Crate training your dog offers a lot of benefits in a lot of different situations. Generally, 8 weeks old is an appropriate time to begin crate training, but check with your veterinarian before starting just to make sure your pooch is ready. He'll also offer you some advice on proper crate training procedures. These are important -- you can't just start locking your pooch in without first getting her accustomed to the crate. You also have to be very careful not to keep your puppy crated too long, as this can lead to behavioral and socialization problems.
Uses of Crating
Keeping your puppy crated for an appropriate amount of time helps in a variety of situations. It's a key part of housebreaking, encouraging your young dog to learn bladder and bowel control when you're unable to supervise her. Crating for proper periods also comforts stressed puppies, helps prevent destructive behavior and facilitates the introduction of new animals into the household. Once your puppy is accustomed to her crate, it can be used in transit and to briefly contain your pet when you need her safely out of the way. You cannot, however, crate your puppy for long periods or use it as a way to avoid your pet parenting responsibilities.
Appropriate Crating Times
Puppies respond differently to crating, and they can't be confined as long as they can once they've gotten used to it and are fully trained. Ask your veterinarian about appropriate crating times that take individual factors into account. However, the ASPCA has general guidelines as to how long you can keep puppies crated. Puppies 8 to 10 weeks of age should be crated for no more than 30 to 60 minutes per day; at 11 to 14 weeks old, they shouldn't be crated longer than one to three hours daily; at 15 to 16 weeks of age, three to four hours per day is appropriate; dogs 17 weeks and older can typically handle four to five hours of crate time daily.
Consecutive Crate Time
Just because a puppy can be crated for a certain number of hours per day, it doesn't mean she can be confined for all that time consecutively. Even if you're crating your puppy for three hours, she'll need an opportunity to move around and to relieve herself. As a general rule of thumb, puppies are able to control their bladders for one hour for every month of age. For example, a 4-month-old puppy can usually hold in her pee for a maximum of four hours. Puppies need frequent opportunities to relieve themselves, especially during house training. No dog wants to go potty in her crate, and you don't want to have to clean it up.
Problems with Over-Crating
Adhere to guidelines and your veterinarian's recommendations as to how long you can crate your puppy. Excessive confinement causes a variety of behavioral and health problems. Puppies require lots of mental and physical stimulation and activity, neither of which they get much of in a crate. Under-stimulation, boredom and pent-up energy lead to behavioral problems, usually of a destructive nature. Lack of physical activity also causes weight gain, loss of muscle mass, underdevelopment and other health problems in puppies. Also, too much time in the crate may mean not enough time socializing with people and other dogs. Inadequately socialized puppies are usually not particularly affectionate. They respond poorly to training, become easily stressed and don't cope with it well, interact inappropriately with people and other animals and they have other behavioral problems. It's difficult to make up later for inadequate socialization in a dog's youth.
Eric Mohrman has been a freelance writer since 2007, focusing on travel, food and lifestyle stories. His creative writing is also widely published. He lives in Orlando, Florida.