Until a puppy is perfectly trained, she needs a safe place in which she can do nothing wrong. So when you can't keep your eyes glued to your puppy and monitor her every move, confine her to a place where inappropriate behavior — soiling, stealing, shredding, chewing, or scratching — isn't an option. Crating is best because it eliminates the risk of her damaging woodwork, flooring, wall covering, or cabinetry.
Assuming you ultimately want your puppy to enjoy freedom in the house, crating is almost a rearing necessity. Crating is widely accepted by behaviorists, puppy trainers, veterinarians, and knowledgeable puppy owners as a humane means of confinement. Provided your puppy is properly introduced to her crate, you should feel as comfortable about crating her in your absence as you would securing a toddler in a highchair at mealtime.
Whether the enclosure is a room, hallway, kennel, or crate, it should be all of the following:
THE RIGHT SIZE: It should be large enough that when your puppy is a full-grown dog she'll be able to stand without her shoulders touching the ceiling of the crate. This size crate will be far too large for your puppy at first. Use a divider to limit the amount of space your puppy has; for the first month or so, one-third to one-half the crate should be fine.
SAFE: Homemade enclosures may save you money, but you would feel awful if she poked herself in the eye, stabbed or hung herself, or swallowed wood splinters or material like wallpaper or blankets because you ignored potential dangers. Make sure there are no protrusions or sharp edges, and no ingestible components.
PUPPY-PROOF: If she is prone to chewing, scratching or jumping up, prevent access to any woodwork, linoleum, furniture, counters, garbage, or windows so your home doesn't become a victim of your puppy's destructiveness during her training period.
Introducing Puppy to the Crate
Though your puppy will come to think of her crate as her sanctuary because it satisfies her natural denning instinct, she may not like the idea of going in the crate at first. If you reinforce her objections to the crate by making her early associations with it unpleasant, she may never adjust to it. And that will be a setback for both of you.
Go slowly, and praise every positive step along the way. Check off the following points as you complete them, and take notes on any specific behaviors you notice.
PUT THE CRATE SOMEWHERE YOUR PUP WILL HAVE SOME PRIVACY. BUT NOT WHERE SHE'LL FEEL ALONE. A CORNER OF THE KITCHEN IS USUALLY A GOOD SPOT.
LINE THE BOTTOM OF THE CRATE WITH NEWSPAPER FOR EXTRA INSULATION FROM THE COLD FLOOR. THEN PUT A SOFT BLANKET OR PIECE OF FLEECE ON TOP OF THE NEWSPAPER. THE BLANKET OR FLEECE SHOULD BE MACHINE WASHABLE. AS ACCIDENTS WILL PROBABLY HAPPEN IN THE BEGINNING.
GET YOUR PUPPY INTO A GOOD CHEW-TOY HABIT RIGHT AWAY BY PUTTING AN APPROPRIATE CHEW TOY IN THE CRATE. PUPPIES NEED TO CHEW. SO UNLESS YOU WANT THEM TO GO TO WORK ON YOUR. FURNITURE, OR FLOOR, TURN THEM ON TO PUPPY-APPROPRIATE TOYS EARLY.
WHEN HER CRATE IS PREPARED. CALL HER OVER TO IT. DON'T PUSH HER TOWARD IT OR INTO IT. MAKE IT INTERESTING BY PUTTING SOME SMALL BITS OF SOMETHING TASTY LIKE COLD CUTS NEAR THE ENTRANCE. WHEN SHE SHOWS INTEREST. TOSS A GOODY INTO THE CRATE. IF SHE RUNS IN AND GOBBLES IT UP. TELL HER WHAT A GOOD PUPPY SHE IS.
DON'T SHUT THE DOOR ON HER THE FIRST TIME SHE GOES IN THE CRATE. LET HER GO IN AND OUT A FEW TIMES. CONTINUING TO PRAISE WHEN SHE SHOWS INTEREST. AFTER ALL THIS STIMULATION. TAKE HER TO HER POTTY SPOT. THIS IS HER FIRST INTRODUCTION TO THE CRATE.
Later, feed your puppy in the crate. Place her and her food inside and sit with your back blocking the doorway of the crate. Don't close the crate door. For her next meal, prop the crate door and sit at the opening with your puppy. Keeping her food in the bowl, place a few pieces of kibble in the crate, then feed her a few pieces from your hand outside the crate. This way she associates being fed as something that happens in the crate and out.
Feeding your puppy from your hands is also an excellent way to teach her that your hands mean good things. Your puppy (and later, your dog) should always associate your hands (and any person's hands) coming toward her as a good thing. There may be times when you have to grab her collar or take her food away or when strangers want to pet her.
Going to Bed
Next, teach your puppy to enter and exit the crate on command using the following steps:
Put her paws right in front of the opening.
With one hand on her collar and the other pointing into the crate, say, “Bed.”
Gently guide her in by the collar as you place your hand under her tail and behind her rear legs to prevent her from backing away. If necessary, gently lift her in. When she's in, say “Good bed!” and give her a treat.
Immediately invite her out by saying, “Okay,” and praising her for coming out to you.
Practice several repetitions of this routine — without shutting your pup in the crate. If you shut her in and leave her every time she is put in the enclosure, she may develop a bad association with crating. But when she learns to go in the crate on command as a result of frequent practice, she is more likely to also accept being enclosed. Make sure to give her some treats while she is in the crate as well.
Although dogs normally won't mess in their crates, some do. Occasional accidents shouldn't concern you, but if it happens every other day or more, try these suggestions:
Remove all bedding. Believe it or not, it may repulse her to have nothing to absorb the mess and motivate her to hold it until you let her out.
Use a smaller crate so she only has enough room to turn in place.
Teach her to enter and exit her crate on command. (“Go to your bed/spot.”)
Put her foot and water in the open crate to encourage a better association about being in there; remove it when she's enclosed.