Q: I recently adopted an 8-week-old puppy and am having a hard time with crate training. Different advice is being thrown my way.
During the day, I leave him in a crate that is big enough for him and include a blanket and a toy. I try to make it home at lunch to let him out and play for a bit, and am heartbroken if I can’t. When I come home at night, I let him out to play and eat. During bedtime, he sleeps with me in the bed and hasn’t had any accidents. But I am being told that I need to crate him at night as well.
I don’t want to be cruel to the puppy. I want him to know that he can hold his bladder and that he needs to let me know when he has to go. Can you please tell me the rules about crate training?
A: This is a good question. There is a tendency to over-use crates, so it’s good you’re questioning the advice you’ve heard.
Dogs are normally active during the day and sleeping at night. There is nothing wrong with having a pup or dog sleep in a properly sized crate; it’s just a cozy bed. However, this is certainly not mandatory. If your pup is not having potty accidents at night, he doesn’t need to be crated for sleeping. As long as you’re comfortable sharing your bed with him, there’s no reason to change that arrangement.
However, a full workday is a long time for a pup to be crated. It’s good that you come home at lunch to let your pup out of his crate to potty, exercise and get a drink – he needs that. But on the days you’re not able to get home, his time-sense will be telling him he’ll be able to eliminate at noon, but instead, he’ll have to hold it until you return at night.
For proper development, puppies need to be able to move around, stretch, play, drink, eat and potty during the day. A crate will not permit most of this. Two or three hours of crate time during the day are okay, but regularly crating training your dog for a full day is too restrictive for his health and comfort.
A better option than a crate, for safe daytime confinement, would be to puppy-proof your bathroom, laundry or mudroom and let your pup spend his days there. Put his bed, food, and water on one side of the room and a potty area for him (include papers or a litter box) a few feet away.
Another option is a folding exercise pen (available at pet supply outlets). These freestanding pens are usually constructed of eight 2-foot-wide metal wire mesh panels, hinged together, which fold to about 4 inches flat for storage. The pen can be used to surround a puppy-proofed area of the kitchen or other room with an easily cleaned floor.
When your pup grows up and is fully housetrained and finished with teething, and you can trust him to run loose in your home, you’ll be able to put away the pens and crates.