How to crate-train an older dog (yes, it’s possible)

If there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s change. We don’t always like it and neither do our canine friends, especially as they grow older. Fortunately, we are all adaptable. Regardless of what you’ve heard about older dogs, you can teach them new tricks — and that includes crate training.

There are many reasons why you might need to crate-train an older dog. Perhaps you’ve adopted a senior who was never fully housebroken. Maybe you want your dog to travel with you by air. Crates also are a safe place for older dogs to heal after surgery or during an illness, and in case of emergencies. Regardless of why you find yourself needing to crate-train an older dog, here are the steps to follow.

Choose the right space

Before you begin, designate a place in your home where the crate can stay permanently or at least during the training process. If possible, choose somewhere quiet and secluded where your dog can go if he wants to rest or get away from noise or chaos. Or, if your dog enjoys being in the same room with the family, try finding a spot for the crate in the living room or kitchen area where everyone gathers for group activities. If your dog has a favorite place to retreat, consider setting up the crate in that general area so he can explore it before training begins.

pitbull in crate
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Select the right crate

Once you know where to place the crate, it’s time to choose one that’s right for your dog. Crates come in all shapes and sizes as well as in a variety of materials depending upon the size of your dog and intended use. You can choose from easy-to-clean wire cages, soft-sided carry crates, and multifunctional wooden or plastic crates made to blend with your household decor. Once you’ve decided on the right style, make sure you choose the right size. The crate should be big enough for your dog to stand up, turn around, and lie down comfortably, but not so big that he can relieve himself in one end.

Timing is everything

The best time to introduce your older dog to a new experience is when he is calm and relaxed. This includes crate training. Once you get the crate all set up, let your dog become accustomed to having it in his space before you ask him to step inside. You might also want to make sure he’s had a potty break and a walk around the neighborhood before you begin. Keep your dog’s personality and activity schedule in mind when choosing the right time of day for training, too. For example, if your dog is more relaxed after dinner and before bedtime, consider setting aside a few minutes during this period to start the process.

Use positive reinforcement

Crate-training any dog takes a measure of patience, so take a few minutes before each session to put yourself in the right frame of mind. Your dog will adjust more quickly and be happier if you present the new experience in a relaxed and positive manner. Add his favorite bedding to the new space. Praise him as he explores the crate, especially if he ventures inside on his own. Resist the temptation to force your dog into the crate or leave him for more than a few hours at a time. Whenever he reaches a new milestone during training, reward him with his favorite treat, toy, or playtime activity.

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Begin slowly

If you’re reading this article, you likely need to crate your dog sooner rather than later. Whenever possible, begin well in advance so that your dog will be comfortable spending time in his crate when the moment comes:

  • With the door open, place a few treats inside and encourage your dog to retrieve them. Keep the door open. Praise him if he ventures inside.
  • Once he is comfortable with this routine, add a command. Say “crate” before you toss in the treats. Close the door when he goes in to retrieve them. Stay in the room while he spends a few moments inside, beginning with intervals of five minutes or less.
  • As he adjusts, increase the amount of time he stays in the crate with the door closed. Leave the room for a few minutes, slowly increasing the amount of time you’re out of sight.
  • If your dog shows signs of anxiety or panic at any time, stop the training. Resume again when he’s calm and more receptive.

Common issues and how to avoid them

Older dogs are often creatures of habit, so while they can learn a new routine, it might take them a while to become accustomed to it. The key is to make the crate a welcome retreat, be consistent with daily training, and use a lot of patience during the process.

Your older dog may also be more fearful, especially if you’ve recently adopted him. It’s important to let him learn to love his new space at his own pace. When done correctly, most dogs come to see their crate as a welcome retreat. It may take longer than anticipated, but the rewards of having a well-adjusted crate-trained dog are well worth the effort.

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