get through the teething stage safely.
How long a pup needs to be kept in a crate will vary depending on the individual. Some are potty trained very quickly, by 10 to 12 weeks or so. Some take a little longer for that. But most chew a lot during the time their puppy teeth fall out and the new adult teeth grow in, and that is usually from about 4 months until 8 or 10 months of age. Some learn to be trustworthy loose after that, and some take longer. I always recommend giving short free times, such as when you need to run a quick errand, rather than leaving the pup loose all day while you are at work. If that goes well, you can leave the dog loose a bit longer. Some dogs are good over night when sleeping loose, once they are past the teething stage, but still are better crated during the day when the owner works or is gone. You just need to learn about your dog's individual characteristics and set up his routine accordingly.
Some ideas for keeping a dog occupied if you do have to crate them while working would include using the various toys such as Nylabones, or Kongs stuffed with something good. The dog can work at getting the treats out, and can chew the toy too. Don't put toys that are easily destroyed, or the dog may chew and swallow parts that could harm him. Same for bedding, many young pups chew and eat bits of bedding, so choose simple, durable bedding and supervise at first. You don't want them to swallow the fabric or stuffing. Also, if you give plenty of exercise before the dog has to be crated, he will be more likely to spend most of the time sleeping.
If you use the crate as a tool this way, and don't abuse it by leaving your puppy in too long at one time, or too many hours a day, he will grow up and view it as his bedroom and special place. It will never been seen as a bad place to be. Once the dog is fully trained you can leave the crate door open, and you will likely find the dog still wants to sleep in there. Having a crate trained dog is nice if you ever need to use the crate while you have company, for a pet sitter or in an emergency if you need to evacuate. It is a good skill for a dog to have, to be comfortable and relaxed in a crate for the times it is necessary.
"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope."