In general the earlier you start a task, the quicker and easier it will get done. But if the task in question is crate-training newborn puppies, you're barking up the wrong tree. Brand new pups are concerned about little other than their food supply.
Unaware of the Lesson
Puppies are born with their little eyes and ears shut. They cannot see or hear, so putting a newborn pup into a crate with the purpose of starting crate-training is useless because he won't be aware of his surroundings or even how you expect him to act. Additionally, one of the main goals of crate-training is to potty-train the little guy and, just like baby humans can't control their elimination habits, neither can newborn puppies. So he'll be "going" whenever he has excess to get rid of, whether he is in a crate or not.
One Useful Aspect
Letting mom nurse a litter inside a crate that is large enough to comfortably house mother and babies together is a useful means of getting newborns used to crating early; preparing such a nest for your expecting dog well ahead of the birth might encourage her to give birth there; she'll seek out a secluded nest elsewhere on her own otherwise. If puppies' earliest memories once they start becoming aware of their surroundings are of being snug inside a crate they'll likely take to crate-training easily, as they will associate crates with mom and safety. If you choose to house your dog and her newborn litter in a crate, leave the door open or remove it entirely to allow Mama Dog to come and go as she needs to. Make the interior comfortable for everyone and change the bedding regularly to keep it sanitary. Puppies do tend to crawl around, so with the door open or off entirely a few are likely to escape the crate, especially as they grow older and more mobile. To keep pups safe, create a partition around the crate so their exploring space is limited. Leave a means for Mama to easily come and go as she needs to.
When to Start Crate-Training
Usually crate training doesn't start until puppies go to their new homes, but if you have a litter of pups and want to start their training before they find homes you can start the process at about 7 to 8 weeks of age. If the litter didn't nurse in a crate you can introduce your puppies to the idea of crate-training by confining them very briefly at first, giving them treats or their favorite toys when you put them inside the crate and closing the door for only about five minutes. You may not have the puppies long enough to complete the training, but families who adopt new puppies will appreciate the foundation you've laid to make their job easier at home.
Implementing the Crate
Select a crate that is big enough for the puppy to stand and easily turn around in, but not one that is much larger, as he may potty inside it. Put a comfy blanket inside and a toy or two to make the interior interesting and inviting. After all, the goal is to get your pup to think of his crate as a refuge, a safe place where he wants to be rather than a dungeon he wants to avoid. Leave the door to the crate open at all times when your puppy is not being crated to allow him to come and go as he likes. If you give your pup a positive experience with his crate, he will go into it willingly when it comes time and with little or no whining, making it easier on both of you.
Elle Di Jensen has been a writer and editor since 1990. She began working in the fitness industry in 1987, and her experience includes editing and publishing a workout manual. She has an extended family of pets, including special needs animals. Jensen attended Idaho and Boise State Universities. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications.