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Can I Crate Train An Older Dog?

Written by Ella White


Spaniel sleeping peacefully in crate

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but we’re not so sure. In fact, one thing we know you can teach an older dog is how to love their crate. So whether you’ve adopted a senior rescue, or just need your old dog to get used to a new space of their own, crate training might be on the cards. 

In this article, we’ll look at the reasons why crates are beneficial for older dogs, whether crate training is harder once they’ve grown out of the puppy stage, and how to tackle the training process.

Why Crate Train an Older Dog?

There are plenty of reasons for crate training older dogs. And while some dog owners have negative feelings towards crates, the fact is that dogs are naturally den animals that love to have a secure and sheltered space all to themselves. Which is exactly how they view their crates. 

For this reason, it’s important to never use time in their crate as punishment. And instead focus on crate training for some of its many benefits.

  • It’s a useful tool in housetraining, and especially toilet training and dogs will avoid spoiling spaces that they consider ‘theirs’
  • It gives your dog a dedicated space in the home where they can relax
  • It gives your dog a space where they can remove themselves from stressful situations
  • It gives your dog a space where they can recover and remain out of the way of family members and other animals when they are sick or recovering from injury
  • It makes traveling with your dog safer and easier
  • It makes trips to the vets easier and safer
  • It makes moving your dog in emergency situations easier

Is It Hard To Crate Train An Older Dog?

Don’t let your dog trick you into believing that they can’t be trained, just because they’re older. Sure, it might be trickier to work with than an easily-influenced pup. They know what they like, the routines they follow, and where they like to sleep and relax. 

But when it comes to crate training, senior dogs can actually benefit even more than puppies. After all, the quiet, cozy, and secure nature of a crate is just what older dogs crave, while bouncy youngsters are more keen to explore new places.

What You Need To Crate Train Your Dog

There are a few things you’re going to need before you get started.

  • A crate: it goes without saying that your training can’t begin without this. But it’s important to also know the correct size of crate for your dog. It should be big enough that they can stand, turn, and lie comfortably in it. This is easier to plan for with older dogs that are probably grown to size! You’ll also need to decide on the type of crate/learn/dog-lifestyle/crate-sizes-for-dogs-picking-the-best-fit-for-your that best suits you. 
  • Comfy furnishings: since your crate is a space for your dog to relax in, you’ll want to fill it with comfy things like a bed, blankets, towels, or a mat to protect them from the hard floor. This is another advantage of crate training an older dog, they’ll already have their preferred blankets or even pack members - a jumper or scarf that smells of their favorite human can work wonders. 
  • Treats: as with all training, access to plenty of treats is essential!
  • A food and water bowl: some dog owners like to leave their dog’s food and water in their crate with them. You can decide whether this suits your dog.

How to Crate Train A Senior Dog

When you bring a crate into your home, your old dog might take to it immediately (especially if it’s full of their favorite things and they get instant peace and quiet). But others will need a little training. But if you follow these simple steps, it should be a smooth and stress-free experience for both of you.

  1. Prepare your crate with comfy bedding and blankets, and place it with the door open in a room or spot where your dog will notice it.
  2. Entice your dog to the crate by placing toys or treats near it, and reward them with praise when they approach the crate.
  3. When you’re confident that your dog is happy going near the crate with its door open, start enticing them inside with treats, toys, and even food placed inside but close to the opening. Continue rewarding them with plenty of praise when they enter the crate.
  4. Once they’re happy going inside, you can start moving their toys/treats/food towards the back of the crate so they go further in and eventually enter the crate entirely.
  5. Once they’ve gone in and out of their own free will a few times, close the door for a moment. Then immediately open it and allow them out, so they understand that they are not trapped (but don’t do this the first time they venture in).
  6. Keep repeating this process until your dog is calm when the door is closed. This means they trust that you will let them out. Then you can start closing the door for a little longer each time.
  7. When your dog is relaxed inside the crate, you can try leaving the door closed for a few minutes. Gradually extend the time until your dog is totally relaxed in the crate with the door closed.

Be aware that for some dogs this training process could take as long as a month. So take things slowly and don’t rush your dog – this is only likely to put them off their crate altogether.

If your dog is showing signs of stress once they’re in, make sure you’re able to stay in the room with them but ignore them. Sit and read or watch TV (with no loud noises) and they’ll soon learn that just because they’re in their crate, it doesn’t mean they’re missing out on anything. 

As with all training, make sure the whole household is onboard. When your dog is in their crate, they must be left alone. The kids can’t climb in ‘to keep the dog company’ and it’s not a storage space for things that need to be tidied away. 

Other Tips For Crate Training Older Dogs

The most important thing to bear in mind when crate training your dog – or indeed teaching them anything new – is to always stop as soon as they appear agitated or panicked. Let them out of the cage and either start over, or come back to the training at another time once they’re calm.

Some animal care professionals believe that dogs respond better to crate training after exercise. This is because they have used up any excess energy during their walk, and will be more relaxed and receptive to their comfy new crate.

Similarly, professionals recommend that the humans training their dog should be relaxed and stress-free before they proceed. This is because dogs – especially older dogs that know us well – can pick up on our emotions and might also become stressed and nervous if they detect this in their leader.

Even once your dog is happy and relaxed spending hours in their crate, they should never be shut in for more than a few hours at a time. If you need to shut your dog in their crate overnight, be sure to let them out to go to the toilet first thing in the morning and make sure they have their water bowl in the crate with them.

Approaching your crate training with patience and a calm attitude will help your dog develop positive associations around their crate at home. So when you need to use it for travel or in an emergency, they won’t be stressed by a sudden introduction to it.

What To Do If Your Dog Still Won’t Use Their Crate

Even if you follow the training steps to the letter, some dogs might not want to cooperate. This could be because they’re stubborn or just plain dislike the crate. But there are some other common reasons that crate training doesn’t work out, which you could consider:

  • Don’t leave your dog in the crate for too long, too soon. Just because they’re okay for 5-10 minutes doesn’t mean they’re okay for an hour. So move slowly as you increase the amount of time they’re left inside.
  • Training while your dog needs the toilet will put them off. So make sure they go before you start training, and always make sure they can get out to go whenever they need to. This will prevent your dog feeling stressed about being stuck in the crate when they need to relieve their bladder.
  • Make sure they know that the crate is a positive place that they can feel safe in. So never send them there or shut them in as a punishment, and reward them with plenty of praise and treats all throughout your training process.

And if you’re really stuck on crate training your older dog, try working with a professional dog trainer. They will be able to give your tips and tricks for more effective dog training, help your dog get used to their crate, and even let you know if veterinary advice or further behavioral support is needed for your dog.