Last week, we began looking at the benefits of establishing lifelong habits for your dog, offering some guidance on setting a pattern of care and behavior that can really benefit both you and your pooch for years to come. This week, we’ll finish our look at the puppy years before moving on to adolescent dogs next week.

You have a cage—or crate, if you prefer—for your dog, right? Of course, you do. Why would you ignore the advice of your vet, your dog’s trainer, your dog’s groomer, that guy down the block who’s always watering his grass and just about every website you visit or book you read when you’re looking for a little insight into raising a dog.

It’s right there in the corner, next to the closet, covered in backpacks and gym shoes. And yes, that’s the price tag still on it and yes, you are going to start putting your puppy in there soon. Like, really soon. It’s just that he’s so cute when he sleeps on my pillow. And really, he hates that crate. The one time you put him in there he whined all night—OK, all night might be a reach. Maybe he whined for 10 or 15 minutes—long enough for you to have to restart that episode of “Arrested Development” you were watching—before you dramatically rescued him and brought him into your bed.

While you may think you’re doing your puppy a favor and being the cool parent, refusing to crate your dog may not end well for you or your puppy. You say you don’t care if he chews up some shoes or puts a hole in the sofa. In fact, you expect it. You did get a puppy, after all. But do you care whether or not he swallows a set of keys while you’re sleeping or gets stuck between the couch and the radiator while you’re at work?

All of a sudden, that hole in the sofa doesn’t seem like a big deal. Neither should the 10 minutes your dog might spend crying the first few nights when you introduce him to his crate.

We’ve mentioned the comparison between raising a puppy and raising a child before, and it applies in this case as well. You wouldn’t let your toddler roam the house at night while you sleep. You certainly wouldn’t leave her alone from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. when you went to work, free to wander around the house opening cabinets, crawling through the utility room or rummaging through the garbage.

There are a few things to keep in mind, though. Your puppy’s crate shouldn’t be used to punish her. It’s not a place for timeout. Instead, it’s a place where they can feel safe and secure. Dog owners who feel comfortable letting their dogs, once they’ve been trained, roam at night often mention the benefits of leaving the crate out and open. Dogs retreat to it when things get especially hectic—like your three-year-old’s birthday party—and view it as their own space, much like you would a den or home office.

Crating your dog

If you want to teach your dog to feel comfortable in her cage, there are a few simple steps you can follow: 

1.  Make sure you select a cage that’s big enough for your dog to lie down in but small enough so that he can’t avoid any accidents he may have had while in it.

2.  As your puppy grows—and depending on the breed—you may need to upgrade the cage to a larger size.

3.  Do not put plush, absorbent dog beds in the cage with the puppy. They’ll absorb your puppy’s accident and you may not know if she’s held it through the night.

4.  A Kong—a hard-rubber, cylindrical toy—stuffed with peanut butter is a great cage training tool. It provides entertainment and distraction for a long period of time when the puppy first enters the cage. You’ll want to avoid plush toys when your puppy is still young as those can be torn apart and can become hazardous to your puppy.

5.  Always make it a positive experience when your puppy enters his cage. He should feel like it’s a safe place where he can rest, not a place he’s sent when he’s being punished.

When you begin teaching your dog to use a cage, it’s important to keep the time periods short. You may be at work for nine hours but your puppy won’t make it past three or four hours without going to the bathroom. If he ends up relieving himself in his crate, you’ll come home to an anxious puppy and a mess. More importantly, you’ll be defeating the purpose of crating your dog in the first place: providing a clean, safe environment that’s theirs exclusively. In the coming weeks, we’ll discuss helpful hints for the next stages of your dogs life.

Jill Showalter owns Yuppie Puppy and Doggie Day Play in Oak Park. She has personally tended to more than 100,000 dogs since 2007 and has shared stories and advice with numerous dog owners.

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