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How to Crate Train an Older Dog? – 8 Simple & Easy Steps

Have you ever heard the old saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”? In all seriousness, an older dog can be taught new things including how to spend time in a crate. If you have recently adopted a senior pet or you require a crate for your middle-aged pooch, the information below will help you make them comfortable in the new space.

It is important to remember that repetition is going to be key in this process. Be prepared for it to take some time, and you may have to backtrack a couple of steps. In the end, however, dogs find their crates to be a safe place, and that is the goal you should be aiming for.

Below, we have broken the steps into two categories. The first is the general steps to get your pet comfortable in their new environment. The second section is dealing with difficult behaviors that can extend the first steps…believe us, they deserve their section!

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1. Finding a Location for the Crate

The first thing you want to do is to find the right location for your dog’s new crate. This is a more important decision than you would think, and there are two aspects you should consider. First, you want the location to be permanent. Your pet needs to get used to their personal space always being in one spot.

Secondly, you want to find a location where you spend a lot of time. As mentioned, you want your pet to feel safe and comfortable in their home. If they feel isolated, it will cause them to associate the space with loneliness, stress, and anxiety.

Once you have decided on the right spot, you should figure out whether any furniture or other items need to be moved. This should be done before introducing the crate. Changes to the home environment can also stress your dog out. Keep in mind, some dogs are more relaxed than others, so the last step here might not be necessary.

dog crate
Credit: Parilov, Shutterstock

2. Introduce the Crate

The next step should be introducing the crate. You want to set it up in the spot of your choosing without the door. Don’t make any move to single it out either. Act as though it’s a coffee table that has nothing to do with your dog. This will allow them to investigate the situation without fear. They will be able to smell it, look at it, and even some brave pups may venture inside.

While they do so, you want to stay as passive as possible and observe. Once they have had an opportunity to accept the crate as part of the home, you want to begin associating them with it. If it’s in your living room, sit on the couch next to it and call them over. You can pat them while gesturing to the crate or make other moves toward it.

At this point, it is important not to push. Let them get used to it, but make sure you stay near it and call them toward it several times a day. Be sure to reward them, as well.

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3. Make It Homey

The next step is to make the crate as soft and cozy as possible. It should be to the point that you want to climb in and take a nap. You want to use things that are associated with your dog and are positive, too. If they have a blanket they use or a bed that will fit in the crate, add them in. You can also put in a shirt that smells like you, or their favorite stuffed animal.

In general, you want to “interior decorate” the crate for your pup. Keep in mind, you still want to leave the door off, but continue to call them over to it. Give them positive reinforcement, while also allowing them to look it over themselves.

Hopefully, they will be investigating the area themselves at this point. Some pooches will move right in no questions asked, but others can take more time.

dog in crate
Credit: Jennay Hitesman, Shutterstock
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4. Up the Ante

By now, your dog should be used to seeing and smelling the crate along with getting an eyeful of the comfortable accommodations inside. Now is when you want to entice them into the space as much as possible. For those pets that are particularly nervous or stubborn, this is where things can take some time.

With the door still off, you want to start by tossing some treats toward the crate. Keeping moving them closer and closer toward the door until they are in the doorway. Keep right on going until you can toss a treat in the back of the space.

You want to get to the point where the dog will get the snack from the rear of the kennel, and stay in there to eat it. If they are snatching and running, you still have some work to do.

As you are tossing in the treats, you also want to couple it with your choice of command for the space. Whether you use “crate,” “kennel,” “house,” or any other command, your pet should start associating the word with the crate.

For example, say in a firm voice “crate time”. When they look toward the kennel, toss a treat. Next time, say the command and wait for them to take a step closer. Keep going until the are eating the treat inside as we mentioned.

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5. Add the Doors

It is now time to install the doors. You want to do this while your pup is not inside. Let them watch if they are about, but putting them on while they are inside can cause anxiety and set you back. Once you have attached them let them check it out, but not for too long.

Start again with the treat and command with the door wide open. You also want to make sure there are no springs or other ways for the door to slam closed by accident. You will typically find yourself back at step one.

Keep going with the treat/command routine for a while, but eventually, you want to move on to different mediums that are still positive, yet not as much of a reward. This is what we will cover in the next step.

dog crate
Credit: kelseyny, Shutterstock
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6. Make It Normal

This is the last step before you start to close the door and get your pet used to being confined in the space. Depending on your dog, the last five steps may have been quick, or it could be weeks later. Even if your dog was napping in the space on day one, closing the door can be one of the most difficult parts of the process.

For right now, you want to replace the treats with toys. Start tossing their bone or rope into the back and get them going in without the reward. Once they have that down pat, you will want to replace the toy with their meals.

Again, depending on your pet, you can do the toy and meals at the same time instead of one at a time. The food, however, is important. Most canines are territorial about their dinners, so placing the food near their crate will associate it with that territoriality.

Start with their food dish close by and move it closer and closer until they are inside. Once they can comfortably eat with their bowl in the back of the crate, close the door quietly at the beginning of the meal. Be sure to open it as soon as they are done, however.

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7. Closing the Door

At this point, you want to start closing the door (without locking it) for longer and longer periods while they are eating. Start by doing it for five minutes, seven, and so on. You also want to continue to use the commands, as well, to reinforce the issue.

Once you are up to ten minutes, you can start to lock the door. Typically, your pet will not notice the difference, but the time must extend a bit longer. You also want to stay with them insight during this time. It’s important not to engage, but to go about your normal business.

dog crate
Credit: Annette Shaff, Shutterstock
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8. Use Commands and Leave the Space

For the most part, once you can shut the door for 10 minutes, you have won more than half the battle. The second part will be to practice using the commands alone. Firmly say, “crate time” so they know what to do. As they start to enter the space without their meal or toys, you still want to give them a word of praise.

You will also want to extend their time in the confined space but start slow. Shut and lock the door for 10 minutes while you are in the room going about your normal activities. After the ten minutes have passed, leave the room for a couple of minutes, but pay attention to any whining or other noises.

From there, you want to start extending the time they are in the space without you in the room. You want to get up to at least 40 minutes with no issues before actually leaving them alone in the crate…in the house.

It is also important to note that you do not want to have any type of goodbye when you are getting ready to leave as this can cause anxiety. You want your pet to be comfortable in the space, and not to realize you are gone.

Try spending a couple of minutes in the room before you leave. Avoid visual cues such as putting on coats in their sight. Leave the room as you normally would. Also, leaving a tv or radio on can help create the illusion you are still in the house. Otherwise, you have successfully crate trained your pooch!

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Other Tips

If you are still reading, you have probably had some behavioral issues or other problems with the crate training. Some older dogs will accept the space right away, where others will require more time and patience.

To help you navigate these issues, we have put together a few more tips below that can help you get the job done.

  • Keep It Positive: First and foremost, training your dog is just as much about your temperament as theirs. Yelling, anger, frustration, hitting, smacking, shaking the cage, etc., will only set you way back and cause many other issues.
  • Whining and Barking: If your dog whines and barks when you close the door, you want to start by using the negative command to stop them such as “no” in a firm voice. You may have to say this over and over, however. You can also use noise to gain their attention. Pennies in a small can is a good choice. The trick is not to startle them, but to gain their attention. Give a short sharp shake while the dog is looking at you and repeat “no”. This can take patience, but with repetition, you will come out the victor.
  • Biting the Bars: Gnawing on the bars in another common sign of anxiety. You can start with the negative command, but you may need more oomph behind you. A bitter spray is a good possibility. You can purchase these items from local pet stores. They are harmless to your pet but will leave a yucky taste in their mouth. You can also make these sprays at home from lemon or lime juice.
  • Other Behaviors: If your pet has severe separation anxiety, you may not be able to control it by yourself. Not only that, but a crate can do more harm than good in this case. Your pup can get to the point of panic where they will hurt themselves to escape. In this case, you should seek professional help. If it is a lighter case, you can try calming sprays. Again, this is harmless to your pet, and they can be found at pet stores. The scents will keep your pet serene and help them be okay in their space.

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It is possible to crate train an older dog. The real question is how long it is going to take? Your pup’s kennel should be a safe and enjoyable space for them. It will be a place they can get away from everything, relax, nap, chew on their toy, and feel secure. That being said, you should never use their crate as a form of punishment.

Following these eight steps will lead you to a happy crate place with your dog. Just keep in mind that consistency and firm kindness is all that is needed. We hope you have enjoyed this article, and it has helped you with your older pooch.

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Featured Image Credit: labsafeharbor, Pixabay