Written by Ella White
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.
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.
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.
There are a few things you’re going to need before you get started.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.