Tips For Crate Training An Older Dog
Old dogs can DEFINITELY learn new tricks 💗
So, you recently adopted a senior dog and want him to have a safe place to hang out on his own — or maybe you want to crate train your older dog because you just never got around to it.
Luckily, you’re not too late: Dogs can be crate trained at any age.
The Dodo spoke with Irith Bloom, a certified professional dog trainer and owner of The Sophisticated Dog in Los Angeles, to get tips for crate training an older dog.
Can I crate train my older dog?
Any dog can be crate trained, whether they're a puppy or an adult or even a senior. But if you're working with an adult or senior dog, it might just take a little more patience.
“I have yet to meet a dog that can’t learn to love the crate in time, even if the dog initially seemed to hate it,” Bloom told The Dodo.
Adult and senior dogs are usually pretty set in their ways, so they might need to unlearn some old habits before learning new ones — but they’ll almost always rise to the occasion with a little practice.
Plus, if your pup has never been in a crate before, the idea of walking into a small space might be scary (even if he ends up loving it!), so it's important to go slowly at first.
“The key to success is going at a pace your dog finds comfortable,” Bloom said. “If you push your dog too hard, your dog may get weary of the crate.”
Why start crate training an older dog?
Crate training has many benefits that still apply to dogs when they reach their golden years.
Dogs who are crate trained see their crate as a safe space to retreat to when they’re feeling stressed. This is a nice option for your dog to have during dinner parties with lots of guests, July Fourth or other special occasions that might overwhelm him.
And, if your older dog ever needs to recover from surgery or an injury, having him crate trained will help keep him from moving around so much.
Traveling with a dog in a car is also a lot safer when he's in a crate; he’ll stay secured in one spot and can’t distract you while driving. “It’s a challenge to keep dogs safe in case of a traffic collision, and one of the safest ways for your dog to travel is in a crate that is secured inside your car,” Bloom said.
When your dog is crate trained, it can also come in handy during emergencies. “If you live where there are natural disasters such as floods, wildfires or earthquakes, you may have to go to an evacuation center at some point,” Bloom said. “These centers generally require pets to be crated.”
All of these scenarios require your dog to be comfortable in a crate, Bloom said.
How long is too long in the crate?
A full-grown, adult dog shouldn’t be in his crate for more than four hours at a time, Bloom said. But the goal should be to keep your dog in the crate for as little as possible when it’s not needed (unless he wants to hang out there, of course).
“Dogs can suffer physically if they are kept in a crate for too long,” she said.
Steps for crate training an older dog
- Get the right sized crate. Find a crate that your dog can comfortably stand up, turn around and lie down in. Add a dog bed, mat or blanket to the crate to make it cozy.
- Put the crate in a place you always are, like the kitchen or living room, and keep the door open so your dog can become used to the way it looks.
- Then, place your dog’s food inside the crate during mealtimes, or throw in a toy that he loves. “I like to begin crate training by teaching the dog that the crate is a place where food and fun happen,” Bloom said. “You can start by simply feeding your dog meals in the crate or putting chews or toys in the crate on a regular basis (with the door fastened open so the dog can wander in and out).”
- For the next step, Bloom recommends placing treats inside the crate and closing the door with your dog outside. “This is a ‘reverse psychology’ trick that tends to increase the dog’s interest in the crate, since there are treats in the crate but they are out of reach,” she said.
- When you open the door and the dog enters, keep feeding him treats. Repeat this step until your dog feels comfortable being inside the crate.
- In between feeding treats, try closing the door part way. Keep your eye on your dog to make sure he stays calm and relaxed. “If your dog looks anxious or tries to leave the crate, let him or her out right away,” Bloom said. “Feeling trapped in the crate will only make your dog more hesitant to walk into the crate again the next time.”
- If your dog remains calm, gradually build up the time you keep the door closed.
- Place a long-lasting chew into your dog’s crate, close the door and try taking a few steps away from the crate — paying attention to how your dog reacts. “Build up from there in tiny steps to moving farther and farther away from the crate before returning to drop treats,” Bloom said.
- Repeat the above steps until your dog becomes more comfortable being in his crate.
“Go slow and make sure your dog is having fun, and your dog will be a crate champion before you know it!” Bloom said.