5 Hassle-Free Steps to Crate Train an Older Dog

When you're crate training an older dog, remember they're often learning too. Here's how you both can enjoy the process.

Published February 4, 2024
Dog sleeping in crate

If you've recently adopted an older dog that isn't crate-trained, that doesn't mean they can't be. There's not much new when learning how to crate train an older dog versus a young puppy. Old dogs can learn new tricks and get accustomed to new experiences, too. 

How to Crate Train an Older Dog

It's true that puppies are generally more adaptable than older dogs. While an older dog might be perfectly capable of learning new things, it could take a bit more time for them to become accustomed to crate training. This is similar to how we, as adults, have our own set preferences and dislikes. When we're asked to adopt a new habit or routine that doesn't immediately appeal to us, it usually requires a period of adjustment before we're comfortable with it. That said, most older dogs will adjust to crate training well, and the crate could even become their favorite place in the house!

Step 1: Picking the Right Crate

Dog crate

To begin, you'll want to pick a crate that is the right size. Make sure your dog can stand, turn around, and lie down comfortably inside. It's a good idea to put an orthopedic bed in the crate too, so your older dog's joints are comfy. 

Quick Tip

If your dog is a senior or has health issues, make sure you pick a crate that's easy for them to get in and out of. 

Step 2: Go Slow

Don't rush your older dog into the crate right away. You want them to have a positive experience with it rather than just being thrown into something they're not comfortable with.

Put the crate in a spot that's easy for your dog to reach, toss some treats inside, and leave the door open. Many dogs will go in on their own to get the treats, but if yours doesn't, give them time to explore it at their own pace. If they haven't gone in after a day or two, try putting treats at the entrance or in the middle of the crate. This can help them feel more comfortable getting closer to it.

Step 3: Give Meals Inside

When your older dog gets comfortable going in the crate, you can start feeding them their meals inside of it while leaving the door open. 

Need to Know

If your older dog has special needs, like requiring constant access to water due to kidney disease, they may not be able to be crated. There's only so much water you can put in a crate and, if it spills, that could leave them without any water at all. 

Step 4: Close the Door

Once you've successfully introduced your dog to the crate, the next step is to begin closing the door for short periods of time. Observe how your dog reacts to being in the crate with the door closed. The amount of time will vary for each dog; some may only be comfortable for a few seconds initially, while others might tolerate longer periods without any discomfort.

Gradually increase the time the door remains closed, always ensuring that your dog remains at ease. It's important to proceed at a pace that your dog is comfortable with, avoiding any rush that could cause them stress or anxiety.

Quick Tip

If you continue to drop treats inside, your dog may remain comfortable longer.

Step 5: Work Together for Longer Periods

After your dog becomes accustomed to the crate, you can start leaving them in it for longer periods of time. To help them stay relaxed and engaged, give them a chew or a favorite toy inside the crate. In my experience as a canine behaviorist, Kong toys tend to work extremely well for this step. 

Toys or chews will not only keep them entertained but also reinforce the crate as a positive space. If your dog remains calm while you step out of the room during their chew time, that's a great sign of progress. However, if they seem anxious or you're unable to leave just yet, don't worry. It's important to remember that adjusting to the crate can take time, and every dog progresses at their own pace.

Crate Training an Older Dog at Night

Nighttime can be a particularly challenging time for dogs undergoing crate training. During the day, they are accustomed to the lively and busy atmosphere of the household. At night, the environment changes dramatically. The usual daytime noises and activities stop, leading to an unsettling silence and stillness. The sudden shift can be uncomfortable for some dogs, making them feel anxious or restless in their crates.

If you have cats that are active at night, playing with toys, or pouncing one another like mine do, this can add to your dog's frustration while in the crate. To help your dog adjust, it's important to create a comfortable and reassuring nighttime environment around their crate. This might include soft bedding, a familiar toy, or even a piece of clothing with your scent. Establishing a consistent bedtime routine can also help them feel more secure and relaxed in their crate during the quiet of the night.

Older Dogs With Special Needs

Some older dogs may have behavioral or medical needs that can affect their crate training. Check out how to modify the above for specific situations.

Related: Crate Training Tips: Overcoming Problems

Crate Training With Separation Anxiety

Dogs with separation anxiety really struggle when they're not with their owners, even if they're just in a crate while you're in another room. For older dogs who have this problem, you need to work on two things:

  • First, help them get better at being alone. This can be done slowly by getting them used to being by themselves and giving them treats or praise when they stay calm without you.
  • After your dog starts feeling okay being alone, you can start teaching them about the crate.

For dogs that get anxious when they're away from you, it's good to use a crate that's more like a den. This kind of crate doesn't let them see much outside, which can help them feel more secure and less anxious. It's like giving them their own little safe space where they don't get bothered by things happening around them.

Quick Tip

Check out our article about how to handle separation anxiety if this is the case. 

Shelter Dogs with Negative Associations

Some older dogs might not like crates because of bad experiences in their past or even from their time in a shelter. This isn't to say shelters intentionally make dogs dislike crates, but dogs in shelters are often kept in small spaces, and this might make your older dog scared of being in a small space like a crate or small room. Or maybe they weren't bothered by the shelter but had a tough time in a place like a puppy mill or with a previous owner who didn't treat them well.

Training a dog from a shelter who already doesn't like crates can be harder, but it's usually not impossible. In these cases, you need to be really patient, show them a lot of love, and use a lot of positive reinforcement training. Giving them treats, praise, and their favorite toys when they spend time in the crate can help them see it as a good place.

Older Dogs with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

Dogs suffering from canine cognitive dysfunction, or CCD, often have a harder time with crate training. They could get confused during training or feel very anxious when in the crate. Sometimes, even if they've been fully trained to use a crate before, they might forget their training completely.

Due to these issues, it might not be feasible for dogs with CCD to stay in a crate. Since these dogs already face daily challenges due to dementia-like symptoms, it's vital to keep their environment as stress-free and comfortable as possible to prevent any more health issues.

Other 'Need to Know' Tips

As you can see, when you have an older dog, the steps to crate-train them are very much the same as those for crating a puppy, with a few slight differences. All in all, it's important to keep these tidbits of information in mind during the process:

Don't Rush Your Dog's Training

An older dog will obviously be able to hold their bladder longer than a puppy, as long as they don't have any underlying health issues, but don't let this tempt you to rush the training. 

It May Take Longer

If anything, you may find it takes longer to crate train an older dog if the crate is new to them and they're nervous about being confined. This is doubly true if they're also new to your household.

Set Up Crates Around the House

Having crates set up around your house that remain open all the time can be a good way to acclimate your new, older dog to the crate. If they have comfortable dog beds and are near where the human family is, they will be more interested in going into them on their own and lying down. 

Quick Tip

Praise and reward them anytime you see them do this.

Don't Forget the Goods

Give the dog everything they really love while they're in the crate and only when they're in the crate, even if it is with the door open. This means food bowls, water bowls, toys, chews, and even doing tasks like brushing and obedience training if you can manage it.

Consult a Professional

If your dog is still having trouble with the crate, but you absolutely need them to be in there while you're at work or out running errands, or even if you just want them to have somewhere peaceful to retreat to, it may be time to consult a canine behaviorist. Before you give them a ring, ask for a check-up with the vet if they haven't had one yet to check for any underlying health conditions that may be causing the issue.

Need to Know

As a professional canine behaviorist, I will not accept any clients for any behavioral issues until they have been cleared by a vet. 

Stay Patient

The main takeaway here is knowing it will take time for your older dog to get used to the crate, but it can be done as long as you're patient and using positive reinforcement techniques. Punishment will cause your older dog to slip backward, cause them to fear the crate, and damage your bond. Take your time and allow your older dog to make the experience their own.

5 Hassle-Free Steps to Crate Train an Older Dog