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If you’ve recently adopted an older pup or simply never got around to crate training your dog at a young age, there’s good news. You can teach an old dog new tricks. Crate training is a vital skill for dogs to have because, when trained through positive reinforcement, the crate can become a safe space for your dog and aid in training other behaviors.
Is it possible to crate train an older dog?
Though it can be done, crate training an older dog may prove to be more challenging than training a puppy on the skill. Puppies are enthusiastic learners whose minds are sponges–they are naturally curious and eager to work with you. An older dog may be more settled in its ways and find comfort in the habits and routines they already have.
Don’t be discouraged, however. The crate training process for an older dog will only require a bit more patience and more repetitions. Despite the challenge, it is worth it to help your dog learn this skill.
Reasons for Crate Training an Older Dog
Crate training is a valuable skill all dogs should learn. There are myriad reasons why crate training is so important:
Not all older dogs come housebroken. If you’ve recently welcomed an older dog into your life and notice they can’t be in the house without accidents, you may need to potty train from scratch– and a crate is the perfect tool for house training. Very few dogs will have accidents in their crate as the space is too confined. So, if you make the crate a part of your potty-training routine, you can help teach a dog to hold their bladder longer.
We love our dogs and want them to be safe and live long, healthy lives. In your house, crating your dog can keep them engaging in bad behaviors by preventing them from eating things they shouldn’t. A chewed cord or swallowed piece of your shoe could lead to choking or a bowel obstruction. With your dog safely in a crate, you can rest easy when you leave your best friend unattended.
Peace of mind is important, and in the event of an emergency, such as a house fire or other natural disaster, crating your dog can ensure that they are easily located as you evacuate or are rescued by emergency personnel.
When traveling with your dog, the safest place for them is within a crate. Unrestrained pets can become projectiles in a car crash, and according to the American Automobile Association, only 16% of dog owners properly crate their dogs while traveling, creating a huge risk in the case of an accident. If you need to fly with your dog, generally speaking they must be crated either in the cabin or in the cargo. It is best to prepare your dog for these situations so they are calm and happy during their ride.
- Help ease anxiety:
Crate training is not only beneficial for your mental health, but also your dog’s. Introducing them to the crate in a positive manner can give them a safe retreat when they are experiencing anxiety from thunderstorms, fireworks, and other loud noises. Your pup can also experience anxiety from being left alone. Because departures can be emotional for dogs and humans alike, separation anxiety is a common complaint from pet owners, and crate training can be a remedy for separation anxiety and aid in behavior modification. Beyond separation, a bustling household can also be stressful on older dogs. Especially if you have children, it is important to give your dog their own space to retreat during a stressful situation.
- Vet visits and grooming appointments:
When your dog has to go to the vet or the groomer, they will likely need to be crated– especially if your dog needs to stay overnight if they are sick or injured. Vet visits and grooming can be stressful on their own, by making sure the crate is a familiar and safe place, you can help your best friend feel comfortable and ease their mind.
- Training classes:
Having fun with your pup can include training classes. From obedience to agility to rally, the world of dog sports is full of opportunity. However, many of these classes require that you crate your dog while other dogs have their turn.
Steps for Crate Training an Older Dog
Now you’re ready to start crate exposure with your dog, but where do you start? It’s important to ease into the training and be patient–this way you can make sure your best friend learns to love their crate! Below are the training steps:
Step 1: Crate selection
To find the correct crate size for your dog, measure their length from the tip of their nose to their hindquarters and their height by measuring from the floor to the top of their head or ears while seated and add two to four inches on each measurement. This is the length and height of the crate you will need to provide a comfortable resting place for your pup. You can find extra-small to extra-large crates depending on what size you need.
There are many types of standard crates that come in a variety of materials from plastic to wire. Wire crates are easy to come by and collapsable, making them easy to store away. Lightweight plastic crates are ideal for travel and plastic crates tend to be more budget-friendly, while a soft-sided nylon crate is a great option for smaller pups. If you are looking for a stylish option for your home, you can purchase an indoor crate or that blends seamlessly with the furniture in your home. Soft-sided carry crates are great for travel, but not recommended for long-term crating. Choose an option to be your dog’s permanent crate, so they always know where to go when stressed.
Step 2: Prep the crate for your dog
It’s time to make the crate comfortable for your older dog. If your pup is not one to chew up beds and soft blankets, line the crate with their favorites. Bolster beds and crate mats are a great way to entice your dog to cozy up inside. You can even add your dog’s water bowl to make sure they have access to water when inside the crate. Select a quiet, low-traffic, quiet location to put the crate, such as a bedroom, that is away from the busyness of the household. Keep this crate in the original location for as long as the training process takes.
Once you’ve made your crate space complete, gather your training tools. Choose your dog’s favorite high-value treats or toys to make the training process fun.
Step 3: Exercise and potty your dog
Before any training session, provide for your dog's biological needs by making sure they are properly fed, hydrated, and exercised. Also make sure to only crate after potty training your dog. Your furry friend will thank you for helping them get rid of excess energy and reduce excited behavior as it is difficult for a dog with lots of energy to go into training with a calm mindset if their needs have not been met
Step 4: Begin building a positive association with the crate
It’s time to introduce your pup to the crate. The best way to do this is to introduce the crate with food or a toy. Grab what your dog finds reinforcing, be it that favorite treat or toy and start playing some crate games. Toss special treats (different from their daily treats) or a toy into the crate and leave the door open, letting your dog go into the crate to eat the delicious treats or retrieve their toy. Keep this up until your pup is eagerly going in and out of the crate.
You can also feed your dog in the crate during meal time, by either placing the bowl inside and leaving the door open while they eat, or tossing kibble into the crate for them in the same way you did with the treats or toys. By using the crate as a part of your routine for mealtimes, your dog will associate it more and more with a good thing instead of with frustration.
Don’t rush this step, it’s important to build positive experiences around the crate and show them that crate time is fun! If you’d like, you can even layer verbal commands or command phrase such as “kennel up” or “go to bed” when your dog is reliably going into the crate. The more you use this regular command, the more your dog will understand when to go into their crate.
Step 5: Closing the door and building duration
Once your dog is happily going in the crate regularly, start closing the door for a short period of time. Start with only a second or two and increase duration slowly. As you work up to longer time periods and your dog is settling, try giving your dog a special treat, such as a stuffed kong. Choose a safe option that requires minimal supervision, unlike a harder chew that could be a choking hazard.
You can also help your pup out by playing a white noise machine when they are in the crate alone. This can create a more soothing experience for your dog and they will settle for longer periods of time.
Step 6: Create a crate schedule
Now that your dog is comfortable in the crate, work crate time into your life, and crate him or her periodically throughout the day. Keep your pup’s activity schedule in mind and crate them more often during their downtime.
Eventually, you may want to crate at night, and if that is your goal, try to take your dog in and out at the same time to create a recognizable schedule. Dogs find comfort and clarity in a firm routine, they are creatures of habit after all.
With all dog training, there are things that can cause you to take several steps back in the process or even completely ruin the crate for the dog. Here’s what not to do:
- Don’t force your dog into the crate, this can frighten your pup and make them even more cautious about crate time.
- Don’t leave your dog in the crate if they are showing extreme signs of anxiety. Look out for signs such as pacing, excessive panting unrelated to exercise, or attempting to escape which can all be a sign of fear. Go back to the beginning and start your training over with positive reinforcement or try crating for a shorter time period.
- Don’t leave anything in the crate with the dog that could cause a choking hazard or obstruction, such as hard chews or toys you know your dog will destroy.
- Don’t use the crate as punishment (even social isolation punishment). If you are only using the crate when you are mad at your pup, it will result in negative associations and they will not want to be in it. You may have to go back to an earlier step in your training if this happens.
- Don’t crate for too long. Crating periods should be kept to a reasonable amount of time. Older dogs can handle being crated for no more than six to eight hours.
Crate training is a useful skill for any dog to have through their entire life. Even if your dog is not a puppy, taking the time to crate train your dog will be beneficial throughout their life by creating a safe space where they can feel comfortable and relax.
Trainer that reviewed this article
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This is the trainer that reviewed this article:
Owner-Lumos Dog Training, Atlanta, GA
Certified Professional Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA)
Fear Free Certified Professional (FFCP)
Applied Animal Behavior Analysts (UW-AABA)