cute dog laying in its crate

How to Crate Train Older Dogs

Posted by Max Martinson on

cute dog laying in its crate

You know the old saying. “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”

It’s typically used when we’re talking about people who, upon getting older, have gotten a little too comfortable in their way of doing things. When it comes time to teach an actual old dog new tricks, you might hear that old phrase ringing in your head and assume that it’s impossible.

The fact is, you can teach a senior dog new tricks. Dogs, unlike people, are pretty flexible and curious, especially when treats are involved. That old saying is just a clever turn of phrase that applies well to humans—it’s not applicable to old dogs.

That means you’re in luck if you want to crate train an older dog. It’s possible, and it’s very simple. You just need a few things and a little time. 

We’ll cover everything you need to know about crate training old dogs in this article, and you’ll find that a lot of the principles apply to younger dogs, too.

Let’s begin!

Crate Training an Older Dog

You’ll need:

  • A spacious crate
  • Comfortable padding
  • Treats & toys
You'll need a crate, blankets, and treats/toys

Step 1 - Finding The Right Spot

Start by choosing a good spot for the crate. This is important, and it’s a little more nuanced than you might think.

The crate is not a “punishment zone” or “timeout corner.” That means it shouldn’t be tucked off in a dark corner. It should be somewhere that allows your dog to feel like part of the family while they’re inside.

A bedroom, living room, or even the kitchen might be appropriate. Place the crate somewhere with enough activity for your dog to feel included, but not so much activity that they can’t rest and relax.

A busy children’s bedroom full of yells, thrown toys, and constant chatter wouldn’t be the right spot, for example. Alternatively, a spot right next to your bed could be the perfect place for your dog to relax and enjoy your company from a distance.

*Note that your dog’s personality should factor in. Are they extremely anxious? In that case, a more secluded place could be more comfortable for them. If they’re overly social, they might be better off in the middle of the action.

Good places for your dog’s crate:

  • Your bedroom
  • Your living room or family room
  • Your kitchen
  • Anywhere that’s safe, comfortable, and near your family

Risk factors to avoid:

  • Electrical wires
  • Direct sunlight
  • Areas with a draft
  • Areas with constant noise (humming, buzzing, thuds, etc.)

Once you’ve got the right spot, sweeten the deal by making the crate comfortable. Throw in their favorite blanket, sprinkle a few toys around the pen, and do your part to make it feel like home.

After all, this is like your dog’s little bedroom! First impressions matter, and they should feel cozy the moment they step inside.

Step 2 - The Introduction

Dog sniffing around a new crate

Now, it’s time to introduce your dog to the crate. Before they get there, place their favorite treats in a few strategic spots. Crate training for older dogs is all about breaking down suspicions. If your dog has had a checkered past, they might be weary of small confined spaces. 

Put a treat or two near the door, another at the entrance to the crate, and one or two more deep inside the crate.

Odds are that they’re not going to jump in and lay down right away. They might sniff around, peek inside, look back at you, and inspect the interior a little bit. Whatever you do, give them the lead on this one.

Let them do their thing until their curiosity is satisfied. If everything goes well, they’ll enter the crate all the way and eat the treats.

If that’s not how things go, just ease them closer and closer, deeper and deeper, step by step — all with the help of their favorite treats. It could take a few days and a few sessions for skeptical dogs to go inside.

The only thing you’re doing at this point is creating a positive association with the crate. You want your dog to feel happy when they see the it.

Incorporate Toys Early

Naturally, you can’t lavish your dog with treats every time they see the crate. Give them one or two early introductions with the treat-heavy approach.

On the third introduction, use your dog’s favorite toys as incentives toward the crate. You can incorporate a few treats, but notably fewer than you were using the first couple of times.

Treats and toys combined are sure to establish that positive association. Then, after another introduction or two, you can just swap to toys alone.

All dogs are different, but this process can take a few days to one week. You might be able to expedite it if you’re a professional trainer or you want to rush the process, but what’s the harm in taking the time to do it right?

The better you establish a positive association with the crate, the more likely your dog is to feel comfortable and happy inside of it. At this point, you don’t need your dog to spend that much time inside of the cage. They might enter, exit, and play around the cage at will. That’s fine.

Just make sure you’re drawing them into the cage a number of times with the use of their toy or treats.

Step 3 - Meals to Seal the Deal

grumpy dog happy eating from bowl

Now that you’ve got a good association in place, it’s time to start getting your dog to settle down a little bit. You can do this by allowing them to eat near, then inside of the cage.

Use this timeline:

  • Day 1 - Place the food bowl just outside of the open cage.
  • Day 2 - Place the food bowl just inside of the cage entrance.
  • Day 3 - Place the food bowl inches inside of the entrance. Leave the door open.
  • Day 4 - Place the bowl half way inside the cage. Door half-open.
  • Day 5 - Place the bowl three-quarters into the cage. Door nearly closed.
  • Day 6 - The bowl goes all the way to the back of the cage. Door nearly closed.
  • Day 7 - Place the bowl at the back of the cage again, and close the door.
  • Days 8-15 - Feed your dog inside the cage with the cage closed.
    • Leave inside the cage for five minutes on day 8, adding five additional minutes to each consecutive day.

Two weeks of eating in the cage should establish a strong sense of trust in the environment. Food is also the greatest motivator, so their association with the place positive.

If you want, you can shift back to feeding outside of the cage. You might also just want to have them eat in the cage from that point on. That’s up to you.

Consider Gentle Calming Supplements

Many dogs suffer from anxiety and distress, and this might even be the reason you're thinking of kennel training an older dog in the first place. Some medications can be harsh, so it’s useful to find gentle, natural calming agents that are good for your dog.

Many pet parents use hemp oil or calming CBD chews to keep their pets calm for training sessions, car rides, and other stressful situations that produce excess energy.

Step 4 - Expanding Crate Time & Leaving

Dog sitting happily in its crate

Now that your dog is comfortable sitting in the crate for periods of up to 35-40 minutes, you can ease into leaving them alone for different periods of time.

Get them in the door with the cage closed and sit near them for a few minutes. Then, quietly leave the room for a couple minutes. Your dog might not like this, so expect a few whimpers and barks.

Come back in, deliver a treat, then let them out.

Repeat the process at some point every day, or even a few times per day. Each time you repeat, add another two or three minutes to the time you spend out of the room.

Eventually, your dog will be able to sit in their crate for hours at a time. It’s our belief that you should never leave your dogs in crates for more than 5 hours at at a time unless they’re sleeping next to you.

Leaving your dog in a crate every day for 8 hours while you’re at work, for example, is sure to be dull and uncomfortable for your dog. It’s also emotionally taxing and depressing for the animal, especially one that’s full of energy and curiosity.

Why Crate Training is Important

Crate training can seem a little cruel at first thought.

Putting an animal in a cage any period of time might feel wrong, especially when that animal is your absolute best friend. The reality is that crate time builds confidence, safety, and comfortability in dogs.

They even have an instinctive desire for small spaces to rest safely from the dangers of the outside world. A healthy relationship with the crate is one of the keys to your dog’s sense of security, and it could do a great deal to help their anxiety.

Further, crate training is not a treatment for separation anxiety, but it’s surely something that could ease your animal’s sense of despair while you’re away. After all, they’ll be reclining in a comfortable place with their favorite toy rather than pacing the walkway to the door for hours.

Need More Training Tips?

If you’ve found this guide useful, our other guides will expand upon what you learned today. Explore our site for insights into training tricks, handling difficult behavior, pet health, and much more.

References:

  1. https://cozycrates.review/leave-dog-in-a-crate/
  2. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/why-crate-training-is-great-for-your-dog/
  3. https://www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/sites/g/files/dgvnsk491/files/inline-files/Crate_Training_Your_Puppy.pdf
  4. https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/can-old-dogs-learn-new-tricks

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AUTHOR

Max is the Content Director for Lolahemp. He works closely with Lolahemp's veterinarians and writers, ensuring that our articles are factual, enjoyable, and useful to pet owners. Before Lolahemp, Max contributed articles to various pet health and wellness sites around the internet after graduating from the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire. He is also the proud owner of a mischievous grey cat named Herbie.


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