Crate training a dog of any age can be a challenge, but it only becomes more difficult as your dog gets older. The saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” remains true in this situation.
That said, with the right steps and a lot of patience, you have the power to crate-train an older dog without stressing them and yourself out.
In this guide, I want to break down some of the details behind crate training senior dogs and how you can make the most of each training session.
How to Crate Train an Older Dog
Your adult dog has been doing certain things their entire life, and going in a crate may not have been one of those things.
Put yourself in their paws for a second. If you’ve done something for almost three-quarters of your life, why would you want to change and do something completely different now?
This is where the struggle with crate training comes into play. Here are some tips that will help get your older dog crate trained.
Select the Right Crate and Suitable Placement
When crate training an older dog, the crate you select is highly important. You want to make sure that it’s the right size and that it provides enough space for your dog to turn around and lay in any position they want.
The crate should be a safe space where they know they can go and rest. If crate time becomes associated with an uncomfortable feeling, they may start taking it as a punishment.
You can find the perfect fit for your furry friend with our dog crate size calculator. Alternatively, here’s a chart that can help you find the right size crate for your older pooch:
Location is just as important as size. Make sure the crate is in a quiet location so crate time becomes associated with relaxing.
Always start with the crate in an area of the home where people are constantly present throughout the day. Kitchens and living rooms are a great place to start crate training because you want to make sure that your older dog can see you all the time while they’re in the crate.
Give Your Dog Meals Inside the Crate
It’s very likely that feeding time has a lot of positive associations attached to it. This is the case for most dogs. Crate training an older dog requires you to pull as many tricks out of your hat as you can.
One of these is to start giving your dog meals inside their crate and leave the door open. Start small and gradually increase to longer periods if they’re only going in and coming back out after a few bites.
If you’re struggling to get them in the dog crate, start right outside it. Place the bowl directly outside the crate door and slide it in a little more each time. This will help acclimate your doggo to their crate and make them realize that they’re okay.
You may also notice that your dog becomes aggressive towards their food because they’re afraid you’re going to move it. This is called resource guarding.
Be patient, go slow, and always allow your pup to dictate the pace of training.
Reward-Based Crate Training
Dogs require positive reinforcement and chances are, you’ve used this for most of their life anyway. Create a positive association with their crate by rewarding your dog with treats or their favorite toy each time they go in their crate.
If the training process is going well, consider walking away from them while they’re laying down in their crate. If they stay in the crate for even a few seconds, drop treats inside the crate so they know they’re being rewarded for staying in and not coming out.
Start Closing the Door
As time goes by, you’ll want to start closing the crate door so your dog can begin to understand what it feels like. This will be the especially difficult part when they realize they can’t get out when they want to.
Remember to start really slow and only close the door for a couple of seconds while you stay right outside the dog crate.
Again, older dogs will struggle with this more than puppies because they’re not used to this and they haven’t been trained from a young age.
There are many reasons why crate training is a smart choice, especially as dogs get older, so just remember that you’re doing the right thing, and everything will get better with time.
Gradually Increase Time
Just like you did with the door open, gradually increase the time with the door closed. If your dog panics as soon as you close the door, open it back up. When you close it again, increase the amount of time by another couple of seconds. Keep repeating this process.
Eventually, you’ll find your dog’s anxiety going away, and they’re not so quick to panic.
Be sure to meet all their needs before putting your dog inside their crate. Take them out for a bathroom break, play and give them plenty of attention, socialize them by taking them to dog parks, and let them get rid of their excess energy. Then, tell your adult dog it’s time for them to go in their crate.
Teach Verbal Commands
Consistency is so important with any form of dog training but especially crate training. You’ll want to use the same words to describe the crate over and over again. Crate training an older dog is different from training a puppy because they may not be familiar with crates other than to go places they don’t like, such as the vet.
Use words like “bed, rest, and sleep” to describe crate time. Always use a calm and soothing voice and never yell or punish your dog if they get upset in the crate.
I understand that stressful situations can lead to certain reactions, but you want to avoid creating negative associations between your older pup and their crate however possible.
Start Crate Training at Night
Crate training at night requires extra patience because this is a whole new routine for your older dog.
I only recommend doing this if the daily crate training is going well. As pet parents, it’s our job to keep our dogs safe no matter how old they are, and a lot of people don’t realize that nightly crate training can keep your pup out of a lot of trouble and potential danger.
My mother was a certified professional dog trainer who helped many people crate-train adult dogs, and she stressed how important it was to be patient and understand that dogs are like children. None of them learn at the same pace.
Follow all of the same steps, provide special treats for nightly crate training so your dog can tell the difference, and make sure all their needs are met before putting them in their crate.
Potential Troubles You Might Face
Training your senior dog to spend a few hours in their crate each day is a great accomplishment, but not one that will likely come without a lot of struggle along the way.
Create positive associations between your pup and their crate however you can so it can be a positive experience full of love and compassion.
Here are some things you may struggle with along the way:
Barking and Whining
If your dog barks or whines from inside the crate, it’s likely due to separation anxiety. Your dog might feel nervous when the door is closed because they’re worried that you’re going to leave them there and not let them out.
It’s important that you don’t immediately run over and give them the attention they want. If your dog appears anxious or acts out when you put them in their crate, give them some time. If you planned to leave them in the crate for two minutes with the door closed, stick to that.
Once you notice your dog is calm and quiet, then you can reward them by offering extra treats or letting them out.
Tackling Previous Trauma
One of the hardest things to deal with is a dog that was abused or neglected in a previous life. I dealt with this with my Lhasa Apso, and it made many aspects of training more difficult.
Older dogs can sometimes come with baggage, so it’s extra important that you go at your dog’s pace and not the pace you expect them to go at.
If your dog has negative associations between themself and the crate, it will be harder to get them to want to go in it.
In their previous life, they may have been subjected to veterinarian confinement, physical abuse, and excessive crate time. Knowing that, why would they ever feel comfortable inside the crate?
As pet parents, it’s our job to break this cycle of trauma. Make sure your dog is comfortable in their crate by providing a soft blanket and plenty of treats and toys inside. Show them that it’s okay to go in and reverse any negative feelings they have with a lot of patience and understanding.
Why is Crate Training for Older Dogs Different?
Whether you adopted your adult dog later in life or you’re simply training them late for a certain reason, dog crates are a valuable tool to keep your dog safe and comfortable.
However, crate training older dogs comes with distinct considerations that differentiate it from training puppies. Recognizing these differences is crucial to approach the training process effectively and with empathy. Here’s why crate training adult dogs is unique:
- Habits and Routines: Your adult dog is used to doing things a certain way, and out of nowhere, you want to stuff them inside of a small box. This is why introducing the crate slowly over a period of time is so important.
- Previous Experiences: Your old dog might have had bad experiences with crates in the past, whether they were forced inside or they associate it with going to a place they don’t enjoy, like the vet.
- Physical Comfort: Your dog should be able to comfortably lie down in the crate, turn around, and rollover. If they can’t, the crate is too small. Your older dog might also have joint soreness or stiffness that can make the crate uncomfortable. Be sure to provide soft bedding and a crate that is big enough.
Measures to Take if Crate Training Isn’t Working
If crate training isn’t working, don’t panic. I would recommend hiring a veterinary behaviorist or a professional dog trainer. If for any reason you feel you could provide a different solution, you might want to try that.
Consider a dog kennel or baby gate as a means of controlling your dogs wandering at night and when you’re away.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about adult dogs and crate training.
Can a Dog Be too Old for Crate Training?
No, your dog will never be too old for crate training unless they begin to lack comprehension abilities, but it’s likely that our dog isn’t that old anyway.
Should I Allow the Older Dog to Sleep in the Crate?
Yes, if your dog enters their crate and sleeps in it willingly, it’s a great way to create a safe space for your pup.
How Long Does it Take to Crate Train an Older Dog?
There is virtually no timeline because it can vary so much, especially in old dogs. Have no expectation in terms of how long it will and expect it to take at least a couple of months before your dog starts responding positively to their crate.
Crate training can be a struggle but do your best to be patient and calm throughout the whole process. Your older dog is used to living life a certain way, and you might be turning their world upside down by telling them to spend time in a small box.
Just remember that you have a good reason for crate training them, and it’s for their long-term benefit. Good luck!