Not many things in life are as adorable as the cute faces of newborn puppies, but what comes out the other end may be a whole different story. As much as you may want to expedite the puppy training process so new puppy owners have less messes to clean up, you'll have to follow nature's course.
A Look Back
In the wild, a dog's past ancestors used to raise litters in what were known as maternal dens. Such dens were often dug underground and their main purpose was to protect the pups from potential predators and inclement weather. Then once the pups turned 10 to 12 weeks of age, they were moved to rendezvous sites which were similar to open-air kindergartens. Contrary to popular belief, crates are not homes, nor dens; rather they are areas for confinement, explains Steven R. Lindsay in his book "Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Procedures and Protocols."
Sleep, Eat and Potty
While you may feel tempted to crate a newborn puppy in hopes of mimicking a maternal den, don't. Puppies need to stay warm by snoozing near their moms and littermates. During the pup's first week of life, maintain the whelping box at around 85 degrees. Also consider that during those first seven days, those lucky puppies get to spend 90 percent of their time sleeping and the remaining 10 percent eating, according to Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine.
You may want to postpone the whole crate training idea for the simple fact that puppies are pretty much helpless during their first weeks of life. Indeed, they're blind, deaf and can barely crawl. Not much learning is going on in those pea-brains, as the puppy's energy is primarily focused on growing. Also, keep in mind that newborn pups depend on their mama's licking to be stimulated to urinate and defecate. You may have better luck introducing distinct potty areas once the pups are more mobile and capable of urinating and defecating on their own.
The Right Time
At around 3 weeks of age, puppies can learn some potty training basics, but they're not ready for a crate yet. Start off by dividing the pup's area into three different sections: one for eliminating, one for eating and playing and one for sleeping. The puppies by instinct should learn to eliminate away from where they sleep, play and eat. The whole concept of not soiling the sleeping, eating and playing areas should persevere once the pups leave the breeder, making the crate training process easier.
Introducing the Crate
As the puppies grow, you can introduce them to a crate before going to their new homes; however, keep in mind that puppies under 12 weeks of age haven't attained bladder or bowel control yet. This means they shouldn't be kept in the crate for too long. To make the crate a wonderful place to be, put treats and your pup's favorite toys in there, and maintain it that way -- never use the crate for time-outs or punishment.
In the case of an orphaned newborn puppy, you may wonder what to do to expedite the potty training process. In this case, you'll still have to postpone crate training until the pup is older. Rather, get ready to roll up your sleeves and do some of mama dog's work by moistening a soft old towel or cloth and gently rubbing the puppy's genital area to stimulate him to potty. Do so after each feeding until the pup is 3 weeks old and then start introducing eating, sleeping, playing and eliminating areas, and finally, introduce a crate.
- Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training, Procedures and Protocols; Steven R. Lindsay
- Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine: Whelping Your Puppies
- Dog Breed Info Center: Puppies at 3 to 3 ½ Weeks
- ASPCA: House Training Your Puppy
- Ask the Vet: Raising Orphan Puppies - Caring For Orphan Puppies
Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.