While I am a firm advocate of crate training for puppies I want to state first and foremost that I do NOT advocate crate training for puppies under 12 weeks of age. Especially with small breed puppies, but often with any breed pup, their bladders are simply not mature enough to keep clean for any substantial amount of time in a crate. Introducing a crate during this time is appropriate, and will help foster a peaceful and stress free crate behavior.
For all other puppies and dogs, I highly recommend the introduction of the crate even if you do not plan on confining your dog to the crate for long periods of time. There may come a time when your dog has been injured, has to be boarded, or is traveling and will need to stay in crate/kennel. It is best that the pup be familiar and unafraid of the crate instead of suddenly thrust into an unfamiliar environment and be afraid of the crate confinement.
Crating can provide many benefits such as decreased destruction of your home, speeding up the house training process and providing a safe place for your dog to retreat to.
Never, I mean NEVER use the crate as a punishment. Don’t yell at the puppy and then throw him in the kennel for a “time out.” This will only cause negative associations with the crate and will defeat the purpose. Instead, if the puppy has done something such as dug in a plant pot in your living room, correct the puppy if you catch him in the act with a firm “eh eh” and then, if you must remove the pup so you can safely clean the mess, gently place him in his crate and reward him!
I also believe you can train any dog to willingly get in his crate on command. Provide positive reinforcement with you voice and treats every time your puppy goes in the crate, even if you are placing him there. Eventually, begin to lead your puppy into the crate with a treat using a phrase like “crate time” or “go to bed”. Before you know it your puppy will run to the crate from any room in the house! This will significantly distress the routine of getting the puppy into his/her crate. No more dragging puppy out from under the bed.
If you have to leave a young dog for many hours due to work schedules etc. consider using a playpen for small dogs and a safe room for larger ones. This way the untrained pup is not left too long with an immature bladder that cannot wait. When you are gone, you can provide a puppy pad to potty on, but this situation does not work well in a crate. If you encourage or allow the puppy to go potty in the crate, it will only confuse him. The crate needs to be a place the puppy will keep clean and leaving him in longer than it is possible for the pup to hold it will defeat the purpose.
A good rule of thumb is one hour per month the dog is old. EX: 16 week old puppy equals 4 hours crated max! Less for small breed dogs. I also feel strongly about not over crating your dog. By this I mean that you should be careful that your dog is not spending more time than needed in the crate. Generally, my young dogs are crated when I am not home and during sleep time. I rarely crate when I am up and about in the home and can supervise them.
Crate training done properly will result in a happy, well adjusted dog who can be confined when needed without stress and confusion. Start now!