Crate Training An Older Dog – A Step-By-Step Guide

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If you’ve taken on an adult dog from a rescue or shelter, well, good for you! 

There are many benefits to adopting older dogs rather than puppies. Some adult dogs already know their names, are leash-trained, and you know what size the “finished” dog is. 

But what about crate training? Can you teach an old dog new tricks? And what’s the longest time that you can leave your dog home alone in a crate?

Read on for our top tips and a step-by-step guide on crate training an older dog.

Crate Training Older Dogs And Puppies – What’s The Difference?

You might be surprised to learn that there are actually very few differences in crate training older dogs and puppies. The main difference is that crate training an older dog usually takes longer.

How so?

There are a few reasons why it generally takes longer to teach an older dog to use a crate.

Memory

Just like children, puppies are like sponges, soaking up knowledge and learning new things quickly. Adult dogs generally learn more slowly and are more likely to forget what they’ve learned. 

That means that you’ll need to be very patient and be prepared to keep repeating your dog’s lessons until the penny eventually drops.

Resistance

Adult dogs are more likely to resist being crated than puppies. A puppy has no preconceptions and will most likely have no previous knowledge of being crated, whereas an older dog might have been forced into a crate or had a frightening experience.

That means you might have to persuade your older dog that going into his crate is not such as bad thing after all and can be an enjoyable, positive experience.

A Bad Experience

Dog laying down on a crate bed

If you adopt a dog from a shelter or a rescue, you must understand that the dog has possibly previously been kept crated for long periods of time. 

Imagine how that dog felt, locked in a crate for hours on end, feeling isolated, abandoned, and lonely. That crate probably felt like a prison, especially if the dog was crated as a punishment. For those reasons, your new dog might struggle to accept being crated. However, with patience and sympathy, you can usually turn the dog around and show him that spending time in his crate can be an enjoyable experience. 

What Do You Need To Crate Train An Older Dog?

Before you begin attempting to crate train your adult dog, there are a few things that you’ll need to buy.

A High-Quality Dog Crate

The most important item that you need to buy is a high-quality dog crate. There are several different types of dog crates to choose from:

Wire Crates

The most popular kind of crate is generally a wire dog cage. Wire crates are the cheapest to buy and generally the most versatile. These crates are generally foldable for easy, hassle-free portability and space-saving storage. You can also buy crate dividers to make the crate smaller, which is ideal for toilet training your dog.

You can buy covers for wire crates to provide your dog with shelter if you use the crate outside, and this crate type provides your dog with excellent airflow and ventilation. Also, most wire crates include a removable plastic tray for easy cleaning. Generally, you need to buy a crate mat or bed for your dog your lie on, although some brands include one with the crate.

Soft-Sided Crates

Soft-sided fabric crates are also handy and convenient in that they are lightweight and collapsible for easy transport and storage. The main downsides to fabric crates are that they won’t safely contain a large, lively dog and are vulnerable to chewing.

Plastic Crates

Plastic crates can be a useful option for traveling your dog in your car. However, although easy to clean and lightweight, plastic crates are not the best idea for a permanent crate for use in your home, as they are generally not spacious enough.

Furniture Crates

Fancy Corner Dog Crate
Image Source: Foter.com

Furniture crates are designed to be used as end tables, side tables, media consoles, and the like. 

These crates are usually made from wood or rattan material, making this style of dog crate very attractive as well as being functional. Furniture crates can also save space in a small home. As long as your adult dog isn’t a chewer, a furniture crate can make a good choice.

Leash And Harness

You’ll need a correctly fitted harness and a leash for your dog.

Treats

You’ll also need a generous supply of calming treats and interactive food toys to tempt your dog into the crate and help to keep him calm. 

Comfy Bed

Your dog’s crate must be a cozy place for your pet. So, make the space cozy with plenty of comfortable bedding and blankets.

What Size Crate?

The crate you choose must be the correct size for your dog.

As a minimum, your dog must:

  • Be able to stand up without bumping his head or touching his ears on the roof of the crate
  • Be able to turn around easily without getting stuck
  • Be able to lie down and stretch out completely

When choosing a crate for your dog, remember that you must allow extra space to accommodate a thick crate mat. There should also be enough room for a water bottle or clip-on bowl. 

Ideally, you don’t want the crate to be too big. If your dog has too much space, he might decide to use one end of the crate as a potty area, which is what you absolutely don’t want. 

Where Should You Put Your Dog’s Crate?

Having picked out the perfect dog crate for your pet, you need to decide where to put it.

Remember that your new dog is likely to be quite stressed and unsettled, to begin with. So, you need to choose a quiet spot where your dog won’t be hassled and disturbed by other members of the household, including other pets.

Also, you don’t want your dog to get too hot or get chilly, so the crate needs to be somewhere away from direct sunlight, open windows, and drafts.

For a full guide on the best place to keep your dog crate, read the article at this link

How Long Does It Take To Crate Train An Older Dog?

That’s a difficult question to answer! The length of time it takes to crate train an adult depends on a few factors.

If the dog is not afraid of the crate and hasn’t previously had a bad experience, training him to use the crate might only take a few weeks. Similarly, if the dog has already been crate trained before you got him, he will most likely remember what to do. 

However, if the dog has been forced to go into a crate as a punishment, he’s bound to have negative associations with the crate, and he might be very resentful or even aggressive. In that case, crate training your dog will take much longer.  

Do Older Dogs Need Crates?

When taking on an older dog, many people wonder if it’s even worth the hassle of crate training their new furry friend.

However, we always recommend crate training your dog for the following reasons:

Safety

You can protect your possessions and keep your canine companion safe and out of mischief by crating him while you’re out of the house.

Traveling

In many countries and most states, it’s actually against the law to travel with your dog loose in your car, as your pet could distract you and cause an accident.

Although you can use a special car harness for your dog, the safest way to travel with your pet is to keep him contained in a crate in the cargo area of your vehicle. Also, many airlines will take pets in the cargo hold or cabin as long as the pet is traveling in an approved animal travel crate. 

Comfort and Security

Dogs of all ages love to have a den-like space where they can feel safe and secure and enjoy a soothing experience. A crate that’s equipped with a comfy blanket can provide your dog with a quiet place to escape from the hubbub of daily life in a busy home and just kick back and chill out.

Toilet Training

Miniature Golden Doodle Puppy and Potty Training

Many rescue dogs are not completely potty trained, and using a crate is the easiest and quickest way to achieve that.

Adult dogs will not willingly soil their sleeping area unless they have a health problem, such as diarrhea and have an accident in the crate. So, keeping your dog crated and putting him outside every few hours for a bathroom break can quickly teach your dog where it’s acceptable to go. 

In Emergencies

If there’s an emergency situation in your house, the best place for your dog to be is safely contained inside his crate. Also, many emergency shelters won’t permit pets unless they are securely crated.

Quarantine

If your dog has to be quarantined or undergoes routine surgery at your local vet clinic, he will be crated for the duration of his stay. So, if your dog is accustomed to spending time in a crate at home, he’s much less likely to become upset and stressed in those unfamiliar surroundings.

How To Crate Train An Older Dog – Step-By-Step Guide

Now, here’s how to crate train your older dog in a series of easy steps. 

Remember …

Remember that every dog is different, and some canines take to being crated more readily than others. So, be patient and take your time. If you have a setback, be prepared to go back a step or two, and never get impatient or angry with your dog.

Never force your dog to go into the crate! You might frighten your dog and damage the bond you’re working so hard to build between you.

Step 1 – Set Up The Crate

Begin by setting up your crate. Choose a part of the house where your dog can see you and your family so that he doesn’t get stressed or feel that you’ve abandoned him.

Make the crate look cozy and inviting by including a snug bed or soft blanket.

Now, remove the crate door or fasten it back securely so that it won’t accidentally close, trapping your dog inside. That could spell disaster, especially if your dog is reluctant to enter the crate.

Step 2 – Treat Zone

Now, take some of your dog’s favorite treats and scatter them around inside the crate. 

Settle down to watch TV, read a book, or surf the web. Ignore your dog and the crate. Don’t make a big deal out of the crate, and don’t try to encourage your dog to go inside it.

The idea is to let your dog get used to the idea of the crate being there. The crate is just another piece of furniture in the room and is nothing to be scared of. 

Step 3 – Play The Waiting Game!

With a bit of luck, your dog will sniff out the treats inside the crate and go inside to find them. If he does that, brilliant!

While the dog is inside the crate, throw in a few more to encourage him to stay inside and show your pet that the crate is a good place to be.

Sometimes, a dog will dive into the crate, snatch a treat, and then dart right out again. If that happens, ignore your dog and the crate. While your dog is out of the room, add a few more treats to the crate. That way, your furry friend quickly learns that his crate will magically fill with treats, even when he’s not there.

But My Dog Won’t Go Into The Crate!

If you have a reluctant dog that simply refuses to go into the crate, don’t despair. There are a few things that you can try.

  • Put your dog’s bed next to the crate so that he spends lots of time close to the cage. That can help to desensitize your dog to the crate.
  • After a few days, put your dog’s favorite blanket inside the crate.
  • Add more treats, scattering them onto the bed.
  • If that doesn’t work, add a bowl of the dog’s favorite food and a few toys. 
  • Put the treats, food, and toys just inside the door so that your dog doesn’t have to go completely inside to get the prizes.
  • Gradually move the treats, food, and toys further inside until your dog goes all the way in.

But what can you do if your dog still won’t go into the crate?

Deconstruct The Crate

Furniture Assembly

Disassemble the crate so that you’re just left with the plastic tray. 

Put a few treats on the tray to tempt your dog. Once your pet takes the treats from the tray, put your dog’s bedding on the tray.

Reassemble The Crate!

Reassemble the crate over the next few days, starting with three walls and the roof, leaving one side open.

Continue adding treats, food, and toys to entice your dog into the crate.

Once your canine companion enters the partly constructed crate confidently, you can put the door back on, leaving it open.

Make The Crate The Only Place To Be!

Once your dog will go into the crate of his own volition, keep adding treats and toys and always feed your pet inside the cage. 

Step 4 – “Go To Bed!”

Cute puppy looking out from his dog bed

Now that your dog will enter the crate confidently, you can teach him the “Go To Bed” command. Simply say “Go To Bed” each time your dog enters the crate. 

Eventually, he’ll understand what the command means, and you can send him into the crate on command. Reward your furry friend as soon as he goes into the crate.

Step 5 – Lockdown!

Now that your dog will go into the crate on command, you can close the door.

Give the “Go To Bed” command. When your dog goes into the crate, close the door. Give your dog lots of treats, feeding them to him through the mesh or through the door.

Now, let your dog out of the crate. Repeat the exercise up to five times.

Step 6 – Leave The Room

Put your dog in the crate, give him some treats, and close the door. 

Now, leave the room for a short while. At first, make your absence last for just a few minutes, gradually extending your time away. When you return, let your dog out and reward him.

Repeat the exercise up to five times.

Step 7 – Extended Absences

Once your pet is happy to be left alone in his crate for short periods, try going out for an hour or so, leaving your dog home alone.

When you get back, reward your dog, but don’t make a big deal of your return. Your canine companion now needs to learn that it’s quite normal for him to spend time in his crate while you go out. He’ll quickly get to understand that you will come back to him, and he hasn’t been abandoned.

In Conclusion

Did you enjoy our guide to crate training an older dog? If you did, please share it.

So, you can successfully crate train most adult dogs, provided that you’re patient and don’t rush the process. However, crate training an older dog can be extremely challenging if the dog has previously had a bad experience when being crated, leaving him with negative associations regarding the whole process.

Never try to force your dog into the crate! Some dogs are simply too frightened to entertain being crated ever, and forcing your pet into the crate could lead to aggressive behavior. Other pups find life-long habits very difficult to break, and your dog might never get used to the idea of being crated.

Did you crate train your older dog? How did it go? Tell us about our experience in the comments box below. 

Meet our writer

Alison Page was brought up with dogs and various other pets! For a few years, Alison worked as a Practice Manager in a small animal veterinary clinic. Alison is now a full-time writer, specializing in creating articles on the care and training of dogs, cats, and fish.

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