How to crate train an older, adult dog – yours or adopted

How to crate train an older dog - a portrait photo of a wise grey muzzled labrador

© / mythja

This is the 7th installment in my 8 part series: A guide to crate training (click to see the complete series.)

This article answers the question: How to crate train an older dog.

Maybe you’ve just adopted an adult dog? Or your own has suddenly developed destructive habits later in life?

Or maybe you need to prepare your dog for air travel? Or for boarding while you go on holiday?

Whatever the reason you need your dog to lie calmly in a crate, this article will give you the guidance you need to train them to do so.

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Video: Dog Training: House training a puppy or rescue dog

Can’t Teach An Old Dog New Tricks

The number one concern people with an adult or adopted dog have with starting to use a crate is whether their dogs are too old, and is it too late?

We’ve all heard the saying ‘You can’t teach an old dog new tricks‘ haven’t we?

Well luckily there’s no truth in this. You can teach an old dog many new tricks, and you can certainly teach them to not only accept but to love spending time in a crate.

I’m not going to lie to you and say it will be easy. In fact it could be quite difficult depending on your dog’s personality, how resistant they are to a crate and whether they’ve had bad past experiences with being confined before.

But please be assured, it can and even should be done.

The Differences Between Crate Training An Older Dog And A Puppy

When it comes to the methods required there are very few if any differences at all. The only real difference is it will likely take more time.

Of course there will be exceptions, but generally speaking an adult dog will take longer to crate train than a young puppy. The reasons for this are:

  • Adult dogs don’t learn as quickly as a young puppy and on top of this, they’re quicker to forget things. So more patience and more repetitions are needed before things really sink in.
  • Your average adult dog will resist being crated more than a puppy will. A puppy has no habits or a way of life it’s used to and is learning how to live from anew. Making a crate a part of this is relatively easy. But an adult dog who’s spent perhaps years without ever being in a crate? You’re going to have to completely change life-long habits and introduce new behaviors. They may fight this to begin with.

Adopted Dogs May Be A Special Case – But Not Always Negatively!

Adopted dogs, particularly from rescues, may have had bad experiences with being confined. Locked away for all hours of the day, feeling abandoned, perhaps abused and having suffered a crate being used as a punishment like a prison.

These dogs may have a very hard time accepting being crated due to these experiences and memories they have. But with patience and dedication, you can turn them around to enjoy it and all the benefits it offers.

On the other side of the coin, some adopted dogs will have already been crate trained and will have a very positive attitude towards and experience of a crate. In this case, your task just got a lot easier if indeed you need to crate train them at all :-)

So without further ado, let’s get started…

How To Crate Train An Older Dog

Before considering crate training your older dog, it’s best you know exactly why, when and how you should use a crate. The following two articles I’ve written explain just that:

If you’ve come straight to this article, I recommend you read those first. But if you’ve done your research, let’s carry on.

The first thing you want to do is make sure you have the right type and size of crate for your dog. Instructions for this can be found in the following article: What size dog crate should you get and which type is best?.

I cannot stress just how important the correct size crate is, because too small and it’s inhumane, too large and it loses the den like feeling of safety and security a dog is looking for. So please take a few moments to make sure you have this right.

To see a list of some of the best quality, most highly rated crates that we are happy to recommend, please click here. (opens in new window)

Next, you need to know where to place the crate in your home, what to put inside to make it a comfortable and welcoming place and how to get it ready and prepared. I’ve detailed all this in article that you can read by clicking here: What to put in a dog crate, where to put it and how to get it prepared.

And now we’re ready to begin…

Allow Your Older Dog To Get Used To A Crate At Their Own Pace

It’s vitally important you spend time allowing your dog to get used to a crate at their own pace, in their own time, with no pressure from you.

You should stay away from any methods that promise crate training in a weekend. These accelerated methods can work OK for a puppy, but they’re not as effective for older dogs where you’re trying to change a way of life, rather than starting with the blank canvas of a puppy keen to learn from you whatever life you wish to show them.

You want your dog feeling comfortable around a crate, hopefully even freely going into and out of it of their own accord before you train them to do so. And I mean for a few days at least, but probably longer.

Never force them to go in. If they’re already scared from past experiences before you adopted, or you force your own adult dog that you’ve never crated before into the crate, it could set your training back weeks!

First of all, have the crate set up in the busy area of your home where you and your family spend most of your time and remove the crate door or fix it so it will never swing shut on your dog. If it closes unexpectedly, it may startle them and create bad feelings towards the crate.

Now scatter a few treats inside the crate, then let your dog into the room and then just ignore the crate. Do nothing.

Your dog will inspect it and may or may not go in. But you just pay it no attention. Let your dog get used to the idea it’s there, that it’s staying, but that it’s nothing to be afraid of.

Hopefully they will eventually go in and get the treats. If they do, brilliant! Toss a few more treats in while they’re in there.

Or if they grab a treat and dart out, do nothing, just ignore your dog and the crate. Then toss a few more treats in when your dog is out of the room and not looking so they just magically find good things there when they look.

But what if your dog just won’t go in to get the treats, even after days of leaving treats in there and hoping?

My Dog Won’t Go Into The Crate!

There’s a few things you can try to get your dog going into the crate of their own accord:

Video: How To Introduce Your Adopted Dog To A Crate!

Take their usual bedding and place it right next to the crate so they spend a lot of time near it. This will increase their familiarity and desensitize them to the crate a little.

Then after a few days move their bedding inside.

Still scatter a few treats inside when the bed is next to the crate, and after the bedding is moved inside. Hopefully they will soon venture in.

If not, up the stakes a little!

Place a Kong Toy inside that’s stuffed with their absolutely favorite food and a couple of their most favorite toys. Sooner or later they’re going to really want what’s in there now!

(To see some examples and read more details about Kong toys, please click here.)

Video: Crate training our new 1,5 year old German Shepherd

Make it easy for them by placing it just inside so they don’t have to go all the way in. If they go in to get it then come out, that’s all good. Do the same thing later. And slowly over a couple of days, move the Kong and toys further in so they must venture further in each time to get them.

Finally, if for all your enticing with their favorite things they just won’t go in after a few days of trying, you should take the crate apart and start using just the base tray.

Tempt your dog into the tray by laying a few treats in there. After a couple of days, place their bedding in the tray. A few days later build up 3 walls and the roof of the crate, leaving one side off and continue getting them to go on to their bedding in the tray by way of placing treats, stuffed Kongs and favorite toys in there.

Finally, put the crate together, minus the door, with their bedding, treats and toys inside. They should be happy to go inside, will eventually get used to it and lose any fear they may have had.

It’s now a good idea to plant in your dogs mind the notion that the crate is where ALL the good things come from!

Make The Crate The Only Source Of Things Your Dog Truly Loves

Once your dog is confident enough to go in and out of the crate under no pressure from you (no training yet), you want to make the crate the source of all the things that gets your dog excited.

This means you start feeding your dog their main meals in the crate, scatter treats and put their favorite toys and stuffed Kongs in there to find.

But here’s the hard part: DO NOT give your dog these things from any other place at any other time.

If you do, they will simply wait for another time. They know it’s coming. So no treats, toys or meals outside of the crate.

By making the crate the only source of all things good, the combination of their curiosity, wants and needs will overcome their fears and they will go into the crate to get what they want and need.

After a few occurrences of this, they’ll begin to form an association in their mind between the crate and all the wonderful things they enjoy, then they’ll slowly learn to love it. You’ll need to keep this up for at least a couple of weeks and maybe more to give it a chance to really sink in.

And now you can begin to train your dog to spend time in the crate and to go there on command.

When All is Said and Done – Crate Train Exactly As You Would A Puppy!

As stated before, the truth of the matter is there’s very little difference between crate training a puppy and an adult dog. It will usually just take more time.

Why?

Because an older dog may be scared of a crate, because they learn less quickly and because they’re sometimes slower to learn.

But by following the above, you should have overcome their fears and got them used to a crate before you ever begin any formal crate training sessions.

And once you start crate training, the method to use is exactly the same for an older dog as it is for a puppy.

And as I’ve already written this, please click the following link to find a very detailed guide:

How to crate train a puppy

Use the exact same methods and all the hints and tips from that article for your adult dog and you’ll be sure to find success :-)

So That’s How To Crate Train An Older Dog

In summary, take extra special care and time to allow them to get used the crate before any formal training. Then follow the same techniques used to crate train a puppy.

It’s certainly true that crate training a puppy is easier than crate training a dog, but only in the sense you need to take things slower, have more patience and dedicate more time to it.

Other than that, every bit of advice, every book, article and video that you may see or read for crate training a puppy applies just as much to an older dog.

And you will be able to achieve the same levels of success.

More information:

This was part 7 in an 8-part series that details everything you need to know about the use of a crate and crate training your puppy. The information applies equally well to dogs of all breeds and not just Labradors.

The Entire series is linked to here:

I’ve tried to cover literally every question I could imagine on dog crates and crate training in the article series above, but of course it’s hard to cover every question that people may possibly have.

So if there’s anything you need to know but cannot find an answer for above, please feel free to leave your questions in the comments section below and I will happily give all the help I can :-)

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