One of the important bits of kit for your dog, especially puppies, is a crate. Before we had dogs we thought crates looked more like puppy prisons, but we've since learnt that dogs love them. In the wild, the crate would be the dog's den. It's where they feel safe and secure.
It provides a safe space for the dog, our dog Izzy is 7 and she will still go to her crate if she feels overwhelmed and wants a time out
It provides a place to put the dog if you are out of the house and you know they won't chew or go to the toilet in the house. This is particularly useful for puppies.
Dogs will be very reluctant to go to the toilet in their den, so it is an invaluable tool for toilet training a puppy or older dog!
It is a safe place for them to rest if they are sick or have a broken limb that needs to mend
Can be a safe place to transport animals in cars
When choosing a crate it should be large enough for the dog to stand up and turn around – but not much bigger. If it is much bigger then not only is it less cosy, but the dog may view one end as being for sleeping and the other end for the toilet, which will not help with the toilet training! If your puppy needs to grow into their adult-size crate then find a way to block off one end of it securely. Your dog will much more comfortable in the crate if it has a nice bed and a blanket that they can nest into. At night especially you can cosy them in with a blanket over the top - which will not only make it more den-like for them and keep them a bit warmer, but also block some light so they don't wake you as early!
Your dog may also like a toy or two in the crate with them. We don't recommend a water bowl in the crate as it's good to control how late a puppy or dogs drink so it doesn't need to pee during the night. Dogs will let you know when they need out or are thirsty (make sure you can hear them - keep them in your room or nearby, or use a baby monitor!) and they will sleep longer if not over-hydrated. Do allow them access to water when they get up each time though.
When initially getting the dog or puppy used to the crate, a fun way for them to have positive associations with it from the start is to hide some kibble or small treats in/under a blanket in the crate - they will have a fun time digging around for them and see it as a place they want to go to. Don't force them in though - if initially wary, you should just place a treat closer and closer to the crate and then throw one in with your dog watching.
Always remember that your dog needs to see the crate as a safe space, and that also means you should avoid forcing them out (eg by lifting them) as much as possible.
Be patient, it's all new to them and trust needs to be built up.
If they have a favourite toy or a chew-treat like a Dentastix then use it to encourage them to spend time in there.
NEVER use the crate as a form of punishment, the crate should always be a safe place
You'll probably need to reinforce these positive associations a few times a day for a few days until they voluntarily go into the crate and curl up for some quiet time. When this happens a whispered "good boy/girl" and then leaving them to it without making a fuss is best - you don't want to get them excited and come straight out!
Once they are happily using the crate as a den with the door open you can start closing it.
Start by just pushing the door closed (but not locked) when they are happily chewing on something - they should be able to push it open to get out. Stay nearby at first, but being able to go out of sight with them in the closed crate is the aim of this stage.
When they are comfortable with being in the closed crate, you can try locking it, but again stay nearby at first in case they get distressed, then move further away, and then move out of sight. By staying nearby (out of sight) or by using a baby monitor, you can increase the time they spend in the locked crate. If they want out then let them out - it's still early days and anyway they actually want to pee... which brings us to the next section on crate training!
When toilet training a dog, they will be extremely reluctant to soil their den (crate). Puppies should operate on a cycle of play, eat, drink, sleep, toilet, repeat. This whole cycle can be less than an hour long when the puppy is very young! The key thing is that because they have been asleep for a while they probably need to pee or poo. You can take advantage of this knowledge by lifting them immediately after they come out of the crate, and placing them where it’s suitable to pee. They will hopefully relieve themselves straight away and therefore learn where to go in future. Some reinforcement is required of course, and it also helps if there’s an older dog to show them the ropes! Loudly saying e.g. "Toilet" when they are going can also help create an association in their minds so that in future you can say it and trigger your dog to go when it better suits you!
Often vets recommend "crate rest" and then it can be invaluable to have the dog already comfortable with the crate. Luna (above) needed crate rest for after her knee surgery but we also find it useful for smaller operations like when our fosters are neutered.
A dog is likely to pee where it can smell there has been a previous pee – so if there is an accident be sure to clean it properly, especially if it is in the crate.
For more advice if you have a new puppy see our blog: 15 Mistakes made with our first puppy that we don't after our 15th