Having its own crate gives your small dog a safe haven from the chaos of the household, as well as a room of its own where it can spend the night and take frequent naps. Because yours is a small dog, it's easy to move this portable crate from room to room or put it in the car when you are traveling. (Most hotels and motels that allow dogs require them to be crated in your room to prevent damage.) The crate is not an instrument of punishment. When the pup gets too rambunctious, the crate is the perfect place for a time-out. It should always be treated as a positive environment, never used in an angry or punitive manner.
Dogs are dependent upon humans, but they are not little humans. In all their infinite variety, from the tiny toy poodle to the giant Great Dane, they are descendents of the wolf. Finding solace and comfort within a den is imprinted in their DNA; for a puppy, a crate serves this purpose perfectly. For your dog, the crate will become a room of its own, where it goes to get away from the hustle and bustle of the household and spend some needed downtime. It is also a boon when you are housebreaking your furry baby. And when you need to leave Fido alone, crating him with a comfy blanket and a few well-loved toys will prevent him from chewing the furniture and soiling the carpet.
Isn't it cruel to crate my dog?
Many dog owners view the crate as solitary confinement, and what could be a more punitive concept than that to a human? But like a wolf pup, a young dog finds its own personal den a place of safety and sanctuary. As long as you don't use the crate as a punishment and help your dog get used to it with a lot of positive reinforcement, it will become your dog's cozy retreat.
Some small dogs, especially the toy breeds, are notoriously hard to house-train. Maybe it's because we dote on them so much that we tend to overlook their slips. After all, their messes are much smaller and easier to clean up than those of a Lab or German shepherd. Unless you commit yourself to the housetraining process, sooner or later your little dog will make a mess you cannot shrug off, and you will feel upset and resentful. You'll also quickly tire of having your house smell like a kennel that needs to be cleaned.
Sometimes your own inconsistency can be part of the problem. You can't overlook Fifi's accident in the kitchen corner because you waited too long to take her out and then stage an angry outburst when you step in something nasty in the middle of the night. Mixed messages lead to one confused puppy and lots of household tension.
Most dog owners want their dog to defecate and urinate in a designated area outside, but you may opt to use litter or a newspaper indoors, especially if you are a city dweller in a high-rise. Whatever its bathroom of choice, when it comes to housetraining, your dog's crate will be your best friend. In its early days with its mother and littermates, one of the first lessons your pup learned was not to soil its sleeping quarters. Taking advantage of this predisposition will help you crate train your little dog.
Choosing a Crate
What size and type crate will you need? It depends on your dog's size. A small crate or cage will do for dogs up to twenty pounds, while a medium one is better for those from twenty to twenty-five pounds. If the crate is too big, the puppy will have plenty of room to wander to the far end to do its business without feeling that it is fouling the nest. Most crates cost between $25 and $50, and they are worth every penny when it comes to protecting your home from accidents (and having your dress shoes turned into chew toys).
The fiber glass type is easy to assemble and gives your dog a sense of privacy. It is lightweight and easy to tote from place to place. Wire mesh cages are collapsible, folding up like a suitcase, and most have a removable tray in the bottom, making them easy to clean. To make a cage like this more private, especially at night for sleeping, you may cover the sides and back with a blanket.
If you don't have air-conditioning, you should not crate your dog in hot weather. Short-muzzled dogs like Pekes, Boston terriers, and pugs, as well as full-coated breeds like the spaniels, shih tzu, Lhasa apso, and American Eskimo, are prone to heat prostration when the temperature reaches uncomfortable levels, indoors or out.
Equip the crate with a comfy washable pad or blanket. Keep a few spares on hand, as they will probably need frequent washing. A stainless-steel water dish that attaches to the crate door and a couple of well-loved toys will make your dog feel at home. Make sure the toys are safe — no tiny pieces, cotton ropes, or rawhide to choke on or swallow. It's best not to leave a collar on your little dog in the crate as the buckle could catch on the mesh sides or door and cause choking. Instead, hang the collar and leash nearby so you can grab them when needed.
Acclimating Your Puppy
On its first day home, get the puppy used to the crate in small doses. Encourage its use by first letting the dog go in and out with the door left open, offering a tasty treat and words of praise when it does. The puppy may protest when you first confine it. If it has been fed and you know it doesn't need to relieve itself, don't give in and let it out of the crate. That response will teach it that when it cries, you'll come running. Ignore any barking and whining and tell it “No” in a firm voice, then go about your business, in and out of the room where the crate is. This is lesson one in establishing your leadership. At night, it's best to place the crate next to your bed. This will be a comforting presence for the new arrival and will help build the bond between you.