Are you considering crate training an older dog? Maybe you’ve adopted a senior dog or are getting a puppy and want to give your older dog a break from an exuberant puppy’s energy.
Whatever the reason, you’ll find everything you need for crate training an adult dog here.
Can You Crate Train an Older Dog?
Fortunately, you can crate train a dog at any age.
“It’s a myth you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” says Fanna Easter, a fear-free certified dog trainer with Positive Pooch Behavior & Training in Texas. “You approach crate training for dogs the same no matter their ages.”
Crate training is generally a simple process that starts with positive associations.
Reasons for Crate Training an Older Dog
There are many reasons to crate train an older dog. A crate gives your pup a safe place that’s theirs, no matter what. People like to have their own spaces to retreat to, and dogs are no different.
Besides offering a personal retreat, crate training an older dog can help with travel. Sometimes, a dog might need to be crated in a family member or friend’s home, or a hotel or vacation rental may require a dog guest to be crated when left alone.
Even a trip to the veterinarian can be easier when your older dog is crate trained, as dogs who need to stay overnight are often boarded in crates. Small dogs should also get used to traveling in a portable carrier for car rides and waiting in vet offices (crate training will help with this!).
Another reason you may choose to crate train an older dog is if your veterinarian has recommended post-surgical confinement after a procedure and you want to give your dog a safe place to recover.
Having an older dog who is comfortable in a crate can also be useful in an emergency situation. If you need to evacuate your family due to a natural disaster, having your dog trained to go into a crate on demand is efficient when seconds are critical.
Benefits of Crate Training an Older Dog
Overall, crate training an older dog has many benefits. These include:
- Providing a safe, den-like space for your dog to relax
- Safety and protection during traveling
- May protect your home while you’re at work or overnight while you’re asleep
- Can reduce separation anxiety if trained appropriately
- Offers a place to recover from medical procedures or surgeries
- Allows for separation from younger dogs or children when needed
How to Crate Train an Older Dog: A Step-by-Step Guide
Every dog is different, and some may take to a crate faster than others. “It takes at least 6 weeks to change behavior, and you’ll want to practice multiple times a day,” Easter says. Here’s how to get started:
Step 1: Choose a Crate
There are many types of dog crates, and one of the most critical parts of choosing a crate is making sure it’s large enough for your dog. Your dog should be able to stand up, lie down and turn around in the crate.
Step 2: Slowly Introduce the Dog to the Crate
Once you’ve picked a crate, put it in your living room or another central location where your dog will be able to see and hear you while they are in their crate. Add some padding to make it more comfortable.
“The bottom tray or flooring of most crates can feel strange to a dog who has never stepped onto or into one,” says Jessica Hudson, an associate certified dog behavior consultant in Alabama. “Placing a towel or blanket in the bottom of the crate may make it more appealing and offer traction for the dog who may be more willing to go in and investigate.”
Step 3: Watch Your Dog’s Reaction
Leave the crate door open and take things slow to gauge your dog’s reaction. The biggest tip for crate training an older dog is to keep it positive and refrain from rushing things.
“Adult dogs have formed conclusions throughout their lives regarding their past experiences,” Hudson says. “Some dogs have never seen or been in a crate, so this new thing may be scary. [Others may] have a history of being punished and put into a crate so they may have formed negative feelings about them.“
If your dog seems resistant to the crate or shows no interest, try to determine why. Your dog may be afraid of it, the crate may be too small, or your dog may have had a bad experience with a crate in the past, Hudson says. If your dog still isn’t responding well to the crate once you’ve given it some time, she recommends changing to a different style crate.
Step 4: Create a Positive Association
Since you want your dog to associate the crate with good things, begin creating positive associations.
“Put your dog’s toys, a meal, or a pile of yummy treats inside the crate and close the door with the dog outside of the crate,” Hudson says. “This causes the dog to want the stuff inside. As your dog tries to get the items from the crate, open the door and walk away to let him enjoy his prize.”
If that doesn’t work, focus on creating a positive feeling around the crate. For example, feed your dog beside the crate before feeding your dog inside the crate. Continue to leave the door open while your dog eats or plays in the crate. Choose a larger or different style crate if you’re not making progress.
Step 5: Work Up to Closing the Crate Door
As your dog gets more comfortable with the crate, you can close the door for a minute or two to start. “I put high-value treats in, the dog goes in, and I close the door,” Easter says. “As soon as they’re done eating the treat, I open the door.”
Easter says to go at the dog’s pace. Work with them continually to build positive associations.
Other Tips for Crate Training an Older Dog
Every dog is an individual, and you’ll want to modify training approaches based on their personality, history and response to the crate.
“In regards to crate training, some breeds or mixes tend to love to burrow or be in dark spaces (Dachshunds come to mind). Others may prefer to sprawl out or be hot-natured (such as heavily coated breeds) and may get hot in airline-style crates,” says Hudson. “Training methods should always be rewarding for the dog.”
Pet parents may face some challenges when training an older dog instead of a younger one, so it’s essential to give it time. If you’re struggling or your adult dog seems unhappy being in their crate, a qualified, reward-based trainer can help.
Like any training, it takes patience and encouragement to crate train your adult dog. Follow the steps above, and although it may take a bit longer to crate train your older dog than crate training a puppy, many adult dogs will come to love their crates.